The Start Of...
Itís a little after 6pm on Thursday night. In less than seven hours I will jump into a car and drive through the night to a place that lies more than 200 feet below sea level. The place is called Badwater, the lowest point in the United States. Why would I want to be in Badwater at 3 in the morning? Canít sleep? NO. Did the neighborís dog tell me to go to Badwater? Luckily the neighbor does not have a dog. Crazy? Maybe. But if I am crazy I am in good company. Three other crazy or adventurous hikers are joining me to do one of the classic hard-core hikes in the United States. The reason we are going to Badwater is Telescope Peak. It towers over 11,000 feet above Badwater and Death Valley. We are attempting the classic Badwater to Telescope Peak hike. Itís 21 miles and over 11,000 feet of elevation gain. Itís the equivalent of hiking Charleston Peak three times in one day. Because of the length of the hike and the extreme temperatures Death Valley is famous for, you must start in the middle of the night.
Davis has the distinction of being the heaviest hiker to stand on Bridge Point. Actually, at 6í5Ē and 220 pounds he is a powerful hiker. We have found many routes together in Red Rock Canyon. Heís an avid swimmer and he has a passion for hiking.
Anna, on the other hand, might be the lightest hiker to stand on Bridge Point. At less than 100 pounds, she powers up mountains with ease. At the end of some of the toughest hikes, she looks like she just finished a photo shoot for a magazine.
Danny, like me, has been eyeing this hike for years. He makes any hike look easy. Full of energy and always a positive attitude, heís a great hiking cohort. His years of experience will come in handy during this adventure.
The hike begins on an old mining road and concludes by hiking the last mile and a half on the trail to Telescope Peak, but thereís a lot of ground inbetween those two points. Luckily thereís a dependable water source about 10 miles into the hike. We plan to tank up on water and start attacking the 6,000+ feet gain via cross-country. Thereís no trail, but the direction of travel is obvious: Up. And then more up. If all goes as plan, our boots should hit the trail by noon. Itís then about another 1,000 feet and a mile or so to the peak. Will we make it? Stay tunedÖ
We Made It, But...
At 4 am we took our first
steps toward Telescope Peak, some 11,000 feet above us. The nearly full moon
was sinking fast behind the ridge. Our headlamps cut through the night as we
walked. A million stars looked down on us. Almost three hours later the
stars had faded, the sun was rising, and we said goodbye to the nine-mile
gravel road. Soon the sound of rushing water filled the canyon. We knew
there was a dependable spring about ten miles into our journey. After
filling our Camelbaks, we headed up the canyon. Our next goal was the
predominant east/west ridge
that hovered over 1,700 feet above us. Step by
step we climbed the ridge and found a large cairn at a saddle. We had gained
over 5,000 feet since stepping out of the car and we felt good.
Now it was an easy walk along
the ridge. For more than three hours we almost forgot we were attempting one
of the toughest hikes in the lower 48. Looming above was our next goal:
A steep slope leading to a low point on the ridge. It didn't look too tough.
A forest was between us and the ridge. The trees provided shade, but
obscured the view of the ridge. The forest seemed to go on forever. When we
finally emerged from the woods, our goal had disappeared. Instead of trying
to find the low point, we started climbing. Since the trail ran along the
ridge, we couldn't miss it. Filled with scree and brush, the slope tried to
keep me from the ridge. It was the old two steps forward and one step back.
My left leg felt like a lead weight. I was pulling on brush inching my way
up the never-ending slope. Finally after what seemed hours we gained the
ridge and started toward Telescope Peak on the normal trail.
But it was too late for me. I had hit the whole building, not just the wall. My left leg was gone and I was hoping it wouldn't spasm. I dragged myself up the trail. Stopping four times along the trail before reaching the peak, it was the slowest I have ever hiked a trail to a summit. Walking over the final ridge, the peak came into sight. At around 2:30 pm I was standing on Telescope Peak after climbing over 11,000 feet from Death Valley. Anna and Danny were waiting for me and Davis arrived shortly after I did. We were tired, at least the guys were. Anna practically ran up the last part of the trail. Looking back down to Badwater it was almost inconceivable we started the hike from there.
Fortunately, Dave and Henry
were at the peak waiting for us. They had hiked the regular trail and
brought extra water and food. After a few minutes at the peak and a little
food, I started feeling pretty good. My left leg and my calves loosened up.
Descending the regular trail was a breeze. We were all back to the car
around 5 pm. After a long drive around to pick up the car in Death Valley,
we arrived in Las Vegas around 10 pm, 21 hours after we left Las Vegas.
Was The Toughest Hike I Have Ever Done
Why was it so tough? First,
it is a tough hike. Anybody who says gaining 11,000 feet and hiking 22 miles
is easy hasn't done the hike. However, I made some major mistakes. I over
trained, was hurt, didn't get enough sleep, and didn't eat enough. Could I
make any more mistakes??? As they say hindsight is twenty twenty.
Training and Hurt
In the last 30 days I had
hiked Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon, done numerous killer hikes in
Red Rock Canyon, and just a week before hiked 40 miles in four days up in
Lake Tahoe. During Lake Tahoe I hurt my left hip flexor. Nothing too
serious, but it weaken my left leg. I worked on it all week before
Telescope, but it was not 100%.
I had planned to take a four
to five hour nap before leaving for Telescope Peak at 1 am in the morning.
Guess what? It didn't happen. I ended up with only 5.5 hours sleep over a
period of 35 hours. Although I did not feel sleepy tired, I'm sure the
lack of sleep took its toll.
I brought plenty of food and
ate frequently (trail mix) while walking the gravel road; however, the
higher we climbed, the less appetite I had. As soon as we hit the scree
slope I couldn't eat. This, of course, zapped my energy faster than Davis
can down a quart of Gatorade!
This is not a hike to take
lightly. If you get hurt, you are on your own. We didn't see anyone until we
hit the regular trail. Training is vital, but over training can lead to
injuries. Sleep is mandatory. I was hoping to nap Thursday evening by
sleeping only four hours Wednesday night. Mistake. Get a good night sleep
the day before and try to take a nap. When doing killer hikes, I am going to
bring food I love. Forget the fat grams. It's more important to eat even if
it's junk food.
Will I do the hike again?
Yes, it's already in the planning stage, but it will be done differently. It
will never be as exciting as the first time. I don't think I could walk the
road again - it's too boring. And I want to nail the slope leading to the