Sharon's Summer

Sharon's Summer
Sharon Chooses High Elevation and High Temperature

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Telescope Peak

On the west side of Death Valley, a range of mountains rises so high that their highest peak is almost exactly the same elevation as Donohue Pass in the High Sierras, the highest point of my solo backpack a few weeks ago.  A major difference is that Donohue Pass rises only a few thousand feet above the adjacent valleys, while Telescope Peak stands more than two miles directly above Badwater.  Its eleven-thousand-foot summit is accessible by trail.  When I stood at Dante’s View on the east side of Death Valley a few days ago and took this picture looking west, the trail became irresistible. 

This mountain is unusual in having two tree lines—one common to all high mountains is a line above which trees cannot grow due to cold and wind, but this mountain has a line at about seven thousand feet below which trees cannot grow due to heat and drought.  Within this slim band, several species survive—limber pine, pinion pine, mountain mahogany, juniper, and bristlecone pine.  They were mostly cut down in the 1880’s to make charcoal in these kilns, for the sole purpose of feeding a mine smelter.  Wagons hauled the charcoal thirty miles to the Modoc Mine where its hot flame extracted silver and lead from rock.  The wood was gone in only three years, and the kilns abandoned, but at least the old Bristlecone pines at the higher elevations escaped the miners.  Great effort and great sacrifice for a small purpose!  Not unlike these escapades of mine in mountains and deserts, except that I leave things mostly as they were



I drove a long dirt road, past the kilns, getting to the trailhead, and stopped a mile short of road’s end to spare the Toyota.  Thus I extended the hike to eight miles each way, and would rise four thousand feet to the summit.

The forest has mostly recovered from the miners, but some of the old stumps record their passing like tombstones.








Above the dense forest, in a sparsely vegetated band where only the hardiest trees live, flowering plants believe it’s springtime.  Here I see tracks of lizards, snakes and deer.  And somewhere there’s a colony of bees. 




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Since coming to Death Valley a week ago, I have never felt cold while hiking, but this morning I am cold.  On the long grind up and up, the Valley so far below me it seems like a mirage of white snow, the summit seems to move away as fast as I approach it.






Bristlecone pines thrive above ten thousand feet in the last two miles of the climb.  Some of them are four thousand years old, I’m told.  Their living parts look fresh as newborn pine trees, but their old wood is what’s intriguing.  It swirls with furrowed grain, skin that has born centuries of wind, heat and bitter cold, wood that holds on its surface those forms and crevices that conform the world, having sloughed off any shape that tried to resist the elements and go its own way. 



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The summit is just a short way now; I can make it.  Most of the trees have settled for lower elevations, and I feel ready to do the same, but can’t give up now.










From the top I see Badwater eleven thousand feet below.  A circle on the picture shows about where I took those snow-white pictures of the salt a few days ago. 









Far to the west, the Sierra Nevada Mountains rise above Owens Valley. 









As the day warms, I trudge doggedly downward in the sun, which was getting higher and hotter each half mile, and by afternoon it had reached a hundred degrees.  By the time I slogged into my vehicle, the valley was already deepening into shadow.  Is this wonderful pageant of the world the only reward for having climbed to the giddy height of Telescope Peak?

19 comments:

  1. Your hike was so long and various... I have to comment in installments. I love the beginning, the long view that enticed you...and it's so interesting about the two tree lines, for different reasons! And I can see what you mean about leaving things as they were... but I must say I love the look of those kilns! At least in the photo, they look like human nests, like people became birds, and set into the mountains like swallows... or those tiny birds that make such nests like little caves on cliffsides near the ocean... and fly in and out. That they are kilns make them seem alchemical. Mysterious. Just a view from afar, with coffee and chocolate, though. It is you who are trudging by them, or soaring with your poetic and photographic wings!

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  2. What a sad story about the trees going into the kilns. Thank heavens a few survived. I want to hear all about the bristlecone pines when you get back, they are intriguing. speaking of intriguing, when you say
    "The summit is just a short way now; I can make it. Most of the trees have settled for lower elevations, and I feel ready to do the same, but can’t give up now." i get the feeling you are and are not talking about your current adventure.
    it seems you've been in the desert for a long time. sure do look forward to hugging you, seeing you, and seeing how this trip has and hasn't changed you.
    Liz

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  3. Love the depth of color in those high dry mountain flowers... the deep red, beyond cranberry that reminds me of colors green succulents turn when in very hot places but these hardy blooms are beyond leaving... their stems look dry and brittle like brush how does the sap flow? They are the earth turned to petal. And you turned into a bee now I think. Searching out the highest hottest flowers.

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  4. susanrogers49@yahoo.comAugust 24, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    I love kathabela's comment, "the earth turned to petal."

    How long did it take you to hike to the peak? And how far a hike was it?

    I must say I enjoyed taking this hike together with you. I think there should be a telescope standing on the peak available for you to use to scan the regions below. Is there one? There certainly should be one.

    i love all the images but am intrigued by the one of the trunk of the bristlecone pine. I see a face inside it. Eye, nose and mouth. Perhaps the bristling spirit within the pine.

