16-May-2004 -- Long intrigued by the multiple challenges posed by 37n 118w, my preparations to visit this confluence in the Inyo National Forest had been underway for quite some time. Due to the extreme remote location of this confluence, I determined that I would not attempt this confluence alone and without the mutual support of a fellow hiker. My dilemma was where would I find someone willing to undertake the physical exertion required to reach this spot?
I received a DCP site notification that fellow confluence hunter Sam Gallucci had just visited 34n115w, a point I had visited a couple months earlier. I figured if Sam was motivated and capable of reaching 34n115w after a 14 mile hike through the desert, he would be similarly motivated to reach 37n118w. I sent off an email invite and received a positive reply. Now the real planning could begin.
An early morning start would be essential. Our plan was to drive to the general area on Saturday 15 May, and start hiking early Sunday morning. We would meet at the trailhead late Saturday afternoon. Sam’s plan was to spend the day traveling and geodashing while my family and I visited the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest where some of the oldest living trees in the world are located. It was opening day for the season at the Schulman Grove Visitors Center (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/inyo/vc/bcp.html) Hiking with my wife and daughters, we found the Discovery Trail hike proved to be extremely interesting. We saw Bristlecone Pine trees that were over 4,000 years old! Further north on our way to the Patriarch Grove, the road was closed with barricades due to snow about 3 miles short of Patriarch grove (we were at almost 11,000 feet). We turned around and stopped for lunch at an overlook with a tremendous view of the Owens Valley and Bishop almost 6,000 vertical feet below.
We had previously traveled down the Saline Valley road from Big Pine on the return trip from our last confluence adventure a month earlier and already knew where we could park for the night and the trailhead we would use (N36 59.866 and W117 56.490). We popped the top of our Eurovan and set up for the night.
While preparing for this confluence expedition, I had created (taped together) a mosaic of 1 meter imagery from the TerraServer website from the trailhead to the confluence point almost 3.5 miles away. When unrolled and attached to the side of my vehicle, it went almost from one end to the other! I had also used my National Geographic TOPO California 1:24,000 map CD’s to create a route that I uploaded into my Garmin eMap. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Garmin’s US TOPO 24k National Parks West CD has coverage of this area – the frames are at the northwest part of Death Valley National Park. These frames were loaded into my eMap and were far superior to the Garmin’s TOPO CD’s at 1:100,000 scale.
Sam arrived a couple hours later. We studied the imagery and briefed the route we would take the next morning. The 1 meter imagery clearly showed the trailhead we were parked at and the series of washes leading almost directly to the confluence point. Except for a dark area along the way just before our objective, it looked to be a very easy and clear route to follow.
We left just before 7:00 the next morning. As we began our hike, we discussed Jack Frickey’s narrative and his first successful visit to this confluence. Our route took us from an old 4WD path (closed by rocks and a sign at the road) to the wash leading towards the point. Along the way we encountered natural springs with running water – something completely unexpected when viewed from the road. From the start of the hike, I was taking picture every tenth of a mile along the way in the direction of travel – to make a slide-show of our adventure afterwards. We continued along up the valley and discovered some footprints – who else would have a reason to go up this drainage? We also found a relatively un-weathered black mechanical pencil – recently lost, anybody out there lose one? At this point, we were only ¾ of a mile from our objective and it was only 8:30 in the morning. We began to think that we would be able to reach the point and be back in about 3-4 hours round trip.
Hint to future visitors: re-read Jack Frickey’s narrative. His description is extremely accurate. It was going to be slow going the rest of the way…
At this point, the canyon narrows significantly. This was the area on the imagery that appeared dark – mainly because of the narrow and deep gorge we were entering but also because this was how water from the east side of Waucoba Mountain gets down to the nice wash we had been hiking up earlier. The bottom of the canyon is 10-20 feet wide, the walls are a couple hundred feet high and in some places, near vertical. None of this should prevent forward progress until you add the water that flows through here – not a significant amount and in places it went underground – we were able to keep our feet dry pretty much the entire trip. Now, water by itself shouldn’t prevent forward progress until you add vegetation. Trees, bushes – everything imaginable was crowded and growing vertically (the only way not blocked by rock) for the entire length of this gorge.
Out came the leather gloves and hand saw. If you can imagine a dog trying to go through a overly dense cornfield without orderly rows – and then add some thorns to the corn – you can begin to see what Sam and I had to almost swim through to penetrate. Analysis of my GPS track log after I got home revealed that it took an hour to travel 0.35 miles through the narrow gorge. Leather gloves, long pants, shin guards, a long sleeved shirt, hat, and eye protection are definitely recommended along this part of the route.
Fortunately, the gorge eventually widened and cleared out further up the canyon and shortly afterwards, we had reached a point about 200’ below the confluence and within 100 meters horizontally. Having come this far, I was determined to zero out my GPS so began what would be the steepest part of our hike. A short time later my GPS’s were in close agreement and I took the required pictures.
Picture #1 looks east with Saline Valley visible in the background. In this picture, take careful note of the bright green vegetation in the gorge at the bottom – although extremely dense, these were the easy parts – mostly vertical growing limbs – and easy to push through. The off-green vegetation contains horizontal, vertical, and diagonal limbs/branches and in some instances – thorns – this was not the easy part. Take another look at the scale of the trees, now follow the path you will have to take to get back to your car should you make it this far. From the bottom right of the picture, follow the vegetation towards the center of the picture, imagine a right turn (out of sight as it goes behind the right side of the canyon wall then imagine a left turn around the left side wall coming out to the clear area just before the part of the mountain in the center of the picture. Picture #2 looks south across the narrow valley with the tree in the foreground just in front of me on the north side. Picture #3 looks westwards up the valley towards Waucoba Mountain behind the terrain to the right. Picture #4 is the view to the north, the tree in the upper left *is* growing vertically – this is a steep hill! Picture #5 shows my GPS at the confluence. Picture #6 shows a view from within the brush where I felt I could safely take my camera out.
Sliding back down to the bottom of the gorge it was now time to relax for a few minutes, drink lots of water and eat some trail-mix. I had rented a Globalstar GSP-1600 Satellite Phone (http://www.globalstarusa.com/phones/handheld/) from Outfitter Satellite (http://www.outfittersatellite.com/) for this expedition to see how they worked for some of my confluence adventures planned for this summer. Sam and I both made calls relaying our position and success. Cheap ($40 for a weeks rental) insurance and peace of mind when you are hours from anywhere! Highly recommended for other extreme confluence visitors!
Sam and I did not look forward to going back through the brush once again on our way down. Once on the other side, the remaining 3 miles was an easy hike downhill to our cars. We rinsed off, had a small lunch and decided that neither of us wanted to go out Saline Valley to the south – it was a much longer drive on a dirt road of unknown condition. We decided to drive the 16 miles north along Saline Valley Road back to pavement. When we were almost to the paved road leading back to Big Pine, I had a flat tire which is shown in Picture #7.
My slideshow came out great as well - except I should have used a time interval instead of distance interval when I was taking pictures.
Overall, an extremely worthy confluence adventure! Examination of my GPS trail shows 8.18 miles traveled in 6:24, with just under 2,000 feet of elevation change. You can not over prepare for this trip.
Many thanks again to Sam for the mutual support along the way to another successful confluence visit!