Saturday, March 28, 2015

Death Valley: Telescope Peak, 11,048'; Bennett Peak, 9,980'; Rogers Peak, 9,994'

Essence: Hike the standard trail to Telescope Peak, the commanding and noble high point of Death Valley. Along the way, commune with ancient bristle cone pines. Return on the ridgeline, cresting Bennett Peak and Rogers Peak. Ridge-enabled views to the east and west go on for miles. Ridge aficionados will cherish this route. 

Morning sun overpowers a twilight cloud to alight Telescope Peak as seen from the Texas Creek Campground. 

Travel: The hike begins on the west side of the Panamint Range. From Stovepipe Wells, drive west on CA 190 for 9.3 miles. Zero-out your trip meter at Emigrant Canyon Road and turn left. Drive southeast on this paved, narrow road. It crests Emigrant Pass at 13.7 miles. The roller coaster ride on the downward side has two sets of twists, steep embankments, and plunges through a constriction. Wildrose Campground is at 21.3 miles, the last opportunity for water. Pavement ends at 26.5 miles. Pass the Charcoal Kilns at 28.6. The road steepens; 4WD with moderate clearance recommended. Thorndike campground is at 29.5 miles. The grade pitches. Park in a piñon-juniper forest at Mahogany Flat campground at 30.3 miles. Allow an hour from CA 190.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12.8 miles; 3,950' feet of climbing
Time: 6:30 to 9:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; no exposure; carry all the water you will need
Maps: Telescope Peak, CA 7.5 Quad, or Trails Illustrated #221, Death Valley National Park
Reference: For information on the Charcoal Kilns, Wildrose Peak hike, an alternate route up Telescope, natural history, and geology of this region, consult: Hiking Death Valley: A guide to its natural wonders and mining past, Michel Digonnet, 2007.
Date Hiked: March 28, 2015
Quote: Telescope Peak is the roof of Death Valley...From the rocky summit it is more than two miles down to the eerie swirls of Death Valley's salt pan--to get higher above ground in the lower 48 states, you'll have to fly. Michel Digonnet
Route: The trail skirts Rogers Peak on the east and Bennett Peak on the west. It climbs Telescope's north ridge, favoring the east side. On the return, stay on the altogether friendly divide, climbing two neighboring peaks as you go.

From Mahogany Flat TH 8,133', the trail points south, staying on the east side of Rogers' northeast ridge. Views down into Death Valley are immediate and pleasing. The excellent track makes a gradual, consistent rising traverse. Round a corner at one mile to see Telescope's summit ridge.

Arcane Meadows marks the saddle at 9,650 feet between Rogers and Bennett. Experience ridgecrest euphoria while looking at Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 and Badwater Basin, the lowest, from one sweeping vantage point.

Lose 35 feet and then contour along the west side of Bennett. Enter a bristle cone pine forest, one of the finest features of this hike. These ancient ones accompany us for most of the day. I felt rattled at my heart's response to these creatures, the oldest having been rooted in our planet for nearly 5,000 years. Their trunks are gold and they feel that precious.

On the southwest flank of Bennett, we walked through fields of gold, spent sage and rabbit brush blossoms. Euphedra darkened and strengthened the color pallet.

At 3.8 miles return once again to the divide at the shared saddle between Bennett and Telescope. All too soon, the trail darts off to the east side of the ridge and remains there for most of the summit journey. In the image below, bristle cones cling to slopes above two trenches that comprise a portion of the extensive Hanaupah Canyon complex that terminates in Death Valley.

Typically, this hike would be unwise in March. The peak holds ice and snow into late spring. However, the winter of 2015 has been a dreadfully paltry snow year. At 4.7 miles, we avoided snowdrifts by opting for a strong social trail that is true to the ridgetop.

Upon encountering a lingering cornice, we complied with the established trail to the summit.

View of the actual summit eludes to within 0.2 mile of the top. Telescope is not a hike for those craving solitude. There is plenty of that elsewhere in this vast park.

Reach the summit at 6.4 miles. Locate the peak register. The unobstructed panorama is full-circle. One spin and everything glimpsed partially before now culminates at this supreme zenith. Panamint Valley and Dunes are low in the west. Mount Whitney holds down the Sierra Crest authoritatively.

To the east, relief is epic with 11,330 feet of nothingness between Badwater and Telescope. Charleston Peak, 11,919 feet, tops the horizon east of Pahrump, NV.

While we wanted to stay on the ridge for our entire descent, snow discouraged. So we followed the trail until we were off the upper mountain.

At 10,200 feet the trail rejoins the ridge. It was delightful and remarkably easy to remain on the spine all the way to the trailhead. This image looks north to Bennett and Rogers.

Bennett Peak, 9,980 feet, rises 468 feet from its south saddle. Walking is simple with great footing, the grade gentle. We reached the crest at 9.7 miles. Don't even consider going around these mountains! Below, Rogers Peak is adjacent to the north and 14 feet taller.

Drop off Bennett and return to Arcane Meadows any way that strikes your fancy. Make zigzags around the grizzly bear prickly pear cactus. (THW, photo)

Surprisingly, there is no social trail, just fragments of game trails. Climb 344 feet to summit Rogers at 10.9 miles. Its top is cluttered with solar panels and towers: microwave, radio, and TV. This image looks back on Bennett and Telescope.

A service road switches gently down to the trailhead, a traveling option. However, the ridge is pure pleasure. Chunks of Johnnie Formation slate in beautiful colors are scattered about. Low sun backlights grasses in wide-awake golden hues. It is impossible on this broad ridge to get lost. Keep the service road to your left/west and the trail to your right/east.

A few bristle cone pines hang on. Half a mile from the trailhead enter a mature forest with oversized mahogany and piñon. The trees obscure; just stay on the cusp of the soft ridge and you will encounter the trailhead precisely. Our route, the service road, and the trail all converge at the parking area, shown.

If you have time to spare, visit the Charcoal Kilns on your way down Wildrose Canyon.

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