Smith Mountain, Potosi Mountain


By: Ed Lubin



Paul and Ruth Bloland and seven potential DPS members from a Sierra Club evening hike I lead--Don, Melissa and Trevor Macri; Hal Rice; Tim Brazell; Anne Marie Schober and Allen Frankel--jolned me on the trip: mountaineering was a new experience for Melissa, Trevor and Allen.

Smith Mtn., on the north rim of Death Valley, is ordinarily done with nearby Brown Peak, car camping off the Greenwater Valley Road. But Brown is also done with Eagle Mtn. #2 so we decided to do Smith with not-easy-to-combine Potosi Mtn. In Nevada, about 32 road miles, 23 air miles. SW of downtown Las Vegas. This added about 110 miles to our trip but there were at least two advantages. After Smith we were able to stop at Tecopa Hot Springs, which is State owned and free, for a shower and refreshing dip; then. driving via highway 178, dine at a casino restaurant in Pahrump. These two stops also broke the drive to Potosi into three reasonably short segments.

Trip highlights Included fine weather with mild daytime temperatures; nights down to freezing; climbing two peaks with contrasting desert scenery finding pseudo fossils while climbing Smith and excellent view of Death Valley from its summit; the hot springs; seeing how three fully grown persons (the Macri family) and their 70-pound,boxer could cram into and sleep in the back of my Cherokee; arising in the AM at Potosi to find, besides litter and dung, two tepees nearby, and around thirty people-men, women and children--walking about, many in buckskins, some men carrying muzzle loading rifles. This was no dream. They were a group of palefaces interested in recapturing a period of early Americana. Mark-Mark, one of the powwow leaders, approached' and informed me our vehicles (three Cherokees and a Blazer) were in their target practice area. We were moving anyway. He also said that it was illegal for us to have camped next to a spring. Unwittingly, we were at a tiny water trough pipe-fed by the spring. The wild burros indignantly braying during the night, almost in camp, should have alerted us we were doing something wrong.

We failed to reach the summit of Potosi, thanks to an unplanned 10:30 a.m. start. Using the DPS Guide, Route A. we hiked for 3-1/2 hours toward the peak and got within one mile (about 1/8 mile before the junction of Route B). It would have been necessary to return in the dark had we continued on, and the danger of becoming lost or injured due to the terrain, would have been beyond safe limits.

On our way home, some of us stopped for dinner at Whiskey Pete's In Stateline. A few had the $3.95 prime rib dinner special, which was good. Playing "nickel-one-arm bandits." Don and Melissa won more than enough to pay for their meals, and Hal his by playing blackjack. As an attraction, the casino has Bonnie and Clyde's bullet-riddled car on display and, by our encounter with the Group at Potosi. I was reminded it was only a moment in time between when the Indians and Bonnie and Clyde roamed the Great Plains. Paul did his usual good job of leading the climbs and, even without bagging Potosi, the trip was enjoyable.

The DPS Guide was used, and I have sent the following comments to Editor, about the accuracy of directions:


Smith Mtn. 2.16:

We found the directions clear and easy to follow; however, from Shoshoni to roadhead, was there some reason for not using the same mileage measurements shown on the AAA Death Valley Map? Unrelated, there are roads not shown on the AAA Map or the Topo. I would add a new Guide classification and downgrade the sandy, Greenwater Valley Road from "good" to "fair". Would it not be safer to lean toward underrating roads, rather than in some cases, the opposite, or perhaps stating "marginally ___"if there is any question? We met and car camped on a flat, but gravelly site, 9 miles in (a good place for doing Smith and Brown together). SSimular sites existed en route. Bench mark 3090, about 30 ft back from the NW corner of the Gold Valley Road intersection, 10.7 miles in, can be used as a checkpoint for where to turn and for setting altimeters. This road is high clearance in a few places, mostly improving with distance in and becoming hardpan. Are you aware some unpaved roads in the Monument are no longer being maintained? Climbers may be interested to know that in the canyon on the way up Smith, there is a large quantity of off-white (without lab testing) volcanic rock laid down during the Tertlazy period (about 5-30 million years ago). There appear to be fern-like fossil markings on the pieces of rock, but actually these are foreign mineral intrusions (probably manganese oxide) called dendrite. A compass bearing from Smith to Telescope Peak could be included for those interested in Telescope's location. After a cursory search from the road, we could find no sign of the Gold Valley ruin indicated on AAA map: and we understand Willow Spring is only a seep in a tangle of vegetation. (Would it not be a challenge to start on the Death Valley floor and be picked up in Gold Valley by a party climbing from there?)

