Black Mountains, Funeral Peak

date ?

By: Bob Michaels


One of the most unusual peaks I've ever climbed and one of the strangest major land forms of Death Valley is also the highpoint of the Black Mountains on the east side of the Valley. The route is the northeast ridge - more a ramp than a ridge - which rises at a constant, monotonous gentle grade for over a mile and a half from the west edge of the Greenwater Valley.

This peak is accessed from the Greenwater Valley road, a fair to good dirt road between State Highway 178 west of Shoshone and the Dante's View road. The southern end of the road is extremely irritating washboard, but it improves somewhat as one goes north (2WD high clearance). This road is also part of the access to Brown and Smith Mountains. Greenwater Valley itself is a lonely and lovely desert place - no one else was on the road during the entire time I spent there one winter Saturday.

Park where the road is wide enough to allow this any- where east of the peak; the starting point (+ 3950') is hardly crucial. Then head 2 1/2 miles west through the black brush flats. (Shorts are NOT recommended due to the thick, tough, spiny black brush.) Presently one comes to the base of the northeast ramp which leads endlessly - ENDLESSLY - to the distant summit. Along with Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii, this is the gentlest grade on any significant peak I've ever climbed anywhere, but it's not totally easy. The ramp is formed entirely of basalt, and the terrain is grass and black brush (sagebrush higher up) alternating with jumbles and short "debris flows" of black basalt boulders; these can get quite tedious, especially on the interminable descent. Eventually one arrives on the summit which is perched on a little Class 2 basalt knob which gives the only actual "climbing" of the entire route. Views are marvelous, the Greenwater Range, Nopahs and Springs to the east (the latter range absolutely heroic with a new heavy snowfall); down steep fearsome sinister gorges falling away to the valley floor to the west.

I placed a register; it seemed strange that such a prominent peak, let alone a range highpoint, did not have one. I have a suspicion that the register-eating Grinch may have been to Funeral Peak. While probably not List material because of the uninspiring route, this bizarre peak was a worthy and unforgettable outing in some of the loneliest pure desert country you'll find anywhere.


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