Avawatz Mountains, Smith Mountain, Brown Peak
By: Robert 0. Greenawalt
We took off from Bishop at 6AM and drove via the Sandy-Last Chance road to Stovepipe Wells, where a ranger informed us that the government was shut down and that she could not sell us a topo for Canyon Point.
Canyon Point Road Washed Out - We tried to get to the trailhead anyway, but the road was washed out where it enters Cottonwood Canyon. An effect of the mid-September rains, no doubt. High-clearance 4WD drives might make it, but being without a map or clear climbing instructions we aborted, and drove to Avawatz.
Avawatz Road Washed Out - We found the Avawatz road, as advertised, 0.1 mile north of the 19-mile milepost on the Baker-Shoshone road. The road is hard to find because the road crews run the grader across the entrance, so that there is no path across the berm. But they leave little gaps for drainage, and we plunged blindly into one of these a few feet to the north and found the road. This road has also been washed out, and is presently suitable only for high-clearance vehicles.
We bumped our way up to Mormon Springs, and walked up, swigging beer, to look at the 'crux move a mile above. The crux is a place where the road runs through a narrow cleft between two rock faces, so that the water scours the road down to bedrock. This place too is in bad shape, with many of the rough underlying rocks exposed.
We brought the car up over a bad road, washed out in places, and camped just below the crux, and the next day climbed Avawatz following the Peak Guide. The road above the crux is mostly OK, but we walked. It was very warm all night, but a front came through in the morning, so that we had a nice cool day for a healthy walk (12 miles, maybe 4000 vertical feet counting bumps). Conclusion: those who say we need a better route up this peak are right. Too much messing about in cars.
Smith Mtn - Leaving the Avawatz area, we drove north through Shoshone to Smith. It was dark by the time we got to the camping area. The night was cold and windy. In the morning we drove to the optimum takeoff point and then followed the gully to the peak with only a short side trip up one of those promising gullies that wasn't. Smith is a neat peak; easy, great views, but with 23.5 miles of dirt road each way.
Brown Peak - This was the second time up Route A for Owen. This route is really dumb, and should be removed from the Guide. The gain is not 1700 feet but more nearly 2500 including ups and downs. Just to follow inappropriate urban instincts and park in the parking lot at Deadinan Pass, one climbs the wrong mountain and then sidehills a few miles of scree slopes to get to the real peak. Dumb!
To avoid repeating this mistake, we came down the canyon shown as Route B in the Guide (very fast and direct, down the central ridge to the wash), and then traversed 2.5 miles across the desert (easy walking) at constant altitude to the car, crossing a number of gullies, of course, but none very large. It is better (faster, shorter, less gain and loss) to park at Deadman Pass and walk across the desert to do Route B than to do Route A!
Doing Route B itself is better yet, but the road north of Deadman Pass has some fairly deep gravel on it, so one might want to leave 2WD cars at the pass.
A More Direct Route - The trouble with both Routes A and B is that even after gaining the first saddle one must drop into a canyon, hike a mile up a wash, and then climb over a ridge to get to the peak itself. This adds 600 feet of gain. There appears to be a much more direct western route, which can be seen from the top of the cliff west of the peak. I have not done this route. Park at 3000 feet or a little lower as if doing route B, but then go to the canyon west of the peak instead of the one farther south. This is the canyon north of point 3882 on the 7.5-minute Deadman Pass quad. Go up the left side of the canyon to reach the bench NW of the peak, then go up the peak on either the north or south side (there is a ramp leading around the west side from north to south). This route has about 600 feet less gain than Route B. Less miles, too.
Other routes from the north also work (see Route C in the Guide) but there are a lot of bumps and false peaks. We drove out to the north, and the road is now nothing but a wash -- fun to drive in a 4WD. We kept trying new forks, and deciding that wasn't the road either. We started to worry that we would be forced to drive through a culvert under the highway and find ourselves in the river, but we eventually found a track that was so much worse than the wash that we decided it had to be a road. And Lo! It came out on the highway as the map claims.
All these hours of bumping around on desert roads save only about 1000 feet of gain. Those who prefer climbing to driving should park on the highway due east of the peak at about 1900 feet. 10 miles round trip, 3000 feet gain.
After this excursion we headed for Beatty, for dinner at the Burro Inn, followed by a quick trip back to Bishop and Mammoth over Westgard Pass.
Four years of drought have left the desert in poor shape. Even the creosote bushes are dry, and the bitterbrush is struggling. The rodent burrows seemed unoccupied, and we saw almost no signs of wildlife, except for sheep tracks on Avawatz. Pray for rain, while you can still find a rattlesnake to pray with.
ANATOMY OF A MUMMY or WHY I NEED THE DPS ROAD & PEAK GUIDE
Should oneself be found a few miles north of Las Vegas on Highway 95 towards Tonopah,. to the west is presented a rather unusual view. Charleston Peak, southern Nevada's highest summit, boldly looms at its 11,918 ft elevation. Between it and our highway reposes a high rocky formation, perhaps half a mile or more long, resembling a reclining mummy with folded palms, oriented in a general N-S direction. It is not too shabby with its 11,530 ft loftiness, and is aptly called Mummy Mountain.
