Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

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Death Valley Dazed
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Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Tue May 22, 2018 7:07 am

How do you spell relief? Bagging the summit of Blue Mountain behind the Borax Benchmark - at last!

I've been intrigued by the splendid geology lying between Artists Palette and the Borax Benchmark since I discovered Death Valley nearly a decade ago. In particular are the gorgeous blue mountains sequestered in the watershed that dare the curious into the trappings of cliffs, canyons, chutes, narrows, scree, and washes that surround these blues.

After several failed attempts to approach the blues from their northern shield, The Borax Benchmark, I gave the westerly approach from Artists Palette a go on May 14th.

An early start allowed enough elevation gain to avoid the midday heat while soaking up a bright sunrise. Even with Google Earth and my observations from The Borax Benchmark I was not sure exactly which approach would work.

In my mind was a route to head straight east from the parking lot, up the first ridge, down into the wash and up the second ridge, down into that wash, hikes east up that wash, circle around the south base of Blue Mountain and scale its north face next to "the Z formation". This "intended route" is marked in video.

Upon reaching the first ridge and gazing east into the dawn light that I had no idea which of the main peaks in sight were the correct destinations because of their shapes and color not matching my expectations. So I tried to scale the first one (which I later determined to be Little Blue) but it was too steep so down I went into the wash to the south and headed east.

Coming upon a 25-foot dry fall caused a real conundrum because of the steep canyon walls providing no clues as to where I was in relation to Big Blue. With some dread, I chose to inch my way up a steep and slippery bypass to the south of the dry fall in the hope that this canyon would lead further east and up to somewhere near Big Blue without being stopped dead in my tracks by an impassable dry fall.

As pure luck would have it, the next few dry falls were passable fairly easy hand and foot notches for my six-foot-tall frame. If you're under six feet tall, these dry falls may be a real challenge.

I started to see evidence of Big Blue with the canyon wall becoming that familiar light blue until I gleefully realized I was standing in the drainage smack dab between The Borax Benchmark and the Z formation of Big Blue. I had no idea that Big Blue was so close to Artist Palette as I was expecting it to be set back much further east in the watershed. It was not until I stood atop of Big Blue with a 360-degree perspective that a complete orientation of the entire watershed came to me.

In summary, there is no easy route to the top of Big Blue. My accidental route is the fastest but steepest while the "intended route" appears to have no dry falls but means an "up and over" another massive ridge in order to circle around the south face of Big Blue. I attempted to descend from Big Blue's south face to join the intended route but was stopped by steep and crumbling drop-offs so had to backtrack.

Being tired, i decided not to take the time to descend Big Blue from the flatter south-east face, circle around to the south and then west and then back up the saddle of the intended route, down into the wash and joining up with my original route, back up the first ridge and down to the parking lot. I merely backtracked with a slight shortcut angling my way across the northeast face of Big Blue down into the familiar drainage, dry falls and scaling back up the first ridge further downstream to avoid the super steep south face of Little Blue, and then down to the parking lot.

Note to fellow hiking hacks: Elevation gains and losses are as steep as the angle of repose of the geology. I do everything to prevent falling over backward into a death spiral down by always facing the slope so, in case of slipping, the worst scenario is a belly slide with all fours stretched out to eventually grab a purchase. That 25-foot dry fall bypass (the dry fall is 25 feet tall but the actual bypass is more like 50 to 75 feet to get up, around and over to the south) is the most difficult I've ever undertaken in the park due to the soft and slippery dirt layer on top of a hard rock layer. It was even harder descending seeking purchase while avoiding the dirt giving way and starting a scratchy and bruising foot first belly slide to the bottom. Unless you are six feet tall you will be challenged to find safe foot and hand purchases.

I confess to a brief temptation of also bagging Little Blue from its northeast face on my descent back to Artist Palette, but that route was not clear and scrambling while being totally "gassed" is not safe. No guarantees here, but returning to Little Blue via Artist Palette from its north face is probably in order. Little Blue's waveform geology on its northeast face is eye candy. Here's a picture I took from Borax Benchmark in April:
Image

The exhilaration of finally topping off Big Blue was worth the effort. The views are just beyond words to describe and I'm more in love with Death Valley than ever. Here is my best effort to share the fun with you.

Last edited by Death Valley Dazed on Wed May 23, 2018 4:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Kauri
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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by Kauri » Tue May 22, 2018 9:53 pm

Congratulations on summiting the big blue mountain! You're probably aware that many hikers have been trying for quite some time to find a route to the top.

From Google Earth and multiple failed attempts, I'd realized the key to summiting that peak was probably to come up from the Artists Palette, but I never managed to figure out a possible route.

Well done! It's great you managed to find a way to the top!

