Sonora Peak, Stanislaus Peak, and Peak 10,400

Summer had ended, but I still wanted to get up to the Sierras for at least one more trip before the winter snows came. I was pretty busy for the first month of school, but the second I got an opportunity to sneak away for a few days, I jumped on it. It was a little impractical to go all the way to the east side for just a short trip (alas, we are not Bob Burd), so we decided to tackle one of the easier SPS peaks that we had skipped in favor of higher mountains during the summer. I had had my eye on a Sonora to Stanislaus traverse for awhile, but it seemed too easy for a whole day. I had always just assumed I would do it in a half day while heading back home to the Bay Area, but then I noticed Peak 10,400. This unnamed peak lay a mile or two past Stanislaus Peak, was relatively high, had 500+ feet of prominence, was rarely climbed, and had no nearby trails. In short, it had all the elements that make it mundane to many climbers, but intriguing to me. With this peak added on, the total mileage and day were looking a little more substantial (~15 or 16 miles with 5,500 feet of elevation gain) and would allow me to make full use of this short trip. Oh yeah, and Bob Burd hadn’t yet climbed Peak 10400, so that made it a priority. Have I already mentioned Bob Burd twice in the first paragraph? Sigh…

Anyhoo, Scott and I set out from the Bay Area around noon Friday and tagged Elizabeth Peak (an easy drive-up) before heading up to Sonora Pass to camp at the St. Mary’s Trailhead.

Sunset from Elizabeth Peak

For some reason, I was set on sleeping in a tent that night rather than in the back of the car. However, there was no campground at the trailhead, and I think just setting up a tent on the ground was technically illegal. Scott slept in the car like usual, and I tried to hide my tent behind the car to hopefully avoid detection by any possible rangers. It was pretty late and I didn’t expect to see any rangers, but sure enough, after we had eaten dinner and were just dozing off, a ranger came and did a sweep in the parking lot. I’m assuming he was looking for illicit campers like me, but it seems our efforts to hide the tent behind the car succeeded and he drove away without incident. Rangers: 0, Peakbaggers: 1

Scott had injured his knee earlier in the week, so he was planning on just sleeping and maybe doing Sonora Peak if he felt like it. I, on the other hand, wanted to watch the sunrise from the top of Sonora Peak, so I got up at the ungodly (and cold) hour of 4:30am and was on the trail by 5:00am. It was a chilly, but peaceful morning as I made my way up to St. Mary’s Pass, which I reached after about 20 minutes.

St. Mary’s Pass

With just a faint moon out, I couldn’t see much, but I could make out the silhouette of Stanislaus Peak and Sonora Peak.

Sonora Peak in the pre-dawn light

From here, I turned off the main trail and headed up Sonora Peak. I knew there was a use trail somewhere in this section, but it was far too dark to find even with my headlamp. At any rate, it didn’t matter since it was easy terrain to Sonora Peak. At one point, I passed a rather large duck, but about all that it could tell me was that I was indeed heading towards the mountain, which was quite obvious.

A large duck

As time went on, I could look down on Sonora Pass and see progressively more and more headlights whizzing over the pass in both directions which kind of ruined the feeling that I was super remote, but I was enjoying myself nonetheless. As I got higher, I kept expecting the sun to start peeking over the ridge, but I was left waiting. As I was almost to the top, it dawned on me that I should check the sunrise time again. I was somewhat disappointed to read that it was 7am and not 6am like I had thought.

Regardless, I soon popped out on Sonora peak around 6:05. There were a few rays peeking over the horizon, but the sunrise was still in its infancy. I dilly-dallied up top for a bit, having some water and looking for a register (to no avail), before the sunrise was a little more developed.

Sunrise just beginning
Stanislaus Peak
Leavitt Peak
Yours truly

I finally got a little impatient waiting for the sunrise, and decided to get on with my traverse instead. I headed off the north ridge of Sonora Peak aiming for Stanislaus peak, but with several little peaklets in my way. The first of these, Peak 11010, was both the tallest and most prominent (210 feet) between Sonora and Stanislaus, but its merely just a bump on the ridgeline. Sunrise eventually came just as I was topping out on this peaklet.

I kept traversing the ridgeline, covering several insignificant bumps. Stanislaus Peak had looked very far off from Sonora Peak, but I trusted the GPS telling me it was only a couple miles, and sure enough, I was soon slogging up Stanislaus’ south face.

The South Face of Stanislaus Peak

Having not been above sea level for the past month and a half, I had lost most of my acclimatization from all my climbs in the summer, and it was about this time I started to feel it. Fortunately, the climb was short and some class 2/3 near the top kept me engaged.

