Most people have never heard of Pahrump Point. It’s a small sub-6,000 foot peak in a tiny mountain range on the west side of Death Valley called the Nopah Range Wilderness Area. Manny and I were supposed to climb Lamark Peak near Bishop Pass this weekend, but the first big storm of the season rolled through the Sierras. Pahrump Point was our Plan B. Deserts are my winter playground of choice.
Death Valley is a little more than three hours from my house, so I looked for a scramble in the area that sounded interesting. Pahrump Point seemed to fit the bill. It was class 2, and the few trip reports I found online described the route as “hard.” This sounded perfect.
Unexpectedly, Shoshone was only a few miles from the trailhead. We scoped out the route in the afternoon, so we knew how to find it in the dark, then headed into town to eat and camp. The Crowbar is a diner that was started by one of the early Death Valley pioneers. It had a lot of personality, and the food was pretty good. We were able to camp a quarter mile down the road at an RV-style campground with a few tent campsites. We cowboy camped on some grass and slept well despite some gusty winds at midnight.
Starting Out Toward Pahrump Point
We started out just before first light with a cool breeze from the east. The 40-degree temperature was perfect, and as a bonus, scattered clouds created a stunning pink and yellow sunrise. There isn’t a “trailhead” for this hike. We used a GPS to find a place to pull over on the side of a remote highway and started walking across open desert. We soon picked up a faint road that led to the mouth of the drainage that began our route. In hindsight, I could have driven all the way to the mouth of the canyon and camped. Maybe next time.
The sun rose on the opposite side of the mountain, so we climbed in shade up the canyon until we reached the summit ridge. Death Valley is one of the most geologically active places on earth, and this was obvious by looking at the rock. There are few places on earth where you find volcanic, sedentary, and metamorphic rock all piled together along the entire route. The volcanic rock was extremely sharp, and I was glad we brought cragging gloves.
Death Valley is one of the most geologically active places on earth, and this was obvious by looking at the rock.
Reaching the Pahrump Point Summit
The route to the summit is about 8 miles round trip. It follows a deep canyon most of the way, then gains a lot of elevation quickly to reach the summit ridge. There is easy scrambling along most of the route that gets progressively steeper. The summit ridge is the highlight of the route. Once we acquired the ridge, we had a god’s eye view of the entire valley with sharp drop-offs on each side. Walking along this “sidewalk in the sky” was pure euphoria. Words, pictures, and videos can’t describe it. You have to be there.
Walking along this “sidewalk in the sky” was pure euphoria. Words, pictures, and videos can’t describe it. You have to be there.
The descent went smoothly. Doing all the scrambling in reverse put me into a flow state. It was part meditation and part game – descending smoothly, but as quickly as possible – and without falling. I didn’t have any falls, but at one point, my foot got glued to a sharp volcanic rock as I was tip-toeing down a sharp arete. I went to lift my foot to take the next step, and the jagged rock would not release the rubber on the bottom of my boot. For a split second, I thought I was going to faceplant on the razer-sharp volcanic rock in front of me. There was a pinch of fearful anticipation, then relief when I got my footing. “That could have been bloody,” I said to myself out loud. “Not death, but a lot of blood for sure.”
“That could have been bloody,” I said to myself out loud. “Not death, but a lot of blood for sure.”
Manny and I got back to the car at about 1:00 PM and ate lunch at The Crowbar before heading home. Traffic sucked, but we were still home by 6:00 PM. I think we are both looking forward to exploring Death Valley more this winter. It’s a truly magical place.
Once again, I have to confess my gratitude for days like this. I certainly don’t deserve this, and there are no guarantees of what life may bring in the future. Today is a gift.