Dry Mountain and Funeral Peak Trip Report

Dry Mountain (8,674 ft) and Funeral Peak (6,384 ft)

Dates: November 28-29, 2003

Our plan for the long Thanksgiving weekend was to climb Dry Mountain and Funeral Peak on the California Fifty Finest list of prominent peaks. Furthermore, to fill in the time Edward Earl chose Grapevine Peak just over the Nevada border since it has a hefty 4,500 feet of prominence.

We agreed to avoid the mad rush out-of-town Wednesday evening by starting out Thanksgiving day. Nevertheless stiff traffic was encountered north on interstate 15 as we passed through the "Inland Empire" of Ontario, Riverside and San Bernardino.

We agreed to climb Dry Mountain first, on Friday, since that would leave a shorter climb for a return day that included a long drive home in more poor traffic Sunday evening.

We approached Dry Mountain southbound along Racetrack Road and within Death Valley National Park, arriving by dark at roughly 6 p.m. to a pullout roughly nine or ten miles from pavement and along the heavily washboarded Racetrack Road.

We enjoyed barbecued turkey that was reheated by roasting bitesize chunks over the open flame of our backpacking stove. The experience was diminished by both darkness and cold.

Dry Mountain entails a 4,000 foot net elevation gain from our 4,600 foot roadside camp. There is a 700 foot elevation loss prior to reaching a 7,200 foot saddle at the mountain's east base. The resulting 5,400 foot total gain suggested a ten hour round trip that would require every moment of available daylight.

We began our ascent, simply enough, at 6:32 a.m. just before sunrise. It was cold - perhaps thirty degrees F, with overcast skies. It never really warmed up the entire morning. After ninety minutes we had gained 1,500 feet as we entered the canyon and located the ridge route suggested by previous reports. The ridge took us to 7,900 feet where we rested on the downwind side of a tree. Edward, low on energy, wolfed down several snickerdoodle cookies.

There followed some cross-country rolling terrain and a 700 foot drop to the aforementioned saddle. From there a 1,400 foot slog up an obvious ridge gained us the summit of Dry Mountain at 11:42 a.m. Snow was present from the cross-country section onwards, and was generally unavoidable for most of the route. Nevertheless, at three to six inches, it was never deep enough to be a real concern.

It was too cold to enjoy lunch at the very summit owing to the wind chill. I hunkered down next to a nearby rock face just ten feet lower, and, protected from the wind, ate a lunch of kosher summer sausage, a cube of swiss cheese, and extra sour rye bread. A small box of Cracklin Oat Bran cereal with milk added the sweet component I crave. Edward signed the register and joined me afterwards for sausage.

Views of the High Sierra were, of course, marvelous. Unfortunately, it was simply too cold to enjoy the vista for all but brief moments while atop the very summit.

We descended at 12:24 p.m. and found the day warmed up only upon reaching the desert floor at the canyon entrance around three o'clock. We returned to Edward's Nissan pickup truck at 4:28 p.m., having made the round trip, as predicted, in roughly ten hours elapsed time.

The sun was setting as we drove to a secluded camping spot on an abandoned road a good part of the distance towards our next day's goal - Grapevine Peak.

Edward enjoyed canned macaroni with a tomato and beef sauce while I had a healthy and delicious can of Progresso lentil soup that, as the saying goes, "ate like a meal". My jewish egg bread, known as challah, was an excellent accompaniment for both of our dishes. It is fun to pull off pieces of the soft yellow bread, the loaf itself featuring rounded sections that are a hallmark of this bread traditionally served at the Friday evening meal.

We read books and magazines by carlight and headlamp in the cab until turning in around nine or ten o'clock.

The following morning we drove into Nevada in our quest for Grapevine Peak. The approach road proved too sandy after sixteen miles, so Edward and I bailed out. Edward was not particularly enthusiastic about this peak anyways since it was not on the California list. Besides, as with Dry Mountain, Grapevine Peak would have been a snow slog in less than ideal temperatures.

We passed through the small community of Beatty, Nevada enroute to Funeral Peak back in Death Valley National Park. Our plan had been to examine the Grapevine Peak approach and, if unencouraging, still have enough time to climb Funeral Peak the same day. This back-up plan was now effectively put into action. In Beatty we refueled and I had a 16-ounce hot chocolate with added coffee from the station's carafe - mocha is a wonderful combination! After Dry Mountain I was not craving my usual pint of (cold) ice cream.

Funeral Peak did not evoke the sense of awe and admiration of most high prominence peaks. In fact, it hardly looked like much at all from our carpark four miles east-northeast of the summit. Nevertheless we quickly filled our daypacks with water, food and extra clothing for an afternoon assault before darkness - departing at 11:28 a.m.

Our walk across the desert floor gained us some 600 vertical feet over perhaps 2 or 2 1/2 miles. Once on the mountain's east slope, it was impossible to avoid the black volcanic rock which was interspersed among the sagebrush in patches that stretched clear to the summit block.

The very summit lies atop a boulder outcropping with no obvious weakness to the east and south. The easiest route will be class 2 or low class 3.

The summit view of Death Valley far below was marred by an intervening mountain. However the temperature and wind speed was much more tolerable than had been our experience on Dry Mountain the previous day.

Edward enjoyed a piece of the lemon-frosted spice cake that I baked for us prior to departure. In truth I decided to not actually frost the entire cake owing to dirt road driving as this would have been a terrible mess. Instead, Edward and I frosted individual slices with a knife dipped into the can of icing. I opened a bar of Israeli white chocolate filled with hazelnuts and found it went well with both unfrosted spice cake and with Edward's snickerdoodle cookies. We also enjoyed teriyaki beef jerky that I purchased quite cheaply in Oceanside at an extreme discount market - just $2.99 for eight ounces!

Pyramid Peak was visible to the northeast, as was Charleston Peak on the eastern horizon way off near Las Vegas.

A rapid descent had us back at the vehicle just past 4:30 p.m. - sunset for these short days. Edward drove quickly to Dante's Point for an acclaimed view of the Death Valley floor. Alas, it was too dark to truly receive inspiration from this excellent vantage point.

Edward returned via route 127 to interstate 15, stopping in Baker for corn chips and soda. The traffic was heavy at times even though it was only Saturday evening. Just outside Barstow and prior to the merge with interstate 40, we took an exit and camped on the open terrain at a spot we had been to previously - within earshot of a train track and with views of the diminishing traffic as the night wore on.

Our plan was to continue home before sunrise, perhaps at 6:30 a.m., without the heavy traffic inbound from Las Vegas. Traffic was indeed light as we drove through Barstow and into Victorville. Here, we filled up the car and Edward enjoyed a full breakfast at Denny's.

I stayed in the cab and had my habitual reward for a 4,000+ foot day - a pint of ice cream with various mix-ins from the trip. In this case my 1,485th pint was Ben and Jerry's Cherries Garcia with cherry pieces and dark chocolate in a cherry ice cream base. The pint was extremely cold and hard upon purchase. Together with the ice-filled tupperware container I used to keep the pint cold for as long as possible, I set an endurance record for how long it took me to enjoy the entire pint - ninety minutes.

We arrived at my Del Mar home by late morning, transferred my gear to inside the house, used my computer to investigate some questions for my all-Alaska prominence analysis, and parted ways. Edward now had forty-two of California's Fifty Finest, while I had thirty-four.