Smith Mountain


By: Gary Craig



Brian Smith climbed his 99th DPS peak, Smith Mountain, on October 2 1st, thus completing the DPS Peaks List. Congratulations Brian! Scot Jamison and I had the pleasure of serving as the leaders on this outing. In addition to Brian and the leaders, other participants included Audrey Goodman and her son James, Yvonne Jamison, Jan Brahms and David Reneric, Barbee and Larry Tidball, John Strauch, Dave and Elaine Baldwin, Terry Flood, Greg and Mirna Roach, Jack Wickel, Gloria Miladin, Bill Gaskill, Rich Gnagy, Lova Hyatt and Stu, Karen Leonard, Alka Patel, and Didier Tais. My apologies if I missed anyone. Skies were clear and temperatures comfortable all weekend.

We followed the DPS Peaks Guide directions to the standard 4wd trailhead, and the directions were accurate and easy to follow. The road seems in no worse shape than it was 3-1/2 years ago for the Roach/Baldwin multiple list finish. Parking is quite limited at the nominal starting point for the hike, so large groups will want to consolidate into as few vehicles as possible for the drive in. The hike itself is straightforward, and we followed the Peaks Guide directions across the flats and into the correct gully with no difficulties. After winding through the gully to a point near its top, we rested and regrouped at a spot at the base of the only steep section. The gully divides here and we took the right-hand route (though I think either choice works) up a disagreeably loose slope for fifty vertical feet or so to easier terrain above. The route bends southward a bit here, after another fifteen minutes or so the peak itself comes into view. Well, almost, as one is looking at the rounded false summit with the true high point hidden behind, just a bit higher.

The group crossed the rolling terrain (complete with animal burrows reminiscent of the start of the Pinto Mountain hike) and hiked to, and over, the false summit, then down into the shallow saddle to once again regroup so that we could all climb the true high point together. We got Brian and Audrey up in front and they took off running at first towards the top, but cooler heads prevailed and the whole group caught up to witness and enjoy Brian's triumphant steps up to Smith Mountain's summit.

This is a fine peak for a list finish, with grand views of nearly all of Death Valley National Park and also the lands to the east (as far as Charleston) and south. The group celebrated on the summit with plenty of champagne, lunch, photographs, and even some folk dancing courtesy of Brian and his Dancing Troupe.

The return to the trailhead went fine, retracing our steps. Our overall time was a bit slow due to the large group size, but no one complained, that's for sure. We drove out to the Greenwater Valley road where we had left a few cars, and proceeded to our cathpsite for the evening. Scot had arranged permission for the group to camp at the Shoshone Mud Flats (a.k.a. "Clay Castle") with the owner (this is private property), and we're glad he did! This is an excellent campsite in a convenient location.

Before the trip, we investigated options for camping nearer to the trailhead, but those were all a no-go. All lands crossed after turning from the pavement onto the Greenwater Valley road are inside DVNP and thus subject to stringent rules regarding campsite location, group size, and so on. Anyway, a wide variety of snacks, entrees, desserts, drinks, and so on appeared at our camp, which the tail end of the group (including myself) pulled into just a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the Ibex Hills to the west. As is customary for list finish trips, the cooks outdid themselves! A fine campfire accompanied the meal, which turned into a sing-along ably led by Audrey and James on the guitar (we were going to bring a piano for Audrey, but the moving van never showed up). There were also many tales told (some tall, some not so tall) of past trips with Brian in the desert and in the Sierra. A fair number included the words "flat tire" (or is it "tyre"?)

The next morning a good-sized fraction of the group descended on the Crow Bar in Shoshone for breakfast. This completely overwhelmed the poor souls running the place, and although the service was always cordial and the food was tasty as usual, it took a long time for everyone to get in and out of there. Quite understandable. Most of the group said their good-bye's outside after breakfast, with various plans in place for Sunday's activities. In particular, Brian, Audrey, and James planned to take the main road through Death Valley and visit some of the tourist sites on the valley floor. I joined Dave and Elaine Baldwin and Larry and Barbee Tidball for a climb of Ibex Peak.

The trailhead for Ibex is on a dirt road reached by leaving the pavement of SR 127 about 1.25 miles west of Salsberry Pass, at UTM 503743. The dirt road parallels the highway to a turn south at UTM 497739. Go south about 2/3 mile to a junction at UTM 501729. The road on the left is staked "closed" immediately; park here and walk up the road behind the stakes (Andy Zdon's Desert Summits book needs to be updated in this regard, as it refers to driving up said road). Despite the extra distance we climbed Ibex in about 4 hours round trip, going up via the NW ridge (passing the "prospect" at 1 165m) and down via the "WSW ridge", for lack of a better description. We noted the signatures of John Strauch and Terry Flood in the summit register from just two days before, but the prior ascent was about two years ago... this peak is not frequently climbed!

This was an excellent weekend spent with good friends. I think everyone had a blast. Congratulations once again to Brian on his climbing success and to everyone else for helping to make this trip the special occasion that it was.

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