Telescope Peak

With all the forest closures, I wasn’t sure where I might go hiking. As fortune would have it, I found myself driving up to Mahogany Flat campground to tackle Telescope Peak. My wife had volunteered to help a family friend, so she would be busy for part of the weekend. I made the drive to the campground, which sits at just over 8,100 feet, with no issue. I set up my tent and relaxed. There was a bit of a breeze but it was fine. I watched the sun set across Death Valley to my east and had my dinner. As the evening fell, the winds began to pick up, & I moved my car to provide a bit of a break. I had planned to enjoy more of the night sky but retreated to my tent. The winds would rattle my tent all night long, waking me from time to time.

I woke just before dawn and captured a gorgeous sunrise, then made my breakfast and began gearing up. About 7:30, I signed my name in the trail register and set off. This hike can be thought of in three parts; the first 2 miles up the ridge near Roger’s Peak, the next 2 miles or so across the meadow, then the final climb to the summit.

Knowing this, I kept a measured pace as I made my way through the various pine trees. Sweeping views of Death Valley would show themselves to my east. Over these first two miles, I would gain almost 1,500 feet. Once at Arcane Meadow I found the cairn that makes the use trail up to Rogers Peak, as well as a small campsite. It was here that I would get my first glimpse of Telescope Peak. I certainly had some climbing ahead of me.

The trail turned mostly south, wrapping around Bennett Peak. My view had shifted to the Panamint Valley to the west. Far off in the distance stood Mt. Whitney. The next two miles went quickly as the trail was mostly flattish, allowing me some time to recover from that initial push.

As Telescope Peak drew nearer, some Bristlecone Pine began to dot the landscape. I took a short break before the last mile or so to the summit. There were about 11 switchbacks ahead of me and another 1,400 feet of gain. Between the thinner air, a less than restful night of sleep, and a poor choice of breakfast, I was struggling. I would pause frequently to catch my breath and focus my energy.

Finally, the summit came into view! The trio of hikers I had been leapfrogging had arrived just a bit before me. I dropped my pack and sat against the rocks. The views were tremendous, as there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Mt. Charleston could be seen to the east, Mt. Whitney off to the northwest. After eating my lunch, I snapped my photos, signed the summit register, and began my descent.

The wind was still blowing at times, taking the edge off the sun exposure. I looked at both Bennett and Rogers peaks. Initially, I had planned to bag them as well, but I was a bit wiped from that last mile to the summit and opted to skip them.

I took a break at Arcane Meadow before the last push down. My energy levels were a bit low, so I kept focused on the trail ahead of me. The miles would slowly tick down until the trail register appeared once again. I checked my watch and the 12.2 miles had taken me 8:18. Once back at the campsite, I decided to pack up and head home. Unlike when I drove up, I did stop at the Charcoal Kilns and take a look around. I am glad to have had a successful summit and am ready to tackle my next big peak!

White Sands

I woke up early and drove out to White Sands National Park to get in a few trails before the heat of the day became too much. The parking lot for the Dunes Nature Trail was empty as I parked the car. Climbing the dunes I was greeted with an incredible vista of the white gypsum dunes and a calming quiet. 

There isn’t a trail in the traditional sense, but a series of blue posts that serve as guides to help you navigate the landscape. There are also various informational plaques, so you should be able to stay on track. Once back at the car, I still had some time before I needed to get back to the family, so I decided to explore the Playa trail which is just across the road. 

This is a short trail that takes you out to see one of the playas, or depressions, that are scattered around the area. After some rains, the playa will be filled with water. Being early August, I knew that the playa would be bone-dry. Regardless, it was still interesting to see.

After rejoining the family, we returned to White Sands National Park and walked the Boardwalk trail, so the family could get a better sense of the park.

Carlsbad Caverns

After watching the bats leave Carlsbad Caverns the night before, it was our turn to explore the caverns. We walked down through the natural entrance into the darkness. The trail would descend over 750 feet of elevation along the 1.25 miles until it reached the Big Room Trail.

