Our Experience & Trip Report
We had heard of the Low 2 High Route from a few friends. After some research online we decided that it was exactly how we wanted to spend our overlapping week off at the end of April. We knew that this meant we would be in Death Valley while it was still pretty hot - but we liked the idea of the route and the additional challenge this posed. We finished the route in 7.5 days - with a truly epic last 24 hours.
The night before the start we did our food pack at a free campground in Death Valley. We woke up on the first day of our trip and shuttled one of our cars to Lone Pine and then drove the other to Badwater Basin where the route begins. We left our Annual Parks Pass on the dashboard of the car hoping that it would be okay if we left our car there for the next week. Unfortunately, because we shuttled that morning it meant that we were not able to start hiking until around 1-2pm, which meant we were walking through Badwater Basin at the hottest part of the day. It must have been over 100 degrees with the heat reflecting off the salt flat. Either way, we were enjoying the challenge. If we didn’t have umbrellas to give us shade we would have felt very differently about the experience. For all of day 1 we were walking towards Telescope Peak which was our goal to summit the following day. That night we went to bed looking back over Badwater Basin with a beautiful sunset - realizing we probably didn’t even need sleeping bags because it was so warm.
Today we were going to hit our first natural water source of the trip at some point in Hanaupah Canyon. As we walked up the canyon we were not sure what to expect. Around mid morning we hit water and were pleasantly surprised with how beautiful and refreshing it was to fill our bottles and splash our faces. We then started the real climbing of the day - which took us basically until dark. It was steep and hot. We slept atop the saddle of the two big basins and were able to watch the sunset while we ate dinner. Now, sleeping at almost 10,000 feet, we were struck by the ecological diversity of this route. We reflected on the dramatic change in flora and fauna -- amazed to have been in the blazing hot desert sun yesterday, and be experiencing such a cold and windy night right after.
This morning we woke up early to summit Telescope Peak. We don't always climb off-route peaks, but the summit was close - so we ate breakfast and took a quick run to the top. It was totally worth it - with an amazing view from the highest point in Death Valley. We headed back down to grab our things and then started our journey down Tuber Canyon. Today we were picking up our water that we'd dropped at the Trona - Wildrose Cache spot along the road. The bottom section of Tuber Canyon was beautiful. The trail was cut so precariously into the side of the canyon it gave us a unique vantage point. We noticed a vastness that we couldn’t quite sense from the top. As we exited the canyon we were out of water, and looking forward to retrieving our cache. When we approached the area where we placed our cache we were tricked by the landscape. We spent the next few hours looking for our cache - eventually finding it - throats dry, unable to speak, and tired. We spent the next hour slowly drinking water and trying to rehydrate from the past 3-4 hours of not drinking in the heat of the day. We waited to cool down and then walked a few more hours into the sunset and darkness. What a pleasure it is to walk at night in Death Valley with a bright moon - it felt very magical to see that place in a different light.
We woke up in Panamint Valley and were headed to the city of Panamint Springs - looking forward to whatever the restaurant was serving. We headed that way early, hoping to beat the heat. We were once again amazed by the vast desert and how it felt to walk across Death Valley. At some point in the morning we stepped across the highway and Jeff swears he saw some tourists take a photo - probably thinking we were somewhat out of our minds. We took a long mid afternoon break at the Panamint Springs Resort and ate some pizza to celebrate Carolyn’s 28th birthday. We then went across the road to the campground and took a quick shower which was amazingly refreshing. After hanging out for a few hours in the shade we started up the highway towards Darwin Canyon and Darwin Springs. We passed by the Spring and were taken aback by how stark and beautiful water is in such a dry landscape. We headed up the Canyon - opting to travel all the way out, passing by China Garden Spring, where we filled our maximum water capacity - 12 liters each. With much heavier packs, we walked into the moonlight again that evening through the Darwin Canyon wash.
We woke up on day 5 feeling sore from the last several days. We headed out, past wild donkeys, making sure to keep our distance. We crossed over the highway and started our journey down Saline Valley Road. We were passed by many four wheel drive vehicles and a few cars who actually knew that we were on the L2H Route and we exchanged smiles and waves. We continued our road walk and saw two rattlesnakes where the pavement turned to dirt. We almost walked right on top of one that was coiled back and ready to strike. Thankfully it didn't! We camped in an established campsite off the maze of dirt roads below Cerro Gordo. Tomorrow we were headed over Cerro Gordo and were looking forward to our first view of the Sierra Nevada.
We hiked up and over Cerro Gordo peak on a steep four wheel drive road. It was hard to imagine that people even attempt to drive motorized vehicles up that road. We headed across the plateau style top of the saddle and were able to see the Sierra in the distance and down into the Cerro Gordo Ghost Town. We made our way down to the ghost town where we met the owner of a local inn who maintains the town and its buildings. He very kindly offered us water if we needed it - and had a full fridge of bottled water for hikers coming through. We sat on the deck and after a while headed up and across the Inyo Mountains - passing the historical salt tram along the way. Eventually, we found camp along the ridge above the spot where we'd drop into Long John Canyon. We were headed down to Lone Pine the next day - for a rest day and to gear up for Mt. Whitney (or so we thought).
We started looking for the entrance into Long John Canyon early in the morning while it was still dark, and had some trouble finding it. Eventually, after climbing up and over a few different washes, the desert spit us out at the correct spot at the base of the Inyo mountains. We still aren't exactly sure how it worked, but we were glad to finally see our identifiable high points and our path to town. We walked the dirt roads into Lone Pine and grabbed some food at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. We next made our way to the Elevation Climbing Shop to pick up crampons that we had reserved the week before. While we were there we got a weather update and heard that a storm was coming in two days. It was recommended that we summit tomorrow or wait several days - meaning that we would have to walk to the Whitney Portal Campground that night or potentially lose our weather window entirely. We went back and forth for a few minutes - should we drive to the Portal? Should we wait it out and bear with the storm? Should we just go for it? We are stubborn people so we decided to go, rather than risk losing our chance to summit. We hiked out of Lone Pine with our mountaineering gear within the hour. Taking the Whitney National Recreation Trail out of Lone Pine Campground all the way to Whitney Portal Campground - arriving at around 11pm. We were planning on summitting tomorrow and we were exhausted.
We woke up at 2:30am after 3-4 hours of sleep and started our ascent with light backpacks. We reached the beginning of the switchbacks that were covered with snow in late April - strapped on our campons and started up the steep gully. We made it to Trail Crest and navigated the icy patches all the way to the top of Mt. Whitney. At the top we were overcome with fatigue from the last few days. Overhwlemed, we sat down at the top together and took a quiet moment looking out. When we finally began our descent, we felt each painful step, and were reminded that going up is only half the work. At the base, we hitched a ride back into Lone Pine. As soon as we arrived, we looked back at Mt. Whitney and saw huge gray clouds rolling in. A few minutes later it was pouring down rain and thunder boomed in the distance. In awe we watched the mountain darken, knowing that we were lucky, and feeling grateful to have finished the route just in time.