Live From DV Feb 2013 Trip

I will use this space to post live updates from Death Valley during our February 2013 trip, which began today. We are staying at Furnace Creek this time, which has excellent WiFi. Updates will be daily except in the case where I am overnight backpacking or too tired from long hikes. Since WiFi is excellent, I will try to share at least 3 pictures each day. Many more will be shared in my Trip Reports later.

Death Valley February 2013 Trip

Day 1– Canyon 3

Today we arrived in the park at 1:30pm and headed out to an area I have nicknamed the Ten Canyons Region. To kick off our trip, we wanted to do a short hike into an undocumented canyon. So we decided on Canyon 3, which is just the way I have numbered all of these unnamed canyons that stretch from Cottonwood Canyon wash to Lemoigne Canyon. More on that later in my upcoming report. Canyon 3 is located directly off of Cottonwood Road prior to reaching the drop into the Cottonwood Canyon wash. I had somewhat low expectations going into this hike, but I was pleasantly surprised. The canyon was very interesting… starting out with conglomerate rock narrows and dead-ending at a 20 foot dry fall about 1/2 mile into the canyon. But my friend Tobin found a bypass to get past the dry fall, while I climbed the dry fall. Past the dry fall, we were stunned to walk through a gorge with polished narrows and dry falls (all climbable by those with some minor skills). Then we discovered something interesting which we will be reporting to the park service but not publishing publicly. Finally, the hike ended at a spectacular 40 foot dry fall in the best section of narrows. So a great start to the trip and choice of an undocumented canyon. And this day will always be remembered since it was the first hike I ever took with my son in Death Valley.

Steve and Stefan together for the first time in DV in Canyon 3
Steve and Stefan together for the first time in DV in Canyon 3
Early part of the steep polished narrows
Early part of the steep polished narrows
Dramatic ending to the Canyon 3 narrows
Dramatic ending to the Canyon 3 narrows

New– Slideshows & Death Valley Hiking Recommendations Page

I am happy to report that I have been working on some site updates over the past weekend and will continue to as I have some more to do.  One of the biggest changes is the addition of a brand new Death Valley Hiking & Backpacking Recommendations page.  You can find a link to this new page on the main page of the site in between the links to the Introduction Page and Wildlife Page.  The new page has been put together because of the fact that I have been receiving a lot of e-mails lately essentially asking the same questions… where should I go hiking and where should I go backpacking?  To help answer that, I added this page and explained why I like or recommend the hikes that I do.  Once readers view that page, then they can receive help in planning their trips or write to me for additional details or alternate suggestions.  Hopefully everyone will find this new page helpful.

One other big update to the site is going to be the option of viewing pictures in a slideshow format on select reports for my favorite hikes.  Hiking reports with slideshows will be identified by a small play button icon on the main page.  Once on the report page, there will be a red slideshow button after the introduction paragraph which you can click on to view all of the photos and commentary as a slideshow.  The slideshow has an autoplay option as well as a full screen option.  Test out the new slideshow format by visiting our Fall Canyon report.  The nice thing about the slideshows is that it will allow visitors to see bigger pictures if they wish.  Others might prefer the standard Trip Report way of viewing photos, so we will keep those in the report as well, which is also better for mobile browsing of reports.  All reports where a slideshow is added will have their introductory comments and maps updated.

One final update to the site is on the Wildlife Page.  I completely wrote a new introduction to this page talking about the wildlife out there and what I have seen and experienced.  And I added three additional photographs of wildlife that you might find very interesting to check out.  More updates are coming to the site soon, and I will update this posting to reflect any additional changes in the coming weeks.  I’m going to be updating and revising many of my old trip reports to show more pictures and better maps.  Newly updated and released reports include–

