Holiday Highs
(Tucki Mountain, 6726; Pahrump Peak, 5750; Black Mountain, 3941)

25 Dec - 1 Jan 2004 - by Debbie Bulger

Our annual Christmas desert trip got off to an inauspicious start when we opened the truck camper shell (at the motel) and discovered sleeping bags, blankets, and other gear sopping wet, not only with rain but with white gas from our leaking Coleman stove. We had left Santa Cruz in a steady rain expecting it to stop after we crossed the Tehachapi, but instead, the downpour increased in intensity forcing Richard Stover and me to pull off Highway 395 due to lack of visibility. We abandoned our plan to camp in the El Paso range near Ridgecrest and headed for a motel room.

We spent the evening watching our stuff tumble in the motel's dryers and part of the next morning buying a new gasket for the stove as well as plastic tarps and duct tape for the truck windows. Richard looked on the bright side postulating that the water may have kept the sleeping bags from catching fire from the gas.

With only a two-day window of clear weather predicted, we decided to go for Tucki which we had planned as a two-day backpack from Skidoo. Just getting to the former mining town of Skidoo was an adventure. Sections of the paved Emigrant Canyon Road had been flooded and the dirt Skidoo Road was covered in snow for much of the way. Not a problem except for the winding narrow parts with big drop offs.

We each carried two gallons of water and headed for the Martin cabin where we hoped to spend the night. Tucki is an easy climb but about 14 miles and an up and down 4300 feet of elevation gain roundtrip from Skidoo. I knew we didn't have enough daylight to do it as a day hike. From the start, we crunched on fresh snow, delighting in the kit fox and kangaroo rat tracks on either side. The descent down the first canyon on what appeared to be a washed-out miner's trail from yesteryear had a little added edge from the combination of the heavy packs, the steep slope, and the fresh snow.

The Martin cabin was indeed well-stocked as billed. Especially with mouse poops. Not wanting to stir up the Hantavirus, we removed the floor mats and replaced them (shaken out) after we left. We spread our sleeping bags and bivy sacks on the dirt floor. That evening my thermometer registered 5 degrees F. The water bottles not next to our bags froze solid.

On the cold summit the next day we discovered that Doug Mantle had run up the peak two weeks before for the 6th time.

Back at Stovepipe Wells we rewarded ourselves with dinner out. True to the weather forecast, it sprinkled that night. The next day we explored the nearby sand dunes with our trusty copy of "Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley" by Sharp and Glazner (highly recommended) and headed for Tecopa Hot Springs.

Our next peak, delayed a day by rain, was Pahrump, by far the most fun. This beautiful striped peak involves boulder hopping up a wash, walking through notches past a window rock, and traversing a summit ridge that is narrow enough to cause some folks knees to shake, especially if the wind is blustery. Just after dusk as we walked down the alluvial fan, we watched from the distance as a car stopped and a person with a flashlight peered into our truck windows. Too far away to do anything, all we could do was watch and hope everything would still be there when we arrived. Perhaps it was the sheriff just doing his job on New Year's Eve.

On New Year's Day we climbed Black Mountain near Barstow. It was a short, fun tromp over basalt chunks to a very windy and cold benchmark. As night fell we drove south on Black Canyon Road and continued south in the dark on a road which was not on the map. Suddenly, there was water all around us, and our truck sank deeper into the sand and slipped sideways even in 4WD. We concluded that Harper Dry Lake is wet this year. Luckily we could still turn around and retreated to the north and eventually found our way into Hinkley and home, our truck covered with mud looking like a real ORV.


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