Panamint Butte, Towne Peak
By: Wes Shelberg
PANANINT BUTTE (6585-ft.) and TOWNE (VABM 7287-ft.)
At a recent DPS monthly meeting Gordon MacLeod said that he had climbed Panamint Butte from Panamint Valley. Because he recommended the mountain, Jack Grams and I climbed it last January. The climb was thoroughly enjoyable although we did not start in Panamint Valley.
Our "road head" was Towne Pass on Highway 190 at the boundary of Death Valley National Monument The route to Panamint Butte (cf. Topographic Map: Panamint Butte, Calif., 15-Min., 1951) struck approximately west from Towne Pass and gained the Panamint Range ridge line; followed the ridge to the summit of Towne (not named on the map) where there is a decrepit register; continued northerly on the ridge to Peak 7284 which is the junction of the Panamint Range and the Cottonwood Mountains; descended the crumbly westerly face of Peak 7284 to the saddle; and then struck westerly to Panamint Butte which is readily visible in this area, thus avoiding further use of the Panatnint Range ridge line after the aforementioned saddle. The route was Class 2, was seven miles one way, and required a full day (sunrise/sunset) with a short time at the summit. Summarizing, one climbs from Towne Pass (4956-ft.) to Towne (7287-ft.) and then descends to Panamint Butte (6585-ft.). The total elevation gain for the round trip is about 5500-ft. A register was left in a plastic box.
The west side of the Panamint ridge north of Towne Pass drops off precipitously to Panamint Valley while the east side slopes less steeply to Death Valley south of Peak 7284. The ridge provided fine views of northern Panamint Valley with its playa and small sand dune, the Argus Range with Maturango, the Panamint Range north of Telescope Peak, Hunter Mountain, Olancha Peak, Southern Sierras, the Inyo Mountains, the White Mountains, and the Spring Mountains with Charleston Peak. All the high desert ranges were snow-capped. There was about a foot of snow on the top of Towne, none on Panamint Butte, and the snow pack on the White Mountains seemed especially heavy.
Mountain sheep galore. We surprised four mountain sheep at close range as we passed in the vicinity of Peak 6625 on the way to Panamint Butte. They fled immediately. This sighting was satisfying, but little did we realize the treat yet in store. As we topped a small rise in the saddle between Peak 6625 and the next Peak (Towne), we suddenly saw a herd of 15 mountain sheep about 100 feet away. We instantly squatted undetected beneath the line of sight, got cameras out of rucksacks, stood up, startled the herd (unintentionally) which took off like greased lightning, and took pictures of fleeing white tails. Later, as we rounded some rocks near the summit of Towne, we surprised another, young mountain sheep about 30 feet away. His reaction was to walk away from us contemptuously to disappear behind some rocks.
Wild horses too. Just before starting the final ascent of Panamint Butte's easterly face, we topped a small rise and startled a herd of ten wild horses about 50 feet away. These were splendid animals, not mangy or sick, and two were wholly white. They fled in single file, the rear stallion uttering some sounds leaving little doubt that he was quite irritated. Two other wild horses viewed the proceedings from afar.
A Panamint Butte trip would be a good DPS scheduled exploratory. An exciting route would involve starting at Towne Pass, traversing the Panamint ridge to Panamint Butte as outlined above, and then descending to Panamint Valley and ending at Gordon's starting place (ask Gordon) or nearby at the Big Four Mine road head. An easy 16 mile car shuttle would be involved for this full day trip. The total elevation gain for such a traverse would be about 3640 feet, and the total loss would be about 6140 feet (to the Big Four Mine).
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