Some people climb mountains for the challenge; some people climb mountains because they have a burning desire to be atop high places; some people climb mountains for the physical activity; and some people climb mountains just because they’re there. There’s a million reasons why people climb mountains, and if you run into people on the trail, it’s always interesting to hear why people are there, what they are doing, and if they are lost, help them out by giving them directions and encouragement. One of the most honest reasons I’ve heard for climbing a mountain was on Wildrose Peak by a transplanted Frenchman named Bernard who was living in Los Angeles. Wildrose Peak, incidentally, is the small sister of Rogers, Bennett, and Telescope in the Panamint Range of Death Valley, clocking in at 9,064 feet. On that trip, I had been on a climbing tear – I had powered up Whitney in winter conditions on Saturday, and bagged Telescope, Bennett, and Rogers on Sunday. It was now a Monday, and rather than take it easy – I decided to climb Wildrose Peak.
I hadn’t had time to talk to anyone on Whitney, except for a few words to climbers at the Portal – too much snow, too little daylight; and there hadn’t been anyone for me to talk to on the Telescope trifecta. After a couple hours alone on the Wildrose Peak trail, I felt like I was going to not talk to anyone for at least another day. Then, there on the summit was Bernard. We talked for a minute or two; and then he laid his reason for climbing Wildrose Peak at my feet. He said, “I come here every year to get away from my wife.” Now, I’ve been climbing for a long long long time. That’s probably the funniest – and most honest answer I’ve ever heard anyone give regarding why they were climbing a summit. So – Wildrose – good for getting away from spouses – and a good hike.
Directions: If you’re headed to Wildrose Peak, you’re going to want to start from the Charcoal Kilns parking area. From the parking area, the trail is clearly signed and starts from behind the kilns. The trail starts out gradually, and provides gentle elevation gain for the first mile. At around the first mile, you will start to notice one of the unique things about the trail, namely that it used to be used for logging before Death Valley was a national park. A little bit after one mile of distance has elapsed, you will pass a former USGS gauging station in a wash; however, there isn’t much to see there anymore, but it is yet another curiosity. The trail, for the most part to this point, is gradual uphill; and in most places, covered with shade from the pinyon pines and other trees.
However, once you have gone about two miles, the uphill section of the trail becomes much steeper, and this again raises the question of whether this is a “strenuous” hike. Again, like Telescope, you are gaining a fair amount of elevation – just over two thousand (2,000) feet from the charcoal kilns. But, again like Telescope, you have some distance to gain that elevation – 4.2 miles one way. The first time I climbed Wildrose – when I met Bernard, my legs were a little tired from the two days prior, and in between miles two and three of the ascent, I remember thinking that this was the hardest peak in the Panamint Range. But, when I went back on other occasions, while I found the hike steep at times, it didn’t seem like anything difficult at all. Again; judge your skill level accordingly, and that of your group.
In my opinion, however, the steepest section of the trail comes after a preliminary set of switchbacks leaves you on a saddle just below the summit of the peak. At this point, you will have hiked 3.1 miles; however, you will have to gain ~900 feet of elevation in the last 1.1 miles to reach the summit. For most of this ascent, you will think that you are going to be on the summit when you reach the visible top. Not so! This is a false summit that is close to the actual summit. Once you are on the false summit, however, you are a mere stroll from the actual summit. The actual summit is a broad, flat expanse, which is a large contrast to the summit of Telescope, which is narrow and cramped. The views, again, are stunning from the summit, and there is still a three hundred and sixty degree panorama of the surrounding terrain. When you are ready to return; you will head back down the way you came.
Tips: Even though the temperatures at Wildrose will not be in the hundreds during summer, it still can get quite hot on the mountain, even with the patches of shade, so do bring plenty of water. As I noted above, there’s a couple of interesting items to be seen on the trail as well. I’d say this is a great hike for anyone to attempt, whether they are experienced or not; and whether they are looking to get away from anyone or not. And, as discussed before – if you are going in winter, do bring the proper gear!