April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

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wbdeford
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April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by wbdeford » Tue Apr 24, 2018 8:11 pm

I will add pictures in the comments soon. I wanted to get this written while the memories are still clear.

"This is Shorty's Well, and some people-- crazy people--like to begin a hike up to Telescope Peak from here." -- Brian DeFord, 12/5/2008

In April 2011, due to a personal situation, I needed a project to maintain my sanity. So, I decided to one-up "crazy" and plan a hike from Badwater to Telescope. I planned and trained for the hike April 20-22, 2012. In addition to making a lot of rookie mistakes, a record heat wave came through, with highs of 106, 110, and 113 those days. I went through 4 gallons of water in a day and a half, which necessitated turning back at 5600 ft. Needless to say, it was a major disappointment. It has been in the back of my mind ever since to try it again.

On April 19, I arrived at Badwater parking lot at about 1:30AM. I tried to get a little sleep in the car. It was a fairly cool morning and winds were calm, mostly, except for sudden strong gusts that blew sand up against the car. I headed out across the valley at 5AM and it wasn't long before the wind was a relentless blast. It was so strong it would have blown my hat away despite the neck loop, so I had to stuff it in my vest. The only good thing about it was it was mostly a tailwind. I reached the central marker, and made the slight left turn to head toward Shorty's Well, which made the wind slightly less a tailwind. There was enough mud on the west side of the valley, starting pretty much at the marker, to be annoying, but not really cause a problem. When I reached the Devil's Golf Course area approaching the west sde, I followed its edge south until I found the water channel and followed it. There is a gap in the trees a little south of Shorty's Well, so I went through there and hit West Side Road a little south of Shorty's Well.

Meanwhile, clouds had been rolling in from the west and looking ever more ominous up in Hanaupah Canyon. Part way up Hanaupah Canyon Road, I started to feel occasional sprinkles. But, hey, this is Death Valley in the spring, so it may rain some but I was hopeful any showers would be short and have blown through before I got up inside the canyon. It was a little disconcerting, though to look behind me and see rain falling even in the valley, though my guess was it was mostly evaporating before reaching the ground.

There isn't much else to tell about the hike up the fan, down in to the wash, and up to the sharp right turn in the South Fork. It is a long grind. At 1300 ft, I met a couple who had just come down. They had hiked from 1300 ft to Telescope and back. They said the down was killer, and they were hurting.

As I made the big turn up toward the spring, I noted an alcove in the rock wall on the left side (about 3120 ft) that could be used for shelter if the rain picked up. This is right before where the road used to be blocked. It appears you can drive a bit farther now. The second shelter spot I had in mind was Shorty's lower mine. To this point, it had still been nothing but sprinkles, so I was hopeful I could make it to the mine and spend the night there and ride out the rain.

Well, on the way up the sprinkles became became light rain, so I bagged up all my electronics. Light rain became what Forrest Gump called "fat rain". Then, I saw a fat snow flake. Then more snowflakes, most of which were partly melted and I got confused as to whether this was snow or hail. Some of it was definitely snow, but it was at least in the 50s, and this was only about 3500 ft. Somewhere along the way I began hearing rumbles of thunder. Then, I saw flashes of lighting, but no actual bolts. I assumed they must have been hitting on the other side of the ridge. The thunder started to grow louder. It was never close enough behind the lightning for me to think it was directly over my head, but being in the wash with only short vegetation, I was the tallest thing around, so, was definitely concerned.

I struggled in vain to find a way through the vegetation over to the road up to the lower mine, and as I was getting wetter and wetter, I had to start worrying about the stuff inside my backpack getting so wet that I would have nothing dry to get through the night with. So, I made the hard decision to abort and head back down to the alcove. At the time, I considered that the hike was over and that I had a depressing 15 mile hike back to Badwater ahead of me. Even Hanaupah Creek, one of my favorite places in the park (or anywhere) brought no positive feelings. I got back to the alcove, (stopping along the way to pump some water) where it was only sprinkling, and put my stuff in there. Most things in the backpack were still dry, thankfully, so I was able to change into dry clothes. and set up my bivy (outside the alcove). I was feeling pretty discouraged and remember thinking to myself, "I guess this just wasn't meant to be." I had already decided that if it didn't work out this time, it was over--there would be no 3rd attempt. I went to bed at 5PM, it was warm in there, and I slept pretty well, waking up a few times as I usually do. A couple of times I felt sprinkles on the bivy, but nothing beyond that.

