Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Mount Perry

Badwater and the Panamints from Dante's View Peak
9 miles round trip, 2000 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead (no trailers), Death Valley National Park entrance fee required

The hike along the crest of the Black Mountains to Mount Perry delivers stellar views of California's Death Valley National Park, packing in overlooks of the lowest point of the North American continent alongside views of the stunning colors of the Amargosa Range. The hike follows an informal but still fairly obvious trail the entire way from Dante's View, offering a hike with stunning views every step of the way. While I wouldn't rate this hike as highly as Telescope Peak across the valley, the great views, relative quiet, and proximity to Las Vegas still make this an excellent hike. The hike also visits the summit of Dante's View Peak en route, providing a shorter alternative for visitors looking for a brief outing.

The Black Mountains are extremely hot in summer; temperatures here are only slightly less roasting than the 130 degree Fahrenheit records that have been set in Death Valley below. The hike is probably best done from mid-fall to mid-spring, when temperatures are reasonable. Regardless of the time of year that you hike here, make sure you bring plenty of water. Many descents and ascents and a good deal of rock scrambling en route to Mount Perry make this a slightly more challenging hike. The rock scrambling and general roughness of the trail in the last half mile will slow you down, so be sure to budget a bit more time for this hike than you might for a typical moderate 9-mile hike. As the trail is not an official Death Valley National Park hike and is thus not marked, be sure you do your research before you come to know where you're going.

I hiked Mount Perry during a November trip to Death Valley. The trailhead for Mount Perry is about a two-hour drive from the Las Vegas metro area, making this a doable day trip for hikers coming from Vegas. It's about a half hour drive from Furnace Creek, the center of visitor services in Death Valley. From Furnace Creek, I reached the trailhead at Dante's View by following California State Route 190 east and uphill for 12 miles and then turning right at the signed junction for Dante's View. I then followed this paved road 13 miles uphill to the trailhead at Dante's View. The last quarter mile of the road was extremely steep and curvy and was not suitable for trailers. I parked at the large ridgetop parking lot for Dante's View, where many other tourists had driven up for the remarkable Death Valley views.

I started out enjoying the panorama of Badwater and Telescope Peak from the developed viewpoint at Dante's View before I followed the path leading north from the parking lot along the crest of the Black Mountains to start my hike. The unmarked trail left the road where the road made a switchback; from here, the trail began a steady ascent and quickly came to a fork. I took a left at this unsigned fork to begin my ascent towards Dante's View Peak (not to be mistaken with the drive-up viewpoint) along the Death Valley side of the peak. On the largely barren slopes of the Black Mountains, I had constant views of Death Valley below.

Badwater and the Panamint Range from the trail up to Dante's View Peak
The trail ascended just over 200 feet in a third of a mile as it climbed from the trailhead up to the summit of Dante's View Peak. Just ten minutes into the hike, I had reached one of the two amazing viewpoints of this hike. From the summit of Dante's View Peak, there was a view directly down to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at over 280 feet below sea level. Badwater was just over 2 miles away from where I stood as the crow flies, but it was more than a mile below me. The desert flats spread to both the north and the south; to the north, Death Valley extended past Furnace Creek to the sand dunes out by Stovepipe Wells, with the Grapevine Mountains defining the valley's eastern boundary. Closer in, Mount Perry rose a few miles to the north, its slopes exploding with a myriad of browns, reds, and yellows. Charleston Peak and the Spring Mountains near Las Vegas rose to the east across the Greenwater Valley and the Greenwater Mountains. This was a spectacular and unearthly view- one that George Lucas incorporated into his vision of the desert planet Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie.

Looking back down Dante's View Peak into the depths of Death Valley
Mount Perry and Death Valley from Dante's View Peak
Hikers who are just looking for a brief excursion can turn around at Dante's View Peak for a 2/3 mile round trip hike, but hikers who budgeted the day to reach Mount Perry can enjoy many more miles of views. Leaving the summit of Dante's View Peak, the trail descended to the northeast along the crest of the Black Mountains. The trail went through a couple of descent phases, each of which was quite steep and was punctuated by a period of flat ridge walking. While descending along the ridge, I passed by a small rock arch on the west side of the ridge that served as a nice window for looking out over Death Valley. 

Rock arch just north of Dante's View Peak
The views remained excellent through this descent, with many great views of the Panamint Range rising over Death Valley. Across the valley, Telescope Peak is the tallest point in the Panamint Range at 11,043 feet above sea level; it rises directly from Badwater Basin at the bottom of Death Valley. The elevation differential between the summit of Telescope Peak and Badwater is over 11,300 feet, which is spread out over just a few miles; this is one of the most impressive elevation differentials in the United States.

