Lowest to Highest: Badwater to Whitney

March 28 – April 2, 2015, Dan and I hiked about 135 miles from Badwater in Death Valley National Park (279 feet below sea level) and ending at the top of Mount Whitney (elevation 14, 495). The route, part cross-country, jeep roads, and trail was created by Brett Tucker.

Lowest to Highest passes through desert, mountain, and alpine terrain with about 33,021 elevation gain and 20,780 elevation loss. It crosses through Death Valley, up the Panamint Mountains, down to Panamint Valley, up the Inyo Mountains, down through Owens River Valley, then up, up into the Sierra Nevadas. The hike is recommended for seasoned hikers that like a challenge.

 

Our Thoughts

First off, we hiked L2H during the spring. On normal years, the snow levels getting to Telescope and Mount Whitney would make this trip very, very difficult. The recommended time of year to complete this route is in the late fall when temperatures have cooled down in Death Valley and early snowstorms have not yet hit the upper elevations.

This is not a leisurely trip with pretty landscape around each corner. It is a trip with big swings, from elevation gain and loss (very low to very high), extreme temperatures (possible blazing heat to freezing cold temperatures), rough terrain (sand, rock, loose talus, some class 3 climbing), navigation skills with map, GPS, and compass, long water carries with heavy packs (at least as long as the drought continues), some dirt road walks, a variety of snakes, possible night hiking, beauty and desolation, and snow travel with ice axe and crampons (if hiking in the spring).

If you are great with this list and want the challenge, this is the trip for you.

 

Route

This is our route with camps, water, and the variations for Hannupah, Darwin Canyon, and spring Mount Whitney route.

L2H on Google Maps


 

Day Hike Options

If you aren’t okay with the risks, day hiking the highlights of the trip is very doable.

-Walk across Badwater to Shorty’s Well and back (start early in the morning).
-Climb Telescope Peak from Wildrose Campground. It is on trail and can be done in half a day.
-Day hike Darwin Falls Canyon up to China Spring Garden then up the very beautiful little canyon and back.
-Hike the 6 mile round trip Whitney Portal National Recreational Trail from Lone Pine Campground to Whitney Portal and back.
-Climb Mount Whitney during the summer when the trail is snowless.

 

Water Cache and Food Resupply

Food Resupply 

We left a resupply box at the store at Panamint Springs to pick-up when we walked through. We also left a full resupply in our car we left in Lone Pine with food and gear for climbing Mount Whitney.

Water Cache

  • Minietta Road (Panamint Valley)
  • Hwy. 190
  • Owenyo Lone Pine Road and Lone Pine Narrow Gauge Road (Owens Valley)

We cached water in gallon jugs, then smashed them flat and carried them out. The first set we threw away in Panamint, the second set we flagged a ranger down on Saline Valley Road and he kindly took them for disposal for us.

 

Gear 

Dan’s L2H Gear List

Rockin’s L2H Gear List

 

Links


Photos

  • View all photos from the trip on Flickr


Tips

  • Badwater to Mount Whitney: Backpacking as a Couple
  • L2H Day 1 – Hell to High Water
    -Take enough water. It is surprising how much you will need and drink.
    -You will be doing a lot of bushwhacking through Hannupah. Maybe stay on the south ridge above the creek to avoid some of it.
    -Yes it really is straight up from Hannupah. Just lean in you are on the right route. All is hard.
    -The top of the ridge has a faint use trail with lots of  places to pitch along the way.
  • L2H Day 2 – Talus, Telescope, and Tuber Oh My
    -Wear pants or some kind of leg protection up the ridge and in Tuber Canyon.
    -Until our drought is over in California, don’t count on water in Tuber Canyon unless you are willing to dig.
    -When the Trona-Wildrose Road is open again, stash water there. If not where the route meets Miretta Road in Panamint Valley worked great.
    -Bring a good headlamp with fresh batteries.
  • L2H Day 3 – Hot Topics
    -Bring an umbrella. Period.
    -Food at the cafe in Panamint was delicious.
    -Don’t count on the WiFi at the resort. It doesn’t work.
    -Loved camping in Darwin Canyon.
  • L2H Day 4 – Characters in the Desert
    -The guidebook description in the book “Hiking Death Valley” by Michel Degonnet of the route through Darwin Canyon is VERY helpful for safety and time. We took the class 3 rock route not the dirt road.
    -Get water before China Gardens near the falls, unless you want to filter out of the fish pond. China Garden is kind of dumping ground.
    -We stashed water at highway 190 and carried out 6 liters of water, but if you have time an additional water cache 8 miles up Saline Valley Road would be helpful, especially if it is warmer weather.
  • L2H Day 5 – Fools on the Move
    -You will be trespassing in the area of Cerro Gordo Mine. We just walked quickly.
    -Be prepared mentally for a very awkward traverse after Cerro Gordo Mine.
    -Shortly after Burgess Mine look for duck on the left and leave jeep road. On the map it indicates the turn off is a jeep road. It is not. Go southwest a bit and meet a well-marked use trail.
    -Biggest tip: pay attention to GPS and maps. The use trail will take you to the wash at the bottom of Long John, then you will leave the canyon and hike on the south ridge above the canyon. This is to circumvent a very high dry fall. The route then steeply dumps directly down into Long John before the spring. We stayed in the canyon and had to climb a steep class 3 up and around. Big mistake.
    -We hiked the section around the Long John Spring at night, so we have no information on the water there. Everything did look dry.
  • L2H Day 6 – Nero Magic
    -You will need a reservation to stay at the Dow Villa, if not the Whitney Portal Hostel across the street is wonderful.
    -Eat breakfast or lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe.
    -Elevation Sports is very knowledgeable, has lightweight gear and snow gear rentals.
    -Hike the recreational trail, not the road to the portal. It is beautiful and well designed.
  • L2H Day 7 – Whitney Wipeout
    -Get an early start even if you are climbing with no snow in the fall.
    -On a normal snow year, the snow level usually starts well below Whitney Portal. We have snowshoed from Lone Pine Campground to the Portal at this time of year.
    -Bring extra clothing layers, you will wear all of them.
    -The Pizza Factory in Lone Pine is open until 9:00 pm, if the Whitney Portal Store is open, get a burger there before heading down.
    -Do not to fall going down the chute if climbing in the winter and please wear a helmet.

Trail Journal