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Hi folks - I haven't posted here in about 15 years.  I miss you all!

I have wanted to paddle Death Valley for decades, but the water only fills up the basin deep enough for paddling once a decade (or less), and I've missed a couple opportunities from other circumstances.   The lowest point in the western hemisphere is here -- "badwater", usually a dry salt pan, at 282 feet below sea level. 

The west coast hurricane Hillary filled up the basin last august to a couple feet deep, but the roads were all washed out and nobody could get in.   Two weeks ago, a couple of those "atmospheric rivers" took aim at california with death valley more or less in the bullseye (well, bullseye after being squeezed out by a few mountain ranges in the way).  Now or never, right?

I went out with 3 friends (these are mountaineering friends from Las Vegas, not paddling friends, as there is no paddling here to speak of).   We drove out early today (sunday 2/25), expecting a bit of a zoo as the internet chatter on the paddling was getting loud and popular. 

We got to our put in about 9-9:30 am -- we didn't go to the official "badwater" turnout, as we expected most people to go there, and knowing the area, we knew that about 3 miles south of there is a nice spot where you can pull off the road with about a 3 foot approach to the water.  I had my Feathercraft Big Kahuna (having long since sold the rest of my fleet after moving west), and Eric and Stacey were in a Sea Eagle inflatable tandem, Jay was solo in one of the same.   I was ok drafting in less than a foot of water, they were ok if they removed their keel fins (although they lost most directional control).

We never saw water over ~2.5 feet deep, and that was quite a ways out.   Murky and salty -- there were even salt crystals floating and/or reforming on the surface of the water....it looked skanky, but actually wasn't bad other than the extreme salt crusting everything.

So we notched this record, long awaited.   The paddling?   Calm, flat, no wildlife, no surf, no weather.  80F air in late morning, water probably 60-65 (cool but not cold).   The scenery was fantastic -- we're clearly in barren desert, paddling on a salt lake, with 6000' of nearly-cliff like mountains rising on our near side, looking across at the continuous rise up to Telescope peak on the west at over 11000' and covered with a healthy dollop of snow.   (If I can figure out my wife's little camera, I'll come back and post a few pictures).  We basically floated around ooh-ing and aah-ing at the scenery for an hour, and headed back in.    Eric and Stacey were doing fine in their tandem, but Jay found it difficult to paddle in the shallow draft -- he disassembled his paddle to make two poles ~3' long and moved along gondalier fashion by lying on his back and poling the bottom !!  With less than 2' of draft, I clearly couldn't dig deep with my paddle, and just puttered along with lazy sweep strokes watching the scenery.

Where there were 4-5 cars at the put in when we paddled out, there were now about a dozen.  We drove back to Las Vegas the more usual route, through the "nexus" of death valley at furnace creek, which took us past the official badwater parking lot and park service signs.   There were at least 50 if not 100 cars here, overfilling the lot and parked along the roadway for at least a half mile in both directions.  People were everywhere, in every sort of garb, about a quarter of them with every sort of floating contrivance you can imagine.  I have never seen this many people in death valley since the last "superbloom" (when the cars were parked everywhere, the barren rock fields were transformed into the poppy fields from the wizard of oz, and thousands of people were wandering through the flowers looking like migrant farm pickers).  Some people were scrambling over a quarter mile of rocks to get from their car to the water.    If you go, be sure to go a few miles further south of the badwater lot to the better put in, which is obvious when you see it.

This year's puddle is predicted to remain only for a few weeks, but the rangers are notoriously bad at making such predictions....the water table for a hundred miles around got soaked and by all reports the Amaragosa river is still infilling it even though the storm was a couple weeks ago.  Nevertheless, if you have any interest in notching this unusual below-sea-level paddling trip on your belt, best do it asap.  Is it worth it?   Depends on what you are looking for, but I'm glad I finally did it.

Jeff Casey    Las Vegas, NV  /   Cedar City, UT     (formerly of MA and NSPN regular).

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Greetings, Casey-san!  Some of us old-timers are still here, you old land-lubber (but not Burnett: he's more at home touring on a Harley-something-or-other...)

Do yourself a favour and google Namaqualand for wild flowers: happens every year in the spring and covers hundreds of square miles in the semi-desert.

Isn't it high-time you two came back east?  😊

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sir christopher - still can't spell "favor" you colonial?  we do sneak back from time to time, but laurel to visit our son and myself for work mostly, and we tend to the quick attack and fast getaway....we can't take the humidity anymore.   someday...someday.

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As promised, a few photos. 

First - assembling the boats at the put in.  We are 3 miles south of the official "badwater parking lot" which is where the crowds were.  Here, it is just a pull off from the road, and only a few feet from the car to the water.739.thumb.jpg.c83efaa0ee2b235badde0285f0c9ce2a.jpg

Next, we are paddling out.   Water only about a foot deep here.  The road runs along the east perimeter of the valley (death valley is huge and long and thin, running predominantly north-south).


Here are Eric and Stacey in their tandem.


Jay is scraping along in his tandem.


Then we keep heading out - looking west across the valley, the slope rises steeply up to Telescope Peak (a bit over 11,000').   A nice climb by the usual trail, an epic one going straight up from the valley.


The lake bed is almost always bone dry with massive deposits of salt, salt towers, salt crystals, nasty stuff.  Not a place for bare feet.  Now, with all the water, the bottom seems to be slimy slick mud, and the water is saturated salt water.   Salt crystals are floating and reforming on the water, and everything (you, boat, camera) quickly become totally encrusted.   (it wasn't as skanky as it looks, but it was a bit skanky.)


From further out, looking back to the east shows the cliff face up towards Dante's View (there is a road to an overlook there - a classic place for photos at sunset, and it was used in the very first Star Wars movie where Luke and Obiwan are supposedly looking down at a town in the desert (painted in).   I think the ridgeline up there is around 6,000' elevation.   It is a technical canyoneering decent (i.e. lots of tricky rappels) down from the ridge to the valley floor.


Looking north along the length of the valley --- it goes a looooong way..... you burn a lot of gas on a vacation in death valley.


And, of course, looking west is up to Telescope Peak.


South, the way we drove in, is again along the length of the valley, but we are close to the south end, so it rises fairly quickly up that way.


Jay finally gave up trying to dig in with his paddles, and resorted to poling for propulsion - perhaps he thought he was a gondalier.   (I guess limeys like Sir Christopher call this "punting".)


And here is a photo that Stacey took, showing yours truly in my trusty old Big Kahuna (which I really should get rid of, as i'm too old and inflexible to get in and out of it with suitable agility -- see the for sale thread.)




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