Every year or so, I take a look at my site and try to figure out the most glaring omission as far as peak hikes. While I am mainly a canyon hiker, I also enjoy hiking to Death Valley's major peaks. As of 2018, the most obvious missing peak hike was Grapevine Peak, the highest peak in the Grapevine Mountains at 8,738 feet. Reaching Grapevine Peak would require taking my third lifetime drive up Phinney Canyon Road. On average, it takes me about 2 hours of driving time from the turnoff on Hwy 95 to the HC (high clearance) parking area at the informal campground on Phinney Canyon road at 6,700 feet in elevation. Others can drive it much faster, but I take my time due to having street tires and wanting to lower the risk of a flat tire. I did this hike as part of a 2-night camping trip up Phinney Canyon in June of 2018. On the first day, we hiked Wahguyhe Peak. On the second day, we hiked Grapevine Peak. The ideal starting point for this hike is at the end of the 4WD portion of Phinney Canyon Road at the Phinney-Moonlight saddle (7,500 feet in elevation). When starting from this spot, the hike is about 6 miles round-trip with a cumulative elevation gain of about 2,200 feet (1,700 feet hiking to the peak and 500 feet hiking back). However, there is a rough spot on the road (see attached full set of photos), and not all vehicles can make it to the saddle. Thus, starting at the HC parking area increases the hike by 1 mile in each direction and adds an additional 800 feet of elevation gain. This makes the hike total roughly 8 miles round-trip with a cumulative elevation gain of 3,000 feet. This is how we ended up doing the hike and it took us 7 hours to complete it. But it was well worth the effort and I'm very happy to have finally reached the summit of Grapevine Peak some 21 years into my Death Valley exploration.
Hiking to Grapevine Peak involves first reaching 4 major bumps along the ridgeline, along with quite a few additional minor bumps. When doing a forest hike like this for the first time involving ridge bumps with numerous ups and downs, there can be a lot of trial-and-error involved in finding the best route. For instance, if there are obstacles along the ridge route, it can be unclear as to the best way to get around them. Also, when it comes to bumps, it is not always clear if it is best to climb each bump or try to skirt around the side of them. Usually, the hike back goes much smoother because you are able to learn from your mistakes and take a more efficient route. Those things were true for us on this hike and hopefully we can help future hikers to have a better hiking experience right from the start. Using our included topo maps as a guide, let me explain a few details about the best way to carry out this hike. Starting from the saddle, the hike begins by heading north up the ridge. This area has quite a few smaller rock crags right from the start. Avoiding the harder terrain of the crags is best done by hiking along the right side of them. A faint use trail is visible at times. The 1st major bump is about 350 feet in elevation above the saddle, but it can be avoided by following an use trail through some thick trees below it on the left side. The ridge then changes direction to the northwest. The next section is one of the trickiest areas of the hike. Just prior to reaching the 2nd major bump, a number of misleading use trails head off toward what we have labeled as the wrong bump. It is only natural to follow these trails because visibility is poor and you can't really see the upcoming terrain. That's what we did, and when we finally reached an overlook point, we could see that we were standing above a deep valley and had strayed off of the main ridge. Thus, we had to backtrack. You can avoid this by looking for the correct use trail which skirts just below and to the right of the 2nd major bump. After dropping some elevation, a flat area is reached. Above this are some larger rock crags which are best avoided by hiking through the forest on the left side. The crags continue all the way up the hillside, so stay left until you've reached the 3rd major bump. The trail then turns west and there is another steep descent down to a flat area. The next uphill section is one of the more challenging areas to deal with. The key is to find use trails leading up through the forest on the left side of the ridge, which will allow you to avoid more large rock crags and a few areas of loose scree. There is no need to attain the bump on the ridge directly above you at this part, so trend northwest in the forest and then west along the ridgeline. Just before reaching the 4th major bump, skirt around it by taking an use trail below it on the right side. About 100 feet in elevation below this area, the final flat area is reached. From this spot, all that is left is the final 800-foot climb in elevation. The first large scree field can be avoided by staying in the forest on the left side. But after gaining 300 feet in elevation, you will reach a scree field that must by hiked through. Getting past this area will put you on the bare slopes leading to the summit and the views become incredible. The final 500 feet in elevation to the summit alternate between bare slope areas and forested areas. You will know that the summit is close when you can clearly make out the repeater antenna at the top. In a nice touch, NPS staff members have colored the repeater box with camouflage paint which helps it blend in better with the surroundings. The views from the top are outstanding, with my favorite views being Wahguyhe Peak, Corkscrew Peak, Thimble Peak, Mount Palmer, and Coyote BM. Grapevine Peak had been a truly outstanding Death Valley peak hike. Our hike took place on June 10, 2018.