Backpacking Telescope Peak, Death Valley National Park

So you want to go backpacking to the highest peak of one of the hottest places on Earth. Death Valley National Park has a bit of a reputation and the name doesn't sound like one of the most inviting places in the world. It is the largest U.S. National Park outside of Alaska and it is a desert lovers dream. We can go on and on about how wonderful it is, but today we focus on the Telescope peak hike.

Los Angeles was going through a heat wave this past week and we went to Death Valley to escape it. Yeah, you read that right! We went to Death Valley to escape the heat. The wonderful thing about Death Valley is the incredible geological playground. The landscape is constantly changing every couple of miles and one of the reasons is because the rapid changes in elevation. The Death Valley floor (-282 feet below sea level) was at a steaming 115-120 degrees and we were at a comfortable 75 degrees because Telescope peak is at an elevation of

11,049 feet.

The Telescope peak hike CAN be done in one day. I've done it as a day hike, but this time we decided to backpack it.

Here are the stats:

Length: 14 miles RT

Elevation Gain: 3,300 feet

Permits?: You can get a voluntary permit at the Ranger's station and I highly recommend this if you are going during the winter.

The trail begins at the Mahogany Flat campground entrance. Mahogany Flat campground is free and is at an elevation of 8,133 feet. It is a great spot to car camp, if you don't want to backpack on the Telescope Peak trail. Just a warning, in order to get to the Mahogany Flat campground and the trail head, you will need to do some off-roading. 4X4 vehicles are recommended, but we saw plenty of 4-door sedans that made it up as well. Be prepared; Death Valley, especially this part, is very remote.

We spent two days on the mountain. We ended up car camping at Mahogany Flat the first night because we arrived a little late after making an emergency trip to the town of Ridgecrest in order to buy a tent. How we forgot our tent back home - I do not know! Fortunately we realized it before we were too far out of the way, and some locals pointed us 30 miles back to the nearest Big 5.

The tent was on sale and we were so glad we found it. It wasn't the backpacking tent we usually use, but it was good enough!

Here is a list of our equipment:

Drea's Gear:


I use the Go Lite Jam Pack.

:) Nothing too much say here.. It's light, has a good support and its lasted me several years (as in 5 years). I wish there were more straps, but it will do for now. The back area isn't as well ventilated as my daypack. The top area of the backpack also started peeling. Again, not a big deal. It doesn't affect the actual weight or performance, but it is annoying to have the plastic peeling off the fabric unto my things. It might be time for me to get a new pack and I'll probably purchase something else next time around.


World Famous Sport Selkirk II 7' x 7' Dome 3-Person Tent

This tent was pretty lightweight and cheap. It was a lifesaver! It got the job done. It isn't the best tent by any means, but it was light enough to go backpacking with and it was definitely better than nothing!

The zippers kept getting caught and you can tell it was cheaply made. But all in all! Great for the price!


Mont-Bell 11 Daypack - Pocketable Light

I like to bring a super-light daypack like this on backpacking trips, so that, when the occasion calls for it, I have another option outside of my heavy pack. I believe Mont-bell no longer carriers the 11, but here is another option that's almost identical to mine.

Sleeping Bag:

Marmot Lithium (0 Degree Rated).

I should have a lighter sleeping bag for this (as in temperature wise), but this down is the lightest sleeping bag I have and it is incredible. I've taken it up to Mt. Whitney in freezing weather and I felt hot. I can always sleep on top of it.

Sleeping Pad:

I use the REI Co Op Lite Core - 1.5 Women's.

It's pretty light weight and it's great for backpacking! Although I think there are even lighter and less bulkier options nowadays.


We brought a few Backpacker's Pantry meals, some granola bars, sandwiches, and beef jerky.

Hiking Poles:

We recently bought ourselves some Leki Corklite Trekking poles. We climbed half dome with them and they are fantastic. They saved my life on the way down!


Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots - Women's

I love, love, love these hiking boots. I bought this a few years in preparation for my hike to Mt. Whitney. Years later, this is still my go to hiking and backpacking boot! I love them! My only reservation is that I probably would of loved to go a half size larger for those long backpacking trips in elevation when your feet swell.

Michael's Gear:


High Sierra 90L Long Trail

This is a relatively inexpensive pack that I bought off of Amazon (Prime) for $100. I've gone on a few trips with it so far, and it has served me well.

It's water resistant, has loads of great storage capabilities, a separated bottom section, rain cover, and I love the color scheme.

It doesn't have the nicely ventilated back and support frame, but you get what you pay for.

Hiking Boots:

Hi-Tec boots purchased from Big 5 in haste, before a big hiking trip earlier this year. They're nothing fancy, but I've got no complaints so far.

Sleeping Bag:

Marmot Lithium 0 Degree

This is a quality sleeping back that I love, but I have to get other options, because this thing was too stinkin' hot for this trip.


About the Trail (from the NPS website)

The trail immediately begins as a steady climb along the eastern slope of the Panamint Mountains.

At mile 2.4 (3.9km) it levels out at Arcane Meadows where views into both Panamint and Death Valleys.

After that steady climb, this meadow is a breath of fresh air. It's so beautiful. You could see on both sides the mountain range.

The meadow nestled between Rogers and Bennett Peaks is a popular camp for those wishing to backpack the route rather than day hike. We hiked a little bit farther to set up camp in order to avoid the high winds.

But the view were amazing!!!

For the next 1.5 miles (2.4km) the trail meanders along the flat and narrow ridgeline passing the occasional limber pine (Pinus flexilis) and some of the best views in the entire park.

The views were so incredible and the solitude was perfection.

The next 3 miles (4.8km) gains over 1,000 feet (305m) as it steeply switchbacks amongst the ancient bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva).

The switchbacks were very hard. The elevation is very noticeable at this point and it seemed like it would never end. But sure enough, it does. We took our time and just made goals (i.e. Just get to that tree. Just get to that rock and rest).

The final 0.2 miles (0.3km) up the narrow ridge to the summit may test the nerves of those with a fear of heights.

Finally! There were two rainbows that appeared towards Badwater Basin and in the other direction, a rainstorm and lightning storm.

We signed the register at the top. Last time I (Drea) was here, there was a lovely bottle of Jack Daniels in it with only one more sip left. This time there were some granola bars and a pack of sealed tuna.

Weary and hungry, we were definitely ready to head back down the ridge to our magical campsite. It was right next to the cliffside over looking the Panamint Valley.

P.S. The 65 degree sleeping temp was divine!

In the picture above the trail continues behind us on the right.

P.S. We hope you enjoy this. We are training for our trip to Nepal this December and January, and this is our first big climb. Elevation here we come!

- Drea & Michael

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