Details? Where we’re going, we won’t need details.
This one is going to be dedicated to the plans that will inevitably fall apart at the first sign of adversity. I’ve had a general plan boiling in the back of my head for a little while now and I’ve been slowly refining it over time. Now, I need to write it down so I can see it and continue to tweak it to help me try to anticipate those problems that want to kick me right in the jimmy.
The start date is scheduled for November 10th because that is the birthday of my beloved Marine Corps. We won’t have any overnight moon on the 10th, and if you’ve never been to Death Valley on a moonless night, the views are unbelievable. It really is of the darkest places we have here in California. The Milky Way is plainly visible with the naked eye. I will be starting well before sunrise, but I haven’t nailed down the specific start time yet. It looks like we will have about 11.5 hours of usable daylight, but I don’t think I’ll be able to complete the roundtrip in that amount of time. I think as long as I’m on the salt flats during dark I’ll be in good shape.
Overall scope and breakdown of the project
Section 1, The Warm Up
The start point is the Badwater sign on the east edge of the Badwater Basin. I plan on starting sometime around zero dark thirty. Running just over six miles in pitch black over an uneven surface is probably going to be the easiest part of my day. I’ll gain and lose no more than a couple feet over these six miles, this is about as flat as it gets. A good headlamp and warm layers will be mandatory at this point.
I’m hoping to have a partner who will be able to drop me off and then drive around the basin to the Westside road, which is where section 2 begins. That drive is about 21 miles, but half of that is on a dirt road, so it should take about less than hour to get there, where the headlights will be an easy beacon of light to aim for in that pitch black basin. I’ll be navigating with a compass bearing as well, just in case. This is butterbar lieutenant level land nav though, one bearing aiming for about 267 degrees and don’t stop for an hour. I’m not too worried about running through here in the dark. When I hit West Side road, Section 2 begins.
It’s that easy, this was taken about one mile into section one, looking at section two.
Section 2, The Grind
Hanaupah Canyon Road isn’t much of a road, being that it was largely built by hand by a 65 year old World War I cavalry veteran named “Shorty” Borden, but it’s better than nothing. He cut almost nine miles of road in one of the more inhospitable places on Earth in less than a year, which makes me feel pretty inadequate with what I’ve accomplished so far in my life.
This canyon will be a slow grind up, it’s about 9 ¼ miles with 3,900 feet of gain, that’s an average of 420 feet per mile which averages out to an 8% grade. So that’s going to be a grind, on and on. The sun will be rising by the time I’m going up Canyon and it will start warming up, hopefully not too much yet because I’m going to be working hard here. At the end of the road here is a pretty strong spring. By this point in the trip I will have just under sixteen miles on my legs, and I’m guessing my Adventure Pack 12L and all my soft flask water bottles will either be empty or or real close to it. I’ll filter and refill my water supplies, sit down and refuel myself while I take some time contemplating the decisions in my life that have gotten me to this point as I ponder going up what’s next.
Section 3, The Crux
Telescope Peak is the highest point in Death Valley at 11,049. My unprofessional estimate is that over 98% of the people who get to the top take the main use trail which starts at Mahogany Flat Campground at about 8,000 feet. I’ll be going up the side of this damn mountain, a few people do it every year but there is no trail, there is very little use from this side (for obvious reasons I think). This section will be navigating on the fly, the straighter up I go the steeper it will be. It will just depend on what looks best when I’m there.
The best estimate I have at the moment from some map reconnaissance is showing me that this section will be about 4.5 miles and it will gain about 6,300 feet. So that is a ridiculous 1,400 feet per mile and a 26% grade for the whole length of this section. There’s a lot of asking why that will be taking place here. I’ll also be getting into the thinner air and the harder breathing that brings as well. Furthermore, the sun will be fully up and between that and the body heat generated by this climb I’m probably going to be cooking.
I’ll be at 10,000 feet at the top of the crux here and I’m not done with the climbing yet, I still have a little section of trail left to get to the top in section 4
Section 4, The Peak
This won’t be that bad, I’ve gone through the crux and hopefully I’ll have some leg strength left. Once I’m up here, there is the general use trail to follow to the summit. From this point I’ll have about a mile left and 1,000 vertical feet to gain. This section starts at about 10,000 feet which means I’ll probably feel some slight oxygen deficit as well.
I’m hoping the last mile won’t be too bad as I imagine I’ll be pretty damn excited to see the view again. I haven’t been up to the top of Telescope for over a decade, and it is a tremendous view. Looking in west, one can see all of California’s highest peaks located on the Sierra Crest. While looking east, you can feast your eyes on Mt. Charleston, the highest point in Nevada.
After a little victory lap, some celebratory pushups and as many snacks as my mouth will hold, I’ll head back down this whole thing and back to where the party started.
A picture from my last trip to Telescope, where the weather conditions definitely knocked me on my ass; snow, thunder, lightning and hiding in a grove of trees while wearing shorts made for a terrible day, but a good story
To recap the downhill in order:
Section 4 won’t be too bad going down, it’s steep but all on trail and I’ll be as fresh as possible after eating some snackies on top.
Section 3 is going to cause some blistering of my feet, trauma to my toenails and probably take every bit of strength that is left in my quads to get down. This part is where I have to be careful, it’s stupidly steep and I’ll be so tired that this is where I’m most worried about some mishap taking place.
Section 2 is back on the remnants of the mine road, which ain’t much but it’s going to feel like walking on clouds after section 3. It should be a perfect downhill slope for running as fast as my little legs will let me at that point.
Section 1, the flatness that I appreciated at the beginning is going to suck at the end. This will require mental fortitude to run. But run I will, because I’ll only have 6 miles left to a car ride that will take me to the biggest burgers that can fit into my mouth, also alcohol and a bed.
That’s the overall plan. I still need to fill in some details regarding start time, which will impact what time I reach these sections and what time I potentially finish. Taking into account the temperatures, the lack of water and lack of easy extrication in the event of an emergency during the most difficult portion of this trek, I’ll have a few layers of safety blankets in place that I will develop and discuss over the next six months as the date gets closer.
One thing I have learned over the years while trekking, running, exploring and hiking around Death Valley is that the air is so dry out there, you always need much more water than you think. Even in the shoulder seasons, the extraordinarily low relative humidity causes your sweat to dry nearly instantly. Open mouthed breathing dries out your mouth quickly and you can get into some bad dehydration and cramping situations real quick. So a strong reminder to myself is to drink early and drink often. Once I have a better time estimate of when I’ll hit Hanaupah Spring and how long that ascent from there will take, I’ll start nailing down hydration plans, but I’m probably looking at carrying quite a bit of water. So that’s cool, at least my pack will be the heaviest when I’m starting the hardest part of the day.
That’s all for this time, thanks for reading!