Death Valley Days 11/15-Mar-2013

Death Valley National Park California

Last week was our (almost) annual pilgrimage to Death Valley National Park in California in search of heat and dryness. March in the Valley can be fickle – cold and rainy has happened in past years – but this year didn’t disappoint. Amongst the usual tourist activities (a tour of Scotty’s Castle, a drive through Titus Canyon, and a long, bone jarring drive to the Racetrack), we got in some actual hiking. All of these hikes are at or above 3,000 feet so temperatures ranged comfortably between 50º and 75º F, usually with a mild wind. But full sun and very low humidity (8%) called for lots of sunscreen and water.

Eagle Mountain (3,806 feet)

We started with a hike at Eagle Mountain (near Death Valley Junction). A use trail has become prominent in the years since I first climbed this peak but we had to pass on a summit bid this time because the LovedOne’s hiking shoes were no match for the extremely sharp limestone rock. However, the vistas were huge, with views of Telescope Peak,

Death Valley National Park California
Telescope Peak (arrow) from the base of Eagle Mountain

and of Brown Peak.

Death Valley National Park California
Brown Peak from the base of Eagle Mountain

The Amargosa River, which flows past Eagle Mountain, was actually flowing, thanks to the heavy rains from the week before.

Death Valley National Park California
The Amargosa River actually flows!

Wildrose Peak (9,064 feet)

Our next objective was Wildrose Peak, the tallest peak north of Rogers, Bennett, and Telescope  Peaks. Sometimes the road to the trailhead is still blocked with snow in March but this year (thanks, unfortunately, to California’s withering drought) the Wildrose Canyon Road was clear and open. We were joined by friends from Santa Barabara – Wayne and Diane – with whom I’d done a winter climb of Telescope Peak years ago – we all still vividly remember it as a very windy and bitterly cold experience.

Death Valley National Park California
The Panamint Range from Furnace Creek: Telescope Peak (T), Rogers Peak (R), and Wildrose Peak (W.)

The trailhead for this hike is at the Charcoal Kilns, one of the many historic mining-related structures scattered around Death Valley.

Death Valley National Park California
The Charcoal Kilns in Wildrose Canyon

A well-maintained and well-graded trail (8.4 miles roundtrip; 2,200 feet of elevation gain) starts up through a pinyon-juniper forest,

Death Valley National Park California
Starting up the Wildrose Peak Trail

levels off briefly for a view of the summit ridge,

Death Valley National Park California
The final ridge before the summit

where you can get commanding views of Furnace Creek below,

Death Valley National Park California
Furnace Creek from the Wildrose Peak Trail

and of Rogers and Telescope Peaks along the ridge to the south.

Death Valley National Park California
Looking south toward Telescope Peak from the Wildrose Peak Trail

From Wildrose’s summit,

Death Valley National Park California
The benchmark on Wildrose Peak

we had somewhat of a view of the Sierra Nevada on the far western horizon,

Death Valley National Park California
The Sierra Nevada from the summit of Wildrose Peak

of the palm tree oasis at Furnace Creek,

Death Valley National Park California
Furnace Creek and the Amargosa River from the summit of Wildrose Peak

and of ourselves still hiking together after all these years.

Death Valley National Park California
Friends on the summit of Wildrose Peak

Corkscrew Peak (5,804 feet)

Wayne and Diane had to get back to their active retirement, so we pushed on alone for a hike up Corkscrew Peak (7.5 miles roundtrip; 3,000 feet of elevation gain). When I first did this peak years ago, the route was all cross-country navigation. Now there’s a very well defined user trail leading directly to the summit (if you can find where it starts across the alluvial fan!).

Death Valley National Park California
Corkscrew Peak from the Daylight Pass Road

We started at the first sign just northeast of the Pay Station and wandered up the alluvial fan toward the peak.

Death Valley National Park California
An early morning walk up the alluvial fan

Tracks and numerous cairns (a lot of energy went into stacking a lot of rocks) soon appeared, which, when followed, drew us to the mouth of a canyon southeast of the peak,

Death Valley National Park California
Cairns and tracks led us into this canyon

and then to an obvious (and well-cairned) trail through a break in the canyon wall.

Death Valley National Park California
A now obvious use trail leaves the wash

From then on the trail was visibly obvious,

Death Valley National Park California
Corkscrew on the left; The LovedOne on the trail to the far right

all the way to the summit.

Death Valley National Park California
The trail up the slope was very easy to follow

The trail gains the majority of its altitude in a last mile of steady upward plodding.

Death Valley National Park California
The LovedOne climbs the now steep slope

The saving grace is that the view just gets bigger and bigger as you cross the last ridge to the summit.

Death Valley National Park California
An almost knife-edge ridge near the summit

It wasn’t a perfectly clear day, but the views of the tortured strata to the north were amazing.

Death Valley National Park California
Tortured strata to the northeast
Death Valley National Park California
Tortured strata to the northwest

After the required summit selfie,

Death Valley National Park California
On the summit

and of the “Hole-in-the-Rock”,

Death Valley National Park California
It’s more firmly in place than it appears…

it was back down the way we’d come up. Along the way, we were shadowed by a very wary bighorn sheep,

Death Valley National Park California
Staying several hundred yards away at all times…

who kept running on ahead and eyeing us as we trudged back to the car.

Death Valley National Park California
Back across the alluvial fan

This was another great trip to Death Valley National Park, with warm, sunny weather and good friends. Judging from the Park’s 2-inch thick hiking guide, there are many more hikes awaiting us in Death Valley and the surrounding area should we be fortunate enough to make it back there in the years ahead.

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