By far, the most strenuous hike I’ve done in many years.
This hike was SERIOUS. Up to this point in my “100 hikes” project, all of my hikes seem like tame walks in the park compared to this beast-of-a-hike. I couldn’t have done it without my three hiking companions: their patience and support got me to the top. I’m certain that if I did this hike alone, I would not have experienced the summit in all of its glory. My companions were Chris (whom joined me for hike #6 and hike #9.5), Samantha (hike #18) and Becquie, who is a friend of Chris’.
We entered Death Valley National Park in the afternoon on Saturday, June 27th. I’ve been to Death Valley about a dozen times over the years, but only the first visit took place in June. Experiencing the misfortunes of exploring the desert in triple-digit temperatures is a lesson I care not to repeat but here I was, back in the park and the forecast for the valley was no less than 113 degrees. That’s hotter than I care to bathe in, let alone breath in. However, our destination was not the desert floor but the considerably cooler, higher altitudes of the Panamint Range.
Taking Highway 178 eastward, we climbed into the mountains in my trusty Dodge Neon. The pavement ends quickly and a rough roads steadily climbs. I was worried that we would not be able to make it to Mahogany Flat campgrounds, our destination for the night and the trailhead for the peak. More than a few online guides for this hike suggest using a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get up the steep, gravel road. But slow-going and careful driving lead to success (with only one moment of tire slippage) and my little car saved us from having to add six miles on to the Telescope peak trek by camping at the Wildrose campgrounds instead.
The Mahogany Flat campgrounds consist of thirteen campsites, each come with a firepit, picnic table, and one heck of a view. Campers at this 8,200-foot elevated site can take in the expansive view of the sun rising and setting through the pinyon pines and junipers.
Sunday was hike day. We left our campsite at 8:00AM after a breakfast of scrambled eggs made by Sam. The trail quickly gained altitude leaving the camp, reaching 9,600 feet (+1,400 gain) by the time we reached Arcane Meadow, two miles into the hike. We were all affected in some way by the altitude, but I more than the others. I’ve never been great hiking uphill, but the altitude compounded the problem. At Arcane Meadow, we took a breather and had lunch, enjoying the majestic views of both Death Valley to the east and Panamint Valley to the west. It amazed me to think that it was at least 113 degrees not ten miles from our spot on the ridge, yet we were enjoying mild temperatures in the 70′s with a nice breeze.
From Arcane Meadow, the trail heads slightly downhill along a saddle, passing to the west of Bennett Peak. The trail would gradually gain altitude again, but for the final two-mile push to the summit, the altitude would gain 1,000 feet per mile. This just about killed me. Mentally, I wanted to go up, but my legs refused to listen. I was suffering from altitude sickness, but not in ways that would force me to turn around. About a mile from the top, I realized that during our break from lunch at Arcane Meadow, I didn’t eat anything except for a cracker, a slice of cheese, and six cherries. What happened?? How could have I allowed myself to do this?? I felt stupid and embarrassed.
The last mile was tough going. We read that there were no less than fourteen switchbacks to the summit, so Sam and I mustered up energy to celebrate each one as we made the turn. (There ended up being sixteen switchbacks in total). With a final push, we made it to the summit and the amazing 360-degree view it offered us. From the top, we could see Badwater, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere (-282 feet below sea level) as well as Mt. Whitney to the west (14,494ft elevation), the tallest peak in the contiguous states. It was breathtaking to be standing here… literally!
The trek down was much easier for me, as expected. I can go hours hiking downhill, another reason why I didn’t give up with the climb up. We returned to our camp at Mahogany Flat at 8pm, twelve hours after we began this odyssey.
Thoughts about the hike:
- For all of the trials and tribulations of this trek, it still equaled just one hike. I might need to review my rules and consider longer hikes being worth more.
- I took five liters of water and ran out. Must consider purchasing a larger bladder.
- If I do this hike again, I’m carbo loading up before hand and starting earlier in the morning.
- We saw just nine people on the entire trail, and no one else after 2pm!
- Localhikes.com – Telescope Peak
- The best hike in Death Valley is…
- Hiking Death Valley’s Telescope Peak
- Death Valley Road Trip
- Date of hike: June 27th, 2009
- Location: Death Valley National Park, California
- Length: 14 miles
- Duration: 12 hour, 2 minutes
- Average speed: ±1.1 mph
- Altitude at start: 8,200 feet
- Altitude min.max: 8,200/11,331 feet
This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike.
For a more detailed trip report map, check this out or click on the map.