A little rocky

Before long, I topped out and took a nice rest. I radioed my dad from on top who was on the way up Sonora Peak. I was happy to hear that he was feeling good enough to summit given his knee trouble.

Looking back at the ridgeline and Sonora Peak
Looking South – Peak 10,400 is that hump in the foreground

I didn’t stay on top too long since I wanted to keep moving onwards to Peak 10,400. From the top of Stanislaus, it seemed very close by and very insignificant. I knew that the prominence was just due to a 500 foot saddle right below it, but it looked even more unimpressive than I had imagined. At this point however, I didn’t really care what it looked like and was just happy to be out traipsing around in the mountains.

I took off down the north ridge of Stanislaus which had some bright red rock in the upper half.

Red Rock

There were some impressive, ~25-foot tall pinnacles made of this same red rock and I wondered if they had ever been climbed. I briefly considered attempting some that looked to go at low class 4 but decided that I should probably refrain since I was alone.

Red Pinnacle

Beyond this red rock, there was a little bit of class 2/3, but it was little more than a minor annoyance. The further I descended, the more impressive the peak became.

Looking a little more impressive

I finally came to the saddle just below the final climb. It felt pretty remote back here with no nearby trails, and little evidence of humans. I did see a few little use trails cross over the pass suggesting that maybe hunters occasionally venture out to this area.

The final climb

The final 500 feet were a certified slog, but luckily it was only 500 feet. I soon topped out on the summit which was an interesting semi-knife ridge.

The top
Looking back at Stanislaus

I kind of expected to see a register, but I couldn’t locate one after a good amount of searching. Having already climbed about 5000 feet, I was a little tired and took a nice rest on top. The views to the north were nice since I was on the highest (or almost highest) peak in that direction.

Lookin North

I eventually packed up and headed back down to the saddle then set about climbing back up the north ridge of Stanislaus. Taking advice that Marcus Sierra had left in his trip report on PB, I only regained half the ridge before dropping off to contour around Stanislaus peak rather than climbing all the way back to the top. In hindsight, I wonder if it would have been easier to just climb back up to the top since the side-hilling was very tedious, but either way works. I wallowed around in the sandy slopes for what seemed like an eternity, got stuck in several thickets of bushes, and wondered many times why I hadn’t reclimbed Stanislaus before I was finally deposited on the St. Mary’s Pass Trail.

Looking over to St. Mary’s Pass with Leavitt Peak in the background

From here, it was a simple matter of walking several miles on the trail back to the car. Along the way, I passed some hunters who looked to be struggling as they lugged tons of gear and moved at a snail’s pace. It was definitely different to me since I had spent the whole summer doing fast and light climbs in the High Sierra with minimal gear and approach shoes, but I guess to each their own.

As I neared the pass, I spotted what looked like a deer resting high up on a ridge near the pass. For a second, I felt sorry for it since it was clear there were many hunters traipsing around just waiting to blow its brains out, but then it got up and started signaling to me. I then realized that this so-called “deer” was really my dad coming down from Sonora Peak who had been waiting for me. I also realized that I had forgotten to radio him and he was likely worried sick since he hadn’t heard from me for several hours. Oops. I high-tailed it to the pass where I met up with him and we exchanged stories from our days. He had taken it nice and easy up Sonora and spent several hours on top just hanging out.

After talking for a bit, we decided to get back to our car since we still had to drive all the way home that day. It was interesting to hike down the pass in daylight and note all the differences since I had just hiked up it in the dark with no views.

St. Mary’s Pass Trail

At 2:30pm, we finally strolled back into the parking lot, had some water, changed, and headed home. It had been a good 2-day trip and I hoped to get in a few more before the winter snows came, but this was to be the only time I was able to sneak away this fall.

14 Hours in the Inyo Mountains

Winding along the Inyo Crest

The Inyo Mountains are an elusive range in the eastern part of California on the border of the Great Basin. Despite being one of two ranges that tower several thousand feet above the Owen’s Valley, they receive relatively little attention. However, the root of this lack of attention is quite simple: the other range is the Sierra Nevada. If one were to find themselves in Lone Pine and wanted to climb some mountains, picking between the two ranges is relatively simple. Would one rather scramble on granite alpine ridges towering over glacially-carved valleys lush with pines trees and turquoise lakes or slog up and down barren ridges filled with sagebrush and rattlesnakes? Put this way, it seems like the Inyos should never be touched, but therein lies their charm: zero crowds and a truly remote backcountry experience.

