Route: Telescope Peak (CA)

California, US
29.7 mi

Gregory Wagner posted the route from Shortys Well:

The landscapes of Death Valley National Park are some of the most awe-inspiring in North America.  It is a land of extremes, of low and stark desert, twisting canyons, crumbling crags of barren rock desolation, vast wilderness, and solitude.  The lowest point of Death Valley itself is Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America.  It is also where the hottest temperatures on Earth ever recorded by man were measured.  The basin is a salt-crusted wasteland.

Part of what makes the basin so hot, besides its low elevation, are the massive mountain walls which confine it on east and west.  On the east is the Amargosa Range.  On the west is the Panamint Range -- the highest range in Death Valley -- whose highest point is Telescope Peak, rising to 11,043 feet.  The upper reaches of the mountain are rocky and barren, graced by a sparse collection of ancient and gnarled bristlecone pines, and often buried in deep snow in winter.  The peak was so named because of the vastness of the summit vista, from Charleston Peak to the granite wall of the Sierra Nevada.  Moreover, with just a bit of determination, the mountain can be ascended directly from the hadean depths of Badwater.

An ascent of Telescope Peak from Badwater Basin involves gaining 11,240 feet -- the second greatest gain possible on any peak in the United States, after Mount Rainier.  The commonly accepted route for this adventure is to start at Shorty's Well, just off the West Side Road, at an elevation of -200 feet.  According to one GPS recording, the round trip distance is 29.7 miles and 11,800 feet of gain, taking into account a few minor ups and downs along the way.

The route is for the most part straightforward.  From Shorty's Well, the summit aspirant first must jog up the Hanupah Canyon road a little more than 8.1 miles to its end.  From there a faint trail follows a wash, generally staying to the right (north) side of the canyon.  Within a mile, a small creek which originates from Hanupah Spring farther up canyon will be heard gurgling (the water must be purified due to contamination by burros).  After about 1.1 miles from the end of the road or about 9.2 miles from Shorty's Well a cairned route leaves the canyon and climbs to the crest of the ride high above Hanupah Canyon on its right (north) side.  Any route can be taken to the top of this ridge, really, but the cairns mark what is probably the fastest and most efficient route.  The route continues up the ridge above Hanupah Canyon to where it meets the crest of the Panamint Range, and follows the trail leading left (south) to the summit of Telescope Peak.  The distance from Hanupah Canyon to the trail on the summit ridge of the Panamints is perhaps 4.6 miles and 6,300 feet of gain, and from there about 1.1 miles and 1,100 feet of gain to the summit.  From the summit, steps are retraced.  The summit ridge is often snowbound in winter, and the snow can be deep, or hard and icy.  The view is one of the finest anywhere and encompasses the highest and lowest points in North America, from Charleston Peak to Mount Whitney, and the greatest wilderness in the lower 48 states.

I propose that a Fastest Known Time for this route be established for the total return trip, going to the summit and back from Shorty's Well, by the fastest route.  Unsupported trips are simple because of the availability of water at Hanupah Spring.  The route is interesting for an FKT, since it involves both potentially fast running on the road to and from Hanupah Canyon, as well as cross-country travel, and surprisingly little bushwhacking.  There is a bit of route finding required where the ridge spur leading to the summit ridge becomes somewhat vaguely defined.  On the descent, care must be taken in these sections not to drop down into a side canyon.  While the ascent is massive, it is the descent which is perhaps the highlight of the journey, since for those with the necessary skills it is essentially runnable for almost the entire distance from summit to basin.  Another special aspect of the journey is that the summit of Telescope Peak is visible from almost the entire route.  The unbelievable scale, remoteness, and beauty of the route should attract all lovers of landscape and mountain.

Ashly Winchester posted the route combining Telescope with Wildrose Peak from Charcoal Kilns (24 miles, 7000 feet):

Telescope and Wildrose Peaks are classic hikes located in Death Valley National Park and are both accessed from one trailhead - the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. Combining the two peaks into one epic route will appeal to the long-distance mountain runner, and seems like a natural thing to do.

The route starts at the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns and travels ~1 mile up the 4x4 road to the Mahogany Flat campground and trailhead. Take the Telescope Peak trail to the summit, return to the charcoal kilns, then run the trail to Wildrose Peak and back. End at the charcoal kilns.

Telescope Peak (11,043 feet) is the tallest peak in the Panamint Range and the tallest peak in Death Valley National Park (DVNP). The trail is one of the most popular hikes in DVNP, and provides sweeping views of the Badwater Basin, as well as the Panamint Valley and beyond. The summit towers over 11,300 feet above Badwater Basin to the East, and on a clear day, you can see the Sierras and Mount Whitney to the West. Being able to see the lowest point in the United States as well as the highest point in the lower 48 from one spot gives the hiker/runner a unique perspective. The trail winds through pinyon pines and mountain mahogany. These tree species give way to sage and grassland dotted with limber pine, eventually running into ancient bristlecone pines at higher elevations. Once at the summit, turn around and return to the charcoal kilns. Continue past the kilns and turn up the Wildrose Trailhead.

Wildrose Peak (9064 feet) sits to the North of Telescope Peak. The trail to the summit of Wildrose is vastly different from Telescope. You travel 4.2 miles up through pinyon pine and juniper woodlands, catching glimpses of the valley below, and eventually switchbacking up to the summit of Wildrose. The summit rewards you with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding desert terrain. Once at the summit, return via the 4.2-mile trail back to the charcoal kilns.

Getting there: The Wildrose Charcoal Kilns are located here. It is easily accessible with a two-wheel-drive vehicle, although be aware that the area does get occasional snow, which may make it inaccessible.

Conditions: Road/trail closures and conditions can be found here:

Camping: Please follow all Death Valley National Park regulations when it comes to camping. Reservations and general information are available here:
The campgrounds nearest the trailhead are Thorndike, Mahogany Flat, and Wildrose campgrounds.

Strava segment for Telescope Peak roundtrip from Charcoal Kilns:

Strava segment for Wildrose Peak roundtrip:

Strava segment for linkup: