Story - Death Valley

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Adventure in Death Valley
By Chi S. Chan
November 24,2000

Four of us: Kelly, Chi, John and Tim really did not know each other too well and for some unknown reason, we met, seemed to get along and decided to have a long trip together for the Thanksgiving Holiday.  Our common goal, reach the summit of Telescope Peak.

We did not have a good start, Chi lost her luggage (AGAIN!).  In addition, due to the bad weather in New York, we missed our connecting flight to Las Vegas.  Emotionally, we were all very low that night, but when after Chi’s luggage unexpectedly reappeared from nowhere, things started to turn better each day.

Telescope Peak (11,049 ft)
Surrounding us was nothing but mountains and valleys.  Far to our west, Mt. Whitney covering with snow was visible under the deep blue sky. Down below, a vertical drop of 11,331 feet was a spectacular view of Badwater in Death Valley.  In my mind, the uncertainty about life, the agony of past relationship and friendship magically disappeared. Perhaps, nature somehow, someway does define our existence.

The wind was gusting unmercifully and my face was cold.  A few minutes ago, John had to drag me to finish the last 5 minutes climb so I could officially announce that I was at the top of the Telescope Peak. My hands were nearly frozen and I wore all the winter clothing that I had in my backpack, but I could still feel the brisk of the mountain air.  Carelessly, I wrote something on the scrapbook from the tin box and urged John to hurry down.

With so little experience of high altitude climbing, we did not expect all four of us could reach the summit.  The original plan was John and I would go ahead and leave Tim to take care of Kelly.   They would climb with their own pace and John and I would unite with them on our way back.  With the temperature dropping every minute, John and I did not want to wait for them at the peak.  We attempted to speed up our pace going downhill but the snow on the narrow trail made our descent as equally difficult as ascent. We reached the summit around 1:00pm and the sunset time was around 4:30pm in Death Valley. By 5:00pm, the area would be completely in darkness. We wished to finish the remaining 7 miles before dark.

About 200 feet below the summit, I heard Kelly’s voice.  Surprisingly, Tim and Kelly were approaching us.  Tim joined us first and he asked us how far the summit was. We encouraged him to go on but he told us that Kelly wanted to turn around.  (We found out later that Tim had been using Kelly as an excuse to quit)   We waited for Kelly, and she looked exhausted.  Never in Kelly’s life did she climb a mountain more than 5,000 feet. It is the first time for both Tim and Kelly to try such a long distance (14 miles) and high altitude climbing. It would be a disappointment for both of them to give up in such a close call. John and I encouraged them to continue.  Kelly wanted to push on and Tim had no choice but accompany her.  We took their backpacks and promised to wait for them.

I knew how tough it was for me to finish up the last 200 feet climb, and it would take them a good 30 - 40 minutes to go up and come back down. I did not want to wait for that long, and time was against us.  If we continued to wait, four of us might end up hiking in the dark for the last few miles.  I suggested to John that we should leave and try to get back to the parking lot first. If by 5:00pm, Tim and Kelly still did not come out from the trail, we would call for help.   Neither Tim nor John’s cell phone worked in the mountain.  We left a brief message and informed Tim to catch up as much as they could.

John and I ran down to the path, the trail seemed to be endless. The Roger’s Peak that we passed this morning looked so close but it took us nearly two hours to reach.  We found out the distance in Death Valley could not be measured simply using our naked eyes.  The vast landscape in Death Valley is too broad to be measured.  We saw a beautiful sunset along the trail, by 4:00pm we still had less than 2 miles to go and the sky was getting darker and darker. We were not sure Tim had a flashlight, and we felt a little guilty not to wait for them.  John thought that since we only had less than 2 miles to go, maybe we should wait for Tim and Kelly.  Hopefully, one flashlight could help all of us out of the mountain.

