Manny and I decided on short notice to catch another desert scramble. The Sheep Hole Mountains High Point is a tiny mountain range outside of Twentynine Palms. Route finding is pretty challenging, but the terrain was never more than class 2. It’s a great little short and steep hike.
We left the car, and within 10 minutes, we found ourselves scrambling up extremely steep terrain. In fact, as we approached the mountain, the drainage we were headed toward looked so steep that I wondered if it was climbable.
This is the starting point of a network of trails that link Zabriskie Point, Manly Beacon, Red Cathedral, and Golden Canyon. There are a lot of choices. The 6-mile out-and-back trail we picked takes about 3 hours at a slow pace – winding through some of the most interesting terrain Death Valley has to offer.
The summit ridge is the highlight of the route. Once we acquired the ridge, we had a god’s eye view of the entire valley with sharp drop-offs on each side. Walking along this “sidewalk in the sky” was pure euphoria. Words, pictures, and videos can’t describe it. You have to be there.
By way of confession, I’d like to say that Wes and I “slayed the Dragon” of Dragon Peak. That would be the macho mountaineering thing to say, but that’s not exactly what happened. We did get to the summit. And we did return. But “slayed” would be a little misleading. One could argue that the Dragon simply wanted to be a good sport, so she played dead and let us walk away.
This is more of a confession than a trip report. When we finally got off trail, Manny mentioned that the last time he peed, he thought about whether or not he should pee into his water bottle, just in case he needed to reuse it. Yes, that’s how bad it got today…
I’ve always been a little afraid of Kearsarge Peak because it looked almost unclimbable with its steep, loose scree-laden slopes. Not because of technical challenges but because it simply looked miserable. I had envisioned slogging up a sand slope where every two steps forward came with a step backward in deep sand and scree. Fortunately, this was not the case
Cardinal Mountain seemed like a good choice for a couple of reasons. I could do the hike in a day if I started early. The route is 20 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation gain, which was close to the limit of what I thought I was ready to do in a day. Completing this hike would help me build the kind of Zone 2 aerobic endurance that would enable more aggressive adventures this season.
Kearsarge Peak wasn’t the most exciting summit, but being here was like coming home after spending a year abroad. Three weeks ago, I was flat on my back, thinking I had injured my back permanently. Now I’m here and hiking up steep elevations with ease. It felt like a miracle. I asked a lot of people to pray for me, so I’m pretty sure it was.
Friday morning, I got on the road by 4:00 am, got to the South Lake Trailhead by 8:30 am, hiked to the summit, and drove home the same day. The hike is only eight miles round trip to a beautiful summit – although I almost hiked to the wrong summit that most people call Mount “No Goode.” It’s an easy mistake to make. As I approached the summit, that false summit looked higher than the real one, but this was an optical illusion.