It was still sort of Sierra season, so I could have tagged a few more random SPS peaks out of Horseshoe Meadows. However, Shannon suggested a suffer-fest in Death Valley that had long been on my radar, which seemed more interesting than cold hours in the sand trenches of Horseshoe Meadows. To make the driving more pleasant and productive, I picked out some DPS peaks along the way to fill out the long weekend. We got a semi-late start on the drive, stopped in Lone Pine to top off our gas tanks, then continued to Keeler to stash my car and bounce up the long, steep, but well-maintained dirt road to Cerro Gordo. This strange settlement is part ghost town, part museum, and part spooky redneck encampment. There were “POSTED No Trespassing” signs everywhere, so we were a bit apprehensive parking in a wide spot just below “downtown.” We asked a couple of guys wandering around if it was okay, but they were just fellow visitors, and had no idea. The hike starts out with an easy walk along a road to some antennas, past a gate with yet another trespassing sign, and a couple of primitive cabins with an outhouse, a nice view of the Sierra, and no obvious water supply. From near the road’s end, a faint use trail takes off north along the undulating ridge. This being a DPS peak, I was counting on there being some sort of trail, though the woody and sometimes spiny desert brush was sparse enough that it was unnecessary. The ridge is mostly easy smooth going, with just a couple of cliffy sections. While the trail drops below, I for some reason decided to stick to the ridge. The views to the east were somewhat better, but getting back to the trail required some third class downclimbing on sticky, chossy limestone. The summit register contained plenty of familiar names, and showed a fair amount of traffic, unsurprising for such an easy peak. We huddled out of the wind for a bit, then retraced our steps back to the car.
The remainder of the day, and some of the evening, was spent setting up a car shuttle between Badwater and the charcoal kiln road. I had quickly glanced at a map, but had not calculated just how long this would take; the process turned out to be educational and exhausting. First, I learned that although it looks shorter, the drive south along the Panamint Valley Road and north up Wildrose Canyon is slower than going around from the north, because the southern end of the Wildrose road is rough and infested with man-eating potholes. We were fortunately able to get both cars past the kilns and up the “high clearance 4×4” road to the gate without a surprise oil change, saving some miles. Unfortunately, from there it is two bleary-eyed hours’ drive around to Badwater. Arriving well after dark, we quickly made dinner, set the alarm for a painful hour, and crashed at the non-camping non-trailhead, which was surprisingly chilly for being 282 feet below sea level.