Another obstacle I had been facing was pain in my upper right quad and in my right knee. I have experienced this several times, so I was concerned I might just be getting too old to do this. I could feel it with each step. So even if I overcame the rain, I might not be able to climb the ridge.
Strange thing about these trips--I have noticed that I go through a period something like depression the 1st or 2nd day. Then, I snap out of it and have a great time the rest of the way. But given the circumstances, it didn't occur to me to think this was what was happening. But at some point during the night, I woke up and was feeling much better. I decided to give it another try. My original plan was to try to hit 5150ft the first day and do the rest the second day. Since I was now at 3120 ft, getting to Telescope the 2nd day was not realistic, so I decided I would aim for 7500ft the 2nd day, and then do Telescope as a day hike the 3rd day. All of this was predicated on the rain ending. At some point later, I looked up and saw nothing but stars and the next morning there was not a cloud in the sky, and fresh snow was visible in the upper canyon.

I set out about 6:30AM back up the wash to the nice camp site at 3675 ft just below the ridge used to climb up the South Fork ridge. I filled up 2.5 gallons of water bottles and drank enough water to know I was fully hydrated before beginning the steep 1500 ft ascent. I took a different path than I did 6 years ago. I was very pleased to find that the uphill climb did not hurt my quad or knee at all. The ridge was tough, as expected, but I reached the top uneventfully at about noon, after starting about 9:30AM. Views were great down the canyon floor, into most of the South Fork spring area on up to Telescope. There is a lot more use trail than I remember from 6 years go.

From the top of the ridge, which is approximately a saddle, you are at about 5150 ft, with a peak of about 5300 ft toward Badwater. From here is one of the nicest parts of the hike. Stunning views of the South Fork and Middle fork, as well as the crest of the Panamints, and out into the valley. There are some ups and downs (still mostly ups). For the most part, it is better to go straight over the bumps instead of trying to go around the side, though with one of them, there was a nice use trail to the left that worked great. Starting about 6700 feet, it gets steeper again.
I was doing well on time and could have gone beyond 7500 ft, but when I came to a very nice campsite at 7400 ft, I decided to stop there for the night. The forest was starting to get thicker, which was sometimes annoying with my ground pad on top of the backpack hitting branches. This left me with a 3650 ft up and back day hike for day 3.

I got going early again on day 3--about 6AM. From shortly beyond the camp site to the official trail is about 2500 ft, approximately as steep as the 1500 foot climb up from the spring. It is tough, but the key is to take your time and keep putting one foot in front of the other at a pace you are comfortable with. I left behind at the camp site whatever was not needed for the hike up, including one gallon of the remaining 2 gallons of water I had (which means I really hadn't drunk enough the previous day). There is a fair amount of use trail to help you up the steep slope and feel confident in your steps.

As you go up the ridge, it can be a bit of a surprise when you look down at your feet and see the trail, which is a bit below the crest. In one of the first descriptions of this hike I ever read, the hiker said something like, "I was never so happy to find a real trail", and I understood. I reached the trail about 9:30AM. The time on the trail was short, however, because given the snow, I deemed it much safer to hike the steep ridge than to try to navigate the switch-backed trail on the steeper east face of Telescope. When I reached about 10,400 ft, I put on my spikes, took my camera, a T-shirt, 1 trekking pole, and my ice axe which had been attached to my backpack since Badwater. I left everything else behind to ascend the ridge to the false summit at 11,000 ft. There were no serious challenges left. On the way up I noticed the deep blue color of the sky that day, and thought to look back toward Death Valley to see the clearest view I've ever seen of it from there. There were good views of the Sierras, Charleston Peak, and White Mountain Peak.

Usually, when you reach the false summit, you are greeted by a stiff wind. Not this time. It was a virtually windless victory lap across the ridge to the 11,049 ft peak. At about 11:30AM, a dream 7 years in the making had finally come true. Badwater to Telescope. I removed the T-shirt from my pocket. It pictures someone taking a flower to the top of a mountain. It is a Parkinson's Disease awareness T-shirt that I had bought for my first attempt shortly after my father's death in December 2011. I set the shirt on top of the peak and took a few pictures of it.

I went to find the register box, and wrote the following:

"Brian DeFord, Chesterland OH. It was a long hard hike up from Badwater parking lot but worth it. In memory of my father, Pete DeFord"

and cried for him--but not too long because I know he never wanted me to spend my life feeling sad about his.

