Deserting the Sierra; Corkscrew Peak and Thimble Peak

31 Jan 1996 - by Debbie Bulger (view roster page)

If it's winter and you still want to climb peaks and you're not into ski mountaineering, what do you do? Check out the desert.

I've climbed about 30 desert peaks and decided it was about time that I went on an official DPS (Desert Peak Section) climb. The DPS is part of the Los Angles Chapter. They publish a newsletter and list of desert peaks.

Corkscrew and Thimble are in Death Valley, usually quite pleasant in February. The drive to Stovepipe Wells is long, but the almond blossoms in the Central Valley were gorgeous. Campsites are $6/night in Stovepipe Wells. RV's reign, but the back row is reserved for tents.

I met the DPSers at 7:30 a.m. on the Daylight Pass road. Corkscrew itself is a fun, straightforward climb of 3300 foot gain. After climbing up the bank next to the highway, we followed the gentle wash for two miles to the base of the peak. As the wash narrowed, we had to climb a couple of easy dry waterfalls. Then we headed for a notch in the skyline ridge to the left of a reddish pinnacle (sorta reminded me of redbanks on Shasta-it was cold enough!)

Corkscrew has a twisty appearance, hence its name. Near the summit I noticed some fuzzy, cabbage-like, gray-green plants that were as soft as the inside of a kitten's ear. Can anyone identify them? I have never seen them before. That evening, the promised world class happy hour never materialized because of the fierce winds and bitter cold. We opted for dinner in Beatty, Nevada followed by a hot springs soak. Somebody has to do it.

The next day began with a wonderful tour of the abandoned mining town of Rhyolite, home of the unusual "bottle house" constructed of bottles (mostly beer) embedded in adobe. An idea for you heavy drinkers out there.

As the temperature dropped, we proceeded in 4x4s to Titus Canyon. This interesting road (especially for geologists) can also be negotiated in high clearance 2 wheel drive vehicles. The trailhead for Thimble begins at the top of the pass on the Titus Canyon road.

We had seen Thimble from Corkscrew the day before. It is a picturesque black and white striped peak that appears to be 5th class. As one climbs, the second class route becomes apparent. Since Thimble isn't on any list, it is less frequently climbed than "official" peaks. Personally, I enjoyed it more than Corkscrew. Elevation gain is about 1800 feet including an unavoidable drop and gain of 400 feet each way.

The climb of Thimble took only about three hours. Afterwards, we continued the Titus Canyon drive stopping briefly at another abandoned mining town--Leadfield--a monument to false advertising. The hills were salted with gold, house lots were sold, promises made, and the developers skeedaddled with a suitcase of dough. The post office closed down in six months.

As the LA group headed home, I returned to Stovepipe Wells. As the sun set, there was a spectacular double rainbow that stretched across the desert. The next morning the mountains all around were covered with snow making for an exciting drive home. Trip leaders, Greg and Mirna Roach, did a wonderful job.


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