By: Ron Hudson
This is a challenging hike not only because of its length (21 miles) and elevation gain (11,000'+), but somebody who should tire out half way into the hike is faced with a very long way back through the desert. We met at Wildrose Campground and spent the afternoon Saturday first figuring out, then arranging the necessary car shuttle. We finally arrived at the optimal configuration for some vehicles to go to the end, some to stay at Wildrose, some to go to the start 80 miles by road with all of us aboard, and which ones to shuttle back to the start from the end (and not have to return to the end). Also, the gear left at the start would need to be returned. Thanks to Keith Barnes' parents who didn't hike with us but took some of us and returned our gear to the end from the start. The attraction for this hike is that it is the most absolute climb (start and end elevation difference) that can be done reasonably in a day hike in the 48 states, (that I know of, anyway). Mt. Whitney from Lone Pine town would be about 500' more- but much farther on road and trail. In 1984 the group of seven I organized took about 11 hours to reach the summit, and it was a very strong group. We did the early start to have our hikers finish by 4-7 pm, hopefully.
Everybody had been screened by the leaders for experience and conditioning.
It turned out that those initially interested, who might have been marginal in ability, withdrew on their own. There were some worrisome snow conditions: it had snowed two days before. From the north we saw a lot of snow on the peak and wondered about conditions on top.
We bedded down at 7 PM. The Hale-Bopp comet loomed over me as I watched and thought of the higher level we were going to reach the next day (in our own way). The eleven of us started hiking at Shorty's Well, 250' below sea level, at 1:35 AM PST Sunday. Shorty's Well is west of Badwater on the west side of the bottom of Death Valley, accessible by 2WD. We then hiked up the Hanaupah Canyon dirt road toward the large springs there.
The nighttime hiking went quickly, and we got to the water (a creek), at 5:30 (now Pacific Daylight Time with the time change). By the time we filled our water containers it was light, and we ascended the ridge on the N side of the canyon. We ascended the canyon side from the 3600' level, about one mile before the springs. The road had ended about 1/2 mile before, and we elected not rock hop farther up to the spring. The temperature was cold by the creek - 35 degrees. It had been 55 degrees at the start. In mid-May 1984 it was 85 degrees at midnight in DV. The top of the ridge forming the N side of the Canyon was about 5000' elevation. Some nice flowers on the slope! A few people had a little trouble ascending the steep slatey scree slope, but using the faint switch-backing game paths helped to make it easier. There was some up-and- down along the ridge top above the slope, adding perhaps 400' to the 11,300' climb between start and summit. The next six hours were in an arena of spectacular ridges, peaks, and canyons that few people have taken the effort to visit. Maybe somebody will put those peaks and high points on a list some day. There is a mine road up the ridge on the N side of the Canyon but is not connected because of the washed out road below. We continued higher and higher, through pinyon-juniper forest, with the summit looming high above. We could see ahead our ridge top at 9960', which is about 1 mile N of the summit. Although there appeared to be deep snow in the gullies on the north side, we could see that our ridge of attack was clear of snow. It was a matter of continuing on and up, following the converging ridges, leaving the forest into open area, and then among bristlecone pines near the top. We continued moving at our good pace, about 1100' per hour, and included a few short rests. The temperature was not cold; many of the group wore shorts the whole way. Finally, we got to the summit trail (9960') at about 11:15. The remaining 1100 feet was a matter of determination; the air was noticeably thinner, the huffing and puffing audible. My only acclimatization had been sleeping near, and then climbing Sandy Peak on Saturday morning with John and Sue. Along the trail near the top of Telescope there was maybe 3" of new snow on the north side snow banks which were one or two feet deep. But the top ridge and trail was 90% clear of snow; no problem for walking. I finally got to the summit at 12:15, beating my 1984 time by 35 minutes. My typical energy and electrolyte food of jelly beans, chocolate bits, salty crackers, and Gookinaid helped me to the top. We all had light packs and light footwear. Most wore running or trail shoes. The view was of course, spectacular. Many, many desert peaks, the major Sierra peaks visible, and our starting point more than two miles below and about 13 miles distant. Temperature on top was about 50, with no wind. Keith Barnes had gotten to the summit in 9 hours, followed by Doug Jones a few minutes later. John had his fastest time, too. Climbing the peak from Panamint Valley with Sue the weekend before must have helped. All 11 of us made it in 11 hours or less. It only took 2-3 hours to do the 7 miles back down to Mahogany Flat, and all returned by 4:30pm. Maybe tired, we all felt good at the end. I was glad to have it a successful hike for all with no glitches! Participants were Ron Hudson and John McCully (co-leaders), Sue Holloway, Bruce Trotter, Keith Barnes, Gary Craig, Kevin Richards, Kalon Kelley, Doug Jones, Kathy Reynolds, and David Leth.
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