Thimble Peak

December 27, 2017


Death Valley National Park, CA

The weather in this holiday season was depressing and dreary across the Pacific NW and too bad I had already booked the time off. The best place to seek perpetual sunshine was the SW desert states. A quick check in the availability of my usual partners saw Jake Robinson and I locking our objectives at California’s Death Valley area almost spontaneously. They had exactly what we wanted – sunny, warm and no recent snow event in the past month. We spent a lot of time researching but in terms of the exact plan we had none. As often as these US peak-bagging road trips go the best way to “design” an agenda is simply letting the story unfold itself, one day after another.

The access of Thimble Peak is interesting that it requires one to drive the one-way, rough 4×4 Titus Canyon Road and the direction is from Beatty, NV to Death Valley, CA (East to West). This was exactly our preferred direction of entering the Death Valley National Park. The scramble starts from the high divide – Red Pass and should not take more than a couple hours. Putting all of these together we figured it made perfect sense to do Thimble Peak as our first objective. The first day was simply driving as far as possible and it turned out that we pushed all the way down to Beatty, NV. There were some treacherous winter conditions in the state of Oregon but overall the road trip was a cruise sail, albeit very boring. It had been a 20-hour day so sleep came easily in the front seats of Jake’s 4Runner.

There’s no need to rush anymore so we “slept in” till after sunrise in the morning of Day 2. A quick stop in a local gas station later saw us turning onto the dirt road. The start of this road was not too bad but condition slowly deteriorates as we approaching Red Pass. For the least a high clearance vehicle is required and the 4×4 definitely helps with the steep grade too. The parking at Red Pass is very limited and we were lucky to be the first group of this day.

Thimble Peak scramble route from Red Pass. GPX DL

There seems to have a couple routes but as straightforward as this peak goes we didn’t want to put that much effort in the research. I came across a trip report showing the “ridge direct” route and that looks fun. The idea of staying on a ridge crest is always more appealing than travelling in a dry wash. Ascending immediately out of Red Pass was a steep grunt but soon enough the grade tapers off and then it’s a gradual hike towards the “NE highpoint”.

Red Pass is very aptly named.

I like the fact you already have good views from the parking lot..

A few steps up, looking back at our trusty 4Runner

Jake hiking up the typical slopes.

Grapevine Mountains to the north

The main summit of Thimble Peak reveals itself

This was my first time seeing the depth of Death Valley

The main peak proper looks intimidating but also exciting. The only downside of this “ridge option” is that we had to lose about 100 meters of hard won elevation down into the saddle separating the main peak and this NE highpoint. That was not a problem as we were both fresh. The ascent involves some minor route-finding but should not exceed “class 2” by modern standard. There wasn’t much of hands-on scrambling at all despite the fearsome profile. The summit was then attained and this was my first ever time looking down into the Death Valley.

The main summit of Thimble Peak from the “NE highpoint”

At the base about to start the scrambling.

This is a sideways view looking into Death Valley

Summit Panorama from Thimble Peak. Click to view large size.

The highest peak out there is Telescope Peak

This is looking east into the Cottonwood Mountains

More about Grapevine Mountains to the north

This is looking NE and the side we came from

Another shot looking down into Death Valley. It’s almost 2000 m vertical relief.

The High Sierras and Mt. Whitney are visible on the skyline

Me on the summit of Thimble Peak

After about 20 minutes lingering while signing the register we figured we might as well get going. There’s plenty of time left and we should consider squeezing another peak. Descending from the main peak was a fast process with some scree skiing on soft ground and then there came the annoying elevation regain to get back onto that “NE highpoint”. The rest of the descent had very little interesting aspect worth documenting.

A review shot of Thimble Peak on the descent

More about looking east and the road approach we drove from

It’s mostly a open ridge hike

One last look at Thimble Peak’s summit block

Almost back to the parking lot.

The adventure of Thimble Peak hasn’t finished yet as a long drive down Titus Canyon Road still awaits. Like mentioned above this is a narrow and rough road that requires 4×4 and from Red Pass down to Death Valley there’s about 1500 m elevation loss on about 20 miles or so’s ground. Thankfully we had a trustful 4Runner but still the drive itself was quite an adventure. The tightness of some of the lower canyons was amazing.

Driving down Titus Canyon Road

Some sections of the lower canyon. We had about 1500m descent on this road

Exiting the canyon we came to the immense Death Valley

Overall as far as “a short introductory to Death Valley” goes I think Thimble Peak did an excellent job with some high view-to-effort ratio. The roughness of this 4×4 access will keep the crowds at bay but I’m definitely not complaining about that. And now we decided to check off Manly Beacon before it gets too late.