Porter Peak, Sentinel Peak


By: Ron Jones


Seven of us met Saturday morning at the -248 feet elevation intersection of the Death Valley west side road and the road leading into Johnson Canyon. This is about 12 miles north of the Warm Springs road to Butte Valley. We drove about 7 miles on excellent road to a point at about 2000 feet where we passed an old corral and the track dips steeply into the canyon. We pushed on for half a mile further but stopped when cars began bogging down in the loose rocks and Eric Schumacher knocked a hole in the crankcase of his VW dune buggy. Ordinary 2WD vehicles might as well stop here, although high clearance vehicles driven carefully and certainly 4WD can continue on for 4 miles to the springs shown 3880 ft.

In November 1979 I led a Panamint Range traverse from Mahogany Flats to south of Sentinel Pk. The purpose of this year's trip was to continue the traverse south to Porter Pk; to reconsider adding Porter Pk to the DPS list (I led Porter from Pleasant Canyon back of Ballarat in March 1979) and finally to explore Hungry Bill's Ranch at 5200 ft in Johnson Canyon. This "ranch" was established about 1873 by a small group of Swiss farmers who cleared the land, built elaborate terraces and grew food for the miners at Panamint City until 1878 when a huge rainstorm nearly destroyed Panamint City. Hungry Bill was a Shoshone Indian raised in Death Valley, who saw the '49ers when he was a youngster, and was given title to this ranch in payment for his services as a scout in the Modoc Wars. Enormous long rock walls and terraces with black walnuts, pomegranates figs, pears, apples and domestic grapes remain. He was given his name because he frequently showed up at prospectors campfires asking for food. We backpacked up the road, staying in the north fork of Johnson Canyon and passing three petroglyph sites on the north wall., until reaching the before mentioned spring which is a nice spot for car camping. Continuing on for about three miles we passed an old arrastre site, did a little brush whacking and scrambling to relocate the use trail and finally arrived at the rock work and trees which identified Hungry Bill's (5,200 ft). We had lunch there, looked around a while and filled up with at least 2 gallons of water to last us for 2 days hiking and dry camps before taking the old mining trail shown on the topo leading south and west toward Porter Pass. Not too far from the old Ranch site we came across a well-preserved Shoshone wickiup. The mining trail isn't always easy to locate but with careful map reading it can be followed. We camped our first night about 5,800 ft.

The next morning we watched the sun rise over Death Valley spread below us before starting up for Porter Pk (9101'). Progress was a little slower carrying our heavy backpacks but the ascent of Porter was routine. Great views awaited us with Death Valley, Butte Valley, Panamint Valley, Middle and South Park spread out below us. We could see the Owlsheads, Charleston, Manley, Needle, sentinel Telescope Argus, Maturango and the southern Sierra spread before us. Steve Smith and I feel that this peak belongs on the DPS list and none of our party was opposed. From the east it would be done most easily by packing to Hungry Bill's and probably the second day hike the peak and pack out (its 7,000 ft from the cars or 3300 ft from Hungry Bill's). The alternative routes from the west would be to drive up the hopefully "better" road in Happy Canyon to about 5,200 ft leaving a 4 to 5 mile hike to Porter or to drive the normally horrible road (ask Campy, Norm Rohn or Dick Akawie) up Pleasant Canyon to the area of the Stone Corral or toward Middle Park (5800 to 6500 ft) leaving 3000 ft gain and a 3-4 mile climb to the peak. This is an excellent scenic and historical area.

That night we camped about one mile south of Sentinel Pk on the cl 1-2 summit ridge. The next morning felt good as we shouldered our backpacks with only a few quarts of water remaining and started up the cl 2 1/2 ridge of Sentinel. We topped out in mid-morning and stopped briefly to look down at the inactive mines around Panamint City before starting down the trailess north ridge to Panamint Pass. Not far from the summit, in an area of stable talus, Howard Gardiner stumbled and caught his fall to the ground with his left arm. Howard felt the familiar pain of a dislocated shoulder. Several of us tried resetting it as this had worked for Howard before but with no luck. We immobilized the arm and shoulder (it makes a good case for having 3 large triangular bandages in the group), split up Howard's pack and headed down to Panamint Pass and the mostly trailess route back to Hungry Bills. Eric and Dick Lejniers started out fast to repair Eric's car (he located 8 quarts of oil among us) and Dick to bring Howard's 4WD to the lower spring. We started down slowly, keeping in a group and after using our flashlights for the last 1 1/2 hours were met by Howard's car. I want to thank Steve Smith for his excellent assist and to Eric, Dick, Debby Paxton and Bob Emerick for their support and especially to Howard for his cheerfulness.

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