ALIVE IN DEATH VALLEY

9 04 2010

We decided to head to Death Valley National Park from Vegas.  Fortunately we showed up at a good time because the wild flowers happened to be blooming, a rarity in one of the hottest and dryest places in the western hemisphere.    

Zabreskie Point In Death Valley

 

Justyna Walking Lightly Through The Devils Golf Course

 

Death Valley Flats

 

Badwater Basin At Sunset

 

At The Lowest Point In The Western Hemisphere

 

Death Valley had been one of my favorite places visited during our road trip in 2002.  I was really happy to be back and I also had some unfinished business to climb the highest mountain in the park the 11,049′ Telescope Peak. I know it is a bit strange to come to the place with the lowest point in the western hemisphere, Badwater Basin at 282′ below sea level, to climb a mountain. When I saw  Telescope Peak rising over 2 miles above the valley really inspired me.  I told myself back in ’02 that I would be back to climb it one day. We spent the rest of the day visiting a little bit of the park and taking pictures. Then we drove around to the west side of the mountains and set up camp, where we met a wonderful couple of fellow hikers, Ernie and Joanne  from the Bay Area. We talked for a little while and observed the amazing night sky before turning in.    

Time To Get Up Already?

 

We got up early on Tuesday, had a delicious breakfast of pop tarts and black instant coffee before heading to the trail head. During the summer and fall, the hike to the summit of Telescope is a rather long but straight forward hike totaling 14 miles with about 3000′ of elevation gain. During the winter and spring, things are a bit different. First of all, you must find your own way.  Trail is typically obscured by snow. In fact may even be dangerous as it travels through several avalanche prone slopes.  This is a blessing as well as a curse,  requiring a greater deal of route finding but can wind up shaving off some mile by attacking the route by following a much straighter steeper path, instead of following endless switchbacks. We had one other obstacle, the road  was closed 1.5 miles before the trailhead, due to snow, adding over 3 miles to our round trip. Well we hiked up the road until we reached a gully that continued up to the ridge. Upon reaching the crest we realized that we where close to Rogers Peak at 9994′ which is located on the same ridge as Telescope. We decided to bag it since we where so close. After we took a quick break in an abandoned communications shelter on the summit, we began to traverse the ridge, climbing another peak along the way called Bennett Peak which tops out at 9980′. From Bennett we descended a few hundred feet and then followed the ridge for a mile or so before the ridge began to steepen. At this point we geared up with our ice axes and crampons before we began the long arduous climb to the ridge. The Final 1/2 mile gained over a thousand feet and was quite steep and exposed in places. We passed two false summits before reaching the true summit at 11,049′. The peak was actually named for the stunning views from the summit and with 100 mile visibility we had, it did not disappoint. We spent about 25 minutes on the summit to eat and to make an entry in the summit register, only to discover only six other groups had made an attempt on the peak since the fall. It was really great to be out this far from civilisation, looking down the west face two miles to Badwater Basin which was probably around 80 degrees while it was only 30 or so on the summit. The descent was rather rough as we had to side cut the mountain for several miles to avoid going back over Bennett and Roger Peaks, this was tough on the ankles as we where always traversing 25-45 degree slopes.  To top it off during the descent of the gully we had taken up to the ridge I took a fall. I only slid about 20′ before I managed to hit some soft snow and come to a stop but because I had my sleeves rolled up and due to the abrasive nature of the snow I really tore up the inside of my left forearm. Well after this, the rest of the descent was fairly uneventful but one interesting thing did happen. We had been hearing fighter jets all day practicing maneuvers from the China Lake military base to the west.  At one point one of the jets flew pretty close to us before looping around and buzzing the ridge only a few hundred feet above us.  This was really wild to see, even though it slightly detracted from the whole wilderness experience. We finally made back to our car after 10 hours on the mountain, for a total of about 16 miles round trip, with over 4500′ of elevation gain and about 4000′ of descent.  This was a really tough but rewarding ascent and was not only Justyna’s high point but also the longest hike she had ever done and she did really well. A climb like this requires a lot of mental and physical toughness.  You must just put your head down and grind on dealing with the relentless slope and ever thinning atmosphere, as well as all the objective hazards that the mountains present. One thing it does, it clears the mind of the rest of the world and lets you think more clearly than you typically can when you are involved in your normal life. This is one of the greatest things about climbing mountains and what is normally refered to as the “Freedom Of The Hills”, along with the amazing sense of achievement felt by accomplishing something not too many others have experienced.    

Looking At The Summit Of Telescope Peak 3 Miles Away

 

Justyna Climbing The Ridge To The Summit

 

On The Summit, The Sign Was In The Register Cannister

 

Summit Success

 

Justyna On The Descent

 

Justyna Crossing A Snowfield On The Way Out

 

We Climbed The Entire Ridge From The Left To The Highpoint

 

After the climb we explored some charcoal kilns at the trailhead where charcoal was made for a smelter down the valley. We then headed back to our camp where we ate some Ramen noodles and Chef Boy R Dee before heading off to a well deserved night of rest.    

Charcoal Kilns

 

Today we got up a bit sore and tired and decided to take it a bit easy. We cooked breakfast and then headed west so the Sierra foothill,s making a few stops along the way to take pictures. We then stopped in the town of Lone Pine at the base of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. We had a wonderful lunch at a place called the Alabama Hills Cafe. After lunch we headed into the Alabama Hills and spent a few hours climbing. My first lead felt a bit sketchy, partially due to being on new rock but also due to the fact that I was still really tired from yesterday. After warming up to the type of climbing in the hills we had a great afternoon. A bunch of people stopped by to watch us climb and even take some pictures. It is amazing how much better you begin to climb when you know someone else is watching you.    

Justyna On Sharkfin Arete

 

Hanging Out After Leading Coral Sea Adventure

 

Justyna Climbing In The Alabama Hills

 

The Shark Fin Below The Soaring Sierra's

 

 We have now settled into a hotel for the night in Bishop, California before we head out for the last couple of days, before we head back to Pasadena to prepare for the next portion of our trip to Hawaii, South East Asia and Beyond.

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One response

9 04 2010
Mom and Dad and Maggie

Hi to both of you. These pictures are breath taking. We,re so proud of both of you. I love the picture of the two of you at the summit and Justyna you should be thrilled with this last climb. Sophia and Walter are now reading your blog too.

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