Wahguyhe Peak is a forest hike which becomes increasingly steep and challenging as it approaches the summit that contains perhaps the most impressive views in the Grapevine Mountains. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having the proper HC (or better yet 4WD) vehicle to reach the starting point at the camping area on Phinney Canyon Rd., good route-finding abilities while navigating through the forest, and the patience and ability to deal with a 1,000-foot scree climb on loose rocks. A topographical map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the camping area (starting point) used for the hike are 36.954635, -117.109018. GPS coordinates for the beginning of the hillside climb are 36.946974, -117.110270.
In June of 2018, I decided to take an unscheduled trip to Death Valley for a weekend of hiking with my friend Tobin. Being that the weather was already too hot for most of the park, I settled on spending a couple of nights at the informal campground area up Phinney Canyon. Having driven up Phinney Canyon Road on two previous occasions, I knew that the area was located high in the mountains and I figured the temperatures would be low enough to enjoy it. The informal campground is located at 6,700 feet in elevation, and as things turned out, the weather was nearly perfect. Days were cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons, and nights were fairly cold. I even woke up a few times at night because I was too cold despite having a warm sleeping bag. This was in stark contrast to temperatures at Furnace Creek, where it was 114 F on one of the days. Spending parts of three days in Phinney Canyon, it really increased my appreciation for that entire area located high in the eastern Grapevine Mountains. The area is just incredibly beautiful, being covered by a thick pine forest. Numerous birds including hummingbirds could be found in the trees all around camp, and the sound of coyotes howling could be heard at night. The stars were bright and beautiful as I sat outside after dark and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings. And we had the entire area to ourselves, as we didn't see any other hikers or campers all weekend. One of the unique aspects of Phinney Canyon is that five major hikes start there. The five hikes (in order of popularity) are Grapevine Peak, Wahguyhe Peak, Mount Palmer, Upper Moonlight Canyon, and Coyote BM. Prior to this trip, I had not done the two most popular hikes listed -- Grapevine Peak and Wahguyhe Peak. So that was the objective for this trip. We started with Wahguyhe Peak. Wahguyhe Peak is one of the most distinct peaks in Death Valley. The cone shape of its summit is visible from many areas of the park and is instantly recognizable when looking at the Grapevine Mountains. Wahguyhe Peak also has one of the most unique names. Regarding the name Wahguyhe, one reference material states that the name may be from Panamint waa-kko'e, or "pinyon-pine summit". So how is the name pronounced? Most hikers today pronounce it just like it is written: Wah-guy-he. However, reference materials state that it should be pronounced Wah-gie. So some of the letters are silent and not meant to be spoken. Regardless, the name is definitely an interesting one.
In researching a hike to the summit of Wahguyhe Peak, I noted that three different routes have been used by other hikers. The two routes starting in Phinney Canyon are the side canyon route and the ridge route. The third route used starts near Strozzi Ranch, most likely utilizing the spur road which breaks off to the west 1/5 of a mile prior to reaching the ranch ruins. I decided not to use the Phinney Canyon ridge route (which starts at the Phinney-Moonlight saddle), because that involves a longer hike and an additional elevation gain of 500 feet on the hike back. Instead, we decided to try the Phinney Canyon side canyon route. The route we used is outlined in Michel Digonnet's book "Hiking Death Valley" (Second Edition) on pages 75-78. Basically, from camp, you hike back down the road a short distance, catch a side canyon heading to the southwest, begin climbing the hillside just past a distinct "football" rock, and work your way up through the trees and a steep scree slope to the summit. According to our tracking information, the route was 3 1/2 miles round-trip, had 2,000 feet of elevation gain, and took us 7 hours. Most hikers can do the route a lot quicker, but we had the whole day so we spent a lot of time on the summit enjoying the views. We were not in a rush or overly concerned with finishing the hike. Upon leaving the road and entering the side canyon, thick trees must be navigated through. One important note is that there are a number of junctions where the canyons split off into different directions. It's important to stay right at the junctions, otherwise you will be ascending the mountain earlier than the route calls for. Using the information in our guidebook, we identified the "football" rock and began climbing the hillside just after the next junction. Two small plateaus are reached, after which the nightmare scree climb begins. This is one of the most challenging scree climbs in the park, mainly because there is an abundance of rocks and walking on them creates small landslides and backwards momentum. One well-known Death Valley hiker named Chris actually gave up during this portion of the hike because it was so brutal. He stated that about 150 feet before reaching the summit, he sat down and called it quits. He said: "you'd take two steps up and flow down one or more with the scree." We can confirm that the description is accurate. But we persevered and eventually made it to the top. The views were perhaps the best I have ever seen from a summit in the Grapevine Mountains. Being that Wahguyhe Peak is the second highest summit in the range at 8,628 feet, good views are to be expected. However, it is the central location of the peak which makes it so special. Circling around from the south to the north, the Grapevines highlights visible include Corkscrew Peak, Thimble Peak, Fall Canyon, Mount Palmer, Grapevine Peak, and Coyote BM. In addition, the distant Sierras and Mount Whitney (about 70 air miles away) can also be seen on clear days. My favorite views were of the face of Mount Palmer, the colorful rock slide patterns of Grapevine Peak, and the seldom-visited summit of Coyote BM. On our return hike, we hiked a little bit farther to the northeast along the main ridge before dropping down the hillside. This allowed us to have slightly easier terrain as we mostly stayed in the forest. Our hike took place on June 9, 2018.
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