And thank you for including the Google Earth map at the beginning of the movie. Your hike must have been quite an adventure!
My trip reports, from Death Valley and beyond: http://kaurijacobphotography.yolasite.c ... eports.php

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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by TonyG » Wed May 23, 2018 10:55 am

Hats off to you, DVD! (only in the shade ;-) ) A super-interesting report!

I admire your courage to scramble there on your own, but please be careful.

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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by kkrtrek » Thu May 24, 2018 1:00 am

Congratulations on your trip and summit. There were points I am sure I would have turned backed.

Loved the video--every minute of it. Thanks for taking the time and effort to chronicle it all so well.

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Death Valley Dazed
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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Thu May 24, 2018 6:43 am

Kauri wrote:
Tue May 22, 2018 9:53 pm
You're probably aware that many hikers have been trying for quite some time to find a route to the top. Your hike must have been quite an adventure!
Kauri, thank you for the congratulations which means much to me because of your credibility and reputation with all things of Death Valley. Yes, this hike was "quite an adventure" which has taken some time for me to actually process emotionally. What follows are some additional factors and events behind the hike and video.

On, May 22nd, Steve Hall told me that " it is my understanding that nobody has ever reached the summit of the Blue Mountain".

I was actually dumbfounded to hear of this because I believed that every single peak, pinnacle, and protrusion in the park had surely been mastered. I still remain skeptical that some everyday hiker hack like me could be the first to do anything in Death Valley, let alone set human footprints atop that gorgeous Big Blue. If anyone reading this thread knows of a prior summit of Big Blue, I'd love to know about it.

Besides Steve Hall, our very own Mojave Geek was a primary inspiration and motivator for me as I began my explorations, forays, and fiascos on and around the Borax Benchmark. I figured that if these two fine folks and their parties could scramble around "them thar parts" I certainly could. Steve's video and Mojave Geek's panoramas and trip reports got me started.

I've enjoyed covering every inch of the Black Mountains ridge line from Dante's View to the Inn at Death Valley except for a section above and east of the Corkscrew Canyon saddle that requires ropes and technical skills and a section from above Gower Gulch, North Desolation Canyon drainage. On a clear day, the views along the ridge from Mount Perry north to the Blue Mountain lookout point are to die for. The geology changes every hundred yards or so into a kaleidoscope of colors.

Part of the fun of wandering around the Borax BM and upper Artist Palette was often being baffled by my whereabouts at the moment. I was never truly lost but frequently became disoriented gazing down into the scenes below and gazing up at mysterious slots, dry falls, canyon walls, cliffs, and horizons. All of these memories and images in my mind coalesced and synthesized into the most refreshing '"aha" moment when luck would have me standing at the base of "Z formation" on the north face of Blue Mountain. This epiphany was doubly satisfying because not only was I thrilled with the knowledge that I could summit Big Blue but that the day would not end up with more frustration as scrambling up and down canyons, ridges, and dead ends without completing the goal.

I was also surprised to find myself at the base of Big Blue so early in the morning because I thought this location would be a mile further east into the drainage. Securing proper perspective in this area is difficult because of extreme elevations, merging ridge lines and colors. Even zooming in and out with Google Earth would often leave me confused about where exactly I'd been and where I needed to explore. For this reason, I was determined to document this hike as well as possible.

In addition to the two videos about ascent and descent, I discovered some images from prior adventures I should have included to further orient the viewer. I used these to orient myself even more just today.

First is taken from Big Blue summit gazing way up to the east onto the highest Black Mountain ridgeline where I once stood to take the two images that follow. The fourth image was taken previously on one of my explores up and over the eastern ridgeline of Artist Palette. This image illustrates how difficult it is to parse out what peak or ridgeline belongs to what drainage. Even to this day when I drive Artist Drive, Badwater Road or stop at Artist Palette, it's a challenge to sort out which of those nubs on the horizon is Borax BM, Little Blue, Big Blue or Black Mountain ridgeline.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Ok, so I'm in love with those two-faced mountains, Big and Little Blue. Take Little Blue for an example of being so two-faced. Her west face appears typical two-toned Death Valley but her northeast face is a montage of waves forms, blue, white and dark brown. Her proximity is much closer to Artist Palette than I had imagined. This really threw me off for a while but now I'm onto her!

There is a sense of satisfaction to finally have a good grasp of the drainage between the Borax BM and Artist Palette. I am fairly confident that I will someday be able to summit Little Blue. Two possible southern approaches to Big Blue also beckon me.
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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by MojaveGeek » Thu May 24, 2018 12:25 pm

Well I'm impressed too! That's a nice piece of work and I'm glad your determination finally paid off. Heck it took me a couple of tries to get to the base of Big Blue, and that felt like quite an accomplishment at the time. I'm glad you were able to make a route go, and that you didn't slip and injure yourself.

