A seven-hour drive, a van and trailer stuck in the snow, a mile hike with packs in 15-degree temperatures, and no sleep until after midnight.

That sums up the Santa Barbara Middle School mountaineers’ arrival to Telescope Peak in Death Valley on Monday night.

Sixteen eighth-graders, two teachers and two parents are on the school’s annual mountaineering expedition. The trip’s original destination of Mount Whitney was snowed in, but group leader and teacher Victor Dominocielo says the visit to Telescope Peak is more extreme than normal.

“We’ve been up here two other times, and the water has never frozen like this time,” he said.

Driving up the mountain about 8 p.m. Monday, the group went a little too far, “so we got stuck and spent until about midnight turning the vans around,” Dominocielo said. “The kids got out and started shoveling. … It was like a party ‘til midnight.”

After a mile hike, the group slept the first night at an old coal house called “The Kiln.”

On Tuesday morning, everyone hiked with their packs another mile and a half to their base camp called Thorndike campground, elevation 8,000 feet.

A group of students including Jake Garner made two more trips down to The Kiln, totaling six miles, to haul back 2½-gallon water containers.

“It was really physical, but it was also a big mental game,” Garner said. “You have to realize you can do it, but it’s pretty challenging. We got through it, and it was good in the end.”

Dylan Carmody says that so far, it’s the elements that are his biggest personal challenge.

“I would say the cold,” he said. “Last night was 15 degrees. Also, the snow melting in the tent made us a little wet.”

Dominocielo leads the mountaineering trips each year to teach basic mountain survival skills. On Wednesday, with the temperature around 35 degrees, he taught how to build a snow shelter.

“He taught us what he knows, and we go off and do what we need to do,” Carmody said. “We’re building three shelters, all around one tree. All are packed in tight, and we’re insulating them.”

Garner said hopes to sleep in his.

“It’s not good enough to sleep in now, but with some more work we might pull it off,” he said.

Over the next two days, the students will learn how to use an ice axe to prevent sliding downhill, how to identify a potential avalanche and dig someone out if one occurs, and how to measure the snowpack.

Dominocielo said the mountaineers will return a day early because their water keeps freezing.

“We have to melt snow, which was not anticipated,” he said. “So we’re going to burn our fuel a lot quicker, and that’s why we’re going to come home late Friday.”

Despite the extreme conditions and itinerary snags, Carmody said he has no regrets.

“We’ve all been able to handle it,” he said. “Nothing has been so hard that I just want to collapse, but it hasn’t been easy either.”

— Larry Good is a Santa Barbara Middle School parent.