Telescope Peak 3,366m (11,043 feet)
Via Mahogany Flat Trailhead (15/16 November 2014)
Distance: Trailhead to summit and return: 22.5km (14 miles)
Elevations: 2479m (8,133 feet) from trailhead to 3,366m (11,043 feet) summit.
After exploring Death Valley our Subaru puttered up to Wildrose Road, enroute to Mahogany Flat Trailhead for Telescope Peak. At the trailhead we packed for an overnight hike, leaving casually around 2.30pm. I wandered up the trail steadily, my pack light and views of a sunset over the Eastern Sierra horizon a lure to keep marching upward.
From the ridge it as a long walk along the saddle and around Mount Bennett, a friendly lump. The air began to bite with wind, and I put my big Rab down jacket on to walk, stopping to don my headtorch only 20 minutes later.
Out of nowhere I was became tired and the altitude hit me a bit. Looking up to the shape of the last section, only visible with the light dusting of snow on its flanks, I worried about where we’d bivvy out of the wind. For some reason I was wearing summer hiking pants – and I was finding light and fast (sans thermal bottoms) may not always be a good idea!
Walking in the dark Dikko discovered a bivvy site by total accident. It was perfect timing as my attitude lacked motivation. Under a knarled old pine tree were rocks piled around twisted roots to stop the wind. I wanted to stop, camp, and tag the summit in the morning. However Dikko preferred to top out that night.
The wind was picking up more. I recalled the forecast was for 35mph winds in the morning, not the evening before. Dikko saw my lack of fire and offered to take a pack with some light water and snacks. We dropped our gear, smashed down a muesli bar, and on we went up the switchbacks.
Right at the base of the switchbacks was ice. I was concerned going up if there was more ice because it was sketchy coming down. The trail was quite exposed in spots and we didn’t have axes or crampons (which you would definitely want in winter). Dikko scouted ahead for more ice. In the end it turned out there were only two major icy patches. We kicked in little steps, as there was nothing to stop us slipping below.
I have to say for a hike it was surprisingly narrow and exposed in a few places. Finally I panted up to the last switchback, then sped along the flat rocky ridge to meet Dikko already on the windy summit.
Telescope Peak is called such for its views are like looking though a telescope at the surrounding ranges and valleys. I can confirm, at night it is dark. However, the hideously huge light pollution of Los Angeles and Las Vegas produced eerie orange horizons in different directions.
Little towns around the place were dotted as clearer orange lights. Then it got a little weird. Four orange lights rose into the sky. As Dikko postulated in a slightly alien inspired voice I reminded him of the large area of land dedicated to the United States Naval Air Base. X-Files solved!
From the top we headed back down to the bivvy site in 40 minutes, less than half the time it took me to trudge up. It was straight into our bivvy bags, the MSR stove on, hot food and drinks, then pure happiness.
Considering I was sleeping in a vast desert, at over 3,000m, with just a sleeping bag and light Goretex shell around me, I slept considerably well. The moon rose, I fell asleep, and next time I awoke it was dawn.
As the sky lightened I frantically leapt (as much as one can out of a bivvy bag), keeping the warmth in my sleeping bag by folding over the top.
I fumbled my camera battery, which I’d slept with in my pocket, into my chilled old DSLR. Snapping shots of sunrise, light hitting the peaks in all directions, views to Badwater Basin below sealevel. It was these sunrise views that’d inspired me to suggest an overnight hike.
Dreamily the light hit my beloved Eastern Sierra, and Telescope Peak made a long shadow all the way to Mount Whitney, distinguishable thanks to its bare granite spires. It was awe-inspiring to see a mountain cast a shadow so far and so distinctly.
Dikko joined me for a while before returning to his bivvy bag and boiling water for hot drinks. About 20 minutes later I snuggled back into my bag, content with the efforts of hiking and sleeping in the cold to see such an amazing start to the day.
Around 8am we packed out for an interesting walk out. It was super windy, almost blowing me off balance a couple of times with gusts and the cold was cutting. We worked out it was about -17 Celsius windchill which explained why one side of my face felt like it was slammed in a freezer at times!
I certainly didn’t expect to see a group coming up at such an early hour – four keen hikers from Las Vegas passed us with faces covered and shoulders hunched – good on them! Thankfully by the time we reached the saddle it was warm, off with down jackets and nano-puffs, and down we went.
Back at the car it was sunny but only about 1-2 degrees Celsius. We boiled water for luxurious and sunny cups of tea, sat around in barefeet, and decided to drive back via Panamint Valley, Trona, and Ridgecrest before meeting up again with the 395.
On our drive out we also stopped at the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, a row of perfectly formed beehives built and completed in 1877 and used, according to the National Park, until 1879. The short working lifespan and careful restoration meant the kilns were in fascinatingly good condition.
Our trip to Death Valley National Park was well overdue, but it was well worth visiting and hiking Telescope Peak at a great time of year made it even more worth the wait.