Shorty's Well to Telescope Peak
Map study at Chuparosa Vineyards tasting room fire place

This hike has been on my mind for a number of years. People have done it in various variations, but the version that has the hike start at Shorty's Well and ending at Mahogany Flats was the most appealing to me for a first attempt. I also wanted to do it as a day hike, i.e., without camping.

It is not easy to find hikers for an extreme day hike like this, but I was finally able to assemble a group of like minded adventures to join me. We spent quite some time planning the details and logistics as they got more complicated with the group size changing. We ended up with 10 people, 5 to hike from Shorty's well and 5 to drive the trucks over to the west side of the mountain to Mahogany Flats and hike from there.

The photo gallery for this report can be found here: Telescope Peak hike gallery (Pictures here and in gallery can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Below's report is a slightly edited version of John's email report


If you have any association with the Marine Corps, you'll recognize this little T-shirt slogan. It's primarily directed at folks who have never pushed themselves beyond physical pain and forced to dig deep into the mind to find the inner strength/will to overcome physical discomfort and keep moving forward. This exemplified the winner of our COURAGEOUS HIKER award granted to Jack for his incredible effort to complete this event. But, I'm getting ahead of the story.

Hike Stats:

  • Distance hiked: ~22 miles
  • Elevation gain: 11,670 ft (GPS)
  • Time on trail: 17h

Telescope Peak is also notable for having one of the greatest vertical rises above local terrain of any mountain in the contiguous United States. Its summit rises 11,331 feet above the lowest point in Death Valley, Badwater Basin at −282 feet. It is even somewhat comparable to the rise of Mount Everest above its northern base on the Tibetan Plateau. There are two routes to gain the summit. One starts at Mahogany Flats at 8,150 feet and ascends 3,000 feet in 7 miles to the summit. A more advanced route is from Shorty's Well at −262 feet to the summit of Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet. This Shorty's Well to Telescope Peak route can be done in one day by experienced hikers, and has one of the largest elevation gains for a single summit. We drew parallels to Cactus to Clouds which rises 10,450' feet from Palm Springs to the summit of Mount San Jacinto. After having done both, no question Telescope is tougher because we had to trail blaze the middle 6-7 mile segment on unbelievably steep terrain with unstable footing. So, why did I say 11,800 feet in gain instead of 11,331? Let's not forget the ups and downs along the ridge line.

Dust Storm
Dust coming in; View from inside the truck

Our weekend hike involved a huge amount of research, planning, and organizing. Kudos to Uwe and Jack for handling all the details. Saturday morning 23 May Jack & Dorie, Uwe & Srisuda, Kevin & Anne, Greg & Samantha, and Matt & I headed for Furnace Creek in the heart of Death Valley a distance of ~350-400 miles for all of us. We got an ideal camp site and sat around drinking a beer and waiting for everyone to arrive. Just before dinner we decided to check out the trail head so the five hikers drove about 20 miles to Shorty's Well to recon the area. Returned to camp and the ladies had an awesome pasta dinner prepared. As we were eating we saw this wall of ?????? approaching from the north. What the hell was it? Rain, sand, locusts? Within an hour we were in the middle of an intense HABOOB! That term was not widely known in the USA until our experiences in Iraq. Haboob is an Arabic word for an intense summer dust storm. Some of our group had set up tents which were quickly overwhelmed by up to 50mph winds driving sand into every nook, cranny, crevice. We retreated to our vehicles but, while it wasn't terribly warm outside, it quickly became uncomfortable inside so we had to run the vehicle's A/C. The wind was so intense it made my big Tundra rock and roll and we saw people chasing tents and tarps all over the camp ground. Soon the wind was driving rain along with the sand so now we had a mud storm. It lasted until dark so sleeping in tents was not an option, although Matt eventually did. We had decided to get up at 0200 and planned to be hiking by 0300. When my alarm sounded at 0200, it was raining outside. We huddled and decided to delay the start for a few hours. Daylight at 0530 and the weather was clear as a bell with virtually no evidence of storms except vehicles dipped in mud.

