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,
and of Brown Peak.
The Amargosa River, which flows past Eagle Mountain, was actually flowing, thanks to the heavy rains from the week before.
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.
The trailhead for this hike is at the Charcoal Kilns, one of the many historic mining-related structures scattered around Death Valley.
A well-maintained and well-graded trail (8.4 miles roundtrip; 2,200 feet of elevation gain) starts up through a pinyon-juniper forest,
levels off briefly for a view of the summit ridge,
where you can get commanding views of Furnace Creek below,
and of Rogers and Telescope Peaks along the ridge to the south.
From Wildrose’s summit,
we had somewhat of a view of the Sierra Nevada on the far western horizon,
of the palm tree oasis at Furnace Creek,
and of ourselves still hiking together after all these years.
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!).
We started at the first sign just northeast of the Pay Station and wandered up the alluvial fan toward the peak.
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,
and then to an obvious (and well-cairned) trail through a break in the canyon wall.
From then on the trail was visibly obvious,
all the way to the summit.
The trail gains the majority of its altitude in a last mile of steady upward plodding.
The saving grace is that the view just gets bigger and bigger as you cross the last ridge to the summit.
It wasn’t a perfectly clear day, but the views of the tortured strata to the north were amazing.
After the required summit selfie,
and of the “Hole-in-the-Rock”,
it was back down the way we’d come up. Along the way, we were shadowed by a very wary bighorn sheep,
who kept running on ahead and eyeing us as we trudged back to the car.
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.