Death Valley: Cold, Rainy, Devoid of Desert Bears

By Brodie Bond  I Logistics Manager

By Brodie Bond  I Logistics Manager

It’s been a few years since I last did a backpacking trip, so last month when my friend Sarah called to see if I wanted to do the three day Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop in Death Valley with her, I jumped at the chance.

It’s been a few years since I last did a backpacking trip, so last month when my friend Sarah called to see if I wanted to do the three day Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop in Death Valley with her, I jumped at the chance.

She lives in Maryland and we don’t get to see each other too often, so I knew this would be a great trip.Added bonus: it was her birthday weekend (did somebody say birthday shots?) There she is:

She lives in Maryland and we don’t get to see each other too often, so I knew this would be a great trip.Added bonus: it was her birthday weekend (did somebody say birthday shots?) There she is:

As always, before I do anything that might put me in harm’s way, I gave my mom the rundown of where I was going and what I was doing. Her first concern? Bears. And whether or not I knew how to use bear spray. Now if you’re familiar with the famous debate between Dwight and Jim over which bear is best, you know that there are two schools of thought. However, neither includes Death Valley Desert Bears. Because they don’t exist. Thanks mom!

Sarah flew in to Vegas a day early so she could rent a car and go explore some of Death Valley’s sights before I got there. I left work early on a Thursday to try and skip as much of the LA metro traffic nonsense as possible. Too bad it was sleeting. My five hour drive turned into seven hours. As everyone knows, Death Valley doesn’t get much rain. I literally just tried to find out how many days, on average, it rains there each year. That statistic doesn’t even exist because of its infrequency. But somehow I managed to drive there and spend my first night camping in the rain.

Pro-tip: It is super dark driving into the park at night. Do not listen to a podcast discussing the psychology behind the plot of The Sixth Sense. I almost cried.

As always, before I do anything that might put me in harm’s way, I gave my mom the rundown of where I was going and what I was doing. Her first concern? Bears. And whether or not I knew how to use bear spray. Now if you’re familiar with the famous debate between Dwight and Jim over which bear is best, you know that there are two schools of thought. However, neither includes Death Valley Desert Bears. Because they don’t exist. Thanks mom!

Sarah flew in to Vegas a day early so she could rent a car and go explore some of Death Valley’s sights before I got there. I left work early on a Thursday to try and skip as much of the LA metro traffic nonsense as possible. Too bad it was sleeting. My five hour drive turned into seven hours. As everyone knows, Death Valley doesn’t get much rain. I literally just tried to find out how many days, on average, it rains there each year. That statistic doesn’t even exist because of its infrequency. But somehow I managed to drive there and spend my first night camping in the rain.

Pro-tip: It is super dark driving into the park at night. Do not listen to a podcast discussing the psychology behind the plot of The Sixth Sense. I almost cried.

Day 1

We pack up our campsite at Furnace Creek and head over to the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station to register our trip. The loop takes three days and they warned us that the only water source was halfway through the 32 mile loop. For me, that meant I had to carry about 2.5 gallons which weighs almost 20 pounds, about half my total pack weight.

From there we had to drive off road for 10 miles to get to the trailhead. Despite it feeling like riding in the worst massage chair of my life, Sarah did a good job driving and got us to the trail head.

This was the only sign we saw on the whole trail:

Day 1

We pack up our campsite at Furnace Creek and head over to the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station to register our trip. The loop takes three days and they warned us that the only water source was halfway through the 32 mile loop. For me, that meant I had to carry about 2.5 gallons which weighs almost 20 pounds, about half my total pack weight.

From there we had to drive off road for 10 miles to get to the trailhead. Despite it feeling like riding in the worst massage chair of my life, Sarah did a good job driving and got us to the trail head.

This was the only sign we saw on the whole trail:

From this point we started following what was left of the “road.” It was a relatively easy day except for the whole getting kind of lost thing that we did. When we finally rejoined the trail, a group of hikers thought we came from the right way and so they turned up there. Whoops. Sarah ran after them to warn them it was a dead end so they didn’t end up wasting any real time or effort.

Every source of information on this backpacking route warns you about the lack of signage and discernible trails. And, despite having a compass, two maps, a written description of the landmarks along the way and a GPS, we still had some difficulty staying on track.

The exact moment we realized we were lost:

From this point we started following what was left of the “road.” It was a relatively easy day except for the whole getting kind of lost thing that we did. When we finally rejoined the trail, a group of hikers thought we came from the right way and so they turned up there. Whoops. Sarah ran after them to warn them it was a dead end so they didn’t end up wasting any real time or effort.

Every source of information on this backpacking route warns you about the lack of signage and discernible trails. And, despite having a compass, two maps, a written description of the landmarks along the way and a GPS, we still had some difficulty staying on track.

The exact moment we realized we were lost:

The end of our first day brought us to a grove of cottonwood trees. And it was cold. I’m an idiot and didn’t do a good job researching just how cold it would be or pack enough warm clothing. With the sun down and the wind blowing, it felt like it was in the 30’s. We even stacked rocks around the tent to try and keep as much of the wind off of us as possible. Who’d have thought that my $7 Walmart sleeping bag wouldn’t be warm enough?

I’d like to thank Sarah for being more prepared than I was. She brought an extra sleeping bag liner and gloves for me to borrow. And I was still cold. She spent a summer as a ranger in Olympic National Park and generally just has like a million times more experience than me camping and hiking.

Even with the cold, it was great to just lay on the ground and look up at the stars. With no clouds and no moon, the stars were pretty incredible. Sarah had never truly gotten to experience the Milky Way before and we even got to see Venus and Mars. My best stargazing experience is still Big Sur but Death Valley comes in at a close second.

