Telescope from Shorty's Well

12 Oct 2002 - by Keith Richardsdinger

Curtis Davis and I had been planning to do Telescope Peak from Death Valley (Shorty's Well at elevation -253') for some time but had a hard time pinning down a date (needed to see how quickly Curtis recovered from some surgery and when would fit into both of our family and work schedules). This made it even more difficult than normal to round up additional partners for an 11,000'+ ascent. We finally settled on Sat. Oct 12th on the Tuesday before. Since it looked like it would just be the two of us, we decided we'd just start and end at Shorty's Well instead of messing around with a car shuttle to Mahogany Flat (as is usually done). We tried pitching it as the "Death Valley to Telescope 50k" to the local ultrarunners but got no takers.

At the last minute, Walter Runkle decided he'd come with us but just do it from Mahogany Flat, and Dan Goriesky thought he'd give the ascent from Shorty's Well a try. So we now had a shuttle driver, but I actually wanted to do the full descent. I didn't want them to have to drive all the way back down to Shorty's Well to pick me up, so we decided to take two vehicles.

We left Ridgecrest at 9:15pm or so on Fri. and arrived at Shorty's Well at 11:45. Shorty's Well is a good place to camp - quiet, plenty of flat, smooth ground. Curtis, Dan, and I got up at 4:00am and started hiking at 4:37, while Walter planned to sleep until 6, start driving around 6:30, get gas in Furnace Creek and head on to Mahogany Flat to start his hike.

We set off up the dirt road on the alluvial fan towards Hanaupah Canyon at a moderate pace by the light of our headlamps (no moon and high clouds blocking the starlight), with the temperature a rather warm 79 degrees. Within 15 minutes Curtis discovered that the intestinal bug that he'd had during the week was still with him as he headed off into the creosote bushes. Nevertheless, he was able to keep a good pace - at 6:00, we had covered about 5 miles and were at an elevation of 1300'. But he had visited the bushes 3 more times and was only feeling about 3/4 strength - not the conditions under which to try an 11,000' ascent. He thought he could probably catch Walter if he ran back down right then (and if Walter was running just a little bit late). He figured he was feeling well enough to do the ascent from Mahogany Flat with Walter. After verifying that I didn't mind continuing alone, Dan elected to accompany Curtis. I gave them the key to my truck so that if they missed Walter, they could hopefully catch him in Furnace Creek and then plant my truck back at Shorty's Well.

Shortly thereafter I reached the mouth of the canyon and upon dropping into the wash, the temperature dropped 10 degrees as there was a cool downcanyon breeze. I got to the end of the road a little before 7:30. There was flowing water there and even for a while below. I ended up on the north side of the creek and got caught between unpleasantly steep terrain and the brush along the creek. I was surprised at both the density of the brush and the width of the brushy zone. I was forced to retreat back down the creek to find a place to cross. I crossed near the remains of somebody's biology experiment (little 8-inch-high fences, rocks weighting down some sort of overturned plastic dishes, a small board had faded writing - the only words I could make out were invertebrate and vertebrate). Even though I had only used 1.5 liters of my 5, I figured it might got hot later in the day and so topped off. On the south bank there was occasionally a bit of trail, but I still had to fight brush and/or detour up onto the canyon wall fairly often. I decided I'd had enough of this and crossed back over the creek as soon as possible and just headed straight up to the ridge that divides the SF from the MF of Hanaupah canyon. Not a good route - very loose, steep scree all the way up. I finally got to gentler slopes just below Pt. 5520'+ and contoured around to the saddle just west. During this climb views across Death Valley opened up to make up for the somewhat miserable going. Others have reported use trails both along the creek and heading up to this ridge - I apparently missed them completely.

The going up the ridge is very pleasant. Occasional bits of use trail, good footing, much open forest, only a little brush, only a little bit of up and down at the beginning, mostly not very steep until the last 2000' feet or so. There are lots of flat spots that would make nice campsites (dry, of course, unless there was snow). The last 2000' are steep, but the footing and brush aren't bad. And the views just get better and better.

I got to the trail at about 11:30 just as Walt, Curtis and Dan were going by, so we got to hike the final bit together. Got to the top at 12:04 for a one-way time of 7:27; I was quite pleased (and beat). Found out that Curtis and Dan hadn't caught up to Walter until Mahogany Flats, so both vehicles were there. I decided I didn't need to do the full descent bad enough to make them drive all the way around to pick me up. Plus this way, I'd get to get home before my kids went to bed. We lounged on top for 40 minutes or so - saw in the register that a large group had done the climb from Shorty's Well the weekend before. Then we hiked/jogged back to Mahogany Flat in a bit under 2 hours (I did Bennett and Rogers on the way to make up a little bit for missing out on the full descent). It never did get hot; it was warmest at the very start. We hung out at the trailhead for a while and then got home by 4:30 (one of the joys of living in Ridgecrest). Saw the first 20 or so of the riders in the Furnace Creek 508 ( on the way.

Specs for the day - 12,370' climbing, 3850' descent, 10:05 total time.

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