The Inyos Above Lone Pine – from right to left: New York Butte, “Voon Meng Leow Peak”, Forgotten Pass, Keynot Peak, and the flanks of Mt. Inyo

As with the nearby Eastern Sierra, the topography of the Inyos is dramatic. A relatively simple range, it possesses one main ridge (which also doubles as the crest) with 6000+ feet of relief above the neighboring valleys, the Saline Valley and the Owen’s Valley. The seldom-seen highpoint of the range is Wacouba Mountain in the northern reaches of the range where the main ridge begins to fray into several competing ridges. However, it’s along the southern part of the range where the most visible and massive mountains can be found. With over 3,000 feet of prominence, Keynot Peak is the sentinel of the Southern Inyos with Mt. Inyo, New York Butte, and several other bumps, surrounding it. It was this part of the range that we would attempt to traverse.

Dramatic drops on both sides of the Inyos with its numerous canyons.

Appended to this main ridge lie several canyons of otherworldly proportions. Dropping over 5000+ in just a few miles, Beveridge Canyon, Keynot Canyon, Hunter Canyon, and Long John Canyon (among others) steeply plummet to the broad valley floors.

Looking down one of the Inyos’ trademark canyons from the summit of New York Butte

The Inyos also possess a rich mining history. For more than 150 years, several large-scale mining companies have mined the canyons and ridges in search of lucrative minerals. One of the largest collections of mines, Cerro Gordo, was first mined in 1866 and eventually ballooned to over 4,000 residents. It is also credited with supplying much of the wealth that funded the beginnings of Los Angeles. In addition, a salt tram was erected to transport salt from the Saline Valley up and over the crest of the Inyos and down to Owen’s Valley. Considered an impressive feat of engineering, many support structures still remain along with a relatively intact building where the tram crosses the crest.

Remnants of the Salt Tram dot the mountainside

However, beyond these major projects, hundreds of prospects and small-scale mines are scattered throughout the gnarly canyons, created by hardy miners trekking up and down the desolate range. It seems improbable that these miners would have made the journey, but where there is gold, there is always someone to mine it. For many modern explorers, it is these secluded mines that have provided the incentive to venture into this range. As a testament to this, a significant portion of traffic in the Inyos results from trails these miners created, informally known as the Lonesome Miner Trail. This rugged 40-mile trail utilizes dozens of informal trails created by the many miners of the area as it winds its way up and over the range.

In fact, these remote mines are where my fascination with the Inyos began several years. When I was an avid geocacher, I found out about a cache placed at Beveridge, a secluded mine with intact artifacts that is rumored to be “the most remote ghost town in the United States.” While that claim may be disputed, it cannot be disputed that it certainly takes a Herculean effort to reach it. For years, I tried to convince Scott that we should make the backpacking trip to the mine but was met with groans and complaints each time.

The Inyos fell off my radar for awhile after that until I took up peakbagging. In the same part of the range as Beveridge, three major summits lay on the coveted Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section. If Beveridge looked tough, this trio looked even more difficult. After an initial look, it again fell off the radar since it looked too difficult for Scott – I added it to my growing list of peaks to attempt when I’m older and can go on my own.

The Inyo saga halted here for a year or so until Brett Marciasini reached out to us wondering if we would like to join Sean Casserly and him on a traverse of those three peaks – all in one day. While seemingly unrealistic at first glance, he had secured the key: a vehicle to get us to the Burgess Mine. Because of its ruggedness and incredibly steep topography, vehicular access is extremely limited in the Inyos. Swansea Grade is perhaps the only road that can be used to access the crest, and it conveniently passes by Burgess Mine which is located just south of New York Butte and makes a good starting point for an Inyo traverse. However, it’s an incredibly challenging road that’s mostly cut out for the OHV crowd. I had it investigated it before but dismissed it as impossible in our 4Runner with a long wheelbase and wimpy 9.6″ of clearance.

Circumventing these challenges, Brett had gotten into contact with a Jeep club which could ferry us up to the Burgess Mine where we could camp overnight, then start on our hike the next day while the group took our stuff back down the mountain. The plan originally also included traversing north of Mt. Inyo all the way to Peak 10,089 which is on the highly dubious Non-Sierra California 10,000-foot Peaks. With the mileage looking to be in the low 20s, the elevation gain in the mid 6000s, and time commitment in the teens, Scott felt that the traverse was looking too difficult for him. Besides, this was going to be a one-way traverse, so we needed someone to pick us up at the other end. With this in mind, he decided to forego the traverse and camp with Asaka (Sean’s wife) in the Alabama Hills then pick us up the next day.