Since the park requires reservations, we hardly saw anyone as we carefully made our way through the cavern, being mindful of the steepness and dampness of the path. Once at the Big Room trail, we followed the path for another 1.25 miles. Here it did become a bit more crowded, as some had opted to take the elevator down instead.

It is hard to accurately describe all the sights. But what was more impressive was how well my iPhone was able to capture them.

Petroglyph National Monument

I had hoped to hike the Piedras Marcadas Canyon trail with the family on the way into Albuquerque, but the afternoon rains prevented that from happening. Instead, I woke up early and drove out to the trailhead. Unlike the other trails in Petroglyph National Monument, this trail is open from sunrise to sunset. I parked the car in the empty lot and set off.

The entire trail is a 1.95 mile loop and fairly flat. Along the way I saw some incredible petroglyphs. I hustled back to the car to return to the hotel and rejoin the family.

After checking out of the hotel and having breakfast, we drove to the Petroglyphs National Monument Visitor Center to get our Junior Ranger Badge, then we set off to explore some of the petroglyphs found along the Boca Negra trail. 

While I would have loved to explore more, it was heating up and we had other sights to see.

Petrified Forest National Park

Our first real stop on our road trip to Little Rock to see my sister and her family was the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. Since it was late July, I knew we were not going to be doing a lot of the trails scattered around the park. One hike we actually did was the Giant Log trail located just behind the Rainbow Forest Museum.

Once back in the cool, air-conditioned car, we continued driving through the park. We hit several of the major sights: Blue Mesa Road Loop, the Teepees, Newspaper Rock.  

The drive also took us into the Painted Desert. We again stopped at a few viewpoints to take in the views. I would love to come back here and do some longer hikes, even an overnight trip.

Rae Lakes

As my permit dates for Rae Lakes began approaching, I started watching the weather forecasts with more interest. Initially, this was to figure out what I might need to pack. But as the days became closer and closer, I became more concerned about the conditions I might find myself in. This was going to be my first multi-day solo trip, so I was trending toward being extra cautious about the journey. Initially, the forecast called for a warm start, followed by a 20% chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the trip. That is manageable, as thunderstorms are common in the latter part of the day. But each day, the forecast kept trending in the wrong direction. That 20-30% chance became 30-40%, then 40-50%. In addition, the weather service also issued a Fire Weather Warning (which was later changed to a Red Flag Warning) for late Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening. They warned of dry lightning triggering fires and the high winds creating the possibility of it becoming fast-moving. Not really the conditions that I looked forward to hiking into. As I sat in my hotel in Visalia, I reached out to some of my more experienced backpacking buddies (David & Leslie/Mike) to get their take. They all agreed that it did not look like it was going to be a fun trip. The general consensus was to go ahead, get up early as planned and drive the 2 hours to Road’s End and consult with the ranger. If I liked what I heard, continue on to the first campsite and spend the night. Then I could make the call and decide if I want to continue or simply turn back. With that, I set my alarm for 4 am, and hit the pillow.

When I woke up. I checked the latest weather report and saw that it was looking more like 50-60% of thunderstorms and showers as well were now in the forecast. Given I had not camped in the rain, doing it for multiple days seemed like a poor option. I got to the permit station just a touch after 7 am. I spoke with Ranger Mary about the forecast and what her thoughts were. She basically asked, “How much do you like being wet?” That settled it, no loop for me this time, but I was still game for one night in the wilderness! So, I parked in the long-term lot, finished getting ready, and hit the trailhead just before 8 am. The forecast for Upper Paradise was to be in the low 80s, with a light breeze. I had hoped that my early start would let me stay ahead of the heat. I had not paid attention to the forecasted high, so I had no idea exactly what I might be racing against.