Shortly thereafter, a group of four people were approaching the summit (no spikes or poles, and three of them in their 50s or so!). I put the shirt on and as they arrived, I told them about my father and asked them to take a picture of me. Then I took pictures of them. Their names are Penny, Habib, Diana, and Chris. They had brought a couple of toys with them in honor of one of their hiking partners who has cancer. It was a delightful time chatting with them. Another couple, Sergei and Elena, arrived and took a picture of the five of us together.

Unlike most people who come up from the valley and exit at Mahogany Flat, I still had to return to Badwater. I said goodbye and left the peak about 12:30PM. The snow equipment was even more helpful on the way down than up. I passed several people on the way to the top of the ridge down. Two had spikes, but the others did not. Reaching the top of the ridge down to the valley about 1:30PM, I began the long steep descent.
(It was just a short distance down the ridge, that I would have turned south and descended into the upper canyon below Telescope. Another time....)

My biggest concern going down was avoiding toe blisters such as the one I received descending from Wildrose into Trail Canyon in 2015. Poles are extremely valuable going up, but even more so going down, providing balance, stability, and taking weight off of the feet and toes. I knew I had plenty of time, so I didn't rush. It had been about 3 1/2 hours from campsite to crest, and I took about 3 hours going the opposite direction. A few times along the way, I scooped up a little snow from remaining patches of what had fallen on day 1 and was still clean enough to eat.

Descending a ridge is not as mindless as ascending one can be. Ridges tend to merge on the way up, which means they divide on the way down and it is easy to take the wrong one. On the way up, I had passed by the edge of the "red spot", so I headed back to it. So far, so good. From there it wasn't as obvious which direction to go, and I found I erred to the right. I got out my GPS to point the way to my campsite and headed that direction. I wasn't finding much use trail, so I knew I was a bit off course. As I approached the destination, I found myself about 50 ft lower than the campsite from about 0.07 miles away. This required a relatively steep ascent for a short distance back to camp. Again, I went to bed early to be well-rested for a long day 4, the goal of which was to reach the alluvial fan.

I got going with a gallon of water about 6AM on day 4 for the less steep descent. Not long into my day, I met Cornelius and Melissa, coming up. I stopped to chat with them a bit. They had hitch-hiked from Lone Pine to Badwater to begin a Badwater -> Whitney hike. They had been caching on my day 1. So, while I may have one-upped some people on crazy, they definitely one-upped me. Their plan was to reach the crest and descend Tuber Canyon. They seemed like they were considering hitting Telescope on the way.

Moving on, I again started tending to err to the right. At one point, I had to turn around and go back up a ways to cut back over to the correct ridge, though there are numerous ways that would work, based on the topographical maps. But I wanted no serious miscalculations. I reached the top of the final steep descent about 10:45AM. It is very steep at the top, and then it becomes less so for much of the way down. I used my original route from 2012 going down rather than the one I had used coming up. It gets even steeper a short distance above the bottom. At one point, I was uncomfortable stepping down a few feet from a rock and decided to toss my backpack down first and do a gentle slide down. I reached the spring about 12:15PM with very sore feet and finished the last of my water.

As before, I decided to get fully hydrated before leaving the spring and hung out there until about 2PM, pumping water, resting, drinking, and enjoying my favorite desert flowers--lupines. Right by the stream there is what I call the Hanaupah Canyon Lupine Garden. The only selfies I took on this trip were taken there.

I hung out by the water until about 2PM and then headed down. Further down I stopped again to do a final fill up to 1.5 gallons for the 15+ miles out. It was a long grind getting out as much as in, for even though it was downhill and I could walk faster, I was tired from 3 1/2 days of hiking. It was hard to make myself stop for breaks, because if I did, it was harder to get going again. At times I walked slowly to conserve energy, and at other times I got impatient and started "hoofing it". The goal was to make it to just over 1 mile from West Side Road. At about the 1.25-1.30 mile point, I noticed a good spot to stop and camp. It was still in the 90s, even though the sun was blocked by the Panamints, so I didn't get my sleeping bag out. I just used the ground pad to sleep on. There were still about 8 miles to go.

The next morning, I got going before 6AM with the goal of making it across the valley by 10AM. I felt pretty strong and started across, taking essentially the same route back, including the central marker. The mud was slightly less of an annoyance than a few days before. Soon I could see cars in the parking lot. Then, I could see people out on the salt flats. Then I could see the path to the boardwalk. Finally, I could see my rental Nissan Versa econobox parked where I had left it. Finally, I dropped my bags at the car and walked over to take some shots of Telescope reflected in Badwater Pool.

