By: Bob Michael
The "Von Schmidt Line" sounds more like a WW I trench perimeter in the Ardennes than anything in our desert. But, a glance at a topo map spanning Nevada-California border reveals it to be a "ghost" boundary... the first survey, in 1873, of this frontier, A later sure vey, the one still used, made California ever so slightly smaller, so that in the Death Valley region the 1873 line is a little less than a mile inside Nevada. I never dreamed I would find a relic of that survey.
8,628' Wahguyhe Peak, second highest in the Grapevines, is a picturesque pointy summit that is definitely superior to Grapevine Peak, on the List as the range summit even though it is a rather uninspining rounded lump. Wahguyhe is especially handsome viewed from the area of the Stovepipe Wells Dunes. "Vegas George" Quinn and 1, along with Marvin Saines of Las Vegas I answered its siren call in April. We used the same approach -- across Sarcobatus Flat to Phinney Canyon -- as Grapevine and Palmer, but we uarked down the canyon at about 6,400'. From here, the brutally steen route went right up the NW flank of the NE-SW-trending summit ridge. (Any route to this ridge from further up the canyon looks unbearably steep.) We hit the summit ridge at about 7,900% from here, the summit is a mostly gentle walk about I mile SW through a splendid pinon forest.
At over 8,400', nearing the summit cone, I happened to be a fair distance ahead of the other two... they must have thought I'd been snakebit when I began yelling "OmiGOD!". There on the crest of the ridge was an intact monument from the 1873 survey -- a rock cairn holding a carved square wooden post. Although weathered, the carving was still legible -- "CALIF" facing southwest, "NEV" facing northeast, "1873" to the southeast, and "420 (something -- miles?)" on the northwest side, Aside from abrasion from countless storms, the post was exactly as the surveyors walked away from it 127 years ago, when the last embers of the Civil War had barely cooled. How many of these could be left? Surely, any one in an easily accessible spot has long since been stolen. Storms and gravity have collapsed others; those in forested places where there have been fires have probably burned. We asked each other, "What was this country like in 1873?"...and, looking around at the almost virgin landscape, we replied, "Pretty much like 2000".
From the monument, the summit is close at hand; it's almost a comic-strip caricature of a Deak from this angle, a pointed symmetrical cone. Attesting to its lack of visitors, there was no register; we placed one. A Nevada peak with a California view, right into the throat of Death Valley; a much better view than Grapevine because the terrain falls away precipitously on all sides. We looked across to the long Palmer ridge over Fall Canyon, a savage-looking defile even by Death Valley standards. I was reminded of a quote from Mary Austin: All mountain streets have streams to thread them or deep grooves where a stream might run. You would do well to avoid that range uncomforted by singing floods. You will find it forsaken of most things but beauty and madness and death and God.
Life must have been pretty rough for those old guys in 1873, shooting a line hundreds of miles across some of the harshest terrain on the continent. No cushy Ford Explorer was waiting for them in the canyon below. I'm sure it never entered their minds that people in 2000 would stumble on their monument while "out having fun". Will that monument still be there in 2100, and will people then still be p,,% able to go out:':!" h a v i n g f u n climbing peaks in a society that will surely have changed in ways as inconceivable to us as ours is to those pioneer surveyors?
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