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Shorty’s Well to Telescope 10-13-07
The old mountaineering credo that “getting to the summit is optional, but getting back down is mandatory ” was put to the test on Telescope Pk this past Saturday by myself, Tony, and ET.
We parked at Shorty’s Well (west side of Badwater) on Friday evening (actually ~1am Sat morning), got a few winks of sleep, and then hit the trail at 3:20am on a comfortable (~72 degrees), but dark and moonless night. I believe this is my first alpine-start from below sea level, strange but true
So 3 little headlamps bopped up the jeep road that heads west from Shorty’s Well and up into the Hanaupah Canyon. The view of the stars was just incredible from this pitch-black road. After about 3 hours of hiking we got the 1st glimpse of Telescope Pk as the sunrise started to illuminate Hanaupah Canyon.
The jeep road is washed out about a mile from Hanaupah Springs, so we just followed the creek bed up the canyon. We reached Hanaupah Springs and Shorty’s Mine just after 7am and got a water refill and snack. The reliable Hanaupah Springs has a surprisingly strong water flow and probably contribute to ol’ Shorty choosing this site for his mine.
From the mine, we headed up the shale scree slope north of the mine. This rather loose and nasty scree slope is best avoided. It is probably better to contour around (NW) the base of the ridge and find the old mule trail the zig zags north up to the ridgeline. We eventually found the old mule trail about 2/3 way up the ridge. About 400’ from the top of the ridge the mule trail traverses and heads NW just below the final ridge. This traverse trail saves one from having to go up & down the undulations along the main ridge.
The further one hikes up the ridge, the thicker the Pinyon and Juniper woodlands become and it’s harder to find or stay on the vague use-trail. The route finding issues and a few extra snack stops was eating into our timetable and getting us behind schedule. I had expected that we would intersect the Mahogany Flats trail around noon and summit around 1pm and then rendezvous with a buddy that was coming up from Mahogany Flats (and our ride back down to our car parked at Shorty’s Well at Badwater).
Well due to a strange communication misunderstanding, our buddy (and ride) didn’t show up. So there we were on the summit of Telescope ~3:30pm with about 3 hours of sunlight left and contemplating our options;
Option 1. Try heading back down the ridge to Shorty’s Mine until we ran out of sunlight and forced to bivy. Then get up at first-light and hike back down Hanaupah canyon to the car.
I didn’t believe that we could descend the ridge and get back to Hanaupah Springs in the remaining sunlight. After dark, the ridgline use-trail is too faint, the Pinyon groves too thick, no landmarks could be seen on a moonless night, no GPS, etc; we would have gotten lost, exhausted and stalled along the ridge and forced to bivy.
If we started descending the ridge before 2pm (but it’s now 3:30pm) and had enough sunlight to get back down to Hanaupah Springs before dark, I believe that headlamps could get us back down the streambed and back to the jeep road.
Option 2. Hustle back down to Mahogany Flats trailhead and see if we could bum a ride back down to Stovepipe or Furnace Creek, and then figure out a ride out to Shorty’s Well to retrieve the car.
Since no one liked the idea of a force bivy, we decided to roll the dice on option #2.
We left Telescope Pk around 3:30pm and passed the intersection with the Shorty ridge about 4:10 (which means that we would only have about 2.5 hours of sunlight if we chose option #1, yuck!). We were surprised that we didn’t encounter anyone on the trail for the longest time, since we had seen lots of hikers up on the Mahogany Flats trail all day long as we were ascending the Shorty Ridge.
Luckily, we met Larry and David about a ¼ mile from the trailhead. They were camping at Furnace Creek and had come up to Mahogany Flats for a short hike to enjoy the view of Death Valley and Telescope Pk. After we explained our situation, Larry was kind enough (this is major understatement) to offer us a lift back down to Furnace Creek. The only caveat was that he had a small GEO Prizm and was worried that with 5 people in the car it would bottom-out on the drive down the rough fire road. So Tony and I offered to hike down past the roughest part of the fire road and then hop back in. So we made it back down the fire road with only a few rocks hitting the undercarriage, whew!
We shared (well mostly Larry, did I mention that he’s from New Jersey ) a bunch of great stories on the long (~80mile) drive back to Furnace Creek, got dinner, and then Larry drove us (another ~15miles) out to Shorty’s Well to retrieve our car around 10pm. On top of all that, Larry and David offered us space at their camp site to sack out for the night.
After all Larry and David had done for us, they refused any $ or compensation for all their trouble. The only thing we could offer Larry and David, were a big ol’ thank you and some major good karma points. Which I hope they can cash in at their next stop; Las Vegas
Anyhow, it warms my heart to know that there are good folks like Larry and David around willing to help people out of a tough situation. Folks like Larry and David make the world a better place. Thanks a bunch Larry & David for helping us with the “mandatory” part of the mountaineer’s credo!
Another great day in the mountains with great company. Total ~24 miles and over 11.5k’ gain. Here are some photos;