From Walmart Monday morning, we headed immediately to Death Valley. We drove through from the Southern end of the park (West of Shoshone) along Badwater Rd.
We drove past the old Mill ruins, around several alluvial fans made of rock that has been carried down from higher up Dante’s Ridge above, and down to -282.2 feet of elevation at the bottom of Badwater Basin.
We continued north and checked out the Devil’s Golf Course, so named because “only the devil himself could play golf here”. Salt Crystal structures up to 3 feet tall cover the bottom of the valley for thousands of feet in all directions. Watch out, they’re sharp!
If you’re unfamiliar, Death Valley is made up of several long tectonic plates that have faults that run north and south between them. These tectonic plates are all rotating. This is happening such that their Western halves are shooting up towards the sky forming enormous mountain ranges (Telescope Peak of the Panamint Range being the tallest peak in the park measuring in at 11,043 ft). Their Eastern halves are plunging down into the depths of the Earth. If it weren’t for erosion, the plunging halves of the plates would form enormous valleys on the Eastern side of each plate that would reach depths thousands of feet below sea level. However, sediment generated by erosion from areas up-valley fill them back in almost as fast as they drop. Badwater basin happens to not be filling up fast enough, therefore, it remains slightly below sea level at it’s most Eastern edges.
Geology and geophysics are fun!
We soon reached the visitor center at Furnace Creek, a super strange little oasis at the bottom of this massive valley. We got some info from the ranger there, and then decided to do our own thing and head up to Dante’s ridge for a short, overnight “backpacking” hike of about 10 miles.
We ended up doing about 11 miles, carrying our loaded backpacks the whole way, all in that one afternoon. Sleeping up there didn’t appeal much once the late afternoon winds picked up. Instead, we decided that we should head towards Lone Pine, CA, our base for our attempt of Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the lower 48 at 14,505 feet) later in the week. Monday night was spent just above the dusty floor of the Northern end of the major valley that most people think of when they hear Death Valley. Thank goodness, because the winds that night were no joke.
The next morning was spent driving through a couple of the other valleys that make up Death Valley (check out the map). We took CA Route 190 through Panamint Springs, up onto the Darwin plateau, and then hopped on Route 136 around Owen’s Lake up to Lone Pine.
As we neared Lone Pine, the Southern Sierras presented themselves to us. We could just make out the Eastern part of Mount Whitney as some fluffy, white clouds cascaded from the top of the majestic range.
Our first stop in town was the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center where we talked to several cautioning rangers about our plan to spend 3 days atop the craggy white peaks of the Mount Whitney massif. After making sure we were well-versed in mountain wilderness travel, they rented us a bear canister for our food, handed us our poop bags, and wished us an amazing journey into the white wilderness.
With plans to start up the mountain Thursday, April 18, we now had a couple of days to kill. Luckily, we happened to be in one of the most majestic valleys known to man. We spent a little time checking out the adorable town of Lone Pine, CA. I do love this little town that is comprised of one main strip and a few surrounding houses. It is placed smack dab in the middle of an amazing place, with views of different mountain ranges in all directions.
We then headed up to Bishop, CA about an hour north on Route 395. From there, we headed up into the White Mountains to find the gnarled trees of Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Not only are there beautiful, old trees up there, but it’s UP there. Helpful to sleep high the nights before trying to climb a mountain. We found a gorgeous little campground up around 8500 feet which fit the bill nicely.
Yesterday morning (Wednesday, April 16), we continued driving up higher until we got to the point where snow was completely covering the road. Then, we walked a bit higher.
After enjoying the view for a few minutes, we headed back down to the campground (to spend some more time at elevation) and ate some food, played Catan, and did some PT exercises to keep our bodies limber.
We headed back down out of the mountains to Bishop to explore the town a bit more. We encountered dirtbag vans galore in the parking lot behind the espresso bar. #lifegoals
In the afternoon, we headed back down to Lone Pine (grabbing BBQ on the way). If our gaiters had made it to the post office there, we would have headed up the Whitney Portal Road to camp at the trailhead parking lot at the base of Whitney with plans for a true alpine start at around 4 or 5 AM Thursday morning.
Alas, the gaiters had not made it by 4:30 PM yesterday afternoon. Turns out, the USPS can’t guarantee overnight shipping from Brooklyn to Lone Pine. The nice lady behind the counter assured us that it would be here first thing in the morning on Thursday.
With some more hours to kill, we ran a few errands. These included a browse around the Gift and Rock Shop in Lone Pine. I (we) loved it. Rocks are fun. We almost hatched the idea to go hunt for garnets up in the hills to the West of Bishop, but decided it was a little too far out of the way.
While we did head up to Bishop yesterday evening, we instead found a climber campground just outside of town to stay at. We are still toying around with the idea of walking around the bouldering areas nearby that make Bishop one of the climbing meccas of the world. We successfully made friends from the Bay Area within minutes of arriving. We might go find them shortly.
We packed our packs this morning with all things mountaineering: food that won’t freeze, multiple puffy jackets, crampons, ice axes, helmets, and layers upon layers.
For now, we are writing postcards, calling loved ones, and mentally preparing for a few brisk days atop the craggy white ridge of the Eastern Sierras.
We plan to embark up the base of Whitney this evening with an early early morning tomorrow. We’ll be up there anywhere from 2-4 days. See y’all on the other side.
Here we go!