  • DV Hiking Recommendations
  • Wildlife Page (new introduction and 3 additional photos)
  • Cottonwood-Marble Backpacking Trip page (several updates)
  • Sidewinder Canyon (new map, 20 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • Fall Canyon (new map, 15 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • -282 Actual Lowest Point (updated info and 2 new photos)
  • Palmer Canyon (new map, 32 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • Other slideshows added include– Middle Hidden Bridge Canyon, Grave Canyon, Kaleidoscope Canyon, Room Canyon, Funeral Slot Canyon, Willow Creek Canyon, Sand Canyon, Moonlight Canyon, Dry Mountain, Corkscrew Peak, more to come…
  • Lower Marble Canyon (28 additional photos and slideshow option)
  • Cottonwood Canyon (18 additional photos and slideshow option)
  • Dry Bone Canyon (new map, 25 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • Lower Bighorn Gorge (new map, 19 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • Upper Bighorn Gorge (new map, 11 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • Upper Marble Canyon (new map, 9 additional photos, and slideshow option)
  • Trellis Canyon (new map, 28 additional photos, and slideshow option)

Finding Stratosphere Giant– the 3rd Tallest Tree

This past week, my sister and I traveled to Humboldt Redwoods State Park to attempt to track down the 3rd tallest tree in the world (and former record holder for 1st tallest)– Stratosphere Giant.  After spending much time searching through the forest, we were able to find Stratosphere.  Check out this updated report page for information and lots of great photos.  New additions to this page include the introduction and Part 3– Finding Stratosphere Giant.  Early next year, we will return to Redwood National Park to continue our quest to find all of the Top 8 trees in the world.

Updated page–

Finding Helios– the 2nd Tallest Tree

I am happy to report that I returned to Redwood National Park this past week and was able to successfully accomplish something I have wanted to do for a long time.  You might recall that last year, I was able to become only the 3rd person or group in history to find Hyperion, the tallest tree in the world, when I found the titan tree hiding somewhere in Redwood National Park.  My next goal was the find the world’s 2nd tallest, which is known as Helios.  Helios was even more difficult to find and I beat tremendous odds in tracking it down, thus becoming the 2nd confirmed person in history to find the tree since the original discoverers found it 6 years ago.  You can read the full account of my successful search about 1/2 way down the page (after the 1st video) at this link–

Steve & Stefan in Redwood National Park (Oct. 2012)
Steve & Stefan in Redwood National Park (Oct. 2012)

Paleontology Tours in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park has announced the dates for tours to Copper Canyon for the upcoming winter/spring season. There will be three tours on the following Saturdays; November 24, February 9, and March 2. Sign up for the hikes begins about a month before the tour and involves putting your name in a lottery due to high demand. More information can be found at this link–

I last took this tour about 6 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The pictures below show our group being guided up by a park ranger to the tour area and also a secret side canyon we got to explore once the official tour had ended. I can’t wait to take it again someday and I am sure that you will enjoy it, so be sure and put your name in the lottery if you will available for the tours on those dates. I think the lottery system was a great idea, because if I recall, last year the tour dates sold out within minutes of opening for reservations. So this is definitely a more fair system for everyone to have a chance.  This is one of those hikes where I can’t share many pictures, so many surprises are in store for you if you go.

Heading up towards the canyon on the tour
Heading up towards the canyon on the tour
Exploring a secret side canyon after the tour
Exploring a secret side canyon after the tour

Hantavirus and Death Valley

In view of the nine recent confirmed cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) in Yosemite National Park, three of which resulted in deaths (updated statistics as of 9/14), I thought it was important to discuss the matter of Hantavirus and Death Valley.  It’s not a subject that gets brought up a lot or that many people wish to discuss, but it is a necessary discussion.  With the extensive amount of backcountry cabins in Death Valley, many of which have rodent problems, Hantavirus should be a genuine concern to park visitors who make use of them.  Hantavirus is caused by a virus that individuals get through contact with the urine, droppings or saliva of infected wild mice, primarily deer mice. Breathing small particles of mouse urine or droppings that have been stirred up into the air is the most common means of acquiring infection.  The illness starts one to six weeks after exposure with fever, headache, and muscle ache, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.