Eventually, the dates were set, the Jeep’s secured, and the excitement mounted. As the day drew closer, the full scope of what we were going to attempt dawned on us and we all collectively agreed that Peak 10,089 was going to be a long shot. It would add around 6 trail-less miles of unknown terrain to an already long day. Other factors that made us in favor of skipping it were that it was better accessed on its own from the north, and skipping it would allow us to descend into Union Wash from the Inyo-Keynot Saddle, a well-documented route that we knew was a quick and easy way to descend off the crest.

Since the Jeep club was set to pick us up on a Sunday afternoon, we had Saturday and Sunday morning to climb Piper Peak, Blue Dick Mountain, and Black Mountain before gathering early Sunday afternoon at the Lone Pine McDonald’s to meet the Jeep club. An hour late, the Jeep club finally arrived with 2 Rubicons and one Tacoma (I guess it’s not strictly Jeeps). After introductions and a bit of last-minute packing, we headed out.

Packing up

At their request, we had met up late in the day at what ended up being around 5pm. While their vehicles were definitely as capable and modified as I had imagined, it struck me how little they knew about our route. When we turned out of the McDonald’s parking lot, the driver’s first question was, “Left or right?” For context, Lone Pine is a simple town with only only one major street (US-395), and which way to turn seems like basic knowledge for someone heading up to 10,000 feet on a rough Jeep trail with very little time. Fortunately, Brett, Sean, and I had researched the route thoroughly and were able to guide him and the other Jeeps the right spot.

Ready to head up. Scared yet?

The drivers all aired down their tires, and soon we were off. At first, the road started out tame and Sean even mentioned that he would be annoyed if he could have made it up the road in his car. We all shared this feeling until we abruptly entered a deep, narrow wash. I thought Scott and I had taken our 4runner up some gnarly roads, but nothing compared to this. Huge boulders were scattered about a steep wash with no place to maneuver around them—this was our road.

Um, sir, this is a creek

Sensing things could get bad quickly (and also just wanting a good view), us hikers got out of the car and walked up the road to observe from afar. With much rumbling and grunting from the cars, they all bounced their way up the steep road—it looked like an easy Sunday drive for them (hint: it was). Shortly after, the road cut sharply up to the right in a what seemed like a dangerous situation: gun the car as fast as it would go and pray you have traction. Again, all the cars successfully negotiated this obstacle.

After this, we resumed our slow grind up the hill. Eventually, we reached another iffy section: an off-camber shelf road with huge boulders embedded in the tread. At first, we just bounced up the side of the mountain, but soon, our driver stopped the car to get out and inspect the road. Us hikers were a bit nervous as these cars were our ticket to successfully completing the Inyo traverse, and it looked like they were having issues. Again, we walked this section and again the cars made it through—except for one.

Brett smartly watches from afar

The one Jeep who was having some trouble didn’t have as high of a lift as the other cars, so we waited for it with considerable trepidation. After a little bit, the leader of the group decided to go and check and see how it was doing. We all expected him to walk down to find out, but, to no little surprise, he got into his car and drove back down the shelf road. In addition to the road being extremely rough, there was no place for him to turn around. After he helped out the other Jeep, he proceeded to back up the road as we all nervously watched. Again, he made it look extremely easy, and afterward, Sean commented that if they could do this, they could manage anything.

Made it!
What are they doing?

We continued on from this spot and headed further up the hill. The road had some tricky sections, but nothing major stopped us again. As we crested the ridge, we stopped by the Burgess Mine to check out the old cabin and the stunning views of sunset on the Sierra Crest.

The Sierras and Burgess Mine at sunset
Looking down to the Saline Valley

This ridge was truly idyllic with the glow of sunset just fading away and stunning relief off both sides of the crest. After waiting for the other Jeeps to catch up, we headed over to our campsite.

Jeeps make their way up the road as daylight wanes

There were plenty of places to camp and we all fanned out to find a place to camp. The Jeep crew began setting up their 5-star hotel with a massive tent, kitchen, and sitting area while we found some spots in the bushes away from the commotion to set up our small tents. After a little while, we got started on dinner which consisted of deer + bison steaks, sweet potatoes, sausages, coleslaw, pies, cookies, and other scrumptious morsels that escape my memory. It was a satisfying dinner and we all ate heartily knowing we had a long hike waiting for us the next day.

At 4:45am, my alarm began to screech and its shrill voice stirred me from my surprisingly peaceful slumber. I had all the all too common out of body experience where I wondered where I was and what was happening. It only took a few seconds of staring at the stars to remind myself I was not at home in my comfy bed, but out in the wilderness, and, in the next few moments, everything came fluttering back into focus and I began to take down my tent.

