Saturday, July 5, 2008

Climbing California's Telescope Peak

I can easily remember how I spent July 4, 1995. I spent it climbing Telescope Peak, the highest mounain in Death Valley National Park at an elevation of 11049 feet (3368 meters). It overlooks the lowest point in the western hemisphere, Badwater, on the floor of Death Valley at a "de-elevation" of -282 feet below sea level.

The summit climb begins from the Mahogany Flat trailhead at 8133 feet and it's a round trip of 14 miles to the summit and back. Because of its elevation, the mountain gets a good bit of snow-----it is a very spectacular sight from the floor of Death Valley in winter-----and the best time for climbing is between early June to late October. As always, it's best to begin a climb around sunrise and you want to be starting your descent by early afternoon in case a thunderstorm blows in.

Here's a shot from the beginning of the summit trail looking back toward Death Valley. While the trail is narrow, it's well maintained and no special climbing gear is needed:

When you start on the trail, Telescope Peak is hidden behind the ridges of Bennett Peak (9980 feet). But about a mile into the climb, its summit pops into view behind Bennett. It's the mountain at left with the snow patches on it. The summit trail goes to the right in the photo below, gains the ridgeline of Bennett Peak in the foreground, and continues left toward Telescope Peak:

After traversing Bennett Peak, the summit trail crosses a wide saddle between the mountains known as Arcane Meadows. Telescope Peak now looms impressively in front of you. The summit trail winds up the left ridge of the photo below:

One thing I loved about the summit of Telescope Peak is that it was a small one-----maybe 10x10 feet------instead of the broader summit plateaus often found in the Sierras. You have a real sensation of "flying through space" from the summit, especially when the wind was blowing. This is a view looking back down the trail from the summit. If you look carefully, you can make out the summit trail at the lower left. And, yes, that's a patch of snow in the center of the photo. It was mindblowing to be able to grab a handful of snow and cool myself off, knowing that on the floor of Death Valley the temperature was over 110 degrees!

Here's a view down into Death Valley from the summit. As an added bonus, you also get to see my shadow as I take the photo!

Here's another summit photo, this time looking toward the north. I was attempting to get a photo of the Sierras and Mount Whitney, but the camera recorded only the desert "heat haze." However, I could see the Sierras and Mount Whitney with my eye, meaning I was able to see both the highest and lowest points in the 48 contiguous states from the summit of Telescope Peak:

Like most other notable mountains, Telescope Peak has a summit log which is kept in a waterproof metal "ammo box" container wedged between some rocks. Below is a photo of the log; I added my signature and a few words about my climb to it. I understand the Sierra Club collects summit logs from California mountains periodically and they are forwarded to the University of California-Berkeley's main university library. I suppose that means some future student doing a term paper on Telescope Peak might one day quote my words of wisdom in his/her paper!