According to the Panamint Valley Days run description:
"ISHAM CANYON RUN:
This is a run limited to 10 vehicles. Only short wheel base vehicles (94" or shorter), with a minimum tire size of 33". Vehicles need to be locked front and rear, with a working winch and no tops allowed. Isham Canyon is one of the tightest, most technical trails Panamint Valley Days has to offer. There is not a lot of room for error. You are expected to help the other drivers through the trail. This run should prove to be very challenging for both driver and vehicle. There is a potential for body damage."
Sounds like a challenge to me!
The PVD crews have been running this trail for a few years now, I knew the general location of the trail but wanted to find and experience it first hand. So, armed with a handy BLM Ridgecrest Desert Access map, I turned of CA-190 at the Trona Sand and Gravel Co. sign and headed east towards the Slate Range.
How anyone could make money selling sand and gravel in Trona is way beyond me!
As I went through the first piles of gravel, I dropped into a wash with a small BLM marker indicating a faint trail to the left, just across the gravel road from my truck (pictured heading east towards the Fish Canyon turnoff, which is about 200 yards further up the road). I proceeded a few miles up the wash over some sand and rocky outcrops as until I entered Isham Canyon proper. The walls began to close in and the excitement build as bend after bend of relatively easy trail pass by. I'm beginning to wonder where the "hard stuff" is...
I rounded a bend in the canyon where there was an open spot, that looked like it had been used as a turn around spot. I turned to the right and there was the first obstacle. I stopped, locked the front hubs, put 'er in 4LO and aired up the ARBs. Glad I had my new Rock SliderZ on. that rock to the right looks very hungry!
This dry waterfall has loose sand on the bottom and on the top, the only grip is on the rocks themselves. I popped up with ease, the lugs on my tires grabbing the jagged rocks.
The trail eases up a bit, letting the first rush of adrenalin dissipate. Just as your heart rate settles back down to normal, you hit this nasty combination obstacle. You have to squeeze between two large boulders before making a tight rocky uphill turn onto a loose, sandy, steep climb, which ends in a sandy, off-camber hard turn to the right.
The next combination obstacle is sort of like the previous one, except with the order changed; loose stuff, boulder squeeze, rocky climb...
Next in line is a slalom course around some conveniently placed boulders. The trail is very narrow and the farther away from the boulder you try to get, the more it will tip you into them. Loose rocks, sand and off-camber conditions make it even more interesting.
Its a bit hard to make out in this photo, but this is THE toughest spot on the trail. If you look closely where the shadow covers the center of the trail, you can see the notch you must pass through. The trail makes a hard left turn here, with the inside of the notch at about 45° and the outside at about 75° angle (hint the included angle is somewhat less than 90° which makes fitting a semi-rectangular vehicle through a bit iffy. In fact, you basically have to choose which side of the body to sacrifice to the rock gods to let you through this spot!
Here's the same spot from the top looking back down. I took this photo with the camera pointing almost straight down over the notch. You can see the nice metal-eating rock teeth sticking out on the outside of the turn and the nice metal-eating rock stick out on the inside of the turn. Two lines, neither one very promising. Apparently, *the* ideal line is to stuff the driver's front wheel into the bottom of the notch, and run the passenger front up high on the steep wall, Then, as you make the hard turn, the rear wheels end up perfectly straddling the notch. Miss a few inches to either side and you are in for a wild ride.
But, if you've made it this far, there is only one tough spot left to do. The climb out of the canyon is long and loose. No place to set a winch anchor (the PVD crew usually stations a few rigs at the top to hook a cable to). I took a look at the climb the first year PVD ran the trail and it looked much softer, much more sand than is now there. Anyway, the exposed rocks seemed to give a fair amount of traction.
From this point, you follow the spur road back to the main Fish Canyon road at which point you can turn right and return to Trona or left and drop into Panamint Valley. This trail is a nice find, looks a lot like the Hammer trails of Johnson Valley, but way less traveled. The total distance up the canyon is 2.5 miles and the last 3/4 mile is the tough stuff.
The Sierra Rock Crawlers ran the trail the first year it was open, and wrote this report:
This canyon probably gets its name from William Isham, who was a member of the Jayhakwer party, from Rochester, New York. He died of thirst on the desert, near Searles Lake, on January 13, 1850, near the location Father Fish died, just across the ridge in Fish Canyon.
The background for this page is an image of Zabriske Point. I post-processed the image with Silicon Graphics Image Vision toolkit by running a Sobel Edge Detection filter on it, then rotated and cropped the image slightly to get the edges to tile properly.