As far as Hantavirus in Death Valley, the park service is aware of the threat and they make every effort to warn visitors and keep them informed.  The park service has posted warning signs at backcountry cabins, but often these signs turn up missing, likely taken down by visitors who don’t want this information known.  If you are a visitor to a backcountry cabin, please DO NOT remove the Hantavirus warning signs, as it is unfair to other visitors who may make use of the cabins and are not aware of the potential threat to their health.  As far as I know, the rodents in the backcountry cabins have not been tested for Hantavirus.  However, the rodents around both Furnace Creek and Scotty’s Castle have been tested by the Vector-Borne Disease Section (VBDS) of the California Department of Public Health for Hantavirus and some of the tests came back positive.  At Scotty’s Castle, 32 cactus mice and 1 deer mouse were collected.  13 of the cactus mice (or 41%) showed evidence of Hantavirus infection.  Around the Furnace Creek and Cow Creek areas, 12 cactus mice were collected in total.  1 of the 8 cactus mice (or 12.5%) collected from Cow Creek showed evidence of Hantavirus infection.  At Wildrose Campground, 2 canyon mice were collected.  With all mice collected throughout Death Valley, all but 1 of the infected mice were cactus mice.  The risk of Hantavirus from cactus mice is unclear, so all necessary precautions should be taken.  Deer mice are known to carry and shed a Hantavirus that is infectious to humans.

It would be safe to say that all cabins with rodent presence and rodent droppings should be considered potentially contaminated with Hantavirus, and that would just about cover all of the cabins in the park.  Personally, I’m not sure if I have been to a backcountry cabin that did not have some kind of rodent presence either outside or inside of it.  When I first learned about this issue a couple of years ago, I decided to post warnings about it on my Panamint City trip report and backpacking report pages because of the high-profile cabins found there.  Anyone who has read my Panamint City trip report page knows that the Hantavirus issue is highlighted right at the top of the page, and you cannot read that page without thinking about the matter.  One of the issues with backcountry cabins such as those found in Panamint City is that they are not easy to properly clean and disinfect by backpackers in line with CDPH (California Department of Public Health) guidelines.  How many people are going to pack bleach and other cleaning items to bring with them on the long hike up?  Probably nobody.  I actually quit sleeping inside the Panamint City cabins a couple of years ago due to the Hantavirus risk (although I did make a one night exception to this in April of 2012 due to extreme tiredness).

When you are hiking in Death Valley, you can take the following steps to minimize the risk of catching Hantavirus (based in part on CDPH recommendations) —

  • If possible, avoid being around backcountry cabins, mining tunnels, and old structures, especially indoors where wild rodents are likely to have been present.  If there are large numbers of rodents in a cabin, mining tunnel, or other structure, stay out of them.
  • Avoid sleeping in cabins and instead sleep inside a tent that is pitched away from areas that rodents frequent.  Check the ground where you pitch your tent for any signs of rodent activity.
  • If you are backpacking and choose to sleep in a cabin or outside directly on the ground, keep food in tightly sealed containers and store away from rodents.
  • Help keep rodents out of cabins and structures by removing stacked wood, rubbish piles, and other debris from around cabins and sealing any holes where rodents could enter.
  • If you wish to clean your sleeping or living area in a cabin, open windows to air out the areas for at least two hours before entering. Take care not to stir up dust. Wear plastic gloves and a particle respirator and spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10% bleach solution or other household disinfectants and wait at least 15 minutes before cleaning the area. Place the waste in double plastic bags, each tightly sealed, and discard in the trash (or pack out and dispose of properly later). Wash hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Do not touch or handle live rodents and wear gloves when handling dead rodents. Spray dead rodents with a disinfectant and dispose of in the same way as droppings. Wash hands thoroughly after handling dead rodents.
  • Do not disturb, vandalize, or remove Hantavirus warning signs that are posted by the park service.  Respect your fellow hikers’ rights to be aware of issues that might affect their health.
  • When entering a backcountry cabin to check it out or sign into a log book, wear a NIOSH-approved particulate filtering facepiece respirator or other appropriate means of protecting your lungs.  Try to minimize the amount of time you spend inside the cabin.  It is not known if this extra precaution can help prevent Hantavirus, but it certainly can’t hurt.