The trail is fairly flat for the first 1.9 miles until it reaches the junction of the Kings River and Bubbs Creek. Here I would take the left fork and begin ascending toward Paradise Valley. The sounds of the river were so refreshing. The views were as incredible as I had imagined. It was getting warmer as I pushed on. I had a liter of water in my interior water bladder, a liter in a side bottle, and 1 liter of Gatorade. I could feel my pace slow. At first, I thought I might be the added weight of 5 days of food, the extra clothing, and other items making it tougher. But, as I felt the sweat begin to soak my shirt, I knew that day was warmer than I had hoped for. 

At Mist Falls I took an extended break. Ate some of the oranges I brought for the first day and drank some more fluids. I decided to spend a bit of time in the shade and recharge before pressing on. Most everyone here were day-hikers. Oh, how I coveted their small light packs… I pressed on, being mindful of the temperatures. I dug out my cooling towel and wrapped it around my neck. 

I kept finding myself looking for a place to sit under some shade for a bit. I checked my position and the topography ahead of me. I gave serious consideration to throwing in the towel and bailing. I found another rest stop and refilled my side bottle with some cool water from the river (properly filtered of course). I finished my oranges but still could not think about having my proper lunch. I knew that this was not a good sign, so I tore open one of my goos and forced it down. 

As I made my way across the exposed switchbacks, I estimated the temperatures were either in the upper 80s or low 90s. This was going to take some serious effort if I was actually going to make camp. My spirits were getting crushed. I would move from shady section to shady section, pausing for a bit almost every time. Once I reached the southern end of the valley, I took another break and was able to eat my lunch. I again went to the river to filter more water, as my bladder had been completely emptied by this point. Rechecking the map, I was not too far from Middle Paradise campsite, so I pressed on. 

Passing through Lower Paradise, I could see the numerous dead trees and why this campsite is currently closed. I then spied the bear locker at Middle Paradise and said this was as far as I was going to go. I was the only one here, so picked a nice spot a bit back from the water, hoping the bugs would not be an issue. Thankfully, for most of the hike, they were not too bad.

I got some more water and then began to set up camp for the night. It was only 3:30 or so, but I just did not have the energy to hike another 2 or so miles to Upper Paradise. Eventually, 3 other hikers joined me at the site. And not soon after that, a doe strolled past us with not a care in the world. While soaking my feet in the cool water, I used my InReach to report in with my wife and give her my status.

My site had a fire ring, so I had planned for a small fire to pass the time later. I gathered some starter material and placed the pine needles in the pit. I then set off to find some downed wood that I could use. I started to smell the familiar smell of a campfire. I figured it must be from further down the trail. According to GaiaGPS, the Middle Paradise campsite was further north. I then looked over to the fire pit, and the started material had begun to smolder on its own! It seems the last users of this firepit had not properly put it out. Thankfully, I took care of it, but I was pissed. 

About 4 to 6 other hikers passed on through, pushing on toward Upper Paradise. I would say now that I had an extended break here, I probably could have pushed on. But, I was fine spending the night here. Later in the early evening, two more hikers also decided to find a spot to pitch their tents. It was one of them who spotted the bear as it passed around us. We watched it as it took a look at us. It looked to be about 2-3 years old and did not seem to have any tags or collar. Eventually, it wandered away. I certainly was going to be a bit more cautious for the evening. Since I was not needing 5 days of food I treated myself to a double dinner, being a bit more mindful of any unwanted company. 

With plenty of water to manage my fire, I sat and enjoyed the flames. I reflected on what I had overcome. I let the fire die down until only the embers remained, I doused it with my water pouches and made sure it was out. I had really wanted to gaze up at the night sky from Rae Lakes, but this view would have to do. The night was pleasant, I slept without the cover on my tent and just my camp shirt on. Once the moon rose, it did wake me once, but even that was a welcomed sight. As the pre-dawn broke, I found myself rested and ready to head back out. The other folks were going to continue on to Woods Creek and then see what the weather held. I did briefly consider it, but in the end, felt it best to stick to the one night.

