Hottest (not this time of year), Driest (not this trip), Lowest (check that)
Dec. 3rd-9th, 2014
88 miles walked, 79 with pack, 9 without
“Death Valley! Why?” was the standard reply when I told people that was where my next desert trip was going to be. Fair question and, almost to a person, from folks who had never been there but had just heard or read about it. Me too, I have walked a lot in the desert and traversed much more by car but had never been to this huge spread of the Basin and Range province and Mojave Desert.
Always in the back of my brain but sparked by this trip report that Bob found nearly ten years ago I slowly started doing research on possible trips in this massive park, the largest national park in the lower 48 states (3.4 million acres). More thoughts and information on trip planning at the end of this report but two general logistical issues 1) there are very few water sources and essentially no natural water sources on the valley floors 2) much of the park is not accessible without a high clearance vehicle which makes dropping water in advance not very practical.
I decided that a walk down the valley, something like the trip report above, would give us a good introduction and maybe the quintessential DV experience but what does “walking down the valley” really mean? Within the park, the valley stretches something like 175 miles from the head of Death Valley wash in the Last Chance range in the north to the Saddle Peak Hills in the south. Only 108 off those miles are accessible from paved roads and the lower 33 of that are along a gravel road which I was not interested in walking down. That left around 75 miles down most of the heart of the valley.
To make it more of a total picture of the park I wanted to include some time in one of the many canyons that drop out of the mountains on either side of the valley and Bighorn Gorge appeared to be the obvious choice for location and spectacular features.
The call went out and because of schedule conflicts only Mark was available for an early December trip. He too had never been to DV but was very interested in its possibilities. We had not walked together since the arduous 2011 Big Bend trip and this one loomed equally difficult, he was game.
One of the convenient parts of DV is that it is only two hours from Las Vegas so one should have an easy time getting there. Dec. 2nd we left the farm at 4:00 a.m. for a 6:00 flight that would put us into LV at 8:30 Pacific time but after mechanical problems and exceedingly slow baggage claim we walked out of the airport 3 hours behind schedule. The days are short this time of year and we had to hustle to get our caches dropped.
We knew that a storm system was moving in today and as we arrived at Furnace Creek at 2:00 the bulk of the precipitation had just moved through dropping almost a half an inch, more than one third the yearly total and the first rain since summer, and water was running across the roads everywhere. We still had to drive 40 more miles up valley to drop a water and food cache and the flash flooding across the roads made travel very slow. 3:30 we pull over at milepost 23 on the Scotty’s Castle road, in a light rain we walk a mile down the alluvial fan to DV wash and drop 5 gallons of water and two days food. As we climb back up to the car it is getting dark and too late to drop our 2nd food cache at the Visitor center at Stovepipe Wells. We retreat to the Furnace Creek Ranch and get a room so we can sort and pack equipment in a dry and lit place instead of the campground. Little did we know how much this moisture would tint the whole trip.
Dec. 3rd Trail Day One
Still on East coast time we were at breakfast at 6:00, finished packing and checked out by 7:30 for the 50 mile round trip to Stovepipe Wells (SPW) to drop more food. Turns out the visitor center is irregularly manned so we went to the General Store where we were warmly greeted and they gladly took our bag and put it in the cooler.
Back to Furnace Creek visitor center for a permit and to continue the process of trying to find a ride up to the start at Ubehebe Crater. The volunteers were somewhat skeptical of our plan but accepted it. We tried at the restaurants, general store, gas station and reservation desk to find someone who wanted to make some extra money to shuttle us but no takers. Not much traffic at the visitor center so we just went out on the highway and stuck out our thumbs. Minutes later a wonderful couple picked us up who were headed to the Racetrack and could drop us at Ubehebe as they drove past.