Needle Peak, Manly Peak
By: Paul Bloland
The Approach. Needle and Manly Peaks are both located in Butte Valley, one of the most remote areas in Death Valley National Monument, reached from either the east or west by bad roads. Our original plan had been to use the eastern approach both ways so that we could stop at Tecopa Hot Springs on our way out on Sunday. In a phone call to Park Headquarters I learned that a conventional Subaru had made it in and out of Butte Valley via the Warm Spring Canyon Road several weeks before but that Goler Wash was also feasible for 4WD. We decided on the Goler Wash/Mengel Pass route as the more conservative choice for our approach. Later, after talking with several drivers which had entered from the east, we were glad that we had decided upon our western approach.
We used the DPS Road and Peak Guide information to direct people to the almost vanished and now privately owned 1897 ghost town, of Ballarat, several miles east of the Trona/Wildrose Road north of Trona. Members of our party arrived through the night at our off-road camping spot, a strictly utilitarian turn-out a quarter of a mile south of Ballarat which we had marked with an orange cardboard sign.
After finishing breakfast, the 17 members of our party consolidated cars and left at 7:00am to caravan down Wingate Road, a good, well-graded dirt road, apparently well-traveled by mining trucks during the week. Fifteen miles south of Ballarat we turned left up the Goler Wash road which was narrow but also well-graded as far as the Keystone Mine. It was in this area, according to Barbara Reber and Owen Maloy, that the notorious Manson Family hid out at the Barker Ranch after the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969.
Above the mine, the road got much rougher so we shifted into 4WD. Several very bad sections were luckily by-passed by short detours. About 9:3Oam we dropped down into Butte Valley, distinguished by Striped Butte, a small gray and white-banded peak that rises abruptly from the level valley floor. After a brief look at the cabin at Grand View Spring, we drove across the valley on a good track to park (plenty of parking) at Willow Spring for our climb of Needle.
Needle Peak (5805'). Leaving the cars at 10:30 we elected to go counterclockwise (south) around the hill in front of us, following essentially the route marked on the map in the DPS Guide. The route took us up and down across a series of medium-sized gullies, over a larger shelf of white limestone and, turning to the right, up the canyon to a high dividing ridge. Here we turned left (east) to follow the quickly steepening ridge, up over much loose rock in a gully to a false summit which we by-passed to the right. Here we could see the actual summit across a deeper saddle. In a short time we were all on the summit itself to relax, sign-in, and enjoy the expansive views of Death Valley to the east. For Jerry Hanes and Ron Matson, this was their first desert peak with the DPS. After some lunch, photo opportunities, etc., Ed Lubin retraced our route back to the cars, arriving about 4:15pm.
Based or, Andy Zdon's recommendation and photograph, it had been our original intent to camp at Russell Camp, located at the base of a canyon below Manly Peak. However, a quick reconnaissance found the Grand View Spring cabin and Russell Camp already occupied so we decided to camp for the night in the level space back at Willow Spring.
Ed Lubin had designed a sheet metal fire ring (see footnote below) intended to contain a campfire and was anxious to test it so we had a fine campfire to accompany our snacks, jug wine, and dinner. While we sat around and talked, it began to thunder and lightning in the distance while banks of clouds covered up the brilliant stars. A few drops of rain precipitated a rapid exudus from the campfire to shelter; it actually did rain for awhile but not enough to inconvenience anyone.
Manly Peak (7196'). The morning of the 10th was initially overcast but turned bright and clear with last night's clouds totally dissipated. At 7:00am we caravanned back up the dirt road to park our cars outside the fence surrounding the cabin at Grand View Spring. It was a short hike over the ridge to Russell Camp where we headed up the canyon to the saddle at the head of the canyon. At the saddle we turned right to follow the long sandy ridge up almost to point 2165-T below which we contoured up the ridge leading to the summit. We were at the summit block at about 11:15am.
The jumble of vertical boulders at the summit discouraged most climbers but Ed Lubin, John Thomasen, and Tom Moumblow chimneyed their way up a slanting crack to the right from which they could move up to the highest point. They handed down the register which had beer, moved from the base to the summit block where it is now more or less permanently fixed. We generally agreed that the pitch was more like Class-4 than Class-3. Most could have climbed it with a top rope but without a rope it was too risky.
The return trip was fast with the loose sand now a boor, rather than an impediment. We were down to the cars by 2:30pm and, after exploring the two cabins, we caravanned our way back over Mengel Pass and down Goler Wash (Canyon) without incident. Tom Moumblow's skillful driving brought even his 2WD truck over the worst of the rough road. Back at Ballarat we parted company after a most satisfying week-end climb in, a remote and beautiful desert area. Among the others climbing these two underrated peaks and taking advantage of the exceptionally fine autumn, weather were Judy Ware, Ruth Bloland, Evelyn Chadwell, Ron Grau, Doug Hatfield, David and Mary Ann Campbell, Rheta Schoenemnan, and Mark Adrian.
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