I repacked my bag, trying to be mindful of the other campers. I knew I was hiking down into the heat, so I wanted an earlier start. Not ten minutes on the trail, I spotted that same bear dashing in front of me and then stopping a safe distance away. I kept my face toward him as I continued carefully down the trail. Two hikers passed me before I reach Lower Paradise, and I gave them each a heads up about my earlier bear sighting. Upon reaching Lower Paradise there were two folks who had ignored the closure notice and camped there. I let them know as well. 

The miles slipped by much easier, the pack a little lighter, the temperatures pleasant and mostly going downhill. I stopped at Mist Falls, and this time the entire area was empty. I sat a listened to the roar of the river tumbling down. When I went to put my pack back on, the sternum strap snapped. Crud! Maybe this was a sign that turning back was a good idea. Also, I did discover a hole in one of my pairs of Darn Tough Socks…. About ¾ of a mile past Mist Falls, I meet my first day-hikers. A family was taking a break and politely asked if I had bug spray. The bugs had been worse today. In fact, at Mist Falls, I broke out the bug net. I turned around and told the father which pocket to find it in. They were so happy. We chatted some before we each headed our separate ways. 

As I made my way along the trail, a mule train was making its way up, I assume to resupply the ranger station at Rae Lakes. I stepped aside and let them pass. Now I would watch out for fresh droppings on the trail. A bit further down, I met two more day-hikers, they told me they just encountered a rattlesnake slithering off the trail. Sure, enough it was just off to the side, minding its own business. I safely snapped a photo or two and continued on. 

I started to encounter a mix of day-hikers and those still heading out to attempt the loop. I let the backpackers know about my bear sighting at Middle Paradise and wished them well. Soon, I found myself back at the junction of Bubbs Creek and the Kings River. I hoped to cross that bridge upon my return from the loop. But this time just a quick stroll on it would have to do.

The day was getting much warmer, and I could feel the need to drink more and more as I covered the last couple of miles. I found myself drifting from shady section to shady section again. I was guessing it was in the mid to upper 80s. I would know soon enough once I got to the car. It was about 10:30, and I met someone just heading out. We chatted a bit, he had just landed a walk-up permit. He had hoped to have the ability to send a message to his wife, but couldn’t. So I offered to pass along his itinerary for him once I was able to.

Finally, the permit station came into view. I spoke with the ranger and gave him my bear sighting information, as well as the camping at Lower Paradise and the fire issue. The area is now at Stage 3 fire restrictions, so the small fire I had is no longer allowed.  Once at the car, I cleaned up some, then threw on some shorts and a t-shirt. Unfortunately, I also developed a nice blister on my toe. I had felt something earlier, but when I checked my foot, I did not see it. I guess it was another sign that I made the right call. I picked out some snacks for the ride home, but the trail mix was not going to be one of the options, as it had melted into a mass of goo. Yeah, it had been warm on this hike. As I pulled away, heading toward Cedar Grove for some cold soda and a snack, I waited for the car’s thermometer to settle down. It read 95°F at 11 am. Yikes! That would explain why I had so much trouble, it was even hotter than I planned. 

As I drove up out of Kings Canyon, I pulled over at a nice vista and could see the start of the clouds forming in the distance. I decided to take the long way home and drive through Sequoia National Park. I did not plan to stop, I just wanted to enjoy the trees and views. Once back off the mountain, I headed back through Bakersfield, this time stopping at Dewar’s to pick up some chews for the family. All in all, it was an adventure to build on. Except for the one-two punch of the heat and the predicted rain, the trip went mostly well. Maybe in the early fall, I might find an opportunity to try again…

The forecast on Monday.

