By: Eric Beck
Thursday evening Lori and I drove down to Ballarat and enjoyed the opportunistic foxes who circled us. Up bright and early Friday for the drive up Pleasant Canyon. My heart sank when we started to see how bad the road is. We were moving rocks within the first half mile. We did major work on three wash crossings. After having gone not even two miles, the road climbs steeply out of the floor of the canyon. This was going to take more time moving rocks than we had. Also, we had been warned of serious washouts only a little ahead. I thought that our project was doomed and that finishing the list would be put off indefinitely. We were only at 3000 feet and still four miles below Clair Camp. Lori, however, was adamant. She said "It's only 20 miles." With this encouragement, we shouldered the packs and were off.
In a short distance, the first water appeared on the road and continued for the next mile. In places the stream covered the road. There were several badly washed out sections which no 2wd vehicle can do and looked tricky for 4wd. Above the water the road would prove to be very good until the last half mile to the Cooper Mine.
We finally hit the sun at Clair Camp. We had gone four miles and climbed to 5000 feet. The guide says to continue up the road for another 2.5 miles to the "Stone Corral" where one should take a left fork. This sounded easy enough. After what seemed like quite a long distance and still no Stone Corral we became concerned as we were now heading off up the now broad valley toward the SE. Study of the map showed that we were way past were the Stone Corral was and that the road we wanted, up to the Cooper mine, now lay along the base of the hillside on the far side of the valley, although it was not visible. We took off cross country, trusting the map. This proved to be accurate and we were soon trudging up the road which was not too bad up to a mine shaft entrance at a point where the road crossed the small canyon it was following and the switchbacked steeply back to the south, gaining the ridge to the right of the canyon. At this point, we are directly below a prominent peak with a very white rocky top, the most noticeable feature in the entire upper valley. Where the road traversed left, we stashed two water bottles and began the rising contour to the saddle east of the white topped peak. This was not especially pleasant, but went quickly. Up the west ridge of Porter through the Pinyons to the pretty summit where we had a very quick bite to eat. It was 1:45; fortunately it was all downhill. On the way down we never did see the Stone Corral. Correct instructions for finding the fork to the Cooper Mine: From the sign "Death Valley National Park", continue another 200 yards up the road to a fork and turn left. Note that there is a hard left right at the sign which appears to go to the saddle west of the white topped peak.
We trucked on down much faster than our ascent, arriving at our 2wd Toyota maybe two n-tinutes before we would have gotten the headlamps out and were back home before 9 pm. Round trip stats: 20 miles, 6000 feet, I I hours (although we lost 30 minutes because of the mythical Stone Corral ).
For those with 2wd, the optimal tactic for doing Porter is to backpack up Surprise Canyon to Panamint City, where there is water, climb both Sentinel and Porter the next day, and then hike out the third day. Eric
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