So when we went in to the base of Big Blue, we were surprised at how much less intense the blue was (from pieces that had fallen) that it appeared from, say, Borax BM (which I got to only because Kauri and reported on it some time earlier, so thanks to her). I don't know if it's a question of sun vs shady day or whether you are in a position to see blue sky reflecting off it - what do you think, what was your sense of coloration?

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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Thu May 24, 2018 1:35 pm

MojaveGeek wrote:
Thu May 24, 2018 12:25 pm
So when we went in to the base of Big Blue, we were surprised at how much less intense the blue was (from pieces that had fallen) that it appeared from, say, Borax BM (which I got to only because Kauri and reported on it some time earlier, so thanks to her). I don't know if it's a question of sun vs shady day or whether you are in a position to see blue sky reflecting off it - what do you think, what was your sense of coloration?
Thanks for the compliment MG. I'm no expert on light refraction properties in relation to the minerals/crystals that compose Blue Mountain. What I see as the "eye candy" blue is best at dawn sunrise and dusk rise at sunset. The angle of view changes the hue.

One can see the blue/gray variations in the YouTube videos even though there is a loss of quality from my raw images. With the noon sun shining brightly while I was standing at the base of Big Blue before the return jag the thought came to me, "Hey, this stuff is actually just gray!"

A really cool photo study of Big Blue from all points of the compass around the Borax BM, Artist Palette, and the Black Mountains ridgeline took at the best morning and afternoon light would be delightful. This is not going to happen on my watch so that's why I've tried to piece together a montage of Big Blue images from my various forays into the area over time.

In 2016, atop the ridge high above Artist Palette looking down and west, a man named Eric Hulteen (http://web.hulteen.com/eric/death_valley.html) snapped this gorgeous image of the blue oozing out at the saddle between Desolation Canyon and Artist Drive.

Image

Here's the reverse view of Eric's image that I snapped back in 2015 when I explored that saddle.

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And one looking through the blue down onto Artist Drive from the saddle

Image

And that funny big blue sore thumb sticking up.

Image

Blue, gray, turquoise, aquamarine, blue-green, blue-gray, teal, azure or beryl are colors in the spectrum of Big Blue Mountain. I'm just grateful to not be colorblind!
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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by Candace_66 » Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:27 pm

:cool:

Nice! Did you keep a GPS track of your route? Or did you trace it on the pictures from memory? IIRC you've said you don't use GPS.

Sounds like you've spent a lot of time in the immediate area figuring out a route. I don't know if I'll ever get around to attempting this, but now the beta is out there for anyone who wants it. :cool:
Death Valley Dazed wrote:
Thu May 24, 2018 6:43 am
...On, May 22nd, Steve Hall told me that " it is my understanding that nobody has ever reached the summit of the Blue Mountain".
Not to slam anyone, but it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone who does stuff posts about it on the internet. There are definitely people who ramble in the boonies but don't want to--or can't be bothered to--share any of it on the internet. Heck, I almost never write up anything about my outings. :lol:

BTW, when I climbed Powell Mountain, NV (near Gold Cross Mt. in Lake Mead NRA), I didn't find any sign anyone had been up there before. And before my trip to the area, there was nothing online about it. I later added my route to summitpost. org. But I seriously doubt I made the first ascent! It sounds like it was easier than your route up Blue. So hopefully you likewise felt very satisfied to find your way up, regardless of whether or not others have been there before. :grin:

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Death Valley Dazed
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Re: Bagged Blue Mountain behind Benchmark - finally!

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Fri Jul 13, 2018 5:39 am

Candace_66 wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:27 pm
Did you keep a GPS track of your route?

I did trace it on the pictures from memory and I don't use GPS? My style is to record videos for overall enjoyment and not log detailed trip reports. For this reason, I didn't log the hike at summitpost.org
Candace_66 wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:27 pm
Now the beta is out there for anyone who wants it.

I do hope a few more folks reach Big Blue's summit and file their reports. I remain very skeptical that I'm the first human to set foot atop this summit and agree with you that many folks make no public comment or report of their adventures in DV. I have kept a quasi-journal of all my trips to DV just to keep the facts straight because my memory fades as fast as a mirage on Highway 190.
Candace_66 wrote:
Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:27 pm
When I climbed Powell Mountain, NV (near Gold Cross Mt. in Lake Mead NRA), I didn't find any sign anyone had been up there before. And before my trip to the area, there was nothing online about it. I later added my route to summitpost. org. But I seriously doubt I made the first ascent! It sounds like it was easier than your route up Blue. So hopefully you likewise felt very satisfied to find your way up, regardless of whether or not others have been there before.
Agreed that the satisfaction of reaching the summit was completed regardless of any predecessors. Thanks, Candace for taking the time to comment in detail.
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