Telescope Peak 11,049' x 2 plus -568' (Round Trip)
Here I was, working at Furnace Creek as a ranger in Death Valley fresh from working in Utah at Timpanogoes Caves where part of my daily routine was to hike up and down a 1,000' gain 1.5 mile trail. My friend from our Air Force days was doing the same but in the Grand Tetons. He came up with this brilliant idea of doing Denali in April and told me to start conditioning myself. Well, he lived at 6,000'+ in sub zero temps and I was working and living at and below sea level in what would become 100 degree heat in April.
Well, in Death Valley, the highest and one of the few places with snow is Telescope Peak in the Panamint Mountains. I had solo hiked it the easy way from Mahagony Flat campground ten or so years before. Looking at the topo showed the lowest place is a few miles out on the salt pan from Bad Water (-284') and that would be my plan...the lowest to the highest in the monument.
I parked my car in Hanapah Canyon on the west side of the valley below Telescope and got a ride from a ranger friend to Bad Water. Since this was pre GPS days, I had to triangulate with map and compass bearings to get to this "lowest" point. Problem was mushing through the salt muck. It so sapped my energy that by the time I got to my car at about 5,000' up Hanapah I was done in (so how would I ever be able to get up Denali?).
Next time I tried it I would park at Hanapah and leave my pack there, walk down to the salt flat's lowest point without the weight of my pack, return to my vehicle and sleep the night and go to the peak the next day and return to the car...a total of 23,000+ vertical feet (round trip).
This was about a month later and the muck not so mucky plus I was wearing "disposable" shoes instead of my mountain boots. This proved much better and upon return to my vehicle, a change of shoes and I was off (a near full moon made travel at night possible until getting blocked out by the peak but dawn was near).
I was glad I had brought an axe and insteps as the snow/ice was marginal for simply kicking in steps at that time before the sun could work on it. Being a ranger, I had read a report of a climber that slipped on the peak to his death and when a rescue helicopter landed at the peak, the first rescuer off (not wearing crampons) slipped to his death. My decision to go without sleep proved not so good as I was tired and this took a lot of the "enjoyment" out of this "hike".
One of the "scary" things about doing this solo was running into an old miner's cabin that had been fixed up complete with glass in the windows and food in the kitchen past the drivable dirt road up Hanapah Canyon. We had former Manson members living in the region at the time and I have to say it gave me the willies. There are things we as rangers could do but I will not share them here. I must say, I would spend my "weekends off" usually exploring the monument solo rather than sit in the provided government housing watching rental videos or driving to Vegas for "entertainment".
I did have a park service radio should anything happen and the only thing that did was a Navy fighter from China Lake "illegally" flying below sea level above the valley floor (to qualify for the Below Sea Level Club) and my boss calling me and asking if I could get the fighter's tail number. If you've ever been out in the mountains, when you get blasted by the noise, the military jet is usually gone from sight over the next ridge by the time you look up.
Did we summit Denali? No but I did "rescue" two climbers and frostbit my toes in the process which ended my ranger career as I was unable to do back country patrol at my next assignment at Lassen Peak (seasonals get no health insurance benefits).
Years later we dropped off a friend of mine to do the hike from Bad Water to Telescope but we met him on the peak and walked back out on the trail to Mahogany Flats (~9,000'). He made these "mud" snowshoes out of plywood that totally didn't work when he got to that area. Said they got sucked into the salty mud and were next to impossible to lift out.
I believe this to be one of the biggest elevation gain single peaks in the country. My friend from the Tetons had tried Denali from Talkeetna, which as I understand, would have been something like 17,000' vertical but over a long distance. I believe that to DAY HIKE
Mauna Kea from the beach straight up the side of the volcano would have to be the greatest (13,700'+) in the US. I almost tried it in '84 on Mauna Loa but got distracted by the geology and flowing lava. Call it the Sea to Sky hike (s2s)...any takers?