Scoping Out Telescope

13 Nov 1999 - by Bob Bynum

A Great Trip In Spite of a Few Glitches

On the Saturday, November 13, Jeff Fisher led a hike from Shorty's Well in Death Valley to the summit of Telescope Peak via Hanaupah Canyon. This was an official PCS and DHS trip. Participants were Jeff Fisher, Craig Taylor, Hal Tompkins, Tony Walsh of San Diego, and myself. Jeff and Craig hiked all the way from Death Valley to the summit. I hiked to the summit from Mahogany Flat to provide a car shuttle. This was a great trip. I really enjoyed the drive to Death Valley, Jeff Fisher's companionship, the solitude of camping at Shorty's Well and the climb of telescope peak from Mahogany Flat. However, there were a few glitches that occurred.

Typically when I go on a trip, I know weeks in advance and plan carefully. On this trip however I wasn't sure until the last minute. Jeff had been trying to talk me into going but I kept waffling. I wanted to go, but with Gretchen and my recent wedding we were still trying to get settled in. Jeff had wanted to take off on Thursday night. On my way home Thursday evening the alternator failed in my car and it died less than a mile from home. I called Jeff and told him that the trip was out for me because I had to take care of the car.

Jeff talked me into going anyway and Gretchen helped me jump the car so I was able to limp it home. Due to this additional delay, Jeff and I left on Friday morning. We had originally planned to leave on Thursday night.

Hal departed on his own Thursday night with the understanding that Jeff would meet him at Mahogany Flat at 5:00 PM the following Friday afternoon. From there, they would drive down to Shorty's Well leaving Hal's car at Mahogany for shuttle purposes. At the time Hal left, my participation wasn't definite.

Craig Taylor had a different situation. He couldn't leave until Friday afternoon. He came up with a novel solution. He flew into Las Vegas and rented a car. Craig planned to arrive at Shorty's Well late Friday night.

Jeff and I left my house at 6:25 AM Friday morning. Our drive took us down I-5, over to Bakersfield, down 58 to Tehachapi, and then up 14 towards Ridgecrest. In Randsburg, we stopped for lunch and then went on a fifteen-minute mini-climb up a small local peak. From there we had a spectacular view of the Mojave Desert, China Lake, the Argus Range, and the Panamint Range.

Randsburg is half way between a ghost town and a tourist attraction. It is a gold mining town that dates from the 1800s, but they still mine gold with modern methods. However, most of the 1800s town is still in existence with old mine shafts, a bed and breakfast, and an opera house. The Opera House Cafe cuisine can be described as typical Eastern Sierra greasy spoon. They have room for improvement. Jeff wanted a tuna melt sandwich and they said they couldn't do it. However, they did have cheese-melt sandwiches and tuna sandwiches. Go figure this one out!

From Randsburg, we drove on to Death Valley via a variety of county roads that went through Trona and connected to Highway 190 and took us by Stovepipe Wells Village.

Since I was now along on the trip, Jeff had decided to change his original plans. Rather than meet Hal at Mahogany Flats at 5:00PM, he decided to have everybody meet at Furnace Creek at 4:00PM. While in Bakersfield, Jeff called Tony Walsh's wife and told her about this plan. Tony was enroute from San Diego, but had instructions to check in for messages. Also Jeff called Hal Tompkin's voicemail leaving a message about this change in plans.

We arrived in Furnace Creek at shortly before 4:00PM. After waiting for about 20 minutes for Tony to arrive, Jeff called and was informed that Tony's car had overheated and he had returned to San Diego. Then Jeff called Lisa to see if Hal had recovered his messages. There was no word from Hal.

Jeff and I now had a problem. If we drove up to Mahogany Flat to get word to Hal, we would arrive at around 6:00 PM, one hour after we said we would. We decided against this figuring that Hal would come looking for us and we would miss each other. Jeff and I decided to eat dinner at the 49'er Cafe and head out for Shorty's Well. I highly recommend the food a the 49'er Cafe. It is reasonably priced and is not greasy. We had fresh trout.

Spending the night at Shorty';s Well was a great experience all by itself. It was dead quite at night. There was not a sound to be heard - not a coyote howling; not a bird chirping; not a creature stirring. This is one place where a person can still get away from everything. I slept outside, in a sleeping bag, and on top of the Theremarest. It is amazing what can be seen when you sleep outside and stare up at the sky for several hours. You can see the constellations change position in the sky. You can see numerous and sometimes spectacular shooting stars. You can even see satellites!

At about 10:00 PM, the silence was broken by Craig's arrival. Jeff was glad that at least one other person on the trip had arrived. We all went to sleep a short time later.

Jeff and Craig began hiking at about 4:20 AM on Saturday morning. I slept in until 6:00 AM. I then packed up and using Craig's rental car drove up to Mahogany Flat. On the way, I stopped at the 49'er Cafe and ate breakfast.

I began hiking from Mahogany Flat at 10:35 AM. The elevation at the trailhead is 8133 ft and the summit of Telescope Peak is 11,049 ft. I was thinking that the relief of 2,916 ft is a little greater than Mission Peak's 2,400 ft. Since I can do Mission Peak in a little more then an hour, I figured that it would take about two hours to reach the summit. What I had forgotten to take into account was my lack of high altitude acclimatization. I had not been at high altitude since climbing Mt Whitney in August plus I had spent the previous night below sea level. My time to the summit was three hours and fifty minutes, arriving at 2:25PM.

On the way to the top, I met Hal coming down. He had spent the night at Mahogany Flat and then climbed the Telescope Peak by himself. I told him why we hadn't come to Mahogany Flat the previous afternoon. He had not checked his voicemail the previous day and decided to wait for us. He and I had a very pleasant conversation and he was glad to meet me. Although he was disappointed at not climbing from Death Valley, he was glad to find out what had happened.

Jeff Fisher has told me that he regrets the miscommunication with Hal. However, in this writer's opinion, people need to check their voice mail frequently when they go on trips and have plans to meet other people at a particular location. As this situation illustrated, plans can change at the last minute.

This hike was a great hike. It was a really good workout, but not as strenuous as some other peak climbs. The weather was perfect. The temperature was around 60 degrees most of the day and there was a very slight breeze. Visibility was a little hazy, but views of Death Valley were spectacular.

Close to the top, Craig and Jeff caught up and passed me reaching the summit at 2:15PM. They had been on the trail almost ten hours. Jeff and Craig had a good hike also. Jeff said that Craig is a strong hiker. On the summit we took the obligatory summit group shot and signed the register.

We left the summit at 2:47 PM. It took us two hours and fifteen minutes to descend to Mahogany Flats putting us back at the car just as it was getting dark. We then drove back down to Furnace Creek and ate dinner at the 49'er Cafe. After dinner, Craig drove us back out to Shorty's Well to recover Jeff's truck. Craig headed back to the Las Vegas Airport to return home. Jeff and I drove back to Furnace Creek where we both showered up at the ranch. We then started to drive home only to discover that we had a flat tire.

Getting the flat off and the spare on was a lot more work than we anticipated. We started to drive home at 11:00 PM, but Jeff was too tired to drive. We spent the night at a roadside campground near Stovepipe Wells.

On Sunday morning we started driving at about 6:30 AM and arrived home in mid afternoon concluding a great trip.

Aaron Schuman adds:

> Jeff wanted a tuna melt sandwich and they said they
> couldn't do it. However, they did have cheese-melt
> sandwiches and tuna sandwiches. Go figure this one out!

Wasn't that part of the story line of Rebel Without a Cause? Maybe the waitress had seen the movie, thought Jeff reminded her of James Dean, and wanted to act out the scene. James Dean's character resisted the mindlessness he saw all around him by becoming a hoodlum and getting into the knife fight. If only he had known about mountaineering, he would have burned off his frustration by climbing a peak instead.

Alan Ritter adds:

Also reminiscent of a famous scene from "Five Easy Pieces", where Jack Nicholson wants an order of white toast, but it's after breakfast hours. He ends up ordering a chicken salad sandwich on white toast, hold the mayo, hold the lettuce, hold the chicken salad... ;^)

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