Exploring the Kingston Range: Part 1 of A Trip to Death Valley

It’s been five days since I’ve been in civilization. I’ve just got back from being in Death Valley, and now I’m sitting in an In-N-Out enjoying a grilled cheese in silent company. My pants are torn, and the once dark green color is now muted by layers of dust and dirt. My right boot is being held together by a few strips of duct tape. A light ring of salt stands out on my navy blue shirt. I don’t even want to imagine how I possibly smell at the moment. The only thing that looks slightly good on me is my beard. Yet despite all of this, I’m smiling from ear to ear, from having an incredible adventure, with some incredible people.20141120_122202

It’s been over ten months since my last trip to Death Valley and I can attest that it has been way too long. I didn’t go by self on this trip, but rather a large group. Large group camping trips aren’t really my thing. I like to be in small groups or solo whenever I can, but sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and do something different. After all, variety is the spice of life. The trip was planned for five days and four nights. Over half of the trip was to be spent outside of the national park but still in the surrounding area known as the Kingston Range.

We camped out at one of my favorite campsites called Horse Thief Camp. It is usually completely empty and it has a vaulted toilet so there is no need to bring your own toilet or make a cat hole if you need to go. There are remarkable views in every direction in this camp. Last time here we mainly focused on exploring nearby abandoned mines, however this time we explored the nearby mountains.

Hiking up these mountains are a bit challenging as 20141120_155532there are no trails that really lead to the top. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find a worn path, or at least something resembling a path. If you do go, and decide to hike these mountains, be prepared to scramble. The rocks here in and around Death Valley are mainly made up of carbonate rock and when they weather and break they can become very sharp. My best way to describe it is to imagine touching a starfish only the tiny spines are much sharper.

The first mountain was not really a problem and it was relatively easy to get to the top. Once at the top my friends and I were treated to some spectacular views. The partly cloudy sky made shadows that stretched through the valley. It was as if an artist’s brush had painted the valley. 20141119_141536It was surreal on that peak, almost like in a dream, but with the cold air to remind you that you’re alive. You couldn’t help but just stand there and take in the breath taking views as hawks screeched and dived around the mountain. I almost wanted to stand there forever, looking off into the distance, at the horizon. It was so peaceful, it was tranquil. But all good things must come to an end, so we headed back to camp.

The first night in camp was spectacular. The camp fired roared and we all gathered around to keep warm, as the night grew cold. You can learn a lot about a person while at a camp fire. There are no distractions, no television, no phones, no communication with the outside world. In that time, you learn about a person, and what makes them who they are. You learn what makes them laugh, and if your lucky you learn a story about them. It’s funny to think that in the end, we’re all just stories. Everyone has a story to tell, and every person you meet will become a character in the story of your life.

The next morning we drove a little down the road to the only open area near the north side of Kingston Peak. We hiked a couple of miles through dry riverbeds and prickly brush as we tried to head up, what looked to be a way up to the spine of the mountain. 20141120_080643When we got closer to the top we found that it would be treacherous to continue on that path as the natural rock had formed spires that would need to be climbed and jumped through. Some of the spires were about 20 feet high and the range was as long as a mile, so that way was out of the question. It appeared we would have to go back and try to make our way up another peak.

20141120_120721As we approached the next peak we found it more difficult than anticipated. This mountain was covered in scree, and with no trail to lead up to it, we had to make our own way up. I snaked my way up as if I was on a switchback trail. Taking care to ensure I had sure footing as I went up. A slip and fall here would be unforgiving so I had to tread lightly. At some points the incline became to difficult to walk and you had to use your hands to scramble up. On more than one occasion, as I scrambled up the rocks beneath me gave away and began to slip. Let me tell you, I’ve never scrambled so fast in my life. I was winded as the hike was strenuous but when the rock slipped out I was able to move quickly. I scrambled for my life and once I reached stable ground I took a big sigh of relief.

It was all worth it, once I reached the top of the peak. It was higher than the peak I climbed yesterday, and the views were even better. Most of the group gathered on a different peak then me, and for a bit of time I was the only one up there. I felt like the king of the mountain. I sat on the rock and basked in the view. I’ve been telling myself for about a year now that one day, this will be my life. One day, each day will be a new adventure. One day I’ll pack some things and leave, and it will be just me chasing that horizon. But for now this will do. For now, I’ll enjoy the company when I have it, and explore as much as I possibly can. 20141120_125545

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