Sunrise from the Inyo Crest

A short while later, I walked out to join Sean and Brett who were raring to go, but I had a big confession, one that could derail the entire trip for me: I had forgotten to bring socks. Somehow, while doing last minute packing in the McDonald’s parking lot, I hadn’t put socks into my bag of clothes. I sheepishly told Sean who informed me he had no extra pairs, but thankfully, Brett had an extra pair. No matter that it was the pair he had worn the previous day on our hike to Black Mountain, there was no way I was going to miss out on this hike because of a pair of smelly socks.

Finally, around 5:30am, we were ready to head out. Knowing it was going to be hot and that there was no water along the route, I had packed 7 liters of water—more than I had ever carried on a hike before. It was weighing me down, but I just tallied it up that as one of the things I was going to have to deal with for the day.

Heading up to New York Butte

Our first objective of the traverse was New York Butte. Usually climbed from the valley floor via Long John Canyon, we were taking the easy way to the top by starting at 9800 feet. We followed an old mining trail that has been “maintained” by fellow hikers starting from the Burgess Mine area.

Admiring sunrise

After climbing several hundred feet up, we turned off to do some easy cross country to the top of New York Butte.

Heading to the summit

The summit block was an easy scramble to a little perch that held some of the best views I have seen in a while. The sun was just rising over the desert ranges to the east and the entire Sierra crest was laid out to the west. However, the view to the north was the most disheartening—all of the peaks we would attempt were sitting there far away and taunting us.

Our traverse laid out before us. Mt. Inyo looks like it’s a looong way off…
The Whitney Region

Sitting on the summit in the crisp, early morning air was truly sublime, but we had miles to go before we slept, so we quickly headed down. It was encouraging to have summitted our first peak so quickly, but I knew I had to cherish that feeling since little else would be easy today.

We continued down the somewhat overgrown, but definitely passable trail that zigzagged along this early part of the ridge. It was almost surreal to be hiking in this terrain that I had only previously dreamed of.

Heading along the ridge
The north face of New York Butte

Our next objective was Peak 10307, unofficially known as “Survivor Peak,” which lies on the aforementioned Non-Sierra California 10,000-foot Peaks List. However questionable that list seems, it is unquestionable that Survivor Peak is a fun peak, at least to the seasoned climbing masochist. Fortunately, I had lots of fun 😉

Survivor Peak poking over the ridge

It lies just about a mile off the crest, but with 447 feet of prominence and some impressive limestone (?) cliffs, it’s a worthy objective. We left the trail where our subsidiary ridge forked off the main ridge and made our way cross country over to the peak. We tried to save elevation as much as possible and did lots of weaving in and around bushes. A short while before the summit, we ditched several bottles of water since we would be passing through here again. Packs lightened, we kept on pushing towards the summit.

Making our way over

Eventually, the ridge changed from easy walking on relatively stable ground to tedious sidehilling on crumbling limestone. We had to be careful of each step as we all sent rocks cascading down the mountainside.

Getting closer…

Before we reached the last notch below the summit, Brett decided to turn around. Since he isn’t pursuing this list, it’s impressive he decided to even come this far to get to this bump. He turned around to wait on a more solid part of the ridge while Sean C and I continued on. The final climb was more crumbly limestone along with some easy class 3, but the the views and remoteness more than made up for it.

Climbing up

At 7:45am, we topped out. Not being on the main ridge gave us some perspective as we gazed over at it. It was certainly going to be a long day.

On top!

We had covered a good amount of distance and done some fair climbing already, so we sat down for a short rest on top. Chatting about climbing various SPS peaks, we gazed over at the entire Sierra Crest layed out before us. After awhile, we headed back down.

Crumbly rock.. ugh

There was a historic register from 1981 on top that placed in a bright red birdhouse nailed to a Bristlecone Pine—a method I’m sure would gravely irritate a ranger, but good luck coming up to remove it!

Historic birdhouse…?
Register with New York Butte in the background

Needing to get back on with our traverse, we descended back to Brett, staying on the ridge proper this time rather than sidehilling and encountering less loose rock. We picked up Brett (and our water) who was waiting on the ridge and continued on.

Our next objective was the unofficially named “Voon Meng Leow Peak”, the most prominent peak on the ridge between New York Butte and Keynot Peak.

From left to right: Voon Meng Leow Peak, Forgotten Pass, Keynot Peak

We crossed the trail again before stopping off at Peak 10192, a PB special (wording shamlessly stolen from a Bob Burd TR) with relatively little to offer than the Sierra views found along the whole crest. We took a short rest on top, then dropped off the north side.

Heading north

Our steady slog was interrupted shortly when Brett stepped on a cactus that puncture him through his shoe, a stark reminder that despite being above 10k, we were most definitely in desert terrain. While I felt bad for Brett, I also secretly welcomed the break. After having picked up our water again, I was dragging with all the extra weight. Once Brett had fixed his shoe as best he could, we continued on towards Voon Meng Leow Peak.

