“When you step out of your comfort zone, amazing things can happen.” This motto has motivated me the last few years to attempt some tough day hikes but none have compared to hiking Telescope Peak (elevation 11,049 ft) from Shorty’s Well (elevation -250 ft, that’s right as in minus 250 ft below sea level). Telescope Peak is the highest peak located in the Panamint Mountain Range in Death Valley, CA. It received the name due to the fact that from the summit you could see no further with a telescope. To the West offers a great view of Mt Whitney (highest elevation in the lower 48 states at 14,505ft) and to the East is Badwater Basin (lowest elevation in North America at -282 ft).
Needless to say, the logistics for this hike are a pain. We arrived the night before the hike and left a car at Mahogany Flats Campground. We had heard that you need a 4X4 vehicle to get up this road, however we made it in a Toyota Yaris with no issues. I also highly recommend stopping to see the Charcoal Kilns on the way up.
We then made the almost 2 hour drive to Furnace Creek Campground. You can make reservations for the campsite at www.recreation.gov. After a quick 4 hours of sleep, we awoke at 2:30am, packed and headed to Shorty’s Well. To get there you take a right on Highway 190 from the camp site, turn right on Badwater Road and then another right on West Side Road. West Side Road is a dirt road and while you do not need a 4X4 to drive on it, the drive is quite slow. It took around 45 minutes total from Furnace Creek Campground to Shorty’s Well. To get to the Shorty’s Well parking area, you turn left off of West Side Road.
We started the hike, around 4:00am, up a very gradual 7 mile stroll on Hanaupauh Canyon Rd, which is a 4X4 road. The weather was around 60 degrees F and I have never seen so many stars. We must have seen a dozen or so shooting stars, perfect way to start a hike. The sun started to rise as we came to the entrance of Hanaupauh Canyon.
We stopped and had breakfast here to get ready for what lied ahead. Also, this part of the hike is absolutely the most critical point. We had received advice from a Death Valley Park Ranger that if and only if we had carried enough water (we each had 5 liters) his advice was to start climbing the East/West Ridge immediately upon entering the Canyon. The alternative is to continue in the canyon to the only water source on the entire trail which is Hanaupauh Creek and then hike to the right up a Class 2-3 scree slope that is around 1600ft! If anyone has ever done this, I commend you. Now, the route we took was when you enter the canyon there is a small ridge on your right that joins the larger East/West ridgeline. Where these two ridges met, we climbed a short Class 2 scree slope which was around 200 ft. From there we continued up and over 2-3 more ridges until the terrain leveled out at around 4,500 ft.
The next few miles you actually lose elevation while you go up/down over 3 saddles. All the while you are looking at what’s ahead and noticing that you still have another 5,000-5,500ft of elevation to gain. After going up and over the last saddle we stopped for lunch to refuel and look at the task ahead
There really is no way to describe the final ascent from the East/West ridge to the North/South ridge that meets up with the Mahogany Flats trail other than I’ve never hiked anything like it. It is rocky, steep, and slow-going. I highly recommend trekking poles as these helped tremendously along with headphones. We really took our time here and tried to improvise little switch backs all the while still going up. Patches of snow also were on this ridge and were unavoidable so we put on our micro spikes. There is light at the end of the tunnel when you see the ridge line with the bristle cone pine. I just kept focusing on that pine and traversed to the right as this seemed a little less steep than the left or middle side (not by much). Finally, we arrived on the Mahogany Flats Trail and it never felt so good to hike on a trail. From here you hike along the ridge and after traversing some switchbacks you arrive at the summit. The views are just incredible and being able to see the lowest and highest points in the lower 48 states at the same time is an added bonus. It almost seemed surreal that we had come all the way from Shorty’s Well but here we were.
It was getting dark so we high tailed it down the Mahogany Flats Trail back to Mahogany Flats Campground. By this time we were extremely tired so it was slow going. We donned our head lamps and just put one foot in front of the other. The 7 mile trail from the summit to the campground seemed like it was taking forever. So much so, that for a minute we thought we were lost but continued to press on. Finally, we arrived at the car we had parked the night before and completed the day. The 2 hour drive back to Furnace Creek Campground was so long and it took all my concentration to stay awake. We made it back around 11:00pm and immediately went to bed.
The next day we went back to Shorty’s Well to get the car we had parked at the start of the hike. This gave us the opportunity to take pictures of the Devils Golf Course, the start of the trail and the view of Telescope Peak in the distance. It was a great reflection to see what we had accomplished the day before. I have great respect for this mountain and as previously stated, this was definitely the hardest hike I have ever done. Even though a hike like Cactus to Clouds has similar mileage and relative elevation gain, this hike is much harder because there is no established trail. It is very hard on your legs hiking over all the rock, lose scree, steep inclines, etc.
All in all, I’m very grateful to have been able to hike Telescope Peak. Total Elevation: 11,520 ft and Mileage: 23 miles. Thank you to HW Stock, SteveH and Candace_66 for your help in advance of the hike. Also, a huge debt of gratitude and thanks to Charlie for your advice on the East/West ridge approach and ascent.
Last but certainly not least to two awesome people who I could not have done this hike without. Thank you Vern for all your help in preparation, advice given, guidance and motivation. And my best friend Rich, thank you for taking this adventure with me. Without your help, none of this would have been possible. Cheers too many more adventures.
- 5 Liters of Water
- Trekking Poles
- 10 Essentials
- Satellite Phone
- Power Gels
- 5 Hour Energy
- Croissants, Banana for Breakfast
- Chicken for Lunch
- North Face Jacket
- Under Armour Tights and Long Sleeve
- Micro Spikes