Telescope Peak and Badwater
The trail dropped about 600 feet in elevation over the course of a mile of hiking after leaving Dante View's Peak. As the trail headed northeast from Dante View's Peak, the best views of Death Valley began to fade a bit and instead I was treated to nice easterly views of the flat Greenwater Valley, a desert basin dotted with creosote. The Greenwater Mountains rose on the other side of the valley and beyond that lay the great flat expanse of Amargosa Valley, which in turn ended at the foot of snowy Charleston Peak, which is just outside the Vegas suburbs.

Mount Charleston and Greenwater Valley
The trail flattened out after reaching a low saddle a mile northeast of Dante's View Peak. Over the next 1.3 miles, the trail crossed over rolling terrain along the ridgeline of the Black Mountains, wrapping around some small bumps along the ridge while going up and over others. There were more decent views of the Greenwater Valley and Death Valley were and the multihued bands of the Funeral Mountains were a constant part of the view to the north.

Funeral Mountains
As I noted initially, this is not an official trail: this meant that at points, the trail was not marked well or maintained perfectly, although you will be able to follow the trail as long as you're attentive and even if you do lose the trail you can simply follow the top of the ridge. At points, the trail was quite rocky, making the hiking a bit unpleasant and slowing progress. Excellent views of Greenwater Valley's perfectly flat floor to the east helped compensate.

Greenwater Valley
At 2.7 miles from the trailhead, the trail began a longer descent, dropping about 250 feet in a quarter of a mile to the saddle that marked the lowest point on the hike. From the saddle at the 3 mile point of the hike, Mount Perry rose directly ahead, its slopes a mixture of red, brown, orange, and yellows. It was a very striking peak. 

Colorful Mount Perry
From the saddle, the trail climbed 650 feet over the next mile as it followed the ridge to a false summit that marked Mount Perry's southernmost peak. The trail became a bit hard to follow at times and was frequently very rocky, with segments that may require some mild rock scrambling. The pace of the ascent was uneven, with a few stretches of steeper ascent along the rocky ridge. After crossing a talus slope, I arrived at the top of the false summit, 4 miles from the trailhead. The trail had become quite challenging by this point: the one other hiker that I saw this far out decided to turn around here. 

View to the summit along the ridgeline from the first false summit
The final half mile to the summit followed a sometimes knife-edge ridge with a few ups and downs that totaled about another 200 feet of elevation gain; however, the terrain was not substantially more challenging than what I encountered on the way to the false summit and the colorful northerly views from the summit made tackling this final stretch worth it. There was a bit more rock scrambling as I followed the ridge and I enjoyed the sweeping southerly views of the Black Mountains and Dante's View Peak as I approached Mount Perry's true summit.

Dante's View Peak along the spine of the Black Mountains
Finally, 4.5 miles from the trailhead, I arrived at the flat plateau that makes up Mount Perry's true summit. There is no sharp single point on this peak from which to enjoy a 360-degree panorama, but I was able to get views in all directions by walking about the peak's level top. The most unique and enjoyable part of the view from the summit was of the colorful Black Mountains to the north. Multihued layers of rock painted beautiful bands on the mountains that otherwise sported a deep, rich brown hue. This northernmost part of the Black Mountains is well-known for its remarkable colors: Artists Palette and Golden Canyon, two of the park's most famous attractions, lie in this part of the range.

Colorful Black Mountains and Death Valley from Mount Perry
The views of Death Valley and Telescope Peak were excellent from here as well. Badwater Basin, which consisted of a white-colored salt flat and the more grey-colored Devil's Golf Course, filled the valley between here and the Panamints. Badwater is the floor of the lowest of the many basins that make up North America's Great Basin, a collection of endorheic watersheds covering most of the Basin and Range physiographic region between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. 

Telescope Peak towers over Badwater and the Devil's Golf Course
I stayed at the summit a while to enjoy the great views of the colorful surroundings. The Black Mountains, the Funeral Mountains, and the floor of Death Valley all contributed unique and stark colors to this incredible natural palette landscape. From this spot, I even spotted the Ryan boron mine off national park land to the northeast.

Colors of the Amargosa Range
This was an enjoyable ridgeline hike that was a bit on the harder side of moderate due to the heat, lack of official maintenance, and rock scrambling. I did not see too many hikers on the latter parts of the hike even though I visited on a Saturday in November; there were a good number of hikers headed to Dante's View Peak but I saw just a single other hiker on the last 2.5 miles of the trail. This is an enjoyable hike for day visitors from Vegas or those who want to explore the Black Mountains; however, the ultimate peak hike in Death Valley is still Telescope Peak across the valley.

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