Last Chance Mountain had not been on my short list of summit hikes which I was hoping to accomplish during 2009.  However, in the month of July I found out that I was going to have an extra few days of free time while my wife was out of town.  Not wanting to repeat the hikes of Telescope Peak and Wildrose Peak, which I had first accomplished in the summer one year earlier, I began doing research to find alternate destinations in Death Valley for summer hiking.  The first thing I decided was that I would not start at an elevation below 6,000 feet.  I came up with several options, but ultimately decided to attempt Last Chance Mountain.  While the traditional route to the summit of Last Chance Mountain starts at the now fallen cabin and Last Chance Spring area at an elevation of 5,620 feet, I discovered that the south ridge route started at an elevation of 6,450 feet.  That's 830 feet higher in elevation than the traditional route.  Next I wondered why 90% of the people who hike to Last Chance Mountain begin nearly 1,000 feet lower in elevation, when they don't have to.  I have to assume that the spring area must be really pretty, but I also found out that the traditional route from the spring is actually about one mile shorter in distance.

On Thursday night, July 16, in the middle of a Death Valley heatwave with temperatures above 120F, a friend and I left our homes and drove over Tioga Pass in Yosemite.  Then we drove south to Big Pine and turned off on the Big Pine Road to enter the northern part of Death Valley.  About an hour later, we passed through Hanging Rock Canyon and turned off to the north just before reaching the Crater mining area.  We drove up El Captan Mine Road for about 3 miles, following the map printed on page 79 of Michel Digonnet's new book "Hiking Western Death Valley" and parked.  The road got rougher the further up we went... and then it happened.  While backing up in the dark at the end of the road, I accidentally shredded my back left tire against a sharp rock.  We quickly parked, jacked up the truck, and changed into our other full size spare.  But now, the situation had gotten dangerous.  We had no more spare tires with us, and had used the can of Fix-a-flat in vain, in an attempt to save the shredded tire.  There wasn't much else we could do, as we didn't want to drive back down the El Captan Mine Road at night.  So we just set up camp and went ahead with the hike as planned in the morning.  And I must say, the south ridge route did not disappoint.  There are outstanding views all the way with the added benefit of being able to explore a lot of mining ruins in the area where the hike begins.  I am extremely glad that we ended up trying this route, which only about 10% of all hikers seem to use.  We left for the hike at 6:45am and got back to our truck at about 1:45pm, with the temperature being around 94F.  For this hike, we each carried one full gallon of water and a 32oz bottle of Gatorade, but even that almost wasn't enough with the extreme heat draining us from 11am on.  As we were on top and I flipped through the summit register book, I noticed that we were the first people who had ever done this hike in the month of July.  And hopefully, we will be the last.  I recommend hiking this peak at another time of year when it is cooler.
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The south ridge route starts in the El Captan Mine area.  Look for this faint road to the right (east) as you're driving up the hill:
It is possible to drive up a bit closer to about 6,600 feet, but we decided to park at El Captan Mine and start the hike from there:
The first view of the south ridge route from the trail.  Aim for the low point in the ridgeline as seen here:
As you get closer to the ridge, the old road and trails fade away and it becomes cross country desert hiking:
Stopping to rest early in the morning as the hike was still in the beginning stages:
We finally arrived at the saddle, or low point on the ridge, and then turned around and looked back at where we had come from:
View of the Eureka Sand Dunes from this first ridge.  Somebody hiking the traditional route wouldn't have been able to enjoy this view:
And a picture of Steve looking up towards the next mini peak which we would have to climb up to:
Once we reached that second peak along the south ridge, the views became even more spectacular:
Zooming in on Tin Mountain (upper middle of picture) and Sandy Peak (lower middle), which are almost parallel to each other:
From this second peak, we got our first excellent view of Eureka Valley.  Again, this view is missed by somebody taking the traditional route:
Trying to zoom in on the Hidden Dunes, but only a little bit of sand is visible:
Looking ahead along the south ridge to the next three mini peaks we would be hiking to:
Another view as we were getting closer.  Notice how the trees begin to take on importance in this picture, as they are providing much needed shade from the deadly summer heat:
We were also getting better and better views to the northeast:
There were a lot of ups and downs on this hike, but the drops were short.  Also, the terrain for hiking is the best possible during this hike, making progress a lot easier:
Looking directly east down into Last Chance Canyon.  The traditional hiking route starts somewhere west of the canyon, along another rough road not visible in the picture:
This was the only mini peak we were able to bypass by wrapping around the mountain:
First view of Last Chance Mountain and the eventual end of our hike:
Zooming in on Last Chance Mountain for a better view:
Steve on his way up during a very hot day in July:
It was so hot that we simply brought a one gallon bottle of water each instead of fooling around with smaller bottles.  We also had some Gatorade in our packs:
The next seven pictures give you some more views of the terrain and surrounding landscape as we progressed towards the summit:
It wasn't long before we were on the final path to the summit, which is shown here:
Steve thrilled to be reaching the summit and hoping there was some shade up there:
Now on the summit, Steve sits down in some shade and logs in.  The last group of hikers had been here in May of 2009:
This is the view looking north from the summit.  Cucomungo Canyon is below that first ridge:
Looking to the northeast from the summit:
Looking directly east:
And looking south with Tin Mountain, Sandy Peak, Marble Peak, and Dry Mountain all visible in the distance:
Zooming in to get another close-up of the Eureka Dunes.  The view of the dunes was much better earlier in the hike:
Now looking southwest across Eureka Valley:
And once again trying to zoom in on Hidden Dunes, which are hiding behind the lowest hills in the photo:
Finally, this is the view to the west from the summit:
Returning the summit register to its proper place to protect it from the elements:
This marker on the summit reveals that Last Chance Mountain was once known as White Top.  It's easy to see why with the color of the rocks and sand on this mountain:
And a final picture of Steve standing on the summit of Last Chance Mountain at 8,456 feet: