Telescope Peak
(The long way and back again)

29-31 Mar 2013 - by Sonja Dieterich

On my last attempt to climb Telescope Peak from Shorty's well 4 years ago I got injured and had to turn around at the halfway point. With Cesar Chavez Day creating a long weekend, I decided it was time to give it another try. This time, I had planned to shorten the hiking mileage for summit day and eliminate the car shuttle by staying at Hanaupah Springs for two nights, although that meant there would be a much larger descent necessary. I also was curious to explore the Hanaupah Narrows, which according to Michel Digonnet's book are one of the best in the park. Out of 8 people originally signed up, Mumtaz and Mammen were the only brave souls for which work or health issues did not interfere.

We met at Shorty's Well and started the 10.9 mile hike up the very long, hot and somewhat boring jeep road. We took some shade breaks. The first was one provided by a big truck about six miles up. The first natural shade occurs where the trails drops down into the wash, about 8.6 miles up from West Side Road. The last shade is just at the end of the jeep road. To my surprise, the stream flowed much further down than I remembered, which makes perfectly sense given the higher water supply in spring. I even spotted a Chuckwalla diving underneath a rock to hide from me. We got to the springs around 2 pm, where we camped at the confluence of side canyons just below Shorty Borden's mine. The old rusty car which used to sit in that place 4 years ago is now gone, probably washed away by a flood. Looking at the hike ahead of us, we decided to skip exploring the canyons to rest and prepare for tomorrow instead.

We got up at 3 am to start hiking at 4 am. The best way to get up on the spur ridge is to start here the grey wash comes in on the east side, then traverse on a slight bench to gain the main ridge just above where the cliffy rocks peter out. The first 1/3 of the spur ridge is a bit loose, but once you get on the ridgeline proper it is more solid and copious sheep trails help. It took us 90 minutes for 1200 ft up and well timed with the sunrise as planned, we found the faint use trail leading to the saddle just west of us. Once on the saddle, we followed the connecting ridges for 3 miles and 1900 feet up, always keeping on top of the ridge closest to the middle fork of Hanaupah Canyon and never getting into a drainage. There are some minor ups and downs, a campsite with illegal fire ring, rabbits and increasingly dense mahogany and juniper forests. Shortly after 9 am we were at 7800 feet, where we countoured slightly south to get on the north flank of the prominent spur ridge coming off east from the main north-south ridge of the Panamints Range. After the spur ridge starting out from Hanaupah Springs, this is the second steep section of the climb. The first half of the climb leads through forest, while the second half is through open sagebrush. Much huffing and puffing got us to the intersection with the trail at 11:30 am. We had 1 hour, 1 mile and 1000 feet left to the peak, which meant we were going to make it!!! There were only a few soft snow patches on the trail. At 12:30 pm, we happily signed the summit register after 8 1/2 hours of good hiking.

At 1 pm and with 6.5 hours of light left to make it down, we left the summit amidst a few snow flurries. Looking down, I noticed the ridges in the forested area have some complex geography, and we really needed to pay close attention to neither get into the Class 4+ headwaters of Hanaupah Canyon nor down the Middle Fork. With careful orienteering, landmarks, and paying close attention not to be pushed into drainages, we got back on the main ridge. On the densely forested the main ridge, one spur ridge very subtly splits off into the Middle Fork, but we caught our error. The trigger was the front hoof of a bighorn sheep, which I excitedly investigated before realizing that I would have noticed the brilliant white bones had we come up this way.

Generally, if you keep yourself toward the Middle Fork without actually going down too much steep grade, you will remain on the main ridge. Once the forest opens up, navigation becomes easy again. Now it was only the question of getting to the top of the spur ridge to Hanaupah Springs during daylight. I was confident we could downclimb the ridge by headlamp, but finding the right one was important. If we had been too slow, we always could have waited a few hours in the balmy night until the moon came out to help us. But it turned out we did not need it after all. We got to the top of the ridge by 6 pm, and were back in the South Fork of Hanaupah Canyon with the last photon of daylight. 16 hours and some very sore quads later, we replenished our water and were in our tents 30 minutes later. The stars that night were spectacular. Hiking out the next day meant mostly drudging down the endless jeep road, leaning into the strong wind to prevent being blown off to the side and watching huge sandclouds billowing up from the Mesquite Dunes.

In summary, we all had a good time! I do think this way of hiking Telescope Peak requires probably as much time, about 16 hours for summit day itself, than doing a dayhike from Shorty's Well to the Peak and back to Mahogany Flats. The latter version has the advantage of much easier navigation on the return part, which can be very safely done entirely by headlamp.

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