Telescope Peak Hike: Death Valley National Park

Hi everyone!  Here’s a long overdue post about another trip I took while Laura was busy teaching.  Mike went on a road trip across the country this spring, and I met him for the last leg.

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Our luxury Vegas resort.  Hey, Alex Honnold says Vegas has the “best outdoor recreation in the country“!

The original plan was stupid: I had a conference in Utah, and Mike was stopping through Vegas.  So I flew down to Vegas late Friday night, and the next day we were planning to drive to Mt. Whitney for a 3-day winter ascent.  Mt. Whitney is about 30 miles round trip in winter, and the latest trip report said that waist-deep snow began just a few miles in on the trail.  They also said there was avalanche danger from persistent slabs on the route (and just above the main campground), and bears were active.  Not to mention, we didn’t even get to the ranger station until about 2 or 3 pm.

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On our way up!  Telescope Peak is on the left and most of the hike is traversing that long ridge.  PC: Mike.

Enter the backup plan: Death Valley!  Neither of us had been to Death Valley, so we were expecting the late-April climate to be warm. While the Death Valley low point is balmy and 200 feet below sea level, our objective, Telescope Peak, is 11,043 feet high.  We stayed at Wildrose Campground near the west end of the park (free, and has water).  The campground is at 4,100 feet, and we got snowed on.

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On our way up.

In winter and early spring, the last part of the road to the Telescope Peak trailhead at Mahogany Flat Campground is closed, which meant we had to park at the Charcoal Kilns.  That made the ascent a 17-mile trip with about 4,200 feet of gain (usually 14 miles and ~3,000 feet).  A long day – but considering that our planned Mt. Whitney trip would have ended in our death, not so bad!

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Phone pano with Mike on the summit.

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The view looking South from the summit.

Telescope Peak is basically a few miles of ascent, a loooooong ridge, and then another climb up to the summit on a snow-covered trail (at least in March).  The basic trail info from the national park service is here.  We brought our ice axes and crampons, but didn’t need to use them until the last mile or so. We only saw one other group the entire day, and they told us they were about 50 meters from the summit when they had to turn around because they didn’t have the proper gear for the snow.  Spoiler alert: we saw their tracks end about a mile and 1500 feet elevation below the summit :).

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Bought at sea level, brought to 11,000 feet!  PC: Mike

I was actually a little worried about avalanche danger on the last leg before the summit.  Probably some of that paranoia was from reading about the slabs on Mt. Whitney, but the last pitch to the summit is fairly steep, without many trees holding the snow in place, so we did feel a little exposed.  The trail keeps to the ridge and there was only a foot or two of snow, so we weren’t THAT worried, but it did make us pause.  We were a long way from help.

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Looking down into the valley as we descend

Averting death, we reached the summit, which was clear and beautiful.  Death Valley is a nice place, y’all!  It’s got some of the most interesting scenery I’ve ever seen.  You can see Whitney and the rest of the Sierras on one side, and the colorful rock canyons all around you.  I didn’t do a good job photographing trees, but they are thousands of years old and the bark looks almost fossilized in some places.  Doing a backpack down in the valley would probably be a completely different experience from Telescope.  Maybe Laura and I will document that some day (Editor’s note: good luck with that).

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That long, long ridge back

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Mike heading down

It took us about 8 hours start to finish (again, that ridge is *really* long, especially on the way down), and then we headed to Sequoia National Park the next day.  So to finish off, here are a few BONUS PICTURES from Sequoia:

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Giant tree roots!  And me, walking weirdly.  PC: Mike.

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Moro Rock, in Sequoia National Park.  PC: Mike.

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