My favorite thing about Death Valley National Park is the variety that the park provides. The park has the things that everyone expects – blazing hot temperatures, Badwater, and classic desert terrain. But the park also has innumerable things that most visitors don’t expect, such as the Charcoal Kilns and great mountaineering. Yes, that’s right, I said great mountaineering. The most popular mountaineering is on a cluster of mountains – Telescope Peak, Rogers Peak, Bennett Peak, and Wildrose Peak - that are located in the Panamint Mountains. Out of these mountains, Rogers Peak, at 9,994 feet is the easiest to summit, and is a great short day hike from the Mahogany Flat campground.
Directions: From inside Death Valley, you will follow Emigrant Canyon Road for twenty one miles; after twenty-one miles, the road is known as Wildrose Canyon Road. Continue following the road, and at mile marker twenty four, the road will become unpaved, mostly graded gravel. If you are entering the park on Wildrose Canyon Road, you will turn right at the stop sign and continue up the road. After the Charcoal Kilns, the road ascends uphill to Mahogany Flat, and depending on the season, or NPS road repair, may be uneven and or rutted out. I personally would recommend some sort of AWD or 4WD vehicle to ascend the last section, but I have to admit that I’ve seen daring sedans climbing the mountain. Do also note that in winter the road may be impassable due to snow or ice as the base elevation is around ~7500 feet.
From the Mahogany Flat campground parking area, there is a trailhead that is clearly marked with an entry box that heads toward Telescope Peak, as well as a fire access/service road. If you want to head up the Telescope Peak Trail, you can do so, and travel cross-country toward the summit of Rogers Peak once you reach Arcane Meadows (at approximately three miles). You will know that you are headed for the correct mountain as Rogers Peak is covered with NPS communications and weather watching equipment. At this point, you can head back down the fire access road for a roundtrip loop of around six miles.
Alternatively, you can head up the fire access/service road from Mahogany Flat toward the summit of Rogers Peak. This is the route I took with my climbing group in 2010, and it was a great pre-Mt. Whitney warm up. The route follows the road, and it is impossible to get lost from: all you have to do is follow the road (just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz). While the route is rather steep, it also has some great flat expanses, and great views of the Panamint Range, as well as Death Valley below. Once you reach the summit, you can marvel at the view of Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park to the South, and the three hundred and sixty degree view of Death Valley, the Sierra Nevadas, and many other geologic features that are all around you.
You can also crack jokes, like my group did about the NPS equipment at the summit, and if you are fans of the television show Lost, you may think that you have found a sonic fence to block the smoke monster. Or, since Lost is long over, you can come up with your own purpose for the NPS Roger’s Peak Outpost (aliens? Zombie survival?). Following the road, and the road only, the hike will run you five and a quarter miles (5.25) roundtrip. Roundtrip, I’d say the hike is moderate, as it is all downhill on the way back (easy), but all uphill toward the summit (strenuous).
The most popular way to climb Rogers Peak is part of a three-or-two peak summit bid involving Telescope Peak and Bennett Peak. If you are headed to Telescope Peak first, you can follow the Telescope Peak Trail, and then travel cross country on your return trip over Bennett, and then across Arcane Meadows, as described above to Rogers, before heading down the road, or, start your hike on the road to Rogers, then Bennett, then Telescope, before returning to Mahogany Flat.
Tips: I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this as Rogers Peak is over 9,000 feet, but a common assumption is that since this peak is in Death Valley, there is no snow or ice on the peak ever. The Panamint Range does receive a substantial amount of precipitation during the winter, and during this time, it is common for all three of the peaks – Bennett, Rogers, and Telescope to be well-covered in snow. As such, should you be planning a winter ascent, be prepared for the winter conditions, just as you would in any other mountain range. Fun fact: if you are over six (6) feet tall, your head will be at or above ten thousand feet, and your feet will be in the nine thousand foot range should you find the high spot at Rogers’ summit of 9,994 feet.