Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Here We Go Again

Death Valley/Mt Whitney Trip – 9/9/11 – Arrival

Sitting safely at my dining room table today with a cup of coffee and my computer, it’s tempting to describe my latest adventures with words like epic, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, majestic, magnificent.  Much of the time out there, though, the words in my head were more like exhausting, alarming, formidable, intimidating and wtf-was-I-thinking-when-I-agreed-to-this?  Like every hike, it all sounded good on paper…

Another year, another National Park trip planned by my hiking buddy Jeff, this time to explore Death Valley National Park for a few days and then a backpacking trip to summit Mount Whitney, which straddles Sequoia National Park and the John Muir Wilderness.  As usual, Jeff planned an ambitious and varied itinerary.  The hook?  Hiking to both the lowest and highest points of the lower 48 states.  Sign me up.

Four travelers met at the Charlotte airport:  Jeff, Carolyn, Dolores and me.  Our travel day was long, connecting flights, finally arriving at Las Vegas, getting the rental car and maps.  Next stop, a Super Wal-Mart to get food supplies for the week and a Sports Chalet to get fuel for backpacking stoves.  Next, a 3+ hour drive west to Death Valley.  

You've gotta love the Las Vegas airport

Coming from the land of small green-covered mountains, the moonscape of the desert was awesome but sobering.  How does stuff live out here?  And why do people live here?  As we drove along we began to see the beauty of the colors of the desert.

The Timbisha Shoshone people have been here for hundreds of years.  In 1849 the California Gold Rush enticed wagon parties of fortune seekers to try short-cutting through Death Valley, but only one wagon made it out.  Accounts hold that as they left the valley one member of the party turned around and said “Goodbye Death Valley.”  No postcards of “wish you were here.”

Our home base for the first four nights was at Thorndike Campground in the Panamint Mountain Range, the western side of Death Valley NP.  It’s more than 30 miles from any settlement and the last few miles are rough gravel and there is no water at the camp.  So why were we there?  At 7,400 feet elevation we could at least sleep cool and comfortable after hiking in the 100+ degree heat.  And about all we did there was sleep. 

We got tents set up as the sun went down so we didn’t do much exploring of the camp- ground.  We had the place to ourselves, though.  Seemed like suddenly there I was, in a tent in the dark in the desert.  Despite all the nights I’ve spent in a tent, why am I always off balance on the first night of a new adventure?  I guess the anticipation of what’s coming.  During the night I got up three times to pee (I hydrated well).  The first two times the full moon was a bright spotlight.  The third time it was pitch dark.  Most noticeable was the absence of sounds – no bugs, no birds in the early morning, of course no water – just “deathly” quiet.

Welcome to Death Valley.

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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