Sentinel Peak and Porter Peak 10/10/2021

Previous day

I woke up from my campsite in Panamint City around 5am. I knew I had a very long day ahead of me, so I wanted to get an early start. My plan was to climb Sentinel Peak and Porter Peak, and then return to Panamint City and descend Surprise Canyon back to the trailhead. I was anticipating about a 20 mile day with over 6000 feet of elevation gain. I packed up my gear, stashed it in some bushes near my campsite, and began hiking in the dark at 5:40am from 6368 feet above sea level.

The route to Sentinel Peak would involve hiking an old mining road up to Wyoming Mine at 7300 feet. From there, it would be a 2300 foot ridge scramble to Sentinel. I passed an old cabin at 0.9 mile.

It started to get light out as I passed the 1 mile mark.

I reached Wyoming Mine at 1.3 miles.

There were some tracks leading into the mine shaft.

There was some old machinery nearby as well.

The road continued a short way past the mine. I then turned south and began hiking up the ridge.

There was some scrambling required on the lower part of the ridge.

Sentinel Peak came into view in the distance.

The terrain was pretty easy as I followed the ridge to the summit.

I noticed some bristlecone pines starting around 9300 feet. Bristlecone pines are the oldest living things on Earth, and they only grow in the highest elevations of desert mountain ranges in California, Nevada, and Utah. I knew that they grow on the upper slopes of Telescope Peak, but I guess Sentinel is also just high enough to support a small grove of them near the top.

I neared the summit.

I reached the summit at 8:10am at 3.3 miles!

It was pretty chilly this early in the morning, so I bundled up to stay warm. I signed the register which had been placed in 1997. The previous entry was from April 25 which meant I was the first one up here since Spring. I located 2 “Panamint” reference markers but did not find the benchmark.

It was the clearest day I had in quite some time. There was no haze or smoke in any direction, including the Sierra. I could see all the way from Mount Baldy in the south to White Mountain Peak in the north. This is also one of the few vantage points where one can see both the lowest and highest points in the contiguous United States. To the east was Badwater Basin, the lowest point in Death Valley at -282 feet below sea level. Mount Charleston in southern Nevada could be seen in the distance (back left).

To the west I could see the High Sierra including Mount Whitney.

To the south I could see my next objective, Porter Peak. I would be descending off the summit to the left and then following the ridge pictured below.

I began descending off the summit after a 20 minute break. The initial descent was about 1000 feet down very steep terrain. I was already dreading having to climb back up on the return.

At 3.9 miles I reached the saddle between Sentinel and Porter. It was still a long way to Porter.

The ridge was actually very pleasant. There were numerous ups and downs, but it wasn’t too steep or brushy.

I came across a number of NPS boundary markers. I think the boundary of Death Valley used to follow the crest of the Panamints. In 1994 Death Valley was upgraded from national monument to national park and the boundaries were also expanded. The current boundary is further down the western slope of the mountain range.

There were also these markers in the ground.

At 6 miles I reached an unnamed peak of elevation 8900. Porter was pretty close now.

I descended to 8600 feet and then made the final 500 foot push to Porter. I saw a large animal way off in the distance. It had things sticking out of its head which I’m pretty sure were antlers (instead of horns), so I think it was a large buck. I also saw burro poop everywhere but did not see any actual burros. I knew that burros were all over the place in Death Valley but did not realize they ventured up this high.

Almost there!

I reached the summit at 10:37am at 7.4 miles! I thought the true summit was a little south of the Peakbagger coordinates, but I’m not 100% sure. The summit area is small enough that it only took a few minutes to explore the whole thing. I signed the register which had been placed in 2017. The previous entry was from April 25 (same party that had the most recent entry on Sentinel). The views were pretty much the same as on Sentinel. I had a great view of Sentinel (left center) and Telescope (center) to the north.

I could see Maturango Peak (foreground, left center) and Olancha Peak (background, right center) to the west.

Owens Peak a little south of Olancha:

Pyramid Peak (center) across Death Valley to the northeast:

I took a 20 minute break and then began hiking back to Sentinel. Most of the route between the 2 peaks was pretty gradual but I was really dreading the final 1000 foot ascent. At 8.6 miles I nearly stepped on a tiny little snake. It was dark and about the size of a pencil. It slithered away into the brush before I could get a picture. I was pretty surprised to see a snake up this high.

I reached the saddle at 10.9 miles. Now for the hard part!

The lower half of the ascent wasn’t too bad.

It got really steep around 9000 feet.

I reached the summit of Sentinel again at 11.5 miles. I took a short break since I was pretty exhausted, but I got moving again quickly since I still had 9 miles to go and over 7000 feet to descend. I began descending the ridge back to Wyoming Mine.

I made good time down this part and reached the mine at 13.5 miles. I could see Panamint City from above.

I noticed a deep mine shaft that I had missed in the dark on my way up. This was near the cabin I had passed at 0.9 mile earlier in the day. I was too chicken to take a step inside.

I hiked down the road back to Panamint City. At 14.6 miles I heard a loud rattle and saw a large rattlesnake on the side of the road. I was thankful that I didn’t step on this guy. He was curled up and ready to strike.

I reached Panamint City again at 14.8 miles. It was just after 3pm now and I had about 6 miles to go still. I found my backpack where I had left it and began the long descent down Surprise Canyon.

I was out of water, so I filled up at Brewery Spring, which I reached at 17.2 miles. I hadn’t noticed this sign above the spring on my way up the day before.

My boots got soaking wet again as I made my way down the lower part of the canyon. This is really a beautiful area and would be fun to explore even if not for the ghost town and the peaks.

I went slowly down the waterfalls to avoid slipping.

I made it back to the trailhead at 5:40pm. The couple I had seen the day before were still there, so I chatted briefly with them before departing. Today’s hike totaled 20.59 miles, 6060 feet elevation gain, and 12:04:45 total time.

As I was driving back out to the highway I saw about 7-8 burros, including this guy who crossed the road right in front of me.

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