Memorial Day Weekend, One To Remember, for sure!

Memorial Day Weekend, One To Remember, for sure!
How a novice hiker almost put the Death into Death Valley

By Frank Moss
Frank Moss is new to hiking but his story, told here in his own words acts as a warning to the inexperienced and a reminder to the accomplished hiker, of just how dangerous extreme temperatures can be.


The weekend was coming up, and I was getting excited about going camping in Death Valley. The location was my idea, I had heard from other people about Death Valley and I wanted to see it for myself. Since this was my first camping trip in over fifteen years, I did not even have a sleeping bag, and there was so much I needed to buy.

My friend on this trip, whose name is Leticia, a strong East German girl who has been camping and hiking for ages, was certainly more experienced than me, so I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed.

Anyway, very early on the Friday morning of Memorial Day weekend, I started loading up my Toyota Solara , for the drive to Death Valley.

The car is actually quite big, but after I was folding the seats down and with just my equipment in it, it got quite full.  I knew Leticia would have everything but the kitchen sink but somehow we managed to get everything in the car, and get on the road. Well, that’s what I thought, but we had to first go to the office in Culver City where we both work and feed Leticia’s fishes.

Our first stop was in Mojave for breakfast, at the Road House Caf?.  The coffee was the worst I have had in 10 years (tell me something: why do all waitresses wear those white nurses shoes in old diners; I cannot take my eyes off them).

We got back on the road again and headed towards Death Valley.  It was so nice to be away from Gotham City. (This is what I call Los Angeles.)

I let Leticia drive my car, I never let anyone drive my car but she seemed responsible, even though I did keep my eye on the speedometer. I think it took nearly two hours from Mojave to reach the Wildrose campsite.  It was certainly hot, but bearable. My first impression of the campsite was “Oh my God”. It was just a stone road with small areas where you set up your tent.  I was looking for the nice grass, but nothing or no one around.

We looked around for a while, then we spotted someone who said we should go further up the hill where it would be better to camp. We started up the hill in my, well, I was going to say shiny-clean Toyota, which was by now full of white dust inside and out, and looked like it had been on a Safari. The road we were on was unbearable, as it was full of large heavy stones and I was in fear for my car. After about a mile we decided to turn around and go back down.

Next stop was Emigrant campsite, which took us about forty minutes to reach. This campsite was actually just right off the highway, but again nothing or no one around. One good thing was that we found some clean bathrooms to use. Leticia went, but I did not feel it was time. I have a fear of using bathrooms other than my own at home. I did bring my own toilet seat covers along, just in case I had to go, and I knew that time would come!

We got back on the road again, heading for Furnace Creek, which I prayed would be our final stop. I was getting hot and tired, being in the car all this time.  Leticia was still driving, and also doing a good job of map reading. Hey this girl could find her way out of the jungle if needed. Finally we arrived at Furnace Creek. Boy was it hot! I was dripping with sweat. Leticia did not make a fuss like I did.

We set up the tent and unpacked, and went over to the resort next door so we could get shower passes. This heat was tremendous; the temperature was 118 degrees in the afternoon. I just wanted to drink a large barrel of water; and I did.

Later on that evening we went over to sit by the pool to stay cool. Even the water in the pool was hot. We stayed there for a while, then took a shower. Sleeping that night was so unbearable, that we both slept on top of our sleeping bags. We both had a hard time sleeping. I think the temperature was still near 100 degrees. I had to watch it, sleeping next to Leticia, any slightest move, noise or slurping of drinks would surely cause me a big headache. Believe me, I had a tough one next to me, I am surprised my heart beat was not too loud for her.

Next day we both got up very early so we could hike before it got too hot. We headed towards Golden Canyon, which was just down the road.  It was 07.30am and was at least 102 degrees.

The hike started from Golden Canyon and ended at Zabriskie point, which was 5 miles roundtrip. We started the hike, which at the beginning was very pleasant, with the sky being deep blue against the rocks.

For the first twenty minutes the hike was not that hard, actually very pleasant.  The elevation did start to get higher, but I did not have a problem – yet!

One hour into the hike, gee, it was getting hotter, I was drinking so much of my water and had already finished a big bottle of Gatorade, whereas Leticia  had not even touched a drop of water. I also was talking too much and my mouth was starting to stick together. I was walking behind Leticia and just kept looking at her backpack, as she had a water bottle hanging out, and I could hear the water moving around in the bottle.

Okay, the time came where I collapsed; we were only half a mile from the top, I could see Zabriskie point. My legs were so tired and the heat was just beating down, it now was at least 118 degrees again.  Leticia took a photo of me washed out.  I did feel a bit bad for her as she loves to hike and I would have loved to complete the hike to the top.

We had a short rest, or I should say, I had a short rest.  Leticia did not even sit down maybe she was a robot or some type of Android – wow, that explains the coldness she portrays towards me.
We started back down and now I was thinking “I hope I can make it”, I was so done.  My water was very low, but I knew Leticia had plenty – not that I could get any off her.  I would have to be not breathing to get a drop. I found it hard going down, my legs were dragging as they had no strength in them, the robot next to me looked like she was out on a Sunday walk.

Finally I could see the bottom where my car was parked, it seemed forever just to get there.

Again I just collapsed at the car and threw whatever water I had all over my head. I had made it. I was alive. We both got in the car and blasted the air-conditioning on, wow, that felt awesome.

So, our last day in Death Valley we spent staying cool by the pool and drinking plenty of anything, mostly though some “Shandies” in the bar. (half Coors Light & half 7Up)

Next morning we packed up and headed out from this tremendous heat and Death Valley. I could feel the temperature getting cooler by the mile as I held my hand out of the window trying to scoop up any bit of cool air I could.

Death Valley Facts:

Death Valley has the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at Badwater, with –282 ft. It has 3.3 million acres of spectacular desert scenery. The highest recorded temperature is 134 degrees Fahrenheit, at Furnace Creek in July of 1913.

In June of 2000, Death Valley claimed the life of tourist Gerhard Jonas who attempted to hike from Golden Canyon to Zabriskie point in 112 degree heat. He did not make it. He died from heat stroke. One year later, Frank Moss almost took his final hike on the same route in 118+ degree heat, but was able to return to tell the story.

Frank Moss is from Liverpool, England, but he has lived in the U.S.A. since the early 1980s. He is new to both hiking and writing.

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