7510 ft (2289 m) – 1200 ft gain
Well, that didn’t take long. I must have gotten a little sleep. It is, at most, four hours after returning from Peak 6632, which we summited soon after midnight, and Darren and I are headed for our approach to Grayback Mountain, the highpoint of the East Gate Range. The forecast is basically three words, ‘hot and smokey’, so we are at it early to beat the heat – it is generally hazy in the pre-dawn sky, but the smoke does not seem too bad.
Generally paralleling and slightly en-echelon with the Desatoya Mountains, the East Gate Range extends southward from the historic-era freight station and some time ranch at East Gate, a cleft traced by Buffalo Creek at the northern tip of the range. Buffalo Creek and its dramatic arroyo drain westward and cut eastward, and the drainage’s dendritic, upper, generally dry tributaries reach toward Buffalo Mountain above Smith Creek Valley – Buffalo Mountain ing being a distant sister to Grayback Mountain, the range high point. Steep cliffs of rhyolite outcrop in the north and punchy hills of rhyolite and volcanic tuff build into a broad range tucked up against the Broken Hills.
We hiked into the rising sun, following a long drainage, its narrow gully crowded with a two-track, jeep trail. We worked our way through an open pinyon woodland that seems to be doing well on north-facing slopes. The south-facing slopes are wide open or staked with the burnt, denuded skeletons of what was once a stand of pinyon. The slopes face one another across the gully, a yin-yang of before and after. The northward burn scar leads us to steep hills of rhyolitic tuff – cliffs and outcrops creasing the gullies that cut toward the mountain. Following a modest crease in the hillside, the peak’s south ridge the leads directly to the summit, and we take little time climbing the stairway of game and grazing trails, over tuffs of bunch grass and between rocks of talus. The summit hosts a small, slightly crowded woodland, with the register cairn tucked under a pinyon snag the appears to propping up a young tree.
Our view is fading fast in the smoke and a growing heat haze. While smoke arrives in a rust-brown blur in the upper elevations, last night’s ground smog suffocates the lower valleys. As the day warms, the valley fog reaches up canyons to meet the summit haze. It is time to go down.
Our return is a wander among open pinyon and outcrops until we hit the snags of the gullied fire scar. A dozer track moves along the scar margin, winding between sage and dust – a firebreak that held. Looking across the little valley, to the northwest, it seems the line did not withstand a southerly winded run; the flames climbed northward, too fast for the meager dirt line, upslope toward Grayback. The ground is barren but for the black stems of burned-out sagebrush. Regaining the south side’s woodland, we walk easily down the gully and are soon back in camp.
A walk in the East Gate Range is not dramatic. Sure, there is the amazing alluvial record of Buffalo Creek arroyo and, often, bighorn sheep can be seen on the canyon walls overlooking Eastgate. I love an overland that includes Eastgate, but the rounded hills do not call for attention. And yet, even in the heat of July (and the heat of 2021), a morning recce around Grayback is cannot be a bad thing.
We pack camp quickly, but not before we pile up a skottle breakfast to refuel after the two climbs. Ok, climbs like this do not require too much fuel, but our enjoyable effort is good reason for a breakfast burrito. We laugh at the fact that our climbs could not have been more different, night and day, in fact. And best, this morning’s walk did not have any spiders.