Peak 6980 is a major peak in the Last Chance Range located between Marble BM and Sandy BM and features outstanding views of the Eureka Sand Dunes, Ubehebe Crater, and other major peaks from the summit. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route-finding challenges and carrying out a long hike of 17 miles round-trip with about 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the entrance to the canyon are 37.074978, -117.584170. GPS coordinates for the bottom of the ridge we used to climb out of the canyon are 37.067941, -117.603507. GPS coordinates for Peak 6980 are 37.078487, -117.610708.
The Eureka Sand Dunes are truly one of the most majestic features of Death Valley National Park. Having enjoyed quite a few trips to the Eureka Dunes during my early years of visiting the park, I began seeking out viewpoints of the dunes from mountain summits during my later years of hiking. A study of Eureka Valley and the surrounding area reveals that great views of the dunes can be found from Sandy BM, Peak 6980, Marble BM, Saline Peak, Eureka Peak, Brass BM, and along the ridge a little south of Lead BM. As my peak hiking time in the park is limited, it will take me many years to get to all of those listed (if ever). But leading into this trip, I had already done Sandy BM and Eureka Peak, which really delivered on the views. Of all the seven peaks listed earlier, Peak 6980 seemed to be the most challenging to reach. The reason why is that it cannot really be done as a day hike. As noted in the overview, reaching the summit of Peak 6980 (from now on referred to as P6980), requires a hike of 17 miles RT with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. That would make it more challenging than Dry Mountain, which is widely regarded to be the most challenging summit hike in the park. We finally found a way around this when doing some trip planning by creating a new backpacking loop in the Last Chance Range. This was a loop that nobody had ever thought of doing, but looked to be an outstanding route well worth carrying out. The route visits Skookum mining camp and Chuckawalla Canyon on Day 1, and then sets up camp about 2/3 of the way to the summit of P6980 while knocking out over 1,500 feet of elevation. Reaching the summit of P6980 on Day 2 is made easier because there are only about 13 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain left to do. That's not to say it becomes an easy hike, but it does make it a much more reasonable hike to carry out. To read about Day 1 of our journey, check out our report for Skookum Mine. This report now continues where that report left off.
On Day 2, we woke up at our camping spot and were surprised to see Tom from Death Valley NPS arrive at our camp. I had invited him to join us on the hike to P6980 but didn't think he could make it. Plans changed, though, and we were grateful to have him along. Jim and Lowell decided to sit out this hike and relax at camp while the rest of us headed to the summit. The three of us began following the major drainage we were in up toward the mountains. Our plan was to enter a major canyon that cut through the mountains and would provide access to the summit ridgeline. We had originally hoped to camp at the canyon mouth, but being that it was December, it got dark early and we were forced to camp about one mile before reaching it. Upon entering the canyon, we were excited to get to walk through a canyon in the Last Chance Range that had never before been documented. The canyon proved to be quite interesting with some giant rock slabs, plentiful Joshua trees, views of the summit high above, a major dry fall to bypass, and some rock pinnacles. We had wanted to explore the canyon as much as possible and limit the elevation gain on the ridge climb, thus we stayed in the canyon for nearly two full miles. We finally reached a good spot to begin our ascent, so we exited the canyon to our right and gained about 700 feet in elevation rather quickly as we climbed the mountain slope. Upon reaching the top ridge which leads to the summit, we had our first views into Saline Valley and Eureka Valley. But we could not yet see the Eureka Dunes, which made us happy because we wanted to save that for the very end. Hiking along the summit ridge, we still had another 550 feet of elevation gain over the course of one mile. But it was very enjoyable because we had so many great views along the way. Finally reaching the summit of P6980 was an incredible moment. As we walked over to the edge and looked out into Eureka Valley, we could see the entire length of the Eureka Sand Dunes. The large mountain of sand was on the right and the smaller dune hills were on the left. We probably spent about an hour on the summit taking in all of the views, which included all of the other peaks referenced earlier, as well as Ubehebe Crater, Tin Mountain, Dry Mountain, the Inyos, and the Sierras. We were surprised to find a summit register which had been placed on March 3, 1979, when I was only four years old. A lot of the entries in the register were workers who were mapping the area or carrying out research. One person noted that he was mapping geology and stated that the rocks on the peak were 550 million years old. Other hikers who made entries were hiking the entire ridgeline between Sandy BM and Marble BM. In general, visitors to the summit of P6980 were few and far between. We were grateful to be added to the list of hikers who have reached the summit, thus we all signed in and then took quite a few photos. Upon leaving the summit, we took a more direct route back down into the canyon. We then returned to camp and packed up our larger backpacks. All five of us then began the long process of backpacking down toward our parked vehicles over the course of about five miles. Being that I was quite exhausted after two days of backpacking and exploring, I was grateful that Tom could guide us back out, especially after it got dark. As I told him later, "I appreciate you leading the way because it's one of the few times I can just hike and enjoy it without having to think about routes". Unlike the hike in, we used the old Skookum Road for the hike out, and the terrain was much better. In conclusion, I would rate Peak 6980 as having some of the best views in Death Valley and I highly recommend it to experienced peak hikers and backpackers with good navigational abilities. Anyone who follows in our footsteps and does our backpacking route will truly enjoy it. Our hike took place on December 9, 2017.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT