I need to drop some Burtch History on you 1st so that this trip makes sense. I was deployed to Afghanistan in the fall of 2008 and doing a 270 day tour. I was part of a unit that was mixed with Army and Air Force personnel called a PRT
(Provincial Reconstruction Team). Our mission was to go around the province of Nangahar & Jalalabad City and win "the hearts and minds" of the local populace. We would help them build roads, schools, clinics, bridges and many other things. It was a small 84 man/women unit, we were all very close to one another. I was the NCOIC (Non Commissoned Officer In Charge) of Supply. Ordered anything and everything our unit needed, then coordinated the logistics to get it to them. My main office was at Bagram Airfield while the rest of the team was at FOB Finley-Shields outside Jalalabad Airport. After each shipment I would catch a plane or helicopter flight down to the FOB and make sure everything I packed got delivered to us. I would stay down for a week and go out on some missions with the guys. It was a really fun time, well that fun time turned into a dark reality on March 15, 2009. While out on a mission to crappy little town called Kot one of our humvees got blown up by an IED. I remember the day like it was yesterday!! I won't go into details but it was devestating to me for a long long time. All four guys in the humvee were killed, The driver Norman Cain III, Chris Abeyta, Robert Weinger, and Timothy Bowles. Crazy to think that the last time I was out on a mission this was the crew that I rode along with. I loved them all dearly. 2 months later another tragedy struck, Lukas Saczek who just came back from his R&R and had seen his baby girl born shot himself at the main gate @ the FOB. This was a real shocker for me. I had just been down at the FOB the week prior and I clearly rememeber him trying on his custom suit and us joking around, never thought that he was having family problems or anything to that nature. The last blow came around December 23rd of 2011. I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq when I found out that our NCOIC of the clinic from that deployment (Msgt Kyle Baker) had finally given in to his PTSD he had been battling since our return home in 2009. He shot and killed himself, he was suffering deeply inside. We all suffered and still suffer deeply, I was espically close to "Doc" Baker and Tim. This trip is for all of you!!
My goal was to find something that was going to be really meanigful to myself and my buddies. Something that was going to really challenge my physical and mental abilities. I searched on summit post for a good while on really cool tough hikes in Southern California. I finally came across a Telescope Peak trip report and knew instantly that this was it. One it's in Death Valley which I thought was fitting, two it was the highest Peak in the Valley and the views were nothing short of spectacular!! I wanted to do something that would remind me of my friends yet also remind me of how much I should be grateful in my life because I am truly blessed. Didn't want to do this monster hike alone so I talked to(it wasn't hard) my great close friend and brother Chris Williams to go along, he instantly said duh Nick!! We had origanlly planned to spend the night at Mahogony Flats on the 17th of March and hike to the top the morning of the 18th. Plans had to be scrapped and postponed that week and I promised my wife I wouldn't go alone. So the following week we decided to wake up uber early on saturday and tackle it in one day. Left Edwards AFB a little after 0630, an hour later than originally planned. Took the North Gate exit onto the 58 Highway, turned on 395 North toward Ridgecrest. Once we got to Ridgecrest we stopped for a short Starbucks break then got onto the 178 toward Trona. Trona is ghastly and sad town!! I could do a whole trip report on how depressing going trhu Trona was but we'll save that for another day. Once we got outside Trona we stopped to release our bladders and take some pics of the mountains. Once we got back in we headed off to Wildrose Pass then onto Mahogony Flats campground. This was really easy to navigate, we did old school by paper map....it was fun.
These are pics of the Panimant Range, Outside Trona, and Wildrose Pass
The Brutalality of Telescope
So we arrived at the campground around 0930 nearly 3 hours after our 1st push. Really it didn't seem that long, I guess when you have great company you're not paying attention to time. We put on our 30lb packs, attached our trekking poles, and buddy checked each other one last time. On the way to the log book we said hello to 4 guests that had the same idea as we did. we would later find out that they were 4 Geological major students from Stanford. Really nice group of peeps. We quickly noticed the breath taking views, ridges, peaks, saddles, and every other rock formation in the valley below us. We had sight of Badwater the whole time except for when the trail went around the backside of Bennett Peak. It was grueling right off the bat!! I knew we were going to go 3000 ft of positive elevation but dang this was proving nasty real early. We took a rest at about the 1 hour mark, Chris had something in his boot and I figured this is a good chance to get some pics in. Also the Stanford nerds would pass us up at about this time also. FYI we are in our 30's and the nerds in their 20's so cut us some slack ok. The peak had some snow on it and the scene of just towering over every other peak in it's vacinty was amazing.
These are Pics from the Begining of the hike. Notice Badwater Basin and the Elevation start point...8133ft!!
Discount Double Check
So onward and upward we went after our brief stop. I will say this was an ass kicking trail!! It was never going to level off and we just kept going up and up. We had just done a 22.6 mile hike on the PCT a month prior so my thinking was heck a 14 miler should be no problem. What I failed to realize was that on the PCT trip we barely gained any elevation. Here it was a constant uphill battle. We stopped several more times to drink water and soak up the gorgeous views all around us. This trail is nothing short of spectacular and no matter how tired we were at this point the scene is what kept us going. We finally came to a break in the trail between Rogers Peak and Bennett Peak. It leveled off....finally!! We stopped for a quick photo op and marched on. This was the 1st time that I started to notice the snow as well as the Sierra Nevada Range in the distance. Now for the life of me I could not tell you which exact mountain was Mt. Whitney but I knew it was over there somewhere. This part of the trail was actaully quite long and refreshing to our legs which by this point had that burn in em.
Rogers Peak (Antenna), Bennett Peak, and cool looking Tree
Only 3/4??....my God!!
After coming around Bennett Peak we started another uphill battle. We decided to rest eat lunch and try and find the nerds. We could hear them but for the life of us we couldn't see them. After lunch we came to fork in the trail, one way went left and the other straight. We talked about which way would probably be more benficial for us old timers and decided on the left. This would prove to be an almost fatal mistake!! The snow was getting deeper and deeper, the side of the trail was muddy and we both nearly slipped off the side many times. The melting snow turned slush making the side of the mountain extremely slippery. Had to bust out our treking poles and see what all the hype was about. Well all I can say is thank god!! This part of the trail was small steep switchback afetr small steep switchback. We were taking 10-15 minute breaks every 5-7 minutes at this point in the hike. To try and describe the harshness of this bit is unfare. In order for me to get you to understand how hard this was for both of us you would have to be on the trail!! We got to a point that I could tell in Chris's voice and body language that he didn't have much more left in him. Crazy thing is that I know he could sense the exact same feelings in me, and it was true. I started to doubt if we were going to make it to the top. If we were going to fail our fallen brothers!! I had zero energy in me, the only food left in pack was 1 PBJ. After what seemed to be an eternity on the switchbacks we said F this lets go straight up this ridge and see where it leads us. So we started digging them poles in the snow and kept climbing. After about 10 minutes we both agreed this seemed to be easier than the previous route we were on. I dont have any pics of this part of the trip because the sheer effort to dig in my pocket and get my cell phone out was too much. That is how tough and demanding this part was, I didn't even want to waste the strength to go in my pocket!!!!
So here we were dam near the top, plum tucked out and we didn't even know if the top of this Peak was our end destination!! We both agreed that this was "our" Telescope Peak no matter what. We didn't even care at this point. Luckily to our surprise the Stanford nerds were the sign that we had done it!! I had never felt so much joy and happiness in my life (with the exception of my kids being born) We did make it!! We beat a ton of adversity mentally and physically to get to this Peak and let me tell you the sights I soaked in at the top was worth every bit of that!!!! I felt like I had accomplished a real goal in life, which I did. I felt like my friends were looking down on me giving me all the props, hugs, and high fives we could muster up. I signed the log book and really just sat back and took it all in. I noticed that the Stanford nerds had been up there for over an hour waiting on us for photos. Like I said before these were some cool cats. So they gave me a Coors and we snapped a few pics of them together on their camera and they did the same for us, really cool peeps. It was crazy windy and cold on the top but I guess when you're 11049 ft. above sea level it's gonna be. I pulled out my certificate, flag, flagpole, and hammer. We then put up a mini flag anchored by mountain and mountain rocks for not just my friends but everyone's friends who have lost their lives in any war for this country. It was such a joyous moment for us. We set out to do something special not for us but for them and to know that you've done something as hard as this was more self gratifing than anything I can remember. So next time yer up at Telescope Peak take a knee and thank the men and women of the United States Armed Forces that gave up their life so that we may have ours. If yer in the area next year the weekend of March 15th I'll see you at the top.
Short Video Link
I took a 2 minute video of the summit with my Hero Burtch (GoPro) Enjoy all