After being in limestone terrain on Survivor Peak, we now ran into several granite outcroppings along the ridge.

Granite outcroppings

Around this time, our trail petered out, so we headed cross country—sidehilling at times to avoid outcropping and unnecessary gain. As the sun rose, one of our concerns before the hike began to materialize: the heat. Although we were at 10k, the Inyo mountains are in the rain shadow of the Sierras and thus receive little rain and still get quite hot. Carrying all this water without any shade was beginning to wear on me, but my excitement at being in the Inyos did wonders to take my mind off any discomfort.

Nearing the top

After climbing roughly 800 feet from the end of the trail, we reached the ridgeline again. Voon Meng Leow Peak has three summits: the most northern one is listed as the peak on the peakbagger, the middle summit is listed as an unnamed bump, while the most southern bump is not listed at all. This is somewhat curious as the consensus, based on our observations and others who have sumitted, is that the southern bump is the highest. As Bob Burd noted in his TR, the northern summit has one extra contour line, but that must be an error. Even if the northern summit is higher, it would be so close that the extra elevation would likely not add a whole another contour line. To add to the confusion, the register is on the northern summit.

At any rate, we tagged all three bumps to cover our bases before taking a rest on the northern summit. The day was growing hot and we had covered quite a bit of distance with only a short rest, so we all plopped down for an extended rest on top, drinking lots of water, eating some food, and reapplying sunscreen. I felt like a total badass doing this traverse, but the photos look a little different 😉

I’m pooped
Looking back at our route
All smiles again after taking a rest

From this peak, we had a perfect vantage point to scope out what we expected the most difficult part of the day: the climb up Keynot Peak. The descent to Forgotten pass looked straightforward then we could see the slog we had before us heading up to Keynot Peak. We had around 1600 feet to gain in a mile, so we knew it would be steep, but we figured we could just grit our teeth and grind it out.

The route ahead

The descent off of Voon Meng Leow Peak was straightforward with lots of plunge stepping and soft dirt.

Sean Casserly descending to Forgotten Pass

Before long, we reached Forgotten Pass, a key checkpoint on the way to Beveridge. I had heard so much about it and read dozens of trip reports, so it was cool to be standing in the fabled spot. However, it wasn’t exactly the most pleasant place. Being the lowpoint of the traverse, it was extremely hot, and there was very little shade to provide respite from the sun. After a few photos, I kept moving, especially since Sean Casserly did not know the significance (well, ok maybe it’s not that significant) and had blown right through the pass.

Forgotten Pass

Continuing up the other side, we could see several cliffs blocking the ridge, and we had to pick our route. My instinct told us to head up the main ridge to a break in the cliff, then continue up the east side of the ridge since I had seen from photos that it was clear. When I proposed that, the other readily agreed, and we all slowly trudged up the loose rock.

We could see the break in the cliff I had originally pointed out, and as we got closer, it appeared to be more and more viableI was hopeful that this section might not be too bad. However, before long, we reached a fateful arrow. Some previous adventurers had left an arrow made out of rocks which directed us to sidehill at the same elevation as opposed to continuing up the ridge.


We all collectively agreed that despite our route ahead looking fruitful, we should trust the knowledge of prior parties. Our route thus far had been traveled by people, however infrequently, but there had not been any cairn or arrow, suggesting that any route on the ridge would work. This had proved to be true earlier on since the ridge was technically tame, so naturally, when we saw the marking, we figured there were technical difficulties ahead that we did not know of. Blindly signing away our fate to this little arrow, we took off for some steep sidehilling.

At first, it started off tame.

Easy going

Soon enough, the angle increased. Caltopo says this slope was around 35-45 degrees steep with short sections exceeding 45 degrees. To add insult to injury, the talus was extremely loose. Generally, talus, no matter how steep, isn’t too hard to walk straight up, but sidehilling on loose talus is very annoyingnever dangerous, but tedious and tiring.

Loose sidehilling

We had been following the vestiges of a use trail since we had listened to the arrow, but it started to peter out the further along we got. We could tell that we had to contour around several large pinnacles on the ridge, but we didn’t know when to head up. There were several notches to choose from, and we didn’t know whether we would get stuck behind a pinnacle at any given notch.

We eventually decided to test our luck and head up as we curved around another pinnacle. Sean C was in the lead, I was behind him, then Brett was behind me. We didn’t know the best route, but we might have gone upward a little prematurely. There was a steep, but safe talus slope that would have taken us right up to the notch, but instead, Sean C took off up some loose Class 3 that contoured around the base of the pinnacle.