I don’t remember how long we had waited, but when we heard Kelly’s voice, John and I was relieved.  As soon as Kelly saw us, she started to complain about Tim. Here is her version of the story: 

“Kelly was using John’s hiking pole coming down hill.  The trail was narrow in Telescope Peak.  Accidentally, she placed the hiking pole in a wrong spot and she slipped off the trail. Kelly rolled over three times and dangerously hung herself on the cliff. Her instinct forced her to grab on whatever was available around her – nothing but a few dead dried grass.  Tim panicked and lost control of his senses.  He told Kelly not to worry and tiptoed down to rescue John’s hiking pole first. (what is the logic, Tim?) Kelly was frustrated with his action.  She yielded at him and he woke up from illusion and rescued Kelly finally.” 

and a slightly difference version of the story from Tim:

“When Kelly fell, Tim was 10 feet behind her.  Tim shouted out ‘Don’t move, don’t move!’ and Kelly did not move.  But the gravity caused her slipping further down to the cliff.  Now Kelly got ever more scared and she desperately held on to the dried grass with both hands. (according to Tim, she looked very funny)  Rushing to rescue her, Tim lost his balance on his way down and he fell even below Kelly.  Tim seized John’s hiking pole next to him and used it to pull Kelly back up to the trail. Kelly hugged Tim afterward and called him a hero and live happily ever after.”

[end note: Tim, I don’t think people will believe your version, it sounds like a fantasy story, so forget about it]  
We all laughed at Tim and the poor Tim were embarrassed about the whole thing.   Happily, we reached the parking lot and minutes later; darkness came upon us as we drove off.  We were all very proud to leave our footprints on the top of Telescope Peak. 

Moon Walk
I will never forget the Moonwalk in Death Valley.  We rented a hotel right next to the famous “Sand Dune”.  Maybe it was the effect of the alcohol; (we had a bottle of wine every night, what a life!) we went for a moonwalk on Sand Dune after dinner.  Without the suffusion of city lights, the night in Death Valley is pitch black, but the sky is miraculous. It was full of stars: bright, numerous, and most romantic.   Don’t ever miss the Moonwalk experience (even without the moon) when you come to visit Death Valley.

Jeep ride
Our adventure included many Jeep drives on unpaved backcountry roads.  A vehicle with high-clearance is a must for some of our adventures. Our hike to Golden Canyon required a rough drive up to the trailhead. Our 4 x 4 with a bubbles on the back tire almost gave Tim a heart attack.  At the end, Tim named our Jeep as “Bubble Boy”.

Titus Canyon & “Chi’s” Peak
Almost all the Canyons in Death Valley were full of loose sands and rocks. The 21 miles drive through Titus Canyon rewards you with the most spectacular views.  We parked our Jeep next to an unknown Canyon and recklessly attempted to climb up to the top. We first had to pass all the dessert plants which were full of poison thorns. After that, we rambled up on the loose surface of the Canyon slope, while at the same time trying to avoid the falling rocks from the top.  John and I reached the top first, and he named the peak after me – “Chi’s” Peak.  Thank you John! J

It was even tougher to come down to the Canyon floor, Kelly had to climb with her back facing down in order to hold on her balance.  Her posture was kind of funny if you think of it.  When we looked up, we saw nothing but her “full moon” and the funny Tim couldnot help but taking a picture of it.
John and Tim wanted to see the sunrise in Death Valley, but I already saw a beautiful one before in Yosemite.  Beside, watching sunset in Death Valley is a better choice than watching sunrise. (everyone knows that except these three)  So they went with Kelly and completely ignored me.  God, somehow always on my side and he shows it too.   Here is their punishment: these three ran out of gas on their way back to the hotel. Running out of gasoline in Death Valley can be a very dangerous situation.  Sometime you can drive miles and miles without seeing a soul or a gas station.  But that morning, it was fortunate that they met a nice man named “Jeff” who offered them his gas and did not even charge them for it. What a nice man!   Hopefully, this will teach them a lesson that Chi can not be ignored! J L

It is a trip far more successful than we had expected. We all got along so well.  Tim’s never ending jokes added more spice to our trip. John’s advance planning and research made the entire trip full of excitements. Kelly’s courage and endurance made our goal become a reality.  Of course, by the end of the day, the red wine rewarded us and helped us relax in the dinner table.  

Nothing seems to matter anymore when you forgo your past and let yourself be part of nature.   Life goes on…..

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