Hiking from Shorty's Well to Telescope Peak in Death Valley

Notes by piero scaruffi | Back to California hikes

  • Length: at least 35 kms one-way if you go on a straight line (there is no trail for most of the way)
  • Starting Point: From SR 190 in Furnace Creek head for Badwater, turn right onto Badwater Road, turn right onto Westside Road. This is a dirt road but in the dry season it is feasible with regular cars. About 20kms later (2 kms after Tule Spring) at the intersection with Hanaupah Canyon Road is the starting point: Shorty's Well (well marked in 2013). Turn left if you want to see the real parking lot. The route is on the right, marked Hanaupah Canyon Road. Note that this road is mostly passable to regular vehicles but the whole point of the hike is to start from Shorty's Well (below sea level), not from the end of Hanaupah Canyon Rd (much higher).

  • Trail-end: from Wildrose take the road to the Charcoal Kilns and, if your car makes it, continue up the steep dirt road to Mahogany Flat. Most cars stop at the previous campground, Thorndike.


This is "the" impossible hike in Death Valley: The general direction of the hike is from east (Badwater area) to west (Telescope Peak), from the lowest point to the highest point. The trailhead is in the general Badwater Basin area, i.e. about 80 meters below sea level. The summit of Telescope Peak is at 3,367 meters of elevation. Therefore the hike involves an elevation gain of about 3450 meters.

First, you have to walk the Hanaupah Canyon dirt road to the end, which i assume to be at Shorty's Mine. For two hours the road winds its way towards the mountains and finally enters the canyon proper.

It takes about three hours (an extra hour) to get to the right bend (as you are approaching it, you may feel that it is a dead end).

Shortly afterwards there is a sign that bikes are not allowed.

Follow the canyon (the trail/road is invisible at this point), ideally staying on the left side, for about 30 minutes to reach the spring (impossible to miss because there is a lot of vegetation around it).

Shorty's Mine is a short detour from the spring: the trail leading up to the mine is very visible from the spring on your left handside. If you hiked up the canyon on the right handside, you will have to find a way to cross to the left in order to get to the mine, a fact that might involve some bushwhacking (the "spring" is actually a creek).

At this point the route makes a sharp right turn to follow the creek to its origin. There are two ways to do this sharp right turn and head for the saddle where the creek is born.

1. The astute scout will notice a road (in relatively good conditions) that rises from Shorty's mine towards the peak to the left (if you are standing at the mine). This old road follows the drainage of the creek for a while, but eventually bends left and moves away from the creek.

This is the route that i followed: i took the road up to a point, then descended to the drainage and started climbing on the left side of the drainage past the junction with a (dry) tributary. Right at the other side of this tributary i found a use-trail and followed it up the ravine and then just climbed over rocks.

2. Most people, however, follow a different strategy. Across from Shorty's Mine there's a prominent slope of scree. Climb this slope in order to get to the ridge that coasts the creek on its right handside. This option seems to involve a lot more "loose scree" kind of climbing, which is taxing on your legs. The ridge rises gently.

Whichever strategy you follow, you will get to the top of the drainage, which looks like a saddle. If you follow my strategy, you have to move to the right when you reach the saddle. If you follow the ridge, you hit the saddle on the left. At this point you enter a foresty plateau and keep climbing through it.

You have impressive vews of Badwater behind you, east of where you are going.

This foresty part leads against the northern wall of Telescope Peak. This is a very steep wall, and it comes at the end of what has already been a grueling approach. Needless to say, most people try to maximize the shade as they climb up this wall. There are trees all the way to the top, although they get more and more sporadic.

You are heading for the trail that comes up from Mahogany Flats.

Eventually it becomes intuitive where the trail is, but it is still a surprise when you actually hit it (unless hikers on the trail revealed its location). Most likely you will hit the trail about 2kms from the summit, unless you are a masochist and want to continue scrambling on the left hand-side where the ravine hits the trail at a much higher point. I left my backpack there and sort of ran to the summit.

The last part of the adventure is getting down to the trail-end, which is also the official trailhead for Telescope Peak: Mahogany Flats. From the summit to Mahogany Flats the distance is 11kms. Keep in mind that there are a couple of uphill sections that will drain your last energies. For most people the "downhill" hike from Telescope Peak to Mahogany Flats takes 3 hours. If nothing else, this part is all on well-maintained trail. And most people also have to walk down from the trailhead to where the car is parked (likely another 2 kms).

The rangers warn you against the heat and they are right. Two footnotes though: if you start before sunrise, you will not be in the sun until you reach the spring because you will be walking into the canyon when the sun is still low; and the foresty plateau offers some shade, even at high noon. As you approach the summit, you might actually be freezing. As far as water goes, there is always water at the spring. However, keep in mind that the spring is still very far from the summit and you'll need a lot of water during the steepest climb and during the hot hours. Do not attempt this unless you are an experienced long-distance cross-country hiker (with an excellent sense of humor).

The route as seen from Dante's View:

From inside the canyon:

View of the route from the trail:

This one shows the entire route. The solid line is the route that most people follow. The dotted line is my variation.

Times and milestones:

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