Warning: This is long and there are numerous photos.
Name of trip:
Panamint/Death Valley 2010
3 SMB’s Steve/Robert B; Craig/Nick; Dave/Don
2005 Sportsmobile 4x4 V10 RB
2005 Sportsmobile 4x4 V10 EB and 2007 Sportsmobile 4x4 PSD EB
Miles per gallon:
Instead, lets just say around 10mpg
Offroad Trails Taken:
Last Chance Canyon (Red Rock); Trona Pinnacles; (aka Escape Trail) Range Trail from Trona to Goler; Goler Wash over Mengle Pass to Warm Springs trail; Monarch
Trona Pinnacles, Geologist Cabin, Monarch
in the low 60’s
Robert and Craig
Rib Eye Steaks cooked on the BBQ at the Geologist’s Cabin
New equipment used:
New Toyo Open Country M/T, Winch used for first time on SMB, Hi-lift used first time on SMB
Getting Stuck about 3 miles in at Last Chance Canyon. 4WD would not engage. Took about 2 hours to get out. Winched several times by Dave/Don and myself. Used the Hi-lift Jack to lift rear passenger wheel high enough to insert rocks. The trail was very muddy due to rains a few days before. We did go over some rock gardens prior to getting stuck. Major stuck occurred upon turning around and Robert spotting missed several large boulders that put the rear end right on top of the boulders. Other problem: running out of beer.
Robert B and I left LA around 9:30AM and made good time on the 14 through Palmdale and Mojave right up to Jawbone Junction, with only a lunch stop at In-n-Out. Dave reached me by phone and we agreed to meet at the Last Chance trailhead. We arrived first and picked up Dave on the CB about 20 minutes later.
We aired down the two white SMB’s at the trailhead and headed into the hills. It was fairly easy going at first but noticed the trail was recently washed out due to the rains. Wet sand was encountered about 2 miles in along with recently moved boulders.
My van seemed to be handling slightly differently than before and I attributed it to my new tires. Going through a hundred feet rock garden it seemed that I was getting some slippage. I thought I was in 4WD since I did lock the hubs and pushed the shifter forward. Dave shouted out after watching me go first, “Are you in 4WD?” I didn’t hear that at first but later did indeed check. We both made it through what was a pretty rough patch (for the vans).
Moving forward we encountered more wet sand and boulders in the middle of the trail. We later learned that the trail was washed out and we were really in a wash. Traversing another half mile or so we stopped and discussed our options. We decided that we should turn around, lest we encounter worse trails ahead. Plus we were to meet Craig at the Pinnacles before nightfall and it was already 3pm. Upon turning around, the rear dug into the sand rather quickly and up to the differential housing. This is when it was confirmed I was not in 4WD. Dave/Don quickly got their winch line out and pulled me out. It took a few tries but I was free…
…or so I thought. After trying to turn around in the narrow spot I dug another hole so they winched me some more. On the third try Robert (who has no offroading experience) helped me back up. Unfortunately he was not looking at all the obstacles and failed to notice a couple large boulders that quickly were under the rear axle housing. Rear tires spinning in the air on one side and in mud on the other, and no front drive left me wishing Dave had gone first. Anyhow due to the severity of the stuck and the near right angle he was to me, made winching a chore and ineffective as long as I was still perched on the boulders.
The Hi-lift jack to the rescue
Having not used the Hi-lift before on the van, I was cautious as we lifted up the rear tire high enough to put rocks in the hole to gain clearance over the boulder as well as offer traction.
Doing this once allowed me to move forward a foot. Then a second time allowed me to clear the boulders by a good one inch. With my winch attached to Dave’s van I slowly pulled out of the jam and after close negotiation around the rock wall was free.
We packed up all the items that we removed to get to the recovery gear, put the jack back and were on our way. Several times I tried to get it into 4WD with no luck.
Finally heading down canyon I was out of the predicament, when we came upon a very stuck 2WD pickup and an older gentleman preparing to hike out of the canyon. By this time it was dusk and I pulled up to him and said, “I bet you are glad to see me.” He had been by himself planning to prospect for gold when he got stuck up to the truck bed. He had given up and hoped to hike out of the canyon to the Randsburg Redrock road hoping to hitch a ride. Getting out my winch line I said we would help out. Instant karma.
Only he had no tow hooks. Fortunately he had a rear hitch so I was able to use my receiver shackle to attach the winch line to.
So we all got out just fine and it was now dark. Dave played with all his new lighting and man was it like daylight!
So, I fiddled with the 4WD (i.e.like crawling underneath and engaging/disengaging the hubs, working the shifter etc.) and finally got it into gear. It seems that it was just really jammed. There were no other issues after this.
On to the Pinnacles
We headed to the Trona Pinnacles to meet up with our buddy Craig and his buddy Nick. We reached him on the CB radio and he talked us in and used his million candle power light as a guide. They had the fire going and already had a few beers by the time we reached camp. The moon was full and had an interesting ring or halo around it. That added to the ambience of the place. It was cool that we had the whole place to ourselves. We barbequed and a some beers and then called it a night while the other guys stayed around the fire. Several hours later, with the Pinnacles looming over us, the moon an eerie glow we heard a strange noise a waaaarrrrgh, waaaarrrrgh, waaaarrrrgh. I was afraid to go outside to take a leak. It wasn’t till morning that I realized it was Dave snoring. ? My buddy Robert said my snoring was worse!
After a late breakfast we broke camp...
...and headed to Trona to get fuel before we got on the Slate Range Trail.
The Slate Range Trail (aka Escape Trail)
The Slate Range Trail is a few miles outside of Trona on the other side of the railroad tracks. It isn’t really marked from the main road but following the Back Country Adventures book lead us the correct way. At first the trail is rather unremarkable but as you climb you get a fantastic view into Panamint Valley.
