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Telescope Peak from Shorty's Well (Death Valley NP)
Date: May 5th, 2007
Elevation: -253 to 11,049 ft Group Size: 15
Miles Covered: at least 23
Difficulty: The ultra of ultra hikes
Scenery: Where is my summit view?
I read somewhere that a person should wait a month after running a marathon before resuming strenuous activities. With this warning in mind, I decided to hike to Telescope Peak the weekend after completing the Big Sur Marathon. At 11,049ft, the Telescope Peak is the tallest peak in the Death Valley NP. And to make the hike more interesting, I started at Shorty's Well, which is located just a stone throw away from its lowest point, Badwater.
Telescope Peak from Shorty's Well is one of those crazy hikes that normal people shouldn't do. But it is not alone, as there is Cactus to Clouds in Palm Springs, and Rim2Rim2Rim in the Grand Canyon. Turns out, I am also not the only fool crazy enough to try it. I posted this trip on OutdoorsClub.org, and before I knew it, there were 15 people coming along. Since the takeout point is quite far from the start, this resulted in a logistics problem of shuttling folks back. Luckily, Mike from work and John from WTC stepped up and helped with leaving cars at the exit, Mahogany Flats.
We started hiking at 3am, under a nearly full moon. The route follows a jeep trail through Hanaupah Canyon for 10 miles, where it reaches a dependable spring. From here, it is possible to either head directly up a steep scree slope towards the summit, or to climb up a prominent east-west ridge. We settled for the latter option. This ridge leads towards another ridge running north-south, which connects the summit with Mahogany Flats. The standard trail follows it.
Mike before sunrise, and the canyon in the early morning light
Oleh scrambling up towards the east-west ridge
Some other folks heading up toward the ridge. This EW ridge leads to the taller NS ridge, which then leads to the summit.
The climb up to the first ridge was quite brutal, but it was just a foreshadowing of things to come. A strong wind was blowing past the peaks, and few times I almost got knocked off my feet. The use trail followed the path of least resistance through a loose rock. However, the top of this first ridge was covered by evergreens and blooming cactus (I have never seen the two side by side before) and that portion was quite enjoyable. The views back down to the valley were quite spectacular.
The real hell started in the last mile or two before gaining the NS ridge. Any remnants of the trail were wiped out by a scree or a thick brush. At this point my right knee started to act up, and I concluded that there may be some truth to the month-off advice. By the time I gained the main trail the pain was quite excruciating. Bending my knee and putting any weight on it resulted in spasms bad enough to make me want to faint. Although my knees tend to swell up after long runs, I have never experienced anything that painful before. Luckily, there doesn't seem to be any permanent damage, since as I am writing this, the knee is back to normal.
Of course, in my stubborn way, I decided to press for the summit. The others were already on their way down as I limped to the top. I got there at 4pm, almost 4 hours after the lead pack! But unlike the great views of the valley floor I was hoping for, I was offered subfreezing temperatures and a snow storm.
Finally the summit was in sight. But the weather didn't last, and I was greeted to the top by hail and a low visibility.
Falling snow and hail
Quang let me borrow his hiking stick for the 7 mile descent to Mahogany Flats. The road leading to the Flats is quite torn up, but we made it out without a hitch even with the 6 people in my Forenza. We didn't get back to the well until after 10pm and by then I was too tired to even consider driving home. I spent another night on the salt flats, and got home the next day.
Next morning we "slept in" and got to see the peak in morning light
This was definitely a worthwhile hike, although it will be a while until I attempt it again. I'll make sure to give my knees some time to rest before asking them to hike for 23 miles and climb over 11,000 feet of gain.