Steve’s Original Journal from the 1st Trip (April 20-23, 2006)
Wednesday night we drove up to Lake Isabella to sleep for the night, which was a 6 hour drive from our home in Sonoma. I was joined for the trip to Panamint City by three friends who have also spent extensive time in Death Valley over the years — Jose, Josh, and Rob. We woke up early Thursday morning and a couple of hours later were at the Ballarat general store where we met Rocky. We gave him two cases of Pepsi and talked to him for a while before driving up and parking at Novak Camp. There were no other vehicles parked there, so we were hoping that we would find the Hilton empty once we arrived in Panamint City. The temperature was supposed to be 94 in Death Valley and it certainly felt like it that day. The only thing that kept us cool was our hike through Surprise Canyon, Limekiln Springs, and Brewery Springs, which many times left us no choice but to get wet. The trail was quite overgrown and hard to follow at times, but eventually we made it through and walked into an empty Panamint City. We walked right into the Hilton and started unpacking. No one else arrived Thursday night, so we had the city all to ourselves.
Friday morning everyone kind of did their own thing. I started out by exploring the main part of town and the smelter. Then, since the city was empty, I decided to check out the Overflow cabin and The Castle. I noticed that there was no water at The Castle so I followed the pipeline and found that it had been disconnected on purpose, with a stone sign explaining that it was disconnected to prevent the pipes from freezing. I also read all of the journal entries from over the years, the highlights being the couple who adopted the place and have really worked hard on upkeep, Panamint Charlie’s, and the dog rescuers. I spent quite a bit of time in Sourdough and then decided to hike all the way up Sourdough Canyon Rd. to the ridge. From there, I enjoyed a great view of Panamint City below and other surrounding areas.Friday night two other backpackers from Lake Tahoe showed up and they stayed at the Overflow cabin.
Saturday morning I woke up early and decided to hike up to Panamint Pass and maybe Sentinel or Hungry Bill’s. As I found out the hard way, the trail basically disappears after passing the weather station. But I followed advice others gave me, aiming for the lowest peak, all the while following stones stacked up as trail markers. I really didn’t have too much of a problem getting to Panamint Pass and was able to avoid getting lost. Once up there I hiked up toward Sentinel to get a better view and perspective of the hike to Hungry Bill’s. The route to Bill’s was very obvious even without a trail but in the end I decided not to do it. It would have taken up the rest of my day and I wanted to spend more time back in Panamint City. Once I arrived back, I hiked over to Sourdough to look for burros, but only found one of my friends using the outdoor bathtub with warm water which he had heated with a fire below the tub. I then relaxed at my favorite viewpoint and watched as 16 new people arrived in Panamint City. Most of them were with a boy scout group and they headed straight over the shortcut to The Castle. After dinner it was getting dark but I still had one more hike in me. So I put on a headlamp and hiked up to the first mine above the city. I then started hiking up to the second mine, but it was pitch black outside, so I turned around halfway and went back down.
We woke up Sunday morning to fresh snow on the ground everywhere. It was quite a shocker, because it had been so hot when we arrived. We cleaned up the Hilton, packed up our things, and hiked back down through the snowstorm. My three friends backpacked down at a fast pace but I took a slower pace. I hadn’t seen any burros yet, so I decided to take it slow and scan my surroundings carefully all the way down. It paid off as I was able to get pictures of three burros and my friends missed them completely. In conclusion it was an amazing trip, one of the best backpacking trips of my life. I feel like I’ve got a lot more to do in Panamint City, so I hope to return there someday.