Telescope Peak is one of the highest things visible from Death Valley National Park, towering at 11,043 feet above sea level. When viewed from places like Bad Water (-282 feet from sea level), it truely seems like an immense mountain. In this post, I will talk a bit about the trip I made recently to Telescope Peak, and then some of the highlights of wandering around Death Valley, including (believe it or not) rain.
The original plan on this trip was to hike Mount Whitney, however the storms that were in the forcast for the next couple of days made that a very untenable plan, so as a backup, Telescope Peak at Death Valley was chosen as our destination. Due to the fact that the original plan was to hike Mount Whitney, everyone had taken a couple of days off, so we were in Death Valley by Wednesday, and out on Saturday.
Day 1: Thursday
The drive from Los Angeles all of the way to Death Valley takes quite a while to do, which resulted in us not getting to camp until almost 2 PM Thursday. At this point, we pitched the tents, made a meal, and then did a little bit of exploring along with discussion of how we wanted to tackle the climb the next day. The issue with Telescope Peak, is that it makes for a long day hike, being roughly 7 miles one way, with almost 4000 feet of gain along the way, and the same storm system that scared us away from Whitney had the potential to pay us a visit. The initial plan agreed upon was to wake up at midnight and start the hike. Unfortunately, at midnight the weather was terrible, and no one wanted to get out of the tent, so the hike didn’t happen then.
Day 2: Friday
A Calm Morning
Friday morning everyone was up and about before the sun was up, and I have to say that watching the sun rise over Death Valley is something I highly recommend everyone attempt to do at least once in their lives. After watching the sunrise, and having a nice hearty breakfast, we started getting ready for the hike. There was a very short walk from our campsite to the trail head, and then we started going uphill. The Telescope peak hike is a bit difficult in that there is a bunch of gain in the beginning, then it levels off for a couple of miles, and then the summit is very steep. I certainly was wishing for a second cup of coffee not to far into the hike. After an hour or so of steady hiking we were rewarded with our first views of our destination:
Morning – No longer calm
Around 8AM, we finished the first part of the large gain. It was time to say good bye to Death Valley
After the surreal views of Death Valley we had on the way up, we were in for a whole new reality when we hit the flat section of trail that we would be on for the next couple of hours. I didn’t happen to bring my trusty anemometer with me, but in my best guess the winds were sustained at 50-60 MPH, with gusts up to 70-80 MPH. It was windy, nearly everyone was blown down by the wind at least once.
It was also at this point that we started to get some idea of what kind of weather we might be in for later in the day (if you squint you might see Mount Whitney): The hike at this point was really pretty uneventful, although it was very beautiful. The wind made things a bit difficult, and very cold
Enter: The Weather
Around 11 AM, something ominious starting happening: it started snowing a little bit. A few minutes later it was starting to turn into a full blown blizzard. This, unfortunately, meant that it was going to be impossible to summit with the gear that we had brought up.
The weather was very inclement, and the strong winds were only getting stronger (and some of the haze in that picture is actually snow, unfortunately a cell phone camera doesn’t pick it up very well). It was time to rush on down the mountain as we would have been a real world of hurt if this storm turned to rain and started washing out the road we drove on to get to camp. The park service says those roads are “Recommended for High Clearance 4x4” I drive a front wheel drive passenger sedan, so I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination what could happen to my car. The snow stayed with us even as we started on our way down: On top of that, with the heavy clouds moving in, Telescope peak was soon completely obscured:
By 1 PM we had moved far enough down the mountain where the weather and wind weren’t such a big factor. All that remained was to make it safely, and quickly, back to camp so that we could break camp and head down to Death Valley proper.
After we made it back to camp, everything was pretty uneventful. The cars were packed up pretty quickly, and we made our way to Stovepipe Wells, one of the small towns in Death Valley.
Friday Night Camping
Friday afternoon consisted of doing some general sight-seeing around Death Valley, and then we camped at Furnace Creek (the campgrounds there are significantly more sheltered than the campground at Stovepipe Wells, which was great as Friday night had some weather).
Saturday, we woke up around 6AM to the sound of heavy rain. It never (well, rarely) rains in Death Valley, so this was kind of cool, but it did result in the tent getting a bit damp. Turns out the tent wasn’t quite ready for the mix of high winds and lots of water being dumped on it (we stayed dry, but the tent walls were a bit damp).
Saturday mostly consisted of sight-seeing, but I ended up taking one of my favorite pictures ever at Ubehebe Crater near the North End of Death Valley (this is looking south, out over the valley):
On the drive home, we decided to try out one of the Southern exits from the park, which ended up bringing us down to Baker, CA fairly quickly (had we done this on a Sunday, it would have been terrible with Los Vegas traffic). The drive was beautiful, although we did end up running into a couple of coyotes which posed very nicely by the car:
Two blog posts, two mountains I failed to summit. I promise I normally have a bit better luck than it may appear. This mountain taught me a lot about not underestimating how quickly weather can turn. It was cool, but pretty nice at camp, but then only a few hours later we were being hit by wind driven snow, and forced to scurry off the mountain as quickly as we could. One day soon I hope to go back and try myself against Telescope Peak again.