Mount Inspiration

After grabbing lunch, it was time to enter the park proper to summit my third peak of the day, Mount Inspiration. As I sat in the slow-moving line of cars to enter, I enjoyed my burrito. Once in the park, I drove on toward Keys View. Along the way, I passed full parking lots and tons of people enjoying the park. I hoped I would be able to find a spot in the parking lot once I got there. One advantage of this destination is most do not stay that long, so I should not have to wait long for a spot to open. Thankfully, just as I pulled up, a spot opened and I grabbed it. I had tried to do the peak a couple of times before but was never able to work out the logistics. 

The trail begins at the northwest corner of the parking lot. I could see a few folks atop the first section of the trail enjoying the views. I worked my way up the trail with no trouble. Once I was at the top I could see the use trail continuing off to the northwest. It dropped down to a small saddle before working its way up toward South Mount Inspiration. Here I met two hikers returning from the summit. They were also working on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section (HPS) list. One of them had about 70 done! We chatted a bit before parting ways, and I noted a section they mentioned gave them trouble.

The use trail continued to be really good until it reached a small bump en route. I scanned the terrain and spotted it working its way around it to the east. This is where I think those two hikers had the trouble they mentioned. Also along the way, I passed a metal shed. I have no clue as to what it is — some more research is going to be needed.

Once on the summit, I found the primary mark, and reference mark #2. Try as I might, reference mark #1 could not be located. I also found the register tucked under a small rock pile. The label box made for a nice photo. The skies had become hazy, so those snow-capped mountains from earlier in the day were not nearly as visible.

On my way back, I made the small detour to the top of South Mount Inspiration just because. Soon, the parking lot came back into view, and shortly thereafter I was back at my car. With that, three more HPS peaks were now complete. Next week, I will attempt my 98th peak on the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list.

Eureka Peak

Had I not wanted to have a low-key day, I might have connected my trip up Warren Peak to Eureka Peak, but I was not interested in that kind of mileage. Instead, I drove down Covington Flat road toward Warren Peak. This was a nicely groomed dirt road, better than some roads I have driven in San Diego. I had the window down and enjoyed the 25-minute drive.

I parked at the end of the road, with one other car parked nearby. Since the peak was only about 1/10th of the mile from the parking area, I just grabbed my wind shell and trekking poles.

The actual peak is almost barren, sans one lone plant. I could not find any marks nor a register but was not surprised. The views were lovely, but the wind made it chilly, so once again I did not linger. As I drove back toward town to grab lunch, several cars passed me. While some were off-road friendly, I hoped the Honda Civic and Tesla did not encounter any issues.

Warren Peak

After the intense effort of last weekend’s peaks, I wanted to spend some time taking it a bit easier. While I did have some friends planning to hike Mile High via Rattlesnake Canyon, a route that looks very interesting, that was going to be a bit more than I wanted. So, instead, I opted to head out to Joshua Tree and try to knock off some of the peaks on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section (HPS) list. Since it is high desert season, I knew I needed to get to the trailhead early for my first peak, Warren Point. The trail begins from the Black Rock Campground, & I got one of the last spots at the trailhead parking area when I arrived at 7:30. I grabbed my gear and set off through the campground. 

The trail was very well marked and clearly well-traveled by the number of footprints in the dirt. After a short bit, the West Side Loop Trail connected with the Black Rock Canyon Trail and continued south. This trail eventually reached the Panorama Loop. As tempting as it was to add this onto the adventure, I was hoping to cross three peaks off the list today, so I took the fork leading up to Warren Peak.

The trail would start to turn westward as it made its way up toward the peak. The peak finally revealed itself near the junction to the spur out to Warren View. The path now became a bit steeper, and I met two hikers returning from the summit. As I approached the summit, the winds had picked up a bit, so I tossed on my wind shell before reaching the top. The trail had curved behind the peak, so the scrambling I thought I might have to do never materialized.

I found the primary mark and the register. This is a fairly popular peak, given its closeness to the campground, so the register was at best a year old. The views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were spectacular from the summit. I did not linger too long, as the wind was a touch chilly and I had two more peaks to visit.