We celebrated another Christmas with a sublime, scree-filled desert summit challenge and a Tecopa Hot Springs soak afterward.
Ascending wash to walk between the black hills to the right and the two small hills just to the left of Fred.
Pyramid Peak is black and white - on horizon.
Death Valley got its name from a wagon party trapped in the valley in the 1849 California gold rush. One man perished in this hottest place on Earth. One of the travelers was said to have proclaimed, "Goodbye, Death Valley" as they traveled west over the mountains.
Trip Stats for Standard Route (Southeast Ridge)
Location: Amargosa Range, Funeral Mountains high point, Eastern Death Valley National Park.
Distance/Elevation Gain: 10.4 miles out and back/3,700'. Trailhead = 3,041'. Summit = 6,703'.
Difficulty: moderate - strenuous effort Class 1-2: most time is spent on three major rock/scree slopes. Mostly discernible trail with rock cairns; occasionally requires focus as it becomes faint.
Coordinates: Trailhead at Hwy 190 = 36.34048, -116.59866. Summit = 36.39196, -116.61228.
Maps and Apps: Topo Maps US app, StavIsLost route map, Garmin GPS.
Date Hiked: 12/26/22
Directions to trailhead: Park on Highway 190 at an old RV/campground with Pyramid Peak in view. If coming from Death Valley Junction (east), drive ~ 11 miles. If coming from Furnace Creek in the park, drive 17-18 miles.
Geology: The ridge hike is a journey through Ordovician-age (450 m.y.a.), heavily faulted limestone and dolomite (Ely Springs dolomite and Pogonip group carbonates). Pyramid Peak summit is Eureka quartzite and Ely Springs dolomite.
The words "Death Valley" may conjure up images of doom and foreboding, but it's really a land of mystique and fascination, and of extremes. In winter, it's one of the warmest places in the country, making it one of my favorite places to explore. You wouldn't want to be there in the summer, unless you want to experience an average July temperature of 116 degrees. It has the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth — 134 degrees. Last December, we hiked remote Pahrump Point with spectacular views of Death Valley's Telescope Peak on a cold and windy day, and warmed up in Tecopa Hot Springs Resort's hot springs.
This year we "elevated" our summit challenge to hike the lonesome and talus-riddled slopes of Pyramid Peak in the Funeral Mountains, eastern Death Valley National Park. It's listed on the Sierra Club's Desert Peaks section, hence the discernible trail. I break this hike into four parts: a long alluvial fan/wash approach, followed by three steep, loose-rock slopes. Forbidding, massive dark grey limestone greets you at the top of the second loose-rock slope. Pyramid's summit is not in sight until you get up this face and walk around it to the left, where you see more talus slopes under big black spires.
From its small quartzite perch, the summit affords a huge view of Death Valley's Panamint range capped by Telescope Peak, and into Nevada. Stunning views surround you the entire ridge climb. Sublime, raw, layered, folded, vast and lonely - the quintessential Mojave Desert.
What more could we ask for? The opportunity, legs and strength to summit a Death Valley peak, the views to remember forever, a natural hot springs soak, and one of the best steak dinners ever - all in the middle of the quiet Mojave.
We're living the dream! Keep on Exploring - it's good for the body, mind and soul!
Healthy creosote bush and lots of hedgehog cactus clumps on the way up this alluvial fan.
Almost at the small hills on the left - the approach continues along the base of these for 2.8 miles from trailhead where it turns NNW into a wide drainage/fan.
At the end of initial alluvial fan climb - taking a left around base of this hill to see large drainage.
Turning left into a major drainage with black rocks at the end of it - then the climb begins!
Finding a trail at the end of the wash that stays on the right side of the drainage to the left.
Trail heads up to the saddle above, with a good amount of loose rock.
Fred making his way up steep and loose rock to saddle (Talus slope #1).
Looking down the first talus slope to the wide wash we had turned into from approach alluvial fan.
Done with the first talus slope! Time for a break - looking back at the highway and valley we have just come up.
There's a few cairns to mark this first slope; afterwards, the trail is mostly discernible.
Looking ahead to the crazy, rugged mess of rocks we will ascend - glad there is a cairned trail! Pyramid summit behind the ridge. Go straight up the ridge in middle of photo, then bypass the brown-colored scree slope by hiking to its left, up through minor gully (center of photo). Reach the top of this brown rock to ascend the dark grey rock.
Continuing on less-steep portion of southeast ridge in between the steep talus slopes.
Getting through a minor limestone outcrop and looking at the fan we hiked up; walking under the two small hills at the upper left.
Look at that lovely scree field! Trail goes to the left of this, through a small gulley and manageable talus slope, through pink, deep red and yellow rocks.
Getting up and over this sharp limestone, where it flattens out somewhat.
View south from ridge.
This is "Talus slope 2" - photo is taken on the way down. This is on the left of the very steep scree slope.
Upper part of "Talus slope 2". This photo is taken on our way down.
Forbidding sight after topping off on ridge after the second steep talus slope. You can see the trail running in the middle of this, leading to the top of the left prominence, then skirts around it to the left, where you will see Pyramid Peak summit.
Looking back from the black rock ascent to the saddle we just came over and brief flat area.
Working our way up the black rock.
View of Pyramid Peak as trail traverses under left side of ridge walls.
Climbing "Talus slope 3" near the base of the summit.
Trail along left side of ridge near the summit.
Looking back to approach valley and the black "knife" ridge we had passed under.
The beautiful Eureka Quartzite on the summit of Pyramid Peak.
At Pyramid Peak's summit looking toward the east - Amargosa Desert.
Pyramid's summit looking down on our alluvial fan approach and Highway 190.
From the summit looking east toward the Amargosa Desert and Nevada.
"Amargosa" is the Spanish word for "bitter", describing water in the Amargosa River, which courses through Amargosa Desert.
On the summit looking toward Furnace Creek wash and Artist's Pallette in Death Valley.
View west of the Panamint Range and Telescope Peak, the highest summit in Death Valley at 11,043'.
The summit of Pahrump Point provides a closer view of Telescope.
Some cool stuff on the trail.
Celebratory rib-eye, beer and wine at Steaks and Beer in Tecopa, California - highly recommended for carnivores!!
That night after the hike, we walked into Steaks and Beer for our delicious ribeye and cherries jubilee.
Tecopa Hot Springs Resort - Tecopa, CA.
Early morning at Tecopa Hot Springs Resort's bath house.
Our tracks on the ridge portion of the hike to Pyramid Peak. Leaving major wash (lower left) to walk to the end of side wash to begin ridge climb.
Our GPS tracks from parking at old campground on California Highway 190 to summit of Pyramid Peak (CalTopo maps).
Click on map for larger image
Elevation profile for out-and-back hike gaining 3,700' in 5.2 miles. Hike up alluvial fan/wash for the first three miles.
Fridrich, C.J., et al. Preliminary Geologic Map of the Southern Funeral Mountains and Adjacent Ground-Water Discharge Sites, Inyo County, California, and Nye County, Nevada.
Geologic Formations. NPS - Death Valley website.
McAllister, J. 2009. Geologic Maps and Sections of a Strip from Pyramid Peak to the Southeast End of the Funeral Mountains, Ryan Quadrangle, California
Sue and Fred
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west.
To Subscribe to Explorumentary adventure blog and receive new posts by email:
About the Author