The six of us stopped to take in the view and study the trail ahead.
We saw no other vehicles as it is not one of the more popular routes into Panamint. This trail took us from Trona all the way to the start of Goler Wash, and seemed to be 2-3 hours.
Goler Wash Road/Mengel Pass
We hit the Goler Wash trailhead fairly late in the day and started heading up with our destination being one of the cabins (hopefully the Geologist’s Cabin) near Striped Butte in Death Valley proper. The Goler Wash Trail/ Mengel Pass Trail can be simple to difficult depending on the rains. Again, we were coming in just a week after the big rains that occurred. However, I did not find the trail difficult.
There is a “dry waterfall” about a mile into the trail that we got up no problem in 4WD High, but Craig got some slippage but then got up, and Dave followed with no issue. We continued up the trail to Newman’s Cabin and stopped and had a late lunch. We then continued toward the summit passing the remains of the Barker Ranch (Which was where Charles Manson hid out, and it was unfortunately burned down last year). Dave and Don stopped to check out the foundations while Craig, Nick, Robert and I continued up to the Mengle Pass and stopped at the monument to Carl Mengel. There are a couple of tight spots as you get near the monument but nothing serious even for our large vans.
The sun was setting so we decided to head down the Mengel Pass while Dave/Don were on their way. Craig went first. The trail is steep and rocky but with Nick spotting Craig had no trouble. Nick spotted for me too and other than brushing a large boulder with my nerf bar step it was much easier than I had remembered. (I had been down this in my Jeep several years before).
We continued down the trail and headed straight for the Geologist’s Cabin.
Good thing we did since we saw 4 sets of headlights in the distance coming toward us. We made it to the empty cabin and since it is first come first served we staked our claim and set up camp for the night. Dave/Don were about 20 minutes behind us so we prepared dinner and made margaritas:
The Geologist’s Cabin is one of several “adopt-a-cabins” in Death Valley. I have been there twice before and am always impressed how everyone respects it. The cabin is stone and therefore is sealed really well against rodents. It is always clean, it is always stocked with food and drink should you need it. It even had a relatively new BBQ that we used to cook our ribeye steaks. Man they were good. After dinner we lit a fire in the fireplace and broke out the cigars. Craig and Nick turned in early (i.e. 8pm) but Dave, Don, Robert and I stayed up for hours. Since I was still celebrating the birth of my son, I gave out Oliva Serie V Churchills. We smoked the cigars and had a few drinks by the fire and just relaxed basking in our glory of accomplishing the Goler Wash/Mengel Trails in our vans.
The next morning:
Striped Butte Valley and Warm Springs Road
The next morning we awoke to beautiful vistas of the Striped Butte Valley with the mountain tops covered with snow. The weather was warm in the 50s and got warmer as the day went on.
We headed out the long trail.
This is going toward the Westside Road, stopping along the way for photos and a visit to the Warm Springs Camp and Mine. This is a series of buildings in relatively good shape along with a nice size swimming pool. The spring is warm, hence the name and we explored for about a half hour.
We also went into the mine about a hundred feet or so.
We were then on our way down the Warm Spring Road, stopping at an open pit mine and eventually getting to the pavement. We aired up.
And then we were off to the touristy (but well worth it) Badwater, the lowest point in the US.
This is the first we had seen other vehicles in some time.
Furnace Creek and Monarch Canyon
After making lunch we headed to Furnace Creek so Dave could get some diesel. While making a phone call from a payphone (no cell service) I saw a guy checking out our vans and snapping photos. Upon speaking with him, we learned he is from New Caledonia (an island in the South Pacific and part of the French Republic) and was fascinated with our vehicles. He is building a Landrover and wanted to know about our bumpers, lighting and drivetrain. After the chat we were on our way to setup camp. We wanted to arrive in daylight so we got the move on and headed to a trail near Monarch Canyon. We had a great spot with high canyon walls on all sides.
We setup for dinner, drinks and a campfire. Mooched some grub of Craig (carne asada tacos) and I made margaritas. We followed up with cigars and sat close to the fire as this night was the coldest, due to our elevation gain. In the morning we broke camp after a hearty breakfast. Craig and Nick decided to head home while Dave, Don, Robert and I continued exploring.
Chloride City and off to Nevada
I am glad we decided to continue exploring since we ended up high above the valley floor in what was once Chloride City.
Other than a few dilapidated cabins and some foundations there is no city left. However we hiked down a narrow road with steep drop offs (you would be crazy to attempt to drive) and came to a very interesting mine. We stepped in one entrance...
...and came out another only to see a spectacular view of Furnace Creek thousands of feet below.
Dave and Don had been here previously but due to high winds did not venture down this far, for fear of being blown off the cliff. But today was great weather in the low sixties and no wind. After taking in the view we decided to head out by continuing further on the trail. Dave went first.
It was a very long way and we ended up at the Nevada border just outside the park on Daylight Pass Road.
Since Robert and I had to head back we parted company after airing up. We headed back into Death Valley and fueled up at Stovepipe Wells meeting another fellow SMB owner. By this time the sun was going down so we bogeyed down to Panamint Valley and headed home to Los Angeles. This was a loooooong drive but taking some shortcuts through the Randsburg-Redrock Road saved us some time. We had to drive with all the offroad lights on since the moon hadn’t risen until later in the night. We got home in five hours with only a gas stop.
Once again a wonderful trip to Panamint and Death Valley. Day 1 was great. Getting stuck allowed me to try out some tools (winch and jack) that I hadn’t used on the van (only on the Jeep). The next two days were just great scenery, nice trails and a good group. I look forward to going again soon.
See you on (or off
) the road!