Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mid-winter hiker's dream

Three days ago, the last day of our escape from the gray days of New England, we stood on Dante's Peak. Below, and to the west, our past adventures spread out on the landscape. In the previous days we'd been from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the US, to the flanks of the highest, Mt Whitney. From 80 degrees on the Mesquite Dunes to hiking in six inches of snow and 30 degrees on the Wildrose Peak. One day we were being blown over by thirty knot winds on the edge of the Ubehebe crater, the next listening to absolute silence in the depths of an unnamed Canyon. On Friday we left a backwater Nevada town for an L.A. backcountry outpost. Two days later we hiked up to a rare desert waterfall.

Needless to say it was an awesome time and a lot happened. It's going to take a few posts and I hope I can cover it all.

But first a little geology lesson.   You can't really understand Death Valley until you know the geography and how it was formed by geological forces over the eons.  Death Valley is not just one valley it's a couple of valleys and about five mountain ranges built over millions of years. The National Park Service has a great diagram that illustrates the process. The faults pulled apart lifting the mountain ranges, some as high as 11,000 ft.

Mt Whitney, just 50 miles outside the park towers over the Sierra on the West at 14,505 ft and is the tallest mountain the the contiguous US. And while this is all desert, what little rain there is all stays in the valleys and evaporates. What very little plant life there is, is not enough to create top soil and all those millions of years to rock building, lifting and eroding is all just out there. Visible to the naked eye. I imagine it's a geologists dream. I'd had my doubts about the place being a hikers dream but S.D. was right after all.

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