Loose, loose, loose

I followed him up the first few sections of rock before waiting for him to go ahead and see if the route would go.

Loose, brushy traverse that slopes outward to a dropoff

I could tell there was some healthy exposure on the route coming up and I listened to Sean grunt as he fought his way up the loose, brushy class 3. Eventually, he shouted out that he got lucky and his route went thanks to an improbable ledge, but he didn’t recommend for us to follow. Since I had already climbed up half of the route, I followed. The brush + loose class 3 mix wasn’t trivial, but it actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I think I had it a little easier since Sean C had knocked out some of the loose rocks, leaving only the more stable rocks left. At the top of this short climb, I saw the short ledge that completed the route.

About to use the ledge to finish the climb to the notch
Me on the ledge (Photo Credit: Sean Casserly)

Once I caught up to Sean C, we heard Brett yelling out to us. He was getting quite uncomfortable on this steep, loose terrain (and rightfully so; Sean C and I weren’t exactly comfortable either). He decided to take a smarter route where he traversed below and around where we had climbed. This led him to a steep talus slope which he followed to the top.

Brett climbs up (Photo Credit: Sean Casserly)

Once we all arrived at the notch, we took a short rest before continuing on. Unfortunately, we soon realized that we had climbed up too early. There was still a massive pinnacle blocking progress on the ridge. Sean C managed to traverse the east side with some tricky scrambling, but Brett and I decided to head around the west side.

Brett in the brush

It was hot, dry, and the rock was loose: not a good combination. However, we could taste the sweet summit of Keynot Peak, so we kept on pushing. There was lots of steep talus, but no more dangerous climbing and we met up with Sean C at the next notch without much ado.

We could now see that the route ahead was a straightforward slog up the ridge without any more sidehilling.

Resting up

Some gnarly, twisted bristlecone pines added character to the climb, which was quickly becoming enjoyable again.

Bristlecone pines
Almost there!

At 1:40 pm, 8 hours after starting, we topped out on Keynot Peak. If we had been tired when we reached Voon Meng Leow Peak, then we must have been zombies by the time we reached Keynot. One by one we reached the top and all plopped down on the summit rocks, not able to move a muscle. I was so exhausted that I was a little stunned and just sat on top for several minutes blindly staring out at the view.

The Inyos and Sierra Crest

It was extremely exhilarating to sit on top of this remote peak where I could see our entire previous route, along with the remainder of the route, before us. I slowly ate some food, drank some water, and signed the register while I regained my strength. After a while, I was able to appreciate the view and our surroundings.

Looking back at the ridge we had already traversed
View to the Sierra Crest
Trying to smile through the exhaustion

In the register, I noticed Brian Kalet’s name whom we had run into on Job Peak a couple weeks ago. He seems to really get around! I commented that this might have been the most tired I had ever been, and Sean replied that I should look over at Mt. Inyo because we were going to be even more tired over there.

And with that, we turned out attention to Mt. Inyo, the final peak of the traverse.

Mt. Inyo looking very far away…

Despite our exhaustion, I knew Mt. Inyo had to be done since leaving it this time meant coming all the way back up at a future date. Sean, who was the first to reach Keynot, left the top a couple of minutes before Brett and I. As we started down the ridge toward Mt. Inyo, we promptly heard him yell loudly. We stopped in our tracks and listened intently thinking he had fallen or gotten mauled by an animal. Shouting back did nothing, so we continued sidehilling on the steep slopes to catch up with him. Now on the regular route to Keynot Peak, a small use trail had appeared.

In a couple minutes, we caught up with Sean and realized why he had yelled out: there was snow! As I mentioned earlier, the Inyos are an incredibly dry range and contain few reliable sources, but even these only exist deep in the canyons. On the ridge, there were no water sources we could count on, but there was water right in front of us! I had been doing pretty good about conserving water, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to fill up.


We didn’t have a filter, but Sean and I decided to fill up regardless. It had been there for a long time and had some natural debris on top, but we dug below that to get the cleanest water we could. To my surprise, Brett decided to forego the extra water without a filter, instead relying on whatever water he had left.

Shortly after the snow was another steep section on loose dirt that was relatively annoying, but soon enough we found ourselves on a lovely ridge.

Easy going – that’s Mt. Inyo in the background
Heading down

This section was a good place to recover from the strenuous climbs earlier int the day as we descended around 1000 feet to a saddle between Mt. Inyo and Keynot Peak. From this saddle, we would head drop off the crest and begin our descent to the Owen’s Valley. However, we still had to deal with Mt. Inyo which loomed 1000 feet above us to the north.