Recon trail head
Checking out the trail head

We ate a quick breakfast and took off for the trailhead. Set out at 0630 and the temp was 73 degrees. Not too bad. First 8 miles was on a drivable 4x4 rocky road steadily climbing up towards Shorty's mine. At 8 miles and 3,500 feet of elevation gain we turned UP UP UP and started the real work. The next 6 miles were exceedingly tough. We had to blaze a trail and ascend a ridge line then move along the ridge line up and down to a scree field below the main trail. The main trail I mentioned before was from Mahogany Flats to the peak. Plan was to intersect with that trail, continue on to the peak, then return to Mahogany Flats. Between 5,000-6,000 feet we entered the tree line. It's beautiful, tranquil, serene amongst those trees but not when they are on a 50-60 degree slope. They were not an impediment because we were shielded from the sun but it was difficult climbing. Just above the tree line we had 1,200-1,500 feet of open scree/talus/loose rock on an incredibly steep slope. Step by step we slowly made our way to the trail arriving at 1900. Sweating profusely we took a break and within 5 min we were all cold. Didn't notice the temperature change until sitting down in wet clothes at 10,000 feet. Had to dig into the packs for dry clothes and discovered that our water supply was almost gone and we still had ~9 miles yet to go. While we were sitting there, two hikers passed by as they descended from the peak. We chatted a little and they asked where we started. When they realized who we were, they said two ladies had left water on the trail for us. Dorie, Srisuda and Anne had hiked up to the top and left us water. It was an absolute life saver. We couldn't thank them enough. Once on a clearly defined/ maintained trail with gradual inclines and switchbacks, the hiking was immeasurably easier. As we continued to the top, the sun was going down and temperature dropping. On the last ridge before the peak the wind was blowing hard and it was COLD!

Peak as seen coming up the Mahogany Flats trail

The peak was anti-climactic. It was small with a few rocks built into a wind break and a small cairn holding the register log. Matt and Kevin surprised us by whipping out a 6 pack of Coors Light! We celebrated the achievement by drinking a beer in freezing wind. It was awesome!! We arrived at the peak at 8:22pm and it was almost dark. We stayed ~10 min and it was totally dark when we started the descent but we had lights and quickly moved down seeking relief from the cold wind. From there, we just got in line and kept putting one foot in front of the other as we could see nothing except lightning in the distance. Uwe called for a break every couple miles and we finally arrived at Mahogany Flats. Once there, we set up tents and went to sleep. We had experienced a long day.

Carb-loading for the big hike

Now for the awards ceremony. Matt gets the Ironman hiker award. He was by far the strongest of the group often having enough time to nap while waiting for us to catch up. As I said earlier, Jack got the courageous hiker award as he overcame many obstacles. First, he had a strained ankle tendon which prevented him from wearing his ankle top boots...which are almost a necessity on the rocky/unstable terrain. Then, he underwent thigh cramps. Hiking in the desert requires a huge amount of water. We were all carrying up to 8 liters of fluids but, as I mentioned before, we ran out 9 miles from the end. We needed to take in salt and water. Matt brought packets of salt that we either dumped on our food/drink or straight the mouth. After ingesting a couple of those packets, Jack gained control of the cramping and forged ahead. Please don't tell his cardiologist!! Our clothes were stained with salt rings. In the end he worked through all those challenges then set a very good pace to the end. Uwe gets the Navigator award. He was bearer of good & bad news. We quizzed him: how far have we gone, how much have we climbed, how far to go? Instead of giving us numbers, he'd say: we are at the Marion Creek trail head, or South Fork trail head [trails that we are all familiar with] or we have XX miles to go. Anne gets the Save our Lives Award for carrying water up the trail and stashing it. Without it, we would have been in trouble. Srisuda and Dorie get the Awesome Cook award for incredible meals prepared on a camp stove. Pasta and marinara sauce one night, beef stew the next night, hash browns/sausage/eggs for breakfast. The only one that went hungry was Greg, simply because he was beset with the flu. He probably was too sick to realize hunger but we all felt sorry for him. His 12 year old daughter Samantha gets the Best helper award for helping the cooks. Kevin and I will take the Grunt award as we just plugged along keeping up and tried to stay out of trouble.

After that great breakfast Monday morning we packed up and headed home. Greg & Samantha live in Phoenix so they transported me back to Badwater (two hour trip) so I could retrieve my truck. From there we traversed up to 30 miles of gravel road until we got to Shoshone. He went north to Vegas, I went southwest towards 29 Palms. Everyone else went back to 395 and I-15 and home. In the end, it was another epic adventure that will add stories to many future hikes and camping trips

This concludes John's report.

Driving home we had a little excitement added. Driving down Panamint Valley Road while admiring the views of Telescope peak from the west side we saw a bus parked on the other side of the road. I did not think much of it until a franticly waving bus driver jumped into the road to flag us down. We stopped and the very nervous driver told us that his bus was completely dead. He had a full load of tourist on it and a tour guide who kept bugging him "Is the tour over?". With temperatures in the mid-90s, no air condition, people unprepared to spend time outside in the desert and no cell phone coverage it was easy to understand why he was nervous. Traffic on the road was quite light. The tour guide didn't seem to fully appreciate the situation. The driver asked us to drive down to Trona (22 miles away) and contact his dispatcher to let his company know that he needed a mechanic and replacement bus. When I talked to the dispatcher and was told "We will look into it" I was not confident that that was enough and so we used the emergency phone at the sheriff's office (which was deserted in this tiny town) to call the Highway patrol. While on the phone the local deputy pulled up and I updated him on the situation. He sped off to find the bus.

A gread Memorial day weekend with great friends!