20-Oct-2001 -- I have been eyeing N37W118 for several months and wanting to visit it. I had been through Saline Valley before I had learned about the Degree Confluence Project so I was familiar with the road to get there and I am experienced with desert and mountain hiking so I felt like it was doable. The problem was finding the time to do it. From Reno it would take two days to accomplish the task. The weekend of 10/19-21/01 became available on short notice so I put together a plan that included several geodashing dashpoints along with a visit to N37W118.
I drove from Carson City, NV, to Bishop, CA, where I had dinner and filled up with gas for my sojourn into the desert. I continued in the dark to Big Pine where the Death Valley Road leaves US 395 and then south on the Saline Valley Road another 16 miles to the mouth of Waucoba Canyon. Saline Valley Road is not the worst road I've been on, but there aren't many that are worse...10 or 15 MPH is the max comfortable speed and that shakes things around pretty well. Curiously there were two other vehicles parked in the vicinity for the night. I settled down for a somewhat fitful sleep awaiting daybreak when I could begin the hiking portion of the adventure.
I have learned that when it comes to roads, what is shown on maps often does not match reality. That was certainly true here. There were several roads shown on the map that headed west toward the confluence that would save 3/4 of a mile or so of the hike. One of those roads simply didn't exist and the other two were closed with large boulders to prevent vehicles from proceeding. Another problem with maps is they can tell you something of the topography and general terrain; what they don't tell you is what sort of obstacles you will encounter along the way. On the map and even in the field, the route seems pretty straightforward; proceed up Waucoba Canyon and hang a right up a side canyon for the last ¾ mile.
On Saturday morning, at 7:00, I set out across the desert. The first mile was fairly easy going across open desert, albeit up hill, to where the canyon narrowed. The next mile I hiked up the narrowing canyon where I encountered several springs and the associated dense vegetation. Some of the time I could circumvent the canyon floor by hiking a little higher up the side of the canyon and sometimes the canyon wall was too steep so I bushwhacked through the trees and bushes trying to keep my feet as dry as possible. With about ¾ mile to go, I turned up the side canyon towards the confluence. This canyon gradually narrowed until with about a quarter mile to go, it was about 10 feet wide at the bottom and the sides were very steep. While there were no springs here, the trees and underbrush were so thick it was almost impossible to push through. The alternative was to hang by your fingernails (slight but not much exaggeration) and go around above it. Being October, the yellows and oranges of these trees were particularly beautiful if you could pause long enough to drink it in. Inside the narrow canyon, my GPS was also having trouble seeing enough satellites to maintain a lock on my position. This meant climbing up high enough on the canyon wall to check progress every so often. I finally penetrated far enough up the canyon to reach the zero point about 300 feet up the right (north) side of the canyon. Picture #1 is a view west up the canyon from the confluence. Picture #2 is a rock ledge at the confluence. With the trees and canyon walls, the accuracy of the GPS (Garmin's EPE) was around 35 feet at this point. I captured all zeros on the GPS in Picture #3. One last view uphill back towards Waucoba Canyon (west) in Picture #4 and I retraced my steps back to the truck.
I can certainly see why N37W118 was the last unvisited confluence in California (1). Just to get close requires a high clearance vehicle and the willingness to punish it on the Saline Valley Road. The hike itself is 6 or 7 miles round trip and in places very difficult involving some class 3 climbing skills. The elevation gain is from 6000 feet at the starting place along the road to about 7700 feet at the confluence. It took me almost 6 hours roundtrip and I?m in reasonably good condition. Fall is probably the ideal time to accomplish it. In winter the roads are closed; in spring there is likely more water in the canyon; and summer is too hot in the desert.
(1) Editor's note: Since the time of this visit, several offshore confluences in California have been indexed, but not visited. However, it was the last unvisited, indexed confluence in California at the time.