I was in the car and off to Furnace Creek. When I got there, I could barely walk into the Visitor Center. After a few minutes there, I drove to Stovepipe Wells for one of the best bargains in the park--a $4 shower. The last couple of days hiking, I had been thinking about a date shake, so I headed to China Garden Date Farm for a shake and a box of dates to bring home. I had a red-eye flight to Minnesota for work that night--getting about an hour to an hour and a half of sleep, arriving just after 5AM CDT, and got to work a little after 6AM. A full day at work, dinner with the team, and finally at my hotel to sleep in a real bed in the next few minutes, at just after 10PM CDT.

I feel tremendously blessed by God to have been able to experience this adventure. Good night!
Last edited by wbdeford on Sat May 12, 2018 2:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Gowergulch42
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by Gowergulch42 » Tue Apr 24, 2018 9:09 pm

I have no words other than Well Done.

You did one-up us all :smile:
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TacoLand
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by TacoLand » Tue Apr 24, 2018 10:08 pm

Great story, Brian. Thanks for sharing with us and happy that you finally made it to the top. I can relate to the memory of your father and it definitely tugged some heart strings. Only part I didn't like was the end of the story with the red-eye flight straight to work! Get some rest, you deserve it.

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Death Valley Dazed
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Wow, great trip report!

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Wed Apr 25, 2018 4:07 am

Congrats on realizing your dream and having the determination to see it all the way through. I'm anxious to see your pix. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by shane » Wed Apr 25, 2018 8:44 pm

great write up Brian, and congratulations on completing such an epic hike!
i’m a bit surprised at how many people you ran into but i haven’t spent much time in the area in recent years so maybe it’s more popular than i realized?

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wbdeford
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by wbdeford » Thu Apr 26, 2018 4:27 am

Thanks for the kind words.

Shane, according to the ranger I talked to, Badwater -> Whitney is becoming quite popular.

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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by D.A. Wright » Thu Apr 26, 2018 10:38 am

Super write up! Can’t wait for your photos.
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by Randy O » Thu Apr 26, 2018 3:50 pm

Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing that fantastic adventure.

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wbdeford
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by wbdeford » Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:55 pm

I'm on a slow link till Saturday, so I can't post many pics yet, but I wanted to start with this shot from the "Hanaupah Canyon Lupine Garden". (My new "avatar" pic is from there, too). The lupines there generally don't care whether it is supposed to be a super bloom or not.


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Gowergulch42
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by Gowergulch42 » Thu Apr 26, 2018 10:26 pm

Very awesome! What altitude was that at?
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wbdeford
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by wbdeford » Fri Apr 27, 2018 8:26 am

Gowergulch42 wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 10:26 pm
Very awesome! What altitude was that at?
3700 ft. Pretty much right here: https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=36.1859 ... o=t&n=0.29

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wbdeford
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by wbdeford » Sat Apr 28, 2018 9:04 am

Day 1 pictures....there weren't a lot due to poor visibility and that I have lots of pics of this area from past trips. I have much better pictures the rest of the way. I wish I had some of the actual storm, but I had bagged my camera up to protect it.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set ... eeacbbc934

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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by MojaveGeek » Sun Apr 29, 2018 6:18 am

Just got online and read this report of your awesome trip. I know you've been working that area for a while and it's amazing to see that you did it, all the way from the Badwater side as well, despite the weather glitch. It must have felt great to make it up to the summit from all the way down there! Really a memorable trip and glad you had a good time doing it. You're a damned strong hiker.

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wbdeford
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Re: April 19-23: Badwater -> Telescope -> Badwater

Post by wbdeford » Sun Apr 29, 2018 10:42 am

MojaveGeek wrote:
Sun Apr 29, 2018 6:18 am
Just got online and read this report of your awesome trip. I know you've been working that area for a while and it's amazing to see that you did it, all the way from the Badwater side as well, despite the weather glitch. It must have felt great to make it up to the summit from all the way down there! Really a memorable trip and glad you had a good time doing it. You're a damned strong hiker.
Thanks, MG. Yes....it felt great to finally make it the way I wanted to!

Day 2 pics are now up:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set ... 6d8c81774d

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Death Valley Dazed
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Great pix documenting your success

Post by Death Valley Dazed » Sun Apr 29, 2018 7:26 pm

Kudos again for pulling this personal epic effort off. It is amazing how determination and the ability to just put one foot in front of other one more time will allow such great adventures as yours. Looking forward to your next batch of images.
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