Telescope Peak

I’ve been wanting to go up Telescope Peak for a while. On a clear day you can see both the highest and the lowest point in the continental US from the top. During the week I finally decided to just do it. Our trip began on Saturday, July 31, 2004.

After a morning of fairly leisurely packing and pancake eating, Danielle and I started off at about 11:30am. A quick gas stop in Ventura later (Seaward Ave exit) there was nothing left between us and Mahogany Flat campground than about 300 miles of road. Somewhere along the 14 we stopped for a rest room break, and a little while later we started looking for a place to eat our packed lunch. We had high hopes for Red Rock SP, but there was no day use area to be found. Hungry, we just pulled off the road and ate in the car, while the A/C tried increasingly harder to keep the intense heat out of the car. As far as 90 miles outside of Olancha there were signs advertising “really good fresh jerky.” We had to see what the hype was about so we picked up a package. It’s “OK.” From Olancha we turned right onto 190, finally headed straight for Death Valley, where the road became windy and steep. We stopped at a vista point, but strong winds quickly chased us back into the car. More driving took us on increasingly smaller roads, and finally to full-on dirt roads. We stopped briefly to admire the charcoal kilns which were used to turn wood into charcoal early in the 20th century. The echoes, when inside, were amazing, and the slightest whisper seemed loud. The final bit of road was the worst, but my ‘96 Maxima pulled through and we made it to Mahogany Flat.

After we made camp we went for a brief walk, finished by a jog at the end to highlight how much the altitude really affected us. The campground is nice, with lots of trees providing protection from the strong winds we encountered earlier. Each site has a fire pit or barbecue, a table with benches, and reasonable privacy. On the east side, you can glimpse Death Valley far below, with another mountain range in the distance. It is very quiet here. There’s one other camper, and some quail-like birds, but other than there’s not a sound to be heard. After a dinner of tasty-bites and couscous, I’m writing this diary, listening to far away wind and the blood rushing through my ears. Soon, a full moon should be rising over the distant mountains.

The moon rise was amazing, as it came up blood red in some clouds. Once it rose through the clouds, it gave plenty of light to see by, which Danielle found amazing. Once I had satisfied my picture-taking needs, we went to bed. The night temperature was probably around 50 degrees; that’s a little bit warmer than I like it, but Danielle enjoyed being warm.

We got up at 6 something, and set about getting ready for our hike. Breakfast was left-over pancakes (recommended) and an apple. A little after 7 we left our camp, and after a final stop at the pit toilets, we started walking. At 7:47 we passed a sign in book, just a short distance from the trailhead. We signed that, and continued on. We were taking it very slow, limited by the amount of oxygen our unacclimatized bodies could get to our muscles.

The hike starts in a Pinyon Pine forest, which gets thinner as we go up. As it thins out, the open spaces get filled up by plants, most of which are flowering. This isn’t an alpine meadow, but there is a lot more green than I’d expected. Shortly before hitting Arcane Meadow, drops of water start falling from the sky. It takes us a little while to acknowledge it’s actually raining, and we start to think about getting out our wind breakers. The rain stops quickly, though. The weather was pleasant the entire hike, probably in the 70s. I didn’t need my wind breaker at all, though Danielle put hers on a few times.

At Arcane Meadow the trail levels off for a while. This is also the first time that we get to see Panamint Valley. So far the trail has been on the Death Valley side of the ridge. We packed in about 4 liters of water each, and at this point it looks like it will be enough, for which I am grateful. Time passes quickly as we admire different flowers, and ancient pine trees. After a while the trail starts climbing again. Every hour or so a large group of swallows comes by, turning and twisting through the sky. We plod on and make it to the switch-backs, a sure sign that we are getting close to the top.

While hiking the second set of switchbacks, suddenly a very large bird comes swooping in and rests on the other side of a tree. While fiddling with the camera, it takes off before I can get a picture. We didn’t get a good look at it, but based on size and color we figure it was a Golden Eagle. At 1:25pm, we finally reach the summit. It’s a small summit, which makes it perfect. The top is good for sitting on, and you can see both valleys at the same time. You can see the Sierras, far away, but I have no idea which peak is Mount Whitney. We take a long break, and sign the log book. Part of our lunch are preboiled sausages, which we eat cold. That works out well. The weather at the top is a little hot while the sun is out, and cool when the sun hides behind a cloud and the wind picks up. At 2:20, we head down.

The hike down was much quicker than going up, but not far into it my lower back started bothering me. It got worse as time went by, and I was very glad to see the sign in book close to the trailhead. We reached it 5:45pm, taking 10 hours for the 14-mile hike. Back at our campsite, hiking boots were quickly exchanged for sandals, and we sat and rested for quite some time. Dinner consisted of 4 cans (beans, stewed tomatoes, tuna, and chili) mixed together into hot creamy goodness. We went to bed early, mainly because I was still feeling my back and wasn’t enjoying myself.

A little after 4am we got up, because I wanted to photograph the sunrise, and we didn’t know what time it was. Turns out the sunrise was just before 6, by which time we’d already eaten breakfast and packed up most of our stuff. The sun was gorgeous, coming up over distant mountains through some nice clouds. Since we were up, we left as soon as the sunrise became uninteresting. After an uneventful drive, where I made poor navigating decisions twice, we made it to Santa Barbara a few minutes before noon.

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Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.