Potosi Mtn 6.9:

We found errors In the directions. Our highway approach was from Pahrump. There are roads off SR 160, at the "road summit," but not the one for Potosi. I would rewrite the driving directions something like the following:

Drive Route A: From Blue Diamond/Pahrump exit, off I-15, 9 miles south of Las Vegas. Nevada, go west ___ miles to signed, Potosi Road, ___ miles east of (before) summit El 5493 or Mountain Springs Summit El 5493--maps vary. Turn left (southwest) on excellent dirt road, and go (4?) miles, crossing Potosi Pass, to Potosi. Ruins indicated on Topo (are the stone wails of a cabin size structure?). The spring is perennial. There are suitable campsites at Potosi: but the immediate area is impacted and occasionally used for target shooting. The road forks here, and (high clearance?) vehicles can go (1/4?) mile further south, on the left. uphill road. to a parking area on right.

Hike Route A: If the same route is given again in the next Guide, directions should begin at Potosi or (1/4) mile beyond, but not at Potosi Mine. We could not find a road to the mine--in some places not even a distinct trail up the steep mountainside. The Guide indicates a road but not full Topo. There is a good. wide and fairly level trail the last (1/2) mile, which could have been mistaken as the continuation of a road, but there appear to be the ruins of a small tramway at the opposite end. It should be determined if the concrete foundations adjacent to the aforementioned parking area were built for a tram. There are two symbols on Topo, which may indicate there once was one. We did see a road near the summit of Potosi, not shown on Topo. It should be determined where this road begins: the fire station in Mountain Springs or nearest ranger station may know. Possibly it can be used for an alternate route. There is a bump south of the summit and above the same road with what appear to be antennae or power lines at the top, highly visible and forming a good landmark. The number of bumps north to the peak which is not well defined, could be given. The compass bearing for Charleston Peak could be included for those Interested in its location. The fantastic view of Las Vegas, Nevada, jutting from the arid desert floor, could be noted. By contrast the climb area was greener than expected. I would classify Route A as probably much longer than Route B and having the most gain. It does pass near the mine, but the entrance appears sealed and there are no structures. There are numerous roads not shown on the Topo, including one leading in an easterly direction from Potosi (ruins) or nearby we saw it from the ridge. It and/or the ridge that begins east of ruins should be checked as a more direct, possibly even better, approach.

Drive Route B: The Boys Scout camp, named ___, is not 17 miles from I-15; It is on the Potosi road, ___ miles from SR 160. The location is also not clearly indicated on Guide Topo.

Hike Route B: We did not use this route: the directions seemed incomplete. Based on excerpts from "Tie Desert Sage", they probably should read more like the following: From locked gate, follow the power lines to saddle (east of point 2379?) where they end (Vol. 171). (Do you first follow the road inside locked gate to where the power lines cross it (see Topo) or is there a trail along power line easement? The (upper part of?) route is a bit to the right (west) of saddle and is very steep and rocky (Vol 190). (Turn left, east, 3/4 mile. to summit?) The cliffs are not indicated. Is this route like "A". also Class 2?

Topo Map: Magnetic North on the full Topo we used, read l6, not the 14-1/2' hand printed on Guide Topo.

Supplemental Information: The DPS Guide maps and directions are a useful aid for driving to and climbing listed peaks. It would be an informative adjunct if some future edition included the following details for each peak on Guide sheets or separately; name, address and telephone number of managing agency and nearest ranger station; climbing seasons; campgrounds and campsites; photographs; geology; ecosystems and habitats (perhaps the Conservation Committee could be of help with these two); area and local history first ascent; first DPS ascent and origin of peak name; perhaps also places normally visited on a trip. The following example is for the origin of names Potosi, Pahrump, Tecopa and Smith.

Potosi Mtn: Cerro de Potosi, 15,680 ft. in Bolivia, is a conical shaped mountain, honeycombed with thousands of mines, one of the richest ore bodies in the world, and famous. Mining began in 1545 and in three and one half centuries over one billion, four hundred million dollars in ore was produced. The name was given to a Department in Bolivia, and its capital; also Potosi in Chinadega Dept. NW Nicaragua: San Miguel Dept. El Salvador, a mining center of San Luis Potosi. State of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Potosl, Wisconsin; Potosi, Missouri; and Potosi Mine in the Comstock. In 1856 an Indian reported to Brigham Young a mine location on the north side of a mountain in Nevada, later to be named Potosi. (The stone ruin at Potosi may date from that period.) Legend attributes the name to an Indian word "potojchi" meaning "to explode because of rumbling sound inside mountain."

Pahrump: In southern Paiute, this means "spring in the rock."

Tecopa: This is a former mining camp, named after an old Paiute Indian Chief. He prevented a massacre of settlers in the Pahrump area. The name is derived from "tecopet" meaning "wildcat."

Smith Mtn: Named by the Merriam expedition in 1891, for F.M. ("Borax") Smith, (then?) president of the Pacific Coast Borax Company.

The Guide format is already good; however, the above additions would result in a book not only of interest to members, but, a broader readership. Both to draw attention to the Sierra Club and our Desert Peaks Section, may the day come when such a guide appears on the bookshelves of sporting goods and other stores.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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