Charleston Peak and Mummy Mtn, part of the Spring Mountain Range, are about a airline mile separated, and though the former is well above timberline, both possess slopes graced with spotty stands of bristlecone pines--quite rare in any forest--and the biggest groves I have seen. They come in two forms--the living and the dead. The dead snags are no less than grotesque--so clean and etched after their long contact with age-old. snows and windstorms, and many still cling tightly to the soil. Bristlecones are considered to be among our oldest living trees. Also at the lower heights, many conifers and other evergreen trees abound. Being true desert peaks, there is little moisture and one wonders how these big trees find support. It has to be the ample snowfall--which fades away quickly in anticipation of an approaching Las Vegas summer. Only one flowing stream is said to exist within Toiyabe National Forest--the locale of both summits--that of Deer Creek--which feeds off the east side of Mummy. The rest of the watersheds are only normally, dry washes.
On a mid-Oct day last year, I found myself on said Highway 95, appearing at the Mummy. I had another day to spare before arriving home solo from Utah, so I decided to try and lick this DPS task.
The $2 Forest Service map is quite void of Mummy info, of which I lamented, and my 30+ yr old USGS Charleston Peak Quad topo sheet does not well explain the situation. Upon a previous inquiry at the there-local USFS station, a lady ranger pointed to me the route she thought was best--as we huddled over a plaster 3D scale model map of the area. However upon questioning, I learned she had never attempted the climb. This is a user-unfriendly region since trail signs are just about nil, and numbers like 2042, unmarked on the USFS map, mean nothing to the visiting hiker. I began from east side Deer Creek, however again the lack of signs or markers certainly confused this newcomer. Mummy looks to be not over two miles away from the parking lot. The Charleston Loop Trail with its several blocked and abandoned graded roads is just not well denoted as the hiking trail it is intended to be!
What I could not fathom was that no trails to Mummy Mtn are shown on any of my maps. Now I know why! There are none! I feel Mummy delights in restricting access to its heights. Its upper reach ascent is as though trying to climb a high birthday cake! There is little or no means of obvious ingress on most all of its perimeter. The apparent, fifty foot or so thick, white rimrock, seemingly completely girdles the several acre, quasi flat, summit.
Using my best judgment as to where to leave the main Charleston Loop trail at the south side of Mummy, and as suggested by my USFS advisor, I found some previous bootprints, but no signs or marking ducks were around. My route choice began at the only on-trail spring along the Charleston Loop route. This may also be reached a couple of miles up from the Kyle Canyon roadhead. After a two-hour plus upswing, I was not quite at ease with false attempts up two chimney-like cleavages with a more than just a little exposure! All they offered were steep near-side scree slopes that led to deep, V-grooved saddles overlooking steeper scree on their far sides! Such events spelled no progress. I found a third and last chimney and went up a bit--again the exposure had me scared ropeless! What a place to fall! I was on a secure ledge but how to get down? Tossing off the day pack, I felt more agile. I made it down the chute-always facing the rock. What next? Go home? The PM was going fast. Just about thirty more feet and I felt I could conquer the cake, as I could see stubby trees hanging over the edge above me. I was determined to try it again, so did. Ever so lucky, I reached the top, but was sure I could not get back down this way. Several hundred level feet away I saw an entrenched pole indicating the register. I approached and found it--housed in a WWII-looking metal cartridge case, complete with spring-loaded cover to deter the elements. I wrote a resume of my ascent, and also noted some of my sentiments. I was still wondering how I would get off this monster! I must leave this summit as it is freezing at night and I am skimpily dressed--I told myself--followed by an order to calm down and enjoy the scenery. Being up there alone gives one time to think! I sat down at another spot and ate a juicy pomegranate. This fruit serves well atop a peak since it demands time to peel--while enjoying the vast views such a vantage point provides! Farther west, Telescope Peak over Death Valley way was in full bloom! With a 180 degree swing, it seemed as though I was peering around Zion N P, where I had been the day before.
Next, I went to another portion of the cake and it was all vertical-and another-and another. Yes, an element of fear grabbed at me, but I knew I was not licked, since one 1984 register entry by an old DPS friend cheered me. Bill Banks penned that he had reached this summit by means of pawing up some ridge extending from Charleston Pk. But where? I searched several places without success. My prime thought was to get off before sundown--it was already a short-day 3PM plus. I finally found a viable route ahead, which relieved me no end. At last I got off the cake, and through a steep and heavy scree slope was able to intersect (no ducks again) the main Loop trail. This must be the only logical approach to Mummy, and I should have used it at the start. It was still five miles back to the car. Returning, I took the marked side 1/2 mile foot trail to Mummy Spings--seeps at about el.8600'--to see its action. This was indeed startling, as the only moving water was that dripping from six-foot long icicles!
When I reached the car, the dogs were well spent and I figured that I was just about four hours overdue, with about six more mountain miles added than expected. It was a great day, and now I have one more exciting Desert Peak memory to add to my collection--but had I the Road & Peak Guide my day would have been much less fretful, secure, and more relaxing!
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