The hike from Spring BM (3,342 feet) to Mill BM (3,130 feet) in the southeastern Owlshead Mountains is a really fun hike that continuously challenges navigational skills. Spring BM and Mill BM are two major named summits that are located 3 1/2 air miles apart, have nearly the same elevation, and are the 3rd and 4th highest named peaks in the Owlsheads. The starting point for the hike is located up Ellie Iron Mine Road (which is an old mining road that splits off near Owl Hole Springs). This road leads up to the Black Magic Mine and the Ellie Iron Mine. However, the road deteriorates badly about 1/3 of a mile before reaching the crest (just past the Black Magic ore bin), so it is necessary to park at an elevation of about 2,960 feet. We had to back up a ways after the road worsened, which was not that easy. But we found a spot that we could back into and then turn around at later. Some people may find it easier (and safer on the tires) to simply park at the large red and black rock pile located at about 2,810 feet in elevation and begin hiking there. Regardless, the first 1 mile (or more) of the hike will be along the old mining road. But the scenery is interesting and this portion of the hike is enjoyable. The first spot passed by is the ore bin of the Black Magic Mine, which is located just above the road. The road soon crests and you have your first view of Owl Lake. This is the first of many views of Owl Lake all along the hike from different angles. It is part of what makes this hike so special. There is nowhere in Death Valley where you will have better views of Owl Lake from up above. As the hike continues along the crest, look for the ruins of an old vehicle which rolled down the hill and got smashed up. The road then gains some more elevation (70 feet), drops back down (-90 feet), and once again gains steep elevation (120 feet). It is a cycle of gaining and losing elevation that will continue happening even as the road comes to an end and the cross-country portion of the hike begins. At an elevation of about 3,220 feet, there is a small dead-end spur which marks the spot where you leave the road and begin climbing to the nearby summit of Spring BM. It is just a quick drop down and climb up the other side to reach the summit. Once you are standing on Spring BM, that's kind of where the fun begins. From this spot, you will pass by four minor summits (966T, 931T, 921T, and 934T) along with a number of interesting landmarks, Dart remnants, and changes in terrain in order to reach Mill BM. It is quite an unforgettable journey from beginning to end. But it is also not for everyone. If you do not have really strong navigational skills, I would not suggest attempting this hike. The concept is simple -- hike along the top of the range from one summit to another -- but carrying out the route without making costly mistakes is quite a bit harder to do. I put many hours of planning into this hike and it paid off when we were out there. Joining me on this hike were my brother Lowell, DVNP Superintendent and friend Mike Reynolds, and fellow hiker Shane. Below, I will try my best to explain the route crossing as we did it on a beautiful October day.
From the summit of Spring BM, we continued northeast along the ridge until a small dry lake came into view. We then dropped down to the small dry lake, which was interesting to check out. Later in the day, we would head west from the dry lake to get into the next valley over. This would allow us to take a shortcut back to the vehicle which avoids climbing Spring BM for a second time. But for now, we continued downhill in a small wash heading northeast past the dry lake. We climbed out of the wash using a short burro trail which brought us onto a long plateau which was easy to cross. The plateau passed along the right side (or east of) peak 966T. We then had to catch another small wash heading down from the plateau heading northeast once again. From here, a mini-crossover is necessary heading to the north in order to reach the top (or crest) of the range. From here on, we would mostly be following along the top of the range all the way to Mill BM using a zigzag pattern as we moved from bump to bump . The next objective was to climb up to the summit of peak 931T. We took a short break on this summit to enjoy the nice views, especially of Owl Lake, which is a mere 3 air miles away to the northwest. We next came across the remnants of a crashed Dart, which we were not expecting to find along the route. The Dart was interesting to check out and get some pictures of the various parts scattered on the ground. We continued hiking along the ridge until we passed by the left side of peak 921T. Peak 921T was the most interesting unnamed peak along the route. Rather than being just another standard dirt hillside peak, peak 921T has been formed by typical Owlshead decomposed granite giant boulders. It is really a sight to behold, and our group nicknamed the peak "The Castle" because of this. Because The Castle is so easy to identify, it also serves as an important landmark to help guide you in both directions. Beyond The Castle, the terrain completely changes. It transitions dramatically from dirt hillsides to being covered by rocks and larger boulders. This is also perhaps the most difficult area to navigate through as the best route is just not clear. But the idea is to work your way toward peak 934T the best that you can. From peak 934T, the summit of Mill BM is in clear sight. But there is more work to do before reaching the summit. A small valley must be dropped into located in between peak 934T and Mill BM. Then, there is a final climb of 200 feet in elevation to reach the summit. The summit views from Mill BM are outstanding. Highlights include Owl Lake, Owlhead BM, Con BM, Epaulet Peak, as well as views all around the Owlsheads. For the hike back, our group split up. Mike had dropped off his truck earlier on Harry Wade Road near the bend north of Round Mountain. To get to it, he followed the ridge down to the north into South Quartz Canyon, where he had to deal with four minor dry falls. He followed South Quartz Canyon all the way to the desert floor and then back to his truck. His route from Mill BM to his parked truck was 8 1/2 miles one way. Meanwhile, the rest of us hiked back to our truck parked back on the Ellie Iron Mine Road. Our route was shorter (being only 6 miles one-way). However, with all of the ups and downs, it took quite some time to go back across the top of the range. The entire hike was 12 miles round-trip with about 3,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. Our hike took place on October 20, 2019.