Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Towne Peak - Death Valley National Park

Towne Peak / SA-16 Albatross

February 21, 2009

Out in the Death Valley National Park is Towne Peak with in the Panamint Mountain Range.
From the top of Towne is a ridge dropping in a South West direction.
What's special about that ridge? Well, there just happens to be a plane that crashed into it a long time ago.

On January 24, 1952 the SA-16 Albatross deadsticked into it's current location. In flight one of the engines failed and the reamining engine would not provide enough power to sustain altitude. All crew members safely parachuted and survived with no injuries. The complete story of the ill fated Albatross can be found here in greater detal. It reads like a book that gets the imagination going, a real good read.

As far as the adventure, that included my friend Ken and I, we made the best of it.

On February 20, 2009 we drove to Panamint Springs with a camper in tow and plans to overnight thus hiking the next morning on Saturday. Well, Saturday morning the alarm sounded early at 0430hrs! After the wakeup we had breakfast then we were in the truck driving about 13 miles to Towne Pass, the location of the trail head. I use the term "trail head" loosely as there was no trail and over 90% of our trek was in snow. The depth of the snow averaged between ankle and waist deep. The temps all day hovered in the low 40's(F) with winds around 5mph gusting to 15mph. It felt fairly cold but we were prepared for this and dressed adequately.

Hiking started at 0630hrs and return to the truck was at exactly 1740hrs. This ended up giving us about a 20 minute buffer before headlamps would have be needed. This is a good thing as it would have dramatically slowed down progress since the ground was covered in volcanic rock, mostly very large. This proved to be a treat since stepping through the snow and a foot landing on an unseen lava rock would cause a slip or at times stumble. Nothing serious though and the snow was a comforting buffer for this.

Total distance from start to finish was only in the vicinity of 9.4 miles but took the stated time of 11hrs 10 min. Not much time was taken for breaks along the way, not even on Towne Peak, only at the crash site. We knew the snow was slowing us down big time and kept pushing on the best we could trying to make use of the daylight. We are no strangers to headlamp hiking but this terrain was not the best for it.

Overall we did really good as it turns out since the average hiker doing this route without snow completes it in 11hrs, or more. Why so long for only 9.4 miles? Good question! Gobs and gobs of instant elevation gain. The location for the start of the hike at Towne Pass is about 4900ft and Towne Peak is in the neighborhood of 7240ft. Along the way to Towne Peak are three other hills that require up then down adding to the gain. The crux is from Towne Peak taking the ridge down to a saddle just above the plane crash. This ridge includes a loss of 1000ft to the saddle. From the saddle is a very steep descent to the plane with a los of about 200ft, or so. After the tour of the plane we had to gain that altitude back just to get to Towne Peak. The hike returning to the truck from the peak wasn't all that bad but those three hills along the way had to be answered to.

Waiting for us though, were a couple of ice cold Heineken's for our little celebration.

Finished with our little celebration we headed back to Panamint Springs for a great night including a campfire and dinner. The bummer is always the day to leave and that was Sunday, what a drag!

It was fun and I had a blast! We met all of our goals on that mountain and made it home safe.
Now it's time to clean up the gear and prepare for the next adventure!

View of the parking location at Towne Pass

Ken hitting the trail. That little road ends at it's visible location and people seem to overnight there.

Ken setting the pace up the first hill to the main ridge

On the ridge looking back

Me at sunrise

Towne Peak with an old Death Valley boundary marker. The new boundary has been moved much further to the West in 1994.

There goes Ken pressing on

Ken making the final push for Towne Peak

Ken on top of Towne Peak

Me on top of Towne Peak

The only survey marker on the peak not covered in snow

Ken leaving the peak preparing for the 1000ft descent to the saddle

The view of a hiker

There's Ken at the saddle with the plane about 200ft down to the left. Notice that ammo can? It was placed there by a pretty hardcore hiker as sort of a monument. It's got a log book to check in along with water and food if needed.

The first view of the Albatross

One of the engines. I don't know if it was the good one though. The other engine, along with lots of other big parts of the plane, are waaaaay down at the bottom. They are for the most part unreachable with out a helicopter or very long and dangerous hike from the desert floor.

Here we have Ken with the fatal Albatross

And me striking a pose

Google Earth view of the hike track from my Garmin

Google Earth of Panamint Springs looking at Towne Peak

Topo of the hike track

Topo of the Panamint Valley and Panamint Mountains


  1. Looks like an amazing hike. Love your pictures!

  2. Hi cowgirl and thank you so much, that is very kind of you! Little did you know if it wasn't for your awesome blog I would have never created mine. So...Thank You!

  3. Well it looks wonderful, I'm looking forward to reading here! :)