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  5. I love the look of the kilns too, Kathabela. I went inside, like a bird to a nest, and could smell charcoal after more than a hundred years. The forest has grown back, Liz, most of it. Some of the old stumps remain to tell of its ravaging, but the trees in the second photo are near the kilns, and so their parents must have all been turned into charcoal. Not a bad recovery.

    I too love the colors in the high mountain flowers, so intense in these harsh places. I am amazed that a colony of bees can make it through the winter here where ice and wind cover the rocks.

    You said on another post, Liz, “Two artists, two voices, one Nature at work, one mind at work.” And here you wonder if, since I’ve been in the desert a long time, that you “get the feeling you (I) are and are not talking about your current adventure.” Both things are true, the experience and the impressions merge into a kind of desert mirage where I wonder which is which.

    Susan, earth really does turn to petal, I like that too, "the earth turned to petal." The hike of 16 miles took me eight hours. There is no telescope on Telescope Peak, not even a sign, just me and a lizard. I love the swirls in the old bristlecone wood and also see images there.

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  6. I too see the creatures in the pines, their "bristling spirit" as Susan so wonderfully says. Their inner skins look like wind on sand... as of all the world there is furrowed and duned, all the way to the insides of the bravest trees! Ah but Liz... even when we are so fortunate to hug and look at Sharon after this amazing trip... the insides of her mind will be furrowed by the wind and she'll keep it in, I think... we'll get only little glimpses... and those are precious! Thank you Sharon for Sharon the wonder here, we can see how it has impressed itself into you... your words and photos give evidence. Thanks to Sharon and (like the pinon pine) her "bristling spirit"! They must recognize her as friend on those mountain paths.

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  7. Your final thoughts here remind me of giving birth, wide awake in the midnight... there should be a party! Well we'll have one or better, several! Another reward for your climbing the giddy heights! When should we start?!

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  8. What happens when you strip the bristles off a bristlecone? How does an africanized killer bee beehave if stripped of a nasty temperament. And how does a lone desert rat rationalize ratings as an adventurer with poetic insights? Or the insides of an old bristlecone pine acknowledge and acquiesce to naked exposure as what her wood has become in years of sun? Sounds like Geiko commercial.

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  9. So many rewards with every footstep! Love reading and giving pause to not only Sharon's writings, but to everyone's comments. Interesting to note the band of growth between the two tree lines. Like being in 3 different places at once. Very unique! Happy the bristle cone survived the onslaught of man's bad behavior. Did Kathy say party??? The menu will most likely compliment this journey! Hot! hotter, and hottest!.....and everyone will be issued a fan and a bottle of water to watch Sharon's slideshow! hee, hee!!

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  10. sounds perfect, Gail!! Sharon likes it hot! Happy party time! See you here!

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  11. A theme party! Good idea, Gail. I'll be there. You are right, Kathabela, about changes to Sharon's internal landscape, and the glimpses we will see. I feel so stagnant in comparison. Einstein said a sure sign of craziness was doing the same thing over and over and hoping tor different results. I do that while admiring our Sharon for doing dramatically different things and growing as a result.
    Thanks for answering my post, Sharon. I needed to know. Liz

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  12. Rewards with footsteps, Gail. Yes I feel privileged and honored to able, in all the needed ways, to take footsteps, to enjoy unearned rewards.

    This party you are all planning, is it where my internal landscape gets spread out on the table, examined, and reassembled? Is this how Liz’s stagnation will end and she will be doing dramatically different things and growing as a result?

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  13. oooohhhh heavens, no, Sharon. We want your internal landscape to stay internal. As Kathabela says, we are fortunate to have the occasional glimpse, and that is just fine. We learn from your adventures, and get to come along for the ride. That in itself is wonderful. Perhaps your example makes me or another more aware of my/their position, perhaps that will lead to change. Perhaps not. But mercy, we certainly respect your internal landscape as such, and love you for your shifting perspective and for your constancy. Liz

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  14. beautiful place, you are now a member of the death valley club, welcome home.

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  15. I think she gets a bigger membership card than most... or a different color... I love the look on death valley lovers faces when I tell them she went in August. That's why there are no other people in the pictures!

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  16. Oh thanks Liz, it’s great leading you to Change, if only vicariously, as we allow each other to retain our internal landscapes. By the way there are still seats available on a certain flight for Pakistan later this month.

    Michael and Kathabela, “ Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” for I have no membership card.

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  17. Hehe... and maybe Liz is too busy to look back, luckily... she will not want that vacant seat, I think... yes, Sharon, it's better without a membership card, in general... you are a "vagabond"!

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  18. Hiked Telescope Peak about a week after you did and your comment about the cool temperatures is so true! It was 55 degrees at Mahogany Flat and cooler on the summit. A couple of days before that Mount Whitney summit was in the 20s. After some very warm temperatures in mid August I think we hit a cold snap.

    Thanks for your posting the photos and narrative!

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  19. Oh she might, Kathbela, that wild girl.

    Thanks Marty, it's a great hike :)

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