Tin Mountain, Nelson Range


By: Gary Craig


We planned this trip so long ago that for a time I had forgotten about it... I guess that happens sometimes with the outings toward the end of the Chapter Schedule, given the long lead-time. Fortunately, I started getting emails from climbers wanting to sign up for the hike to jog my memory! This is a bit of an exaggeration, since co-leader Sue Holloway and I set this trip up to bag two of the last few peaks that I needed to finish the list. Anyway, in addition to myself and Sue, seven other hikers were present Saturday at dawn at the meeting spot near Ubehebe Crater: Dave and Elaine Baldwin, Cliff Jones, John Strauch, Paul Freiman, Brian Smith, and Mary Motheral. I had a few last minute cancellations and one no-show, but the group size was just right for fun hikes and camping, and not unmanageably large.

We climbed the standard route on Tin. My navigation while driving the Racetrack road could have been better, as we wound up parking at a wide spot a few tenths of a mile farther along than was optimal. This left us a slightly longer than usual walk up the alluvial fan to the toe of the target ridge. No matter, we endured a few extra small gullies and reached our ridge without incident. This ridge goes very nicely with a reasonable gradient, good footing, and little brush. The ridge bends E and then SE on the way up to point 8 160+. A steeper section with more boulders and rocky outcrops just below 8160+ was the only class 2 that we encountered all day. After crossing this bump, we basically followed the Peaks Guide route, crossing an intervening ridge, traversing, and dropping slightly into the gully behind it. This gully provided easy walking for a short distance in a sparse piņon and juniper forest. There are many obvious spots where one can leave the gully and climb the easy final slopes to the summit. As one might expect, this high peak at the northern end of the Cottonwood Mountains provides spectacular views, covering all of Death Valley, the Inyos, Whites, and even as far as the southern Sierra to the west and Charleston to the southeast.

After about an hour on the summit enjoying lunch and the views, we made our descent via the same route. One minor variation was that on the steep section just below 8 160+, we plowed down a scree slope on the left (SW) margin of the ridge instead of the rockier route that we had ascended. This seemed to work pretty well. The rest of the hike down went fine and we returned to the vehicles in a total time of 8:15, which was not bad considering the long break on top. Skies were partly cloudy with no wind and nice temperatures all day.

After a short break at the cars to compose ourselves after the climb, we drove south toward the Racetrack and turned on the Hunter Mountain Road at Teakettle Junction. Our plan was to camp along this road, and then drive the rest of the way to the Nelson trailhead on Sunday morning. We had received dire warnings about the condition of this road from the ever-cautious park rangers, be we found the road to be OK for any vehicle - John drove his Hyundai over it with minimal concern. This road traverses seldom visited areas such as Hidden Valley and Ulida Flat on its way over Hunter Mountain. The days are short so we were a bit disappointed at not having time to visit the Racetrack itself as part of the drive, but our route itself provided fine scenery. Mostly it is high-desert sage country until you start gaining elevation and hit the trees on Hunter Mountain. We camped at a nice spot on a spur road leading to the Hunter Mountain cabin, about 3/4-mile from the main road. We all had a chance to check out the cabin, which is mostly intact but in need of some TLC. Back at camp the appetizers and dinner items came out, featuring a "beers of the world" tasting. From the USA, we had Sierra Nevada, Boont IPA, Mississippi Mud, Gordon Biersch, and the "Baldwin Homebrew". From Germany, there was Spaten and St Pauli Girl. From England, Newcastle Brown Ale. From the Czech Republic, there was Pilsener Urquell. This fine selection was accompanied by various snacks and appetizers, quesadillas, salads, and desserts. Thanks to all of the chefs!

The relatively high altitude of the camp (6700') made for "brisk" temperatures the next morning - I read 26° inside my truck before dawn. But, the morning sun quickly warmed us as we breakfasted and loaded the trucks. We drove the remaining few miles of the Hunter Mountain road to its junction with the Saline Valley road, which we followed out to the White Talc Mine road and then to the Nelson turnoff. Here we consolidated into four high clearance vehicles for the rough road into the cabin at the start of the Nelson climb. We had clear skies, nice temperatures, and calm winds during the short climb to Nelson's summit. We climbed up the ridge and down the next gully south, as recommended in the Peaks Guide, and had no route finding problems. The climbing was rather steep and tedious on the lower part of the ridge until we moved a bit farther right (5) where the footing was better. Round trip was a leisurely 3 hours. We wasted little time driving back to reclaim the other two vehicles at the start of the 4wd road, where we shared some remaining snacks and cold drinks, and then said our good-byes and headed home.

It's always nice to lead trips where everything goes smoothly, the weather is great, and everyone gets both peaks and has a good time. Thanks to all the participants and to Sue for co-leading.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
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