Telescope Peak

December 29, 2017


Death Valley National Park, CA

The “ultra-prominent” Telescope Peak rises a shear 11,000+ feet above Badwater Basin of Death Valley National Park which itself is the lowest point of North America. The view is far-reaching from such a major highpoint and in fact, the peak was named because “you could see no further with a telescope”. The standard route is nothing fancier than a “hike” on a well-maintained trail although to reach the trail-head at Mahogany Flat campground a 4×4, high clearance vehicle is required. The summit of Telescope Peak boasts little interest from mountaineering perspective but just like many other “sky islands” in SW desert states it draws significant attention from those “real” peak-baggers.

The crux is actually getting to the trail-head. Most hikers and travellers are forced to park lower at Charcoal Klins which adds considerable amount of distance and elevation into the plod. With Jake’s trusty 4Runner it made no sense to chicken out however, the gate beyond Charcoal Klins was gated at night. That evening we were forced to just pitch a tent at Charcoal Klins and then we set the alarm about 2 hours earlier than planned. To our surprise someone apparently showed up overnight and opened the gate so we didn’t have to deal with that extra distance. The drive to Mahogany Flat was indeed very steep and rough but I wouldn’t complain as it kept the crowds at bay.

Telescope Peak standard route.

We managed to start about 20 minutes before sunrise and that put us in a superb position during sunrise. The thin layer of high clouds contributed further into the dramatic effect. The trail basically does a long diagonal traverse contouring around the east and then south flanks of Rogers Peak and eventually brought us to Arcane Meadows at Rogers/Bennett col which marks a natural place to take the first break.

The early birds get the sunrise.

I like the slopes of Rogers Peak turning completely red at sunrise.

First sight of Telescope Peak in the distance.

Marching up towards Rogers/Bennett col also known as Arcane Meadows

It started to get chilly so we resumed on. The next section of this trail traverse around the west side of Bennett Peak and was entirely in the shade. We cruised across as fast as possible and the next destination was Bennett/Telescope col which is actually lower than Rogers/Bennett col. From here looking upwards the ascent of Telescope Peak via north ridge seems like a “short walk”, but I can assure you here that the view is very foreshortening. There’s actually about 500 m elevation gain which will definitely feel like a drag towards the end. The upside is that the grade of those switchbacks seems reasonable and then the summit view is amazingly outstanding.

The trail skirts around the west slopes of Bennett Peak

At Bennett/Telescope col looking ahead.

This is looking down into Panamint Valley to the west

Jake’s taking a break.

The final push. There’s still considerable amount of gain left.

As typical as a view from the trail.

Looking down into Badwater Basin in Death Valley

The upper mountain scenery.

Almost there…

Summit Panorama from Telescope Peak. Click to view large size.

A closer look at the northern sub-summit.

The northern Panamint Valley and the vast desert scenery

This is looking south at the endless bumps along this ridge.

Argus Range to the west

Badwater Basin at over 11,000 feet below

If you know where to look for you can spot the Golden Canyon area

Me on the summit of Telescope Peak. “Ultras” #32

Despite the good views the mission of this trip wasn’t to play lazy on these summits so after the obligatory panoramas we had to move on. For the return hike there’s actually not a lot of interesting facts worth noting other than we ignored both Bennett Peak and Rogers Peak. The call was that those two minor bumps weren’t worth the extra spent. Given the amount of work we just did it made sense to save energy for the next couple days.

Bennett Peak and Rogers Peak ahead.

Just another Death Valley vista shot

Back down to Bennett/Telescope col now.

Another view into Badwater Basin

A full view into Panamint Valley with the High Sierras on the horizon

Descending from Arcane Meadows now with the trail highly visible

One last look down at Badwater Basin. We didn’t bother to check it out this time.

The boring trail slog at the end.

The drive down from Mahogany Flat to Charcoal Klins was tricky and mentally taxing but we did manage to get down safely. Would I recommend this drive? The answer is NO unless you have a beasty 4Runner or Tacoma and you’re willing to put their off-roading ability into test… Down from Charcoal Klins through Wildrose Canyon there’s actually a lot of desert scenery along with a ton of descending. They all felt fresh as we didn’t get to see anything on the drive in. Back into the core tourism area of Death Valley we refused to join the hordes on the sand dunes and we also abandoned the idea of making another ascent. The new plan was driving to Las Vegas to check out more areas.


Meanwhile a new plan was formed that we had to ascend Charlston Peak given how dry it was (not any form of snow to be seen). We were aware the ascent would be nothing fancier than a boring hike-on-trail but it’s a shame had we missed such a golden weather/condition window. Another thing we must do in Las Vegas was visiting Adam aka. Gimplator. Adam had just moved to the desert to pursue his peak-bagging in winter (350+ peaks in 2017 for him) and it’s been a while since Jake and I saw him. The third thing to do in Las Vegas? That’s right… Let’s check out the Vegas Strip. It wasn’t new to Jake but this was my first ever time seeing the gong show of this infamous urban area. Once everything’s done we drove out, had a dinner in Chipotle and then did some shopping in a grocery store. To make our days more variable we decided to go for Mt. Wilson the next day and then Charlston Peak the day after.