Smith Mountain, Eagle Mountain #2
By: Jon Inskeep
As is typical of many desert peaks, hiking up Smith was easier than the drive to the roadhead. 29 pleasure-seekers in 11 assorted vehicles met at the junction of California 178 and the Greenwater Valley Road (marked Furnace Creek Road), 1.7 miles north and 6 miles west of Shoshone at 7:30 Saturday morning. We caravaned 10 miles north along the good, graded road to the marked turnoff to Gold Valley, Here we left the sedans, doubled up, and continued 10 miles west and southwest along a steadily deteriorating road to the south end of Gold Valley. The last mile (between peaks 4863 and 4362) requires the negotiating of a very steep, rocky pitch that stopped most of the vehicles. A shuttle had everyone to the roadhead near the spot marked "prospects" on the map by 10:30. From here we contoured across the desert to the wash just south of Peak 5386 and followed this wash to the top, coming out on a ridge just east of the summit. 26 were on the summit by 12:45 for a panoramic view of at least 12 of our listed peaks, as well as a clear look into the southern end of Death Valley. On the return trip we contoured around to the southeast side of Peak 5873 and enjoyed a delightful scree run of a thousand feet into the valley. Everyone was back to the cars by 3:15 for the drive to the car camp at the base of Eagle.
The last and worst mile of the driving to Smith can be avoided by staying right at the last fork and driving 3.2 miles to the fork at elevation 3249 and then doubling back sharply to the left and driving south up the valley to an elevation of about 3800 feet.
The route up little Eagle starts in a canyon lying in about the center of the west side of the mountain. You are in the right canyon if you are able to look west straight down the highway coming from Death Valley Junction. There is a nice car camping spot just north of this stretch of highway between the powerline road and the Armagosa River. A group of 19 soon-to-be-experienced-rock-climbers left camp at 8:00 am; 17 were on top at 10:30. We climbed the alluvial fan and then up the left side of the canyon and straight up the main chute to its top. From here we went slightly left and up, along the side of a ridge to the north end of the summit block. It then required an up and down traverse south along the sharp razor-back to the summit. The first and worst part of this ridge can be avoided by dropping down on the west side, traversing along a sloping bench about 100 feet below the top, and climbing back to the ridge at a notch just north of the summit. Easy class 3 climbing brings one to the top. Our group used this easier way going down, after a half hour of peak counting on the summit, and everyone was back to the cars by 1:00. Some had visited the hot springs at Tecopa on Saturday night and more of us soaked off the desert dust on the way home Sunday. Eagle, though easy, is one of the most fun to climb peaks on the list although some beginners might find the summit ridge somewhat airy.
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