HIKE TO: Telescope Peak TRAILHEAD: Charcoal Kilns (road to Mahogany Flat closed in Winter) ROUTE: Mahogany Flat Road > Telescope Peak Trail MILES: 15.8 miles TIME: 10 hrs DATE I WENT: 1/23/22 DIFFICULTY: moderate ELEVATION: 11,046 ft / 3,366 m ELEVATION GAIN: 4,075 ft HIKE PERMIT: no LOCATION: Death Valley National Park
The main difference between hiking to Telescope Peak in the Winter vs. Spring-Fall
- Road closure: the road to Mahogany Flat is closed in the winter (icy) so you have to park farther down at Charcoal Kilns and start there. This adds an extra warm-up to the long day.
- Elevation at Charcoal Kilns starts at 6,924 ft and the typical TH at Mahogany Flat Campground is 8,127 ft
- This road closure adds 1.63 miles (one-way) and 1,203 ft of elevation gain
- This adds 3.26 extra miles round trip.
- The Telescope Peak Trail is normally 14 miles out and back with about 3,000 ft of elevation gain according to the NPS. If you’re planning to hike this in the Spring-Fall season, this guide will not be as useful for you – I believe there is no water source on the trail so keep that in mind!
- Snow is likely covering the mountain so be prepared with the proper gear!
- The snow-covered trail eliminates having to slog up any switchbacks
- So why go in the Winter?
- Temps are cooler
- The Eastern Sierra peaks are less accessible so it’s an adventure if you’re looking to get away on a high-altitude hike.
- There are so many other things you can see in Death Valley too while you’re in the area!
I’ve put off hiking Telescope Peak for so long but it’s actually a really beautiful hike & I’d recommend any experienced snow hiker to get out there now!
Telescope Peak Winter Hike Trail Report
We started from the Charcoal Kilns parking lot at 7:30 am and took 50 mins to get to the official TH (Mahogany Flat Campground)… that was a bit longer than I expected with all the snow and ice on the road, but there was not enough to want to put our crampons on.
It was a sunny but very windy day with forecasts at 10-20 mph winds but felt a lot more like 30+ mph at times.
After a quick snack and de-layering break, we started on the Telescope Peak trail at 8:35 am. The snow on the trail for the first two miles was a bit tricky – we weren’t wearing our crampons yet but there were little-to-no tracks to follow at a few short sections, the trail was on the mountainside which sloped downhill to the left (& I have a fear of sliding off the mountain on any snow hikes), and snow/ice so firm that I probably should have put my crampons on… but I had a hiking partner that was very comfortable hiking in the snow and patient with my slow and cautious pace (we did strap on our crampons on the way back).
We stopped for our first long snack break at 10:23 am just before reaching Arcane Meadows (the saddle of Rogers Peak and our trail, elevation of 9,608 ft). There’s a 0.3-mile detour to get to Rogers Peak but given the late winter start and all the snow, we just went for Telescope Peak.
This was one of those trails that I’ve noticed I really needed to eat a snack every hour or my energy levels were depleted. Even the “easier” trails can do that to you. I also haven’t been at high altitude for a while before that which could have affected my energy as well… or maybe it was skipping dinner the night before and not eating breakfast😬
The trail then continues downwards a little to some flat ground, then around and up the right side of Bennett Peak, before a little downwards again to the next saddle. This side of the mountain is in the shade in the morning so the snow was a bit firmer. The elevation gain here is mellow but something I didn’t consider when planning this hike is that the snowy trail follows along the side of the mountain… which makes me nervous when there’s snow. Any normal person would be ok but I was a bit anxious and moved a lot slower on those sections.
At 11:49 am, we were staring at the bottom of the ridgeline at 9,977 ft and 4.8 miles from Mahogany Flat Campground. It got slow from here for the last 1.5 mi. When there’s snow, you get to skip some switchbacks but tread carefully as you’re on a (wide) ridge and the wrong step could send you down the side of the mountain.
There is a false summit about 0.25 miles from the summit which sits at 11k ft.
Moving at a slow and steady pace with plenty of snack breaks and time to strap on our crampons halfway up the ridge (there was definitely an icy section before the ridge when we went), we finally reached the summit of Telescope Peak at 1:30 pm.
Tips for hiking in the snow: *On the way up: kick your toes in first *On the way down: dig your heels in first *Bring hiking poles! I felt a lot safer hiking with Mark's ski pole which has an ice ax head but a regular hiking pole will do *Bring crampons or microspikes, depending on the conditions. Yaktrax will not cut it - on our way down, we saw some Yaktrax tracks that turned around within 1-2 miles from the hike - there's a time and place for them and a big snow hike is not that time or place.
It took us 4 hours to get all the way back to the car and we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset along the way. The wind did get a lot stronger on the way back too!
*TIP* Driving to/ from LA? It’s faster to drive back through Jawbone Canyon and Trona Pinnacles than to to drive through Olancha. Gas was also more expensive at Olancha than Panamint Springs which is pass the Death Valley National Park sign, which was a bit surprising (as of Jan 2022