I’m getting tired of doing these big updates (as no doubt you are of reading them), so it’s a relief that we had only one more day on our trip. On the last day, we got up at 5:20 am, but then I soon realized that it might have been the “spring forward” part of daylight savings time that previous night. We had no way of knowing, though; there was no cell phone reception, obviously, and civilization and radio stations were far away. It would be mid-afternoon before we found out.
Anyway, we packed our bags up and ate a breakfast of snack food: granola bars and so on. On the hike back to the car, we again ran into those mysterious paths through the brush. They didn’t look like human trails (too narrow) or bike paths (too sharp, and anyway off-road biking was illegal in that area). We hadn’t seen any animals big enough to make them, and they seemed well-worn; whatever was making them was visiting pretty often. Our first clue was when I noticed three paths converging on a melon-sized hole in the ground. Then, five minutes later, Naveen spotted it — a big jackrabbit, just five yards from us, bounding away. By the time I had my camera out it was long gone. We saw another rabbit shortly thereafter, too. Pretty cool.
Wildrose Peak is (I think) the third highest peak in Death Valley, and the trail up to it is supposed to offer these great views of the valley floor. We didn’t initially intend to hike the whole way up the trail (8.5 miles round trip), but due to the fact that I remembered incorrectly from the trail map we left in the car, and thought that we were more than halfway to the top at a point where in fact we were only a third of the way there, we ended up doing the whole thing, which was ultimately quite rewarding. The trail, like many of the others we did, was practically deserted: we didn’t see anyone else the entire way up, and only four people coming up on our way down.
At the base of the trail were these huge stone kilns that were used to create fuel back in the mining days. The kilns used to be airtight, and they’d slow-burn wood in there with no oxygen for two days until it formed pure carbon, which could burn much hotter. The carbon was transported down into the valley and used for smelting. The trail itself was quite steep in parts, and at times we felt the lack of oxygen as we hadn’t quite acclimated to the 8000 ft altitude (even though I remember starting many 13000+ ft hikes at over 8000 ft with my family in Aspen). We also had to do a lot of slogging through snow.
The view from the peak, at about 9100 ft, was spectacular. One one side, massive Telescope Peak (the highest point in the Valley) towered over us, and west of that we could see Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Apparently, you can also see Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S. from Wildrose Peak as well, but being a typical guy, I only read that part of the trail description after we had hiked back down and were in the car, heading home. Maybe some of the random pictures we took at the top capture it, for all I know :). The trek down was only a little faster than it was going up, since we had to do a lot of navigating through steep snow fields. In the last picture you can see the stone kilns as we take what would be the final steps of our trip to Death Valley. We hit the road at 11:30am.
The Trip Home
All that remained was the eight-hour drive home — more glimpses of middle America, including guns stores and staggeringly expansive crop fields, some kind of refining plant that looked remarkably like a Martian settlement might, and numerous billboards for our favorite accident lawyer, Tito Alvarez. By the time we got back to Berkeley, it was raining.
In a final inventory, we had eaten nearly all of our food, and seen just about everything we wanted to see in the valley (except the top of the Keane Mine!) that hadn’t been washed out by the rains this year. We were in need of showers but otherwise unharmed — and we hadn’t even gotten on each other’s nerves. Naveen turned out to be a superb primary camper, willingly supplying much of our gear as well as driving all the way there and back (since I am horrible at driving stick). We both had enough experience from previous camping trips that all the camping-related aspects went off without a hitch. The total expenses for the trip came to about $120 each, half of which went to gas.
Grad school (and, I guess, the rat-race-ish aspect of the working world) is generally motivated by feeling good after you’ve accomplished something, which I think can lead to a very perverse outlook. This trip was a welcome break from that: you felt good just being there, experiencing, in awe of your surroundings.