Climbing Manly Beacon

For the second day of our trip, Allison, Micah and I got up early(ish) to drive over to Death Valley National Park. You might remember a post from a few months back, when I climbed Telescope Peak in Death Valley. At the time, I noticed the impressive landscape around Manly Beacon, and added it to my bucket list.

Manly Beacon, from Zabriskie Point

Manly Beacon, from Zabriskie Point

The “summit” itself comes in at a paltry 750′ elevation…definitely not a mountain, per se…but an interesting feature nonetheless. The round-trip distance was only 3-4 miles, about half on-trail and half 0ff-trail. Not much difficulty from a navigation standpoint, so long as you hike up the correct wash and aim for the ridge between Manly Beacon & Red Cathedral.

Manly Beacon (far right)

Manly Beacon (far right)

Getting closer...

Getting closer…

Hiking up the ridge

Hiking up the ridge

The climb wasn’t terribly challenging, no more than class 2+, but there was a fair amount of exposure along a “catwalk” section near the summit.

Crossing the catwalk with Micah

Crossing the catwalk with Micah

Summit photo

Summit photo

Heading back down

Heading back down

A few sections were slippery with loose sand and rock, so we had to crab walk down – which Micah again thought was hilarious.

Micah riding on my back, laughing in my ear

Micah riding on my back, laughing in my ear

The hike back to the car was uneventful, but very hot. We found a diner within the park, grabbed some hamburgers, then stopped by Badwater Basin (lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) before heading back to Las Vegas.

Tired 18-month-old

Tired 18-month-old

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Micah at Badwater

Running around the salt flats

Running around the salt flats

Also, I’m going to go ahead and claim a “Youngest Ever to Stand on the Summit” record for Micah on Manly Beacon (1 year, 6 months, 25 days). Post a comment below if anyone out there breaks his record!

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Published in: on November 12, 2016 at 9:27 am  Comments (3)  

Telescope, Bennett, and Rogers Peaks

For my third day in California (5/30/16), I woke up around 0445 to make the drive to the Telescope Peak trailhead in Death Valley NP. Telescope Peak (11,049′) is the highest point in Death Valley, and towers over Badwater Basin (-282′), the lowest point in North America. So despite being about 3000 feet shorter than Colorado’s 14ers (in absolute terms), Telescope actually has about twice the base-to-summit height.

I didn’t start from Badwater, however. I took the much shorter route from Mahogany Flat campground – roughly 14 miles round-trip with 3300′ of gain.

Charcoal Kilns, just before the 4WD road

Charcoal Kilns, just before the 4WD road

The final 1.5 miles of road is rough gravel. A sign recommends high-clearance 4WD vehicles only. For what it’s worth, I made it up in my compact car with no issues. Passenger cars that park below this 4WD road would be looking at a 17 mile round-trip hike with ~4,000′ of gain.

The hike itself was 90+% on-trail. (I only went off-trail briefly to climb Bennett and Rogers Peaks on my return trip. Each can be done as a 20-30 minute detour by heading up the scree slopes.)

 

Map

Nothing about the hike was particularly challenging, but the views were fantastic. I only stopped a couple times on the way up, and reached the summit of Telescope in 2 hours 31 minutes.

Looking down into Badwater Basin from the slopes of Telescope Peak

Looking down into Badwater Basin from the slopes of Telescope Peak

I saw maybe 10-12 other people over the course of the day, most of them guys about my age solo-hiking.

Telescope Peak summit register

Telescope Peak summit register

The day was a little hazy, but I could still make out the Sierras in the distance to the west (the faint white line on the horizon in the picture above), and the Spring Mountain Range near Las Vegas to the east.

Summit of Bennett Peak, looking back toward Telescope Peak

Summit of Bennett Peak, looking back toward Telescope Peak

My return trip actually took longer than the initial climb, mostly because of the detours to climb Bennett Peak (9,980′) and Rogers Peak (9,994′).

Summit of Rogers Peak

Summit of Rogers Peak

Radio station atop Rogers Peak

Radio station atop Rogers Peak

After making it back to the car, I made the long drive back to Las Vegas to pick up my brother from the airport that evening. More to come.

Recap: 0725 start, 0956 summit of Telescope, 1252 finish

Published in: on June 6, 2016 at 8:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Kearsarge Peak

Day 2 of the trip also involved a last-minute change of plans. I drove south from Bishop, Ca to Independence, Ca, and from there to the Onion Valley trailhead. I loaded up my pack and set off up the Robinson Lake trail around 0740, with the intention of climbing University and/or Independence peaks.

I knew to expect snow, but I also knew there was a chance the snow would be too much to manage without snowshoes. So I had a low threshold for bailing out. About 20 minutes up the trail, I was able to gain a viewpoint of the lower slopes of Independence peak and didn’t like what I saw. Since it was still early in the day, I turned around and headed back to the car.

Parked at the base of Kearsarge Peak

Parked at the base of Kearsarge Peak, with Onion Valley in the background

I had already prepared a backup plan (Mt. Inyo and Keynot Peak, a short drive to the south). However, as I descended back into Onion Valley, the pyramid-shaped Kearsarge Peak (12,598′) could be seen almost entirely free of snow (despite being significantly higher than Independence Peak at 11,744′). Since I was already here, and since my pre-printed maps already included Kearsarge, I decided to go for it.

My route (ascent in red, descent in blue)

My route (ascent in red, descent in blue)

The USGS maps of the area depict a trail going from the southeast most of the way to the summit. As it turns out, no such trail exists. I did find a few cairns and short sections of what might have previously been a trail about 3/4 the way to the top, but that’s it.

