Arduous Argus day 3: French Madame Peak to Panamint Springs

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November 28, 2015
I woke up just in time to notice the sun bobbing above the horizon, and groggily lifted up the tent flap to see a white landscape dotted with frozen trees, which gave me an initial start because I had briefly forgotten that it had snowed the previous night. I quickly forced on frozen shoes and made my way outside to find all ridges to the north lit up in alpenglow, including the network of ridges working their way east into Panamint Valley, the very ridges which had first inspired me to come to the Argus Range. The temperature was somewhere in the single digits with a light wind, resulting in negative wind chills. I would periodically snap a few photos of the sunrise only to find my fingers too frozen to work the camera 20 seconds after taking my hand out of the glove. We pretty much stood there for what seemed like 20 minutes, gazing in awe at the scene and warming up our hands.

As we broke camp, I quickly stuffed down two frozen bagels, feeling surprisingly well as we started off a few moments after. With over half our water consumed, our packs now felt considerably lighter, maybe in the 40-45lb range. The powdery snow, combined with the broken shards of slate which composed the mountains, made traversing slightly more tedious. We found ourselves slipping and sliding down short stretches of loose scree, not being able to see it under the snow. The navigation was straightforward, as the Argus Crest was now comprised of one very distinct narrow ridge, at least until Point Arduous. Between French Madame and Point Arduous lay three peaks: The Toes, Runway Peak, and Golden Lady Peak. Every single one of these peaks were pretty similar to eachother in terms of terrain, but each had their unique views. I was surprised how constantly views towards both the eastern and western sides of the ridge changed with every few minutes of traversing. The only terrain obstacle of note was a cliffy impasse halfway down Golden Lady Peak's north ridge, which could be bypassed with a obvious short scree-filled gully to the west.

looking back at Maturango

views while heading towards The Toes

summit views from The Toes

views on the way to Runway Peak

summit views from Runway Peak

summit of Golden Lady Peak

the gully bypass on Golden Lady's north ridge

getting close to Point Arduous

view south from Point Arduous

From Point Arduous, we continued north on the ridge for roughly 0.6 mi, then headed a short distance west as the ridge ended, meeting up with an old mining road which headed northeast for 0.9 miles to the western side of Jack Gunn Peak. We cached our packs at the base of Jack Gunn (it was a spur), and enjoyed the brief moment of traversing without heavy weights on our backs.

Olancha Peak looking photogenic

Jack Gunn Peak


view of Panamint Valley shortly before summiting Jack Gunn

Jack Gunn summit view

looking back towards Point Arduous

looking north

We descended back to our packs, headed a short distance west to intersect the Argus Crest (which was now a plateau), and continued north towards Zinc Hill, the northernmost peak in the Argus Range. As we got closer to Zinc Hill, the crest dropped and turned into a ridge with several bumps. We reached the summit of Zinc Hill at 3:30pm. We could clearly see Panamint Spring (which marked the end of the traverse) to the NNE and 3,700 ft below. With only an hour of sunlight left that day, we were sure to be descending in the dark.

on the plateau after Jack Gunn

ascending the final push to Zinc Hill

summit of Zinc Hill


After about 10 minutes on the summit, we began hurriedly descending the northeast ridge of Zinc Hill towards Panamint Springs. The ridge was straightforward, consisting of mostly class 1 terrain with a few short steep class 2 slopes and edges. Halfway down the ridge, I noticed that I didn't need the gloves anymore. For the first time since starting the traverse, the temperature had risen to above freezing. We eventually made it into Panamint Spring (1,900 ft) around 5:40pm, and ran into Michael at the gas station. After wolfing down some burgers at the resort, the three of us grabbed the car from Nadeau Rd and headed towards the Southern Sierra where we would spend the night.

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