26 December 2014

Ubehebe Peak

Death Valley National Park

Locate the trailhead.

We could see the trail to Ubehebe Peak switchbacking toward a northern saddle on our way back from wandering around the Grandstand. The trail is unmarked and starts from the same parking lot. A little examination and its worn surface pops out. The rock lined edges help pick it out. We found the start before leaving in the evening so we were sure of where to return to for a morning hike. Now we just start up it and see how it turns out.

Ubehebe Peak
Ubehebe Peak (on the far left). The switchbacks can just be seen as a light colored zig-zag to the saddle near the right.

stark black rock rises from light flat
The "island" of the Grandstand rises from the solid and dry mud of the Racetrack.

barrels of green almost completely hidden by spirals of pink
Of course, this is a desert so there is a variety of cactus to wonder about. While some will punish any touch, this one only gives information when touched to see if the spines are stiff or pliable. They are very stiff.

The slope of the trail is quite easy to climb and the tread is in very good shape. The upper switchbacks looked precarious from afar, but are solid and have little exposure when on them. The view expands quickly as we climb.

north northeast over road and toward mine
A short valley tucked behind a foothill of the Last Chance Range comes into view.

trail twisting downard around the mountain
Looking back over the trail.

tall rock juttings
Spires below show the mountain can be quite rugged in spots.

west of Ubehebe
A first look into the valley west of Ubehebe Peak.

The top is marked by a post in the ground. It is not the first post we have seen. There was one shortly before the top off to our left that would have been a short scramble to investigate. I had been tempted to investigate it and try to get at it from above, but find no better way to it. Turning attention back to the trail, it clearly splits here. There is no sign to go with the post, but people have placed a lot of rocks across the trail on the right and stacked cairns to either side of the trail on the left. It seems like too much and my suspicions are raised. Too many trail signs are placed to communicate to a few people and then left for all the rest to find. Examining the trails behind these rocks tells the opposite story. The one on the right is well worn while the one on the left is rough. It looks more like someone's favorite shortcut to me and I step over the blocking rocks and continue down the trail.

square post slanted in the rocks
A post marks the top of the saddle the good trail rises to.

Sung is more willing to believe the trail markers over the trail and gets more suspicious as we continue flatly rather than climbing. I feel fine with it as trails often wander around for a better approach. He spots a bit of trail heading down and decides there is no way this could be the correct route. I think it is an animal track as better trail continues over the next little hill of this flat area of the peak, but since I figure the other trail is just someone's shortcut, see no reason to press it and grab an even rougher use trail back to it.

As we climb, I note another post marking a spot in the mountain that seems unremarkable and has no trails going to it. I wonder again about the post, but keep climbing. The trail is rougher than that up to the saddle. The tread is subject to the whims of rocks that have not been subject to true trail building. We rise and fall as we scramble around and generally up the mountain. Some spots are easy class 2. It braids a bit, but there is usually a far better used path. We pass a rusty bucket of rocks as the only further trail marker on the way up.

rusty bucket full of rocks
What trail would not be improved by a random rusty paint bucket full of rocks?

We get to the top to look out across a deep cleft at the true peak to the south rising another 200 feet above us. We have made our way to Ubehebe Jr, North Ubehebe, Little Ubehebe, Ubehebe Light, or any of a host of other designations. Sung's real goal was a high perch from which to survey the valley below while I was thinking I was climbing a mountain, so he is satisfied and I feel some slight failure. It appears so close, but the scramble between looks a bit unruly, especially getting down off this peak. It is generally reported to be class 3 with exposure to take this route and few others have been explored. I think it looks much better than this peak, especially if one has the patience to go around it a bit. The Coast and Geodetic Survey team who placed the benchmark in 1950 (although dated 1948) drove up to a draw near the grandstand, then, "Pack up draw to the summit, thence north along the crest of ridge to the highest point and station. A 1-hour and 30 minute pack." It sounds like the approach from the south is easier, but you never know what a survey crew will find unnecessary to remark upon.

dark island of rock in the light Racetrack surface
We certainly have achieved the eagle viewpoint of the Racetrack and its Grandstand below.

Saline Valley, west of Ubehebe
A better view into the Saline Valley. Looking northwest and there are some snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.

Last Chance Range
Looking north along the Last Chance Range toward Dry Mountain.

Ubehebe Peak
The real peak rising above us to the south. The snowy Hunter Mountain is visible behind.

We head back again, neither investigating another route up to the real peak or the mysterious posts along the way. We have slow roads to travel, so must be leaving.

beaver tail cactus with fuzzy spots
Another cactus with a completely different philosophy on spines. It is a desert after all.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 10 January 2015

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