In our exploring of Death Valley National Park, Tom and I have been up lots of canyons but we had not yet climbed a mountain – until this week. This week we climbed up a trail to Wildrose Peak – and three days later my calves are still sore!
Wildrose Mountain is one of the Panamint Mountains just to the west of Death Valley. To get there, we first had to drive down a 21 mile paved road (not very adventurous) that led down a canyon and halfway up the mountain. The road was dirt and very washboard-like the last two miles which meant that we drove very slowly (more adventurous).
The road leads to the Charcoal Kilns which were built back in the 1880’s when mining was just beginning in the region. Up Wildrose Mountain are pinon pine trees which are shrubby and slow-growing. The Shoshone people in the area ate the pinon nuts as one of their staple foods. A pound of pinon nuts has more calories than a pound of chocolate. And they are a good source of protein.
Of course, the mine owners didn’t care about the pinon nuts. They just wanted the wood so they could burn it in the kilns and make charcoal that would be used in mine processing. They chopped down all the pinon trees, destroying this basic food supply of the Shoshone. Within two years they had burned all the pinon trees and could no longer make charcoal on Wildrose Mountain.
We looked at the kilns and then started up the trail to Wildrose Peak. We did not intend to climb all the way to the peak, which would have been an elevation gain of 2,500 feet. Instead, we climbed to the first saddle, considered an easy climb in the guidebooks, which was an elevation gain of 900 feet – mostly in the last half mile of the trail.
Fortunately Tom was willing to wait for me. When he is huffing and puffing at 7,000 feet, he keeps going – just more slowly. I need to stop and let my breathing return to normal before I can continue. It took us a good 45 minutes to do the last half mile of the trail up to the saddle.
The view was worth the work. Even from the first saddle, still well below the peak, we could see Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S., and Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the continental U.S. One direction was mountain peaks covered with snow. The other direction was the entire Death Valley all spread out before us. Spectacular!
There was plenty of snow on Wildrose Mountain. Most of the snow on the path had melted but there were a couple of places that were slippery and treacherous.
I will never be a mountain climber. But when the view is worth the work, I can get there – one step at a time. Wildrose Trail was definitely worth it!