Manly Peak, Needle Peak
By: Wynne Benti
We met our group at the junction of the Wingate-Ballarat roads in the town of Ballarat at 7am on Saturday morning. Participants included Vicky Hoover and Eric Wilson from the Bay Area, Stan Rosenwald, Dan Bleiberg, Bob Michael and Andy Zdon. En route to Goler Wash, we stopped at Redlands Canyon, future site of the Briggs gold mine. We listened to Campy recant the tale of the historic route taken by William Manly & John Rogers, when they left Death Valley in search of help for the Bennett-Arcane wagon train party, which was stranded near Bennett's Well on the west side of the valley. Manly & Rogers exited Death Valley by Redlands Canyon, which was included for protection in the original Desert Bill. However, during the bill's negotiations, historic Redlands Canyon was penned out of the final bill - opening the doors for the gold mine.
After our brief stop at the Briggs Project site, we drove on to the mouth of Goler Wash, a narrow passage between high walls of dark, polished rock. We stopped briefly at an old cabin site below the Keystone Mine. The words "OK - inspected by Goler" were etched in a concrete slab outside the cabin, a humorous testament to the value of building safety and their inspectors in the great desert wilderness.
The route to Mengel Pass was free and clear of washouts. We stopped at Mengel's grave site, with Andy noting that Mengel's peg-leg was, according to legend, buried deep within the impressive rock cairn. Various members of the group indulged in an early morning half-bottle of red wine while toasting Mengel. We stopped at Russell's Camp which was inhabited by a park service volunteer, the same guy we delivered mail and a bottle of whiskey to, about two years previous. We had planned to spend the night in the cabins, but didn't want to infringe upon his peaceful environs, though he invited us to stay.
We drove on to the next canyon beyond the geologist's cabin, and followed dirt roads past various mine workings, Mormon vintage, as far up into the canyon as we could. We climbed Manly from there, walking up a slope to the main ridge to the summit. The desert sky was big, beautiful and blue, with rain clouds in the distance. Campy led a brisk pace to the top, where we lounged about on the big flat rock where the summit register used to be. It appeared to have been torn and tossed from its cement sepulcher on the rock. We provided a human pillow for Vicki Hoover, who scrambled up the main summit block to see if the register might be up there - but alas, nothing.
On the return, we took an alternate ridge which brought us down a different canyon. Old mine tailings and debris, pre-1900 were present at the bottom of the canyon. We came upon the remains of an arrastre. Andy Z told us that the Mormons were among the first to mine the Panamints and used the burro-driven arrastre (a device developed in Mexico) to grind down rocks containing gold ores. The grinding marks were still visible in the stones paving the center and sides of the arrastre.
We hopped in the vehicles and drove a short distance to Willow Spring, the trailhead for Needle. We caught some of the last warm rays of the late afternoon sun before it set. Nice appetizers and vino, dinner and Campy's tub fire. Next morning, off at 7:30am. We followed the burro trails across the desert and over to the white volcanic tuff (referred to as a talc deposit in the DPS Guide description of this route), as identified by the trip geologists, Bob Michael and Andy Z, who would engage in various geological discussions and determinations of rock types found along the route. The route was very pleasant to the summit of Needle, hiked mostly in the early morning shadows. We spent a very leisurely hour or more on top, discussing among other things, the recently passed desert bill. On the way back descent, Campy took us a down a steep, quick & dirty gully alternative to the ridge route we had taken on the way up.
Back at the cars, we said good-bye. Campy and the. rest of the group were returning to the west side. Andy and I went out the east side, to Death Valley and eventually Shoshone. The road was in fine condition all the way to the valley, completely absent of washouts. This is a very interesting route and is highly recommended if you have the time. A number of different mining activities were evident, from gold to talc, talc being the most prevalent.
On Monday we followed Campy's route, a dirt road which wound its way through old groves of Mesquite across the Chicago Valley, and up an alluvial fan to the Nopah Range (meaning "no water" in Paiute). The road eventually turned into a wash and came to an end at the base of a ridge, southwest of the summit, identified by sheer south-facing cliffs on one side, gradual walking through desert scrub and steps of limestone on the other. Campy had discovered these old roads year ago. He and Dale Van Dalsem led the route as a DPS trip. It took us approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes to reach the summit of Nopah by this route, quite a bit shorter than the Twelvemile Spring alternative. Most likely, this will soon be closed off by the desert bill - which is unfortunate, because it is an outstanding experience.
Thanks to everyone for a great trip.
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