The end of our first day brought us to a grove of cottonwood trees. And it was cold. I’m an idiot and didn’t do a good job researching just how cold it would be or pack enough warm clothing. With the sun down and the wind blowing, it felt like it was in the 30’s. We even stacked rocks around the tent to try and keep as much of the wind off of us as possible. Who’d have thought that my $7 Walmart sleeping bag wouldn’t be warm enough?

I’d like to thank Sarah for being more prepared than I was. She brought an extra sleeping bag liner and gloves for me to borrow. And I was still cold. She spent a summer as a ranger in Olympic National Park and generally just has like a million times more experience than me camping and hiking.

Even with the cold, it was great to just lay on the ground and look up at the stars. With no clouds and no moon, the stars were pretty incredible. Sarah had never truly gotten to experience the Milky Way before and we even got to see Venus and Mars. My best stargazing experience is still Big Sur but Death Valley comes in at a close second.

Day 2

Started out with a cold breakfast and frost on the ground. After we packed up we made our way through a couple more groves of cottonwood trees. Which is nuts. They’re just like mini forests in the middle of this hellscape and it made no sense to me how they could survive. Excuse me, trees, but this is a desert.

Then, all of a sudden, horses:

Day 2

Started out with a cold breakfast and frost on the ground. After we packed up we made our way through a couple more groves of cottonwood trees. Which is nuts. They’re just like mini forests in the middle of this hellscape and it made no sense to me how they could survive. Excuse me, trees, but this is a desert.

Then, all of a sudden, horses:

Notice the foal using its big brain to hide from us behind the bush. So sneaky.

Sidenote: We passed by the campsite of the hikers that almost got lost because of us. I realized that each of the four of them had their own tents. But like why? Who does that? So heavy and unnecessary. If any of you dudes are reading this, know that I’m judging you.

Anyway, we were about halfway through our day when we came across a spring and could finally fill up. Our 20 year old water filter conveniently broke so we had to use Sarah’s back up iodine tablets. Because she thought of everything. I somehow managed to use too many though and my water just tasted like iodine for the rest of the trip. Yum.

Proof that water (sometimes) exists in Death Valley:

Notice the foal using its big brain to hide from us behind the bush. So sneaky.

Sidenote: We passed by the campsite of the hikers that almost got lost because of us. I realized that each of the four of them had their own tents. But like why? Who does that? So heavy and unnecessary. If any of you dudes are reading this, know that I’m judging you.

Anyway, we were about halfway through our day when we came across a spring and could finally fill up. Our 20 year old water filter conveniently broke so we had to use Sarah’s back up iodine tablets. Because she thought of everything. I somehow managed to use too many though and my water just tasted like iodine for the rest of the trip. Yum.

Proof that water (sometimes) exists in Death Valley:

It was a good thing we got to fill up then because after that we spent three hot hours hiking up a wide valley until we realized we were lost again. At that point there hadn’t been a trail for several miles and the directions we had went something like “Go north up the valley with the mountains on the right until you find the saddle to the northeast and cross over the saddle.” Thank goodness for the GPS.

At least at the top of the saddle we could look down on this giant valley we conquered:

It was a good thing we got to fill up then because after that we spent three hot hours hiking up a wide valley until we realized we were lost again. At that point there hadn’t been a trail for several miles and the directions we had went something like “Go north up the valley with the mountains on the right until you find the saddle to the northeast and cross over the saddle.” Thank goodness for the GPS.

At least at the top of the saddle we could look down on this giant valley we conquered:

From there we had to navigate down Deadhorse Canyon. This ended up being a 30 minute ordeal down at at least a 45 degree angle. So steep that if you were going up then you would have had to have done it on all fours. But we were rewarded with another cottonwood grove, a campsite sheltered from the wind and two beautiful Red Tailed Hawks.

Day 3

This was the easiest to navigate and it was also our shortest day. All we had to do was follow Deadhorse Canyon all the way down to the truck. That’s where we found the coolest geologic formations. This included some cool looking rock walls and some deadfalls we had to climb down. All leading up to a badass slot canyon.

From there we had to navigate down Deadhorse Canyon. This ended up being a 30 minute ordeal down at at least a 45 degree angle. So steep that if you were going up then you would have had to have done it on all fours. But we were rewarded with another cottonwood grove, a campsite sheltered from the wind and two beautiful Red Tailed Hawks.

Day 3

This was the easiest to navigate and it was also our shortest day. All we had to do was follow Deadhorse Canyon all the way down to the truck. That’s where we found the coolest geologic formations. This included some cool looking rock walls and some deadfalls we had to climb down. All leading up to a badass slot canyon.

I really liked the zebra rock.

The slot canyon was pretty indescribable, 15 feet wide in some places with 80 foot vertical walls of stone hanging over you. It really impresses upon you the sheer power of Mother Nature. Also slightly claustrophobic if you imagined a flash flood coming at you.

Once we left the slot canyon it was an easy 45 minutes down to the truck and we rumbled back to civilization.

I really liked the zebra rock.

The slot canyon was pretty indescribable, 15 feet wide in some places with 80 foot vertical walls of stone hanging over you. It really impresses upon you the sheer power of Mother Nature. Also slightly claustrophobic if you imagined a flash flood coming at you.

Once we left the slot canyon it was an easy 45 minutes down to the truck and we rumbled back to civilization.

Share on

  • Comments (0)
  • Leave a comment

- Dive Deeper -