On the Eastern border of California, and near the Western border of Nevada, is an area that is full of mystery, wilderness, and desert solitude. This area is Death Valley National Park. The name alone “Death Valley” transcends time and space, and for hundreds of years has been a beacon to prospectors, explorers, adventurers, and today, casual visitors. While Death Valley is, as its name suggests – a fundamentally hostile environment, with temperatures regularly soaring over 100 degrees from April through October, it is more than a flat wasteland. In reality, Death Valley is one of the most geologically diverse environments on the planet, where the remains of glacial Lake Manly are laid bare, and the effects of active volcanism and erosion are easily visible. Within the confines of Death Valley, one can find tall, uplifted mountains, year-round waterfalls, volcanic craters, sand dunes, eroded canyons, and the lowest spot in North America.
Of the fifty-nine National Parks in the United States, Death Valley is the most infamous, and the least well known. Most people assume that Death Valley is an inhospitable wasteland, with nothing of interest to see or do. However, outdoorspeople, geologists, and adventurers know that Death Valley is a location with interesting geologic features, mining history, tall mountains, sand dunes, volcanic activity, historic structures, and much more. Even if it did not have all of these things and more, Death Valley is a notable location to visit because of Badwater Basin.
The second favorite thing that I like about being an outdoor blogger and sometimes internet personality is helping people. The first thing, naturally, is exploring and being outside. But as for that second thing – I truly believe that, as Plato says, “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others”. For me, blogging started out as a good action – a way to give back and share my knowledge of the wilderness. Since blogging is an imprecise art at best, I’ve also continued to do what I always had done – namely, real life good actions. To me, one of the many positive things about doing good actions is that you find more of them to participate in, which leads me to my current good action, a charity climb of the Shorty’s Well Route with a fellow mountaineer and blogger, David Wherry.
In my opinion, the largest challenge of the Shorty’s Well route is determining the right gear to take for the climb. If you are considering the route, you should be aware that you will need a variety of gear to deal with the various conditions and temperatures from -262 feet of elevation to 11,043 feet of elevation.
Start in darkness. End in darkness. This is what I was thinking at 11:49 p.m. on March 14, 2015. At that point, David Wherry and I had been mountaineering for almost twenty-four hours straight. Minutes before, we had exchanged a few words about how it would be nice to be back at the car before the next day began at 12:01 a.m.; but despite this conversation, we are still shambling along at a crawl into the Badwater Basin our normally powerful gaits reduced to pitiful zombie-esqe shuffling. My legs hurt. My back hurt; and as of 11:32 p.m., my feet had finally started hurting. I felt more dead than alive. At that moment, a mere quarter mile from the car, I was thinking of nothing but two things: “Start in darkness; end in darkness” and its “not mountaineering until someone draws blood”. What we had been doing was mountaineering; there was no doubt in my mind about that. As we finally reached the car, there was one thing I understood fully though: the Shorty’s Well Route was indeed the “impossible hike” and the hardest mountaineering route in North America.
One of the many things that I like about Death Valley National Park is its enormous expanse of open terrain. Its enormous swath of desert and mountain wilderness ensures that you will have solitude to appreciate the park's many amazing geologic features; and it also ensures that you will have the opportunity to have an adventure, and if you're lucky, the chance to discover things that have been lost. For example, earlier this year, when thepeakseeker and I were attempting the Shorty's Well Route (Trip Report here) to the top of Telescope Peak, we came across an abandoned mine. While abandoned mines are common in Death Valley due to the park's mining history, the location of this mine was unexpected. We had backpacked into the Panamint Mountains from the Badwater Basin; and had passed Shorty's Well, and Shorty's Mine. From the mine, we had followed a foot trail which had gradually become steeper deep into the mountains. At the end of the first day of backpacking, we had traveled ten miles from the nearest "road"; and were truly off the grid.
While most of the mines in the park have been sealed by the National Park Service for the public’s protection, some of the mines in the more remote areas of the park can be found and explored by intrepid visitors. Such exploration is not for the faint-hearted: as the above sign states, abandoned mines carry a plethora of hazards. If those physical dangers aren’t enough of a deterrent, the Panamint Range of the park is rumored to harbor a series of large underground caverns containing strange creatures and even stranger relics. If you are interested in exploring a Death Valley mines safely, or just seeing an open Death Valley mine, despite the above listed hazards, the easiest mine to see in the backcountry is Shorty’s Mine.