Looking across the valley toward Independence Peak (left) and University Peak (right)

Looking across the valley toward Independence Peak (left) and University Peak (right)

From the car, I headed up a large wash on the southeast side of the mountain. The route started off brushy, but quickly transitioned to loose, rotten scree. I’ll be honest, it was not a pleasant climb. As soon as it became feasible I headed further north onto a ridge to avoid the worst of the loose stuff, and the footing became marginally better after that.

Someone paragliding over the Owens Valley

Someone paragliding over the Owens Valley

The climb was a pretty mindless class 2 walk-up. I did spot the remnants of an old mining camp on one of the ridges, but didn’t take the time to check it out.

Makeshift shelter near the summit

Makeshift shelter near the summit

There was still a fair amount of snow along the summit ridge, but it was almost entirely avoidable.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

View to the west, into the Sierras

View to the west, into the Sierras

University Peak to the southwest

University Peak to the southwest

The return trip was more enjoyable than the initial climb. A good mix of downhill hiking and scree-skiing on the looser terrain.

I planned to check out Death Valley the following day, so after making it back to the car I continued driving south to Ridgecrest (passing Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, on the way).

Kearsarge Peak (view from the town of Independence)

Kearsarge Peak (view from the town of Independence)

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney (view from the town of Lone Pine)

Recap: 0840 start, 1202 summit, 1402 finish

Published in: on June 5, 2016 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Spring Ascent of Mt. Morrison

I just flew back to Milwaukee this morning (June 4) following a week of hiking, climbing, and mountain biking out in California, Utah, and Nevada. There’s probably enough material for seven or eight blog posts, which I’ll be posting over the next couple weeks. The map below outlines where we were (blue for stuff I did solo; red for stuff I did with my brother Trent, who few into Las Vegas a few days after me).

Trip Map

I made the flight from Milwaukee to Las Vegas on the evening of May 27, arriving around 2130 that night. My initial plan had been to drive overnight to central Nevada to climb Currant Mountain and Duckwater Peak the following day, but a few developments caused me to change plans at the last minute. I’d called a local ranger station earlier in the day, and learned that there was ~150% usual snowpack in the area…so I would be looking at a very long and challenging day, with lots of snow and ice, on very little sleep…and on top of it all, I had just picked up a nasty respiratory infection. (One week later and I’m still coughing up green junk.)

I decided instead to go for something shorter and less remote – Mt. Morrison (12,268′), nicknamed the “Eiger of the Sierra”. I departed Las Vegas in my rental car a little after midnight, and drove directly to the Convict Lake trailhead near Bishop, California. The drive was pleasant, with lots of coffee and podcasts to keep me awake. I arrived around 0515 in the morning and began hiking at 0540.

Early morning light on Mr. Morrison, seen from the road

Early morning light on Mt. Morrison, seen from the road

Based on my research, I knew the mountain could be climbed from several different approaches. I opted for a loop route (seen below).

ascent in red; descent in blue

ascent in red; descent in blue

I began by heading southwest along the shore of Convict Lake, then began my climb from the north.

View across Convict Lake (Mt. Morrison off-screen to the left)

View across Convict Lake (Mt. Morrison off-screen to the left)

The initial part of the climb was a straightforward uphill slog, taking me under the towering cliffs north of the summit. I found myself slightly more winded than usual (thanks to illness, lack of sleep, and no time to acclimate to the elevation) but I kept a reasonably good pace nonetheless.

Looking up toward the summit

Looking up toward the summit

It wasn’t long before things got more interesting. Starting from the base of these cliffs, most of my route was still snowed in. I had brought along my ice ax, but in hindsight some crampons would have been nice as well. The snowfield was still solid as rock at this point, but would become progressively mushier as the day went on.

Snowpack leading up to the pass

Snowpack leading up to the pass

Looking back down

Looking back down

View of the cliffs, from halfway up the snowfield

View of the cliffs, from halfway up the snowfield

Things got a little spicy when I reached the pass, directly east of the summit. From my angle, it was impossible to see what kind of drop-off awaited me on the other side. More specifically, I had no way of knowing whether I was climbing up onto a solid ridge, or up onto an exposed cornice. And to make matters worse, the morning sun was now beating directly on the area in question. Potentially a deadly combination.

I decided instead to climb directly onto the ridge higher up and to my right. This was steeper and slightly more challenging, but put me up on solid rock and safely away from (what turned out to be) a cornice. I was now faced with yet another detour, as the route upward from here required some semi-exposed snow climbing that I wasn’t comfortable attempting in running shoes. So I cut further southward, dropped below the aforementioned cornice, glissaded a few hundred feet down the mountain’s east face, then continued south across another snowfield toward more gentle terrain.

View up the (more gradual) east face

View up the (more gradual) east face

I climbed up to the summit ridge using the scree and talus to the right of the snowfield pictured above. There was one more unavoidable patch of deep snow near the top, maybe 150 yards long, which by now was soft enough that it required postholing up to the hips. I made the summit ridge at 1100.

View along the summit ridge, looking south

View along the summit ridge, looking south

For the descent, I headed directly down the east face before continuing my loop around Mono Jim Ridge toward Convict Lake. I was able to glissade several hundred vertical feet, which sped things up some, but I did lose time picking my way through some cliff bands lower down.

Yes, it's possible to keep those cliffs route 3 with patient route selection

It’s possible to keep those cliffs class 2-class 3 with patience and good route selection

The last couple miles was a very gradual cross-country hike down to my car. I was going on 30 hours without sleep at this point, so despite the easy terrain this felt like the longest section of the day. A storm also moved in around this time, and I was completely drenched. I made it back to the car at 1355, drove back to Bishop for some much needed McDonalds, then slept in the car for 13 straight hours.

Published in: on June 4, 2016 at 10:09 pm  Comments (1)