July 1990: At the time I was living in Los Angeles, and my brother decided to come out and visit. He wanted to see some of California, so we decided to go to Death Valley (at the time a National Monument). In planning our trip, I read somewhere that you could see the lowest and highest point in the U.S. if standing on top of Telescope Peak. So I decided Telescope Peak would be part of the itinerary. I had never climbed a mountain in my life and no idea what I was doing or what I was getting into. How hard could it be? It's just a trail to the top.
We drove to the visitor's center and Badwater, did all the tourist stuff, then headed back west to the road to Mahogany Flat. My 2wd Nissan pickup barely made it up the road. The plan was to sleep in the back of the truck under the stars. Besides, we were in Death Valley where it never rains. Wrong. Around dusk it began to storm, and storm, and storm. We hunkered down in the cab to try to get some sleep. It rained all night and we were pretty uncomfortable in the front of the truck. Morning came in heavy overcast. We started up the trail in cold, damp, cloudy conditions. I had no experience with mountain weather and thus had on my jeans, flannel shirt, and no rain gear. We stayed in the clouds the entire climb. Near the summit, it began to rain and sleet. As we summited, I was elated. Even though I was wet, cold, and couldn't see a damn thing, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. We took one picture and headed down. It was pretty cold and we hustled down the mountain. About halfway down we met some Sierra Club hikers who were amazed and concerned that we had no jackets, rain gear, or anything. As we neared the trailhead, the clouds began to clear and we could see the valley below. We arrived back at the truck tired, wet, and cold (but happy). I thought.....I have a lot to learn about mountain climbing and this was just a walk-up. I had no idea that it could be so cold or that it could sleet and snow in the mountains in the middle of the summer.
As we drove out of the park, I looked back towards the mountain and saw that it was completely clear of clouds. My luck. Anyway....it was an enlightening experience and I began to embark on many other adventures. I soon began day hiking and backpacking, and then climbing and mountaineering ten years later. Thanks, Telescope Peak, for inspiring me to hike, climb, backpack, and basically get off the couch.
I enjoyed this great little short story, and it led me to explore some of their other stuff which was even better. They also have their own website, jackieandalan.com. Check it out! I especially enjoyed the report of the climb of Vestal Peak in Colorado.
Thank you so much for your comments and plug. Telescope Peak was such an inspiration for me. It literally changed my life and I can't thank that experience enough. I remember a line from the movie Jeremiah Johnson: "You've come far, pilgrim." And that's exactly how I feel....like a pilgrim who has come so far since Telescope Peak.
Mr. Rosen: Good luck and good weather in all your mountain endeavors.