Permits secured. Caches staged. Transit organized.
I got out of the field on Wednesday evening and was on the road by Thursday morning. I wanted to tie off all of the loose ends before I ticked off another wishlist trail, the Skyline-to-the-Sea near Santa Cruz, CA. First stop: Death Valley. I walked into the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to get a permit and check in with rangers about water sources in Hanaupah and Tuber canyons.
Unfortunately, the ranger I spoke with didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. He assured me that he had no information about either of those water sources, that no one had been available to check on them for the last eight or nine months, and finally that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was running and wouldn’t be surprised if it was dry.” Cool. Super-helpful. At that point, I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Next, I asked about the quality of the West Side Road. I figured I’d just drop a gallon of water at the start of the Hanaupah Canyon Road split, just to be safe. I told him I had a Camry, and he discouraged me from driving the road. At this point, I was getting skeptical. He was being vague and his body language was shady. The conversation didn’t really feel productive. It was more like him trying to passively discourage me from doing what he knew I was about to do, even though I hadn’t explicitly told him my intentions. I just said “thanks,” and walked out.
No sense coming all that way and not having a look for myself, so I drove out to the West Side Road. Looked fine from the pavement, so I drove on down. The split off for Hanaupah Canyon was only like 10-ish miles away. I took it slow. I’ve taken that car many places I might ought not have, but I’m always uber cautious. The last thing I ever wanna do is get stuck- and I haven’t yet. West Side Road was no exception. In fact, it was well-graded and totally legit the whole way. I dunno what that guy was talking about. I dropped a gallon of water and drove back to the visitor center to get a permit. I suspected the spring would be running, but I didn’t wanna take any chances.
When I returned, my friend was still there. I filled out the permit paperwork, and he looked it over. I’m sure he wasn’t surprised to see my itinerary. He didn’t say anything to me directly, though I saw him note in the comments section “User is well-prepared.” I was wearing athletic shorts and flip flops, so I thought that was generous of him.
I understand that it’s an important part of a ranger’s role to discourage their average users from taking on really challenging itineraries, as the average national park goer has a poor track record of treating our protected lands like amusement parks. Folks say “Wow, walking from Death Valley to the top of Mt. Whitney looks like fun. I love hiking!” Sometimes people don’t realize that a trip like this isn’t an extension of the Whitney Portal Trail; there are no check steps or steady grades. This is hardcore. There are no rest areas or water fountains in the Death Valley backcountry. When you walk out onto the playa and across Badwater Basin, you’re on your own. Carrying a SPOT device is no substitute for thorough planning and good judgment.
Hanaupah Canyon was only the beginning of my water caching quest. My general plan was to drop a couple gallons of water at the locations where I intended to camp. That way, I could use water for cooking and “camel up” at the end and start of each day to ultimately minimize how much water I would need to carry. I also dropped food at three of the four caches.
I dropped my second cache at the route’s intersection with Trona-Wildrose Road. The road itself was closed due to a washout. I had my road bike with me, so I skirted the cones and road the five miles up to the drop point with three gallons of water and a food drop en tow. Not sure if that was actually allowed…our secret.
The drop at the start of Saline Valley Road was easy peasy. And driving the road up to Cerro Gordo was easier than I’d anticipated. My plan was to get as close as I could in my Camry, which ended up being all the way. Guess the road had been recently graded. Super-grateful that I didn’t have to hike the drop in (which I was prepared to do).
Finally, I left a hiker box at the Whitney Portal Hostel in Lone Pine this morning before heading to the coast. Didn’t have to mail it or anything. Just dropped it off and they were happy to hold it for me. I packed both food and some gear I thought I might need for Whitney and the High Sierra Trail: some extra warm layers, a sleeping bag liner, even microspikes.
I stopped in at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center on my way out of town to pick up my permit, but they wouldn’t let me grab it a week early. Turns out you can’t pick up the permit until two days prior to the permit date. I told them what I was doing and that I probably wouldn’t have cell service and might not be able to get there before they close on Oct 9. She said that she was sorry and that there was nothing she could do for me today. The only option was to call them – again not more than two days early – to ask them to leave the permit in the overnight box. Hope I have cell service!
I’m so freakin’ psyched thinking about this trip – it’s getting real! But first, a quick challenge hike I’ve been meaning to do out on the coast: The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. Let’s just call it a warm up.
Permits secured. Caches staged. Transit organized.