Mount Inyo from the Inyo-Keynot saddle

At this point, Brett decided he had had enough for the day and tapped out here. He decided to wait at the saddle while Sean and I tagged the peak. Then, we could all descend back to Owen’s Valley together. Sean and I each took a Gu then began the slog up Mt. Inyo. After being ready to call a helicopter on top of Keynot Peak, I was doing surprisingly well.

As expected, it was a slog, but the rock wasn’t terribly loose which made it slightly more enjoyable. After an initial steep slope, we hit some easy walking for a bit before entering a section with lots of tedious sidehilling. We could now see the top, but it never seemed to get any closer. Along the way, we came across a memorial to a local beekeeper – it seems a little odd they would put his memorial all the way up here at the ridge above the canyon. I did some digging and found a really interesting story about him.

Continuing past this memorial, we headed up some class 3 boulders to the top. In contrast, with the awful, loose scrambling earlier in the day, these boulders were solid and provided the only “fun” scrambling of the day, but I was almost too tired to enjoy them anyways.

The final ridge to Mt. Inyo

We eventually emerged on the summit which I thought was the best of the day. It had a solid climb up to a little perch on top of the granite boulders. We could look back on the peaks we had ascended earlier in the day as well as the one peak to the north that we originally had on the agenda. It did taunt me a little bit, but it also looked a long way off and by now, everything was set up for us to descend into the Union Wash which was the opposite direction of the bonus peak.

Saline Valley and obscure desert peaks to the East
Looking north to unnamed Peak 3075 (or 10,089ft, its listed on the topo in meters)
Looking back at our traverse – we came from just beyond that far bump in the middle of the photo

Mostly, I just sat on top and admired the views while regaining my strength. We also took advantage to text Asaka and Scott who would be picking us up. Sean estimated it would take around 2.5 hours to descend into Union Wash.

Last summit of the day!

It had clouded over by this tame which made things kind of muggy even up at 11,000 feet, so we decided to head back down to Brett.

Sean C heading down Mt. Inyo
About to drop back down to the Inyo-Keynot saddle

Invigorated by the thought of the upcoming 5,000 foot descent (which has been called the scree descent of dreams), we made good time back to where Brett had been resting up. I was almost out of water by now, so I had to ration the rest for the way down.

One last look over at the Sierra crest

We took one last rest before heading down the mountain. It wasn’t at all obvious where to go, but using our phones, we figured out which canyon to head down.

Starting down

As we went further down, I became slightly skeptical. While the terrain wasn’t difficult, I had expected super easy plunge stepping, but instead, we weaved in and out of bushes over crumbly rock as we made our way through a shallow canyon. Before long, we came across Bed Springs Camp where many parties spend the night when climbing Mt. Inyo and Keynot Peak. It looked like a miserable place with no water and very few flat spots to set up a tent, but hey, at least it had old, rusty bed springs as advertised.


We continued down this shallow canyon before crossing over a small rise onto a steep crumbly slope.


However, since this was the most well-traveled route up to these peaks, a nice use trail appeared which turned the loose rock into more of an annoyance than anything that needed to be negotiated. I was grateful for this since I was exhausted and didn’t even want to deal with anything remotely difficult; I wanted out of the Inyos. After so many hours in the mountains, visions of food and a cold soda began to drift into my mind. Once that happens, I can usually think of nothing else until those cravings are satisfied. With these thoughts in my mind, I continued to descend. Eventually, things opened up into a broad slope.

Easy going now

Surprisingly, I noticed I was falling behind the others. I thought I had been going at a good clip, but maybe I was thinking too much about the burger I was going to eat back in town. In addition, I was a little disappointed that the scree slope I was promised had still not materialized. We were definitely on scree, but it wasn’t steep enough to glide down and had become tiresome. The others waited for me at the base of this section, and then we quickly carried on down the mountain. As we crested another rise, I could see that we were still some 2,000 feet above the canyon, but I could finally spot our scree slope. I was reinvigorated and bounded down to it.

Coming up on the right!

Once we finally reached it, it was all I could have hoped for. In a matter of minutes, we had descended 2,000 feet to the canyon. The rock was perfectly sized for boot-skiing. Simply take a step, sliiide, take another step, sliiide: it was wonderful.

Dropping down

Once in the bottom of the canyon, we began the walk out.

Down from the Inyos

The air was noticeably hotter down here and even more muggy at 5,500 feet – a stark contrast to the 11,000-foot peak we had just been on. Sean and I had told Asaka and Scott 7pm as a pickup time, so we hustled down the canyon. My shoes were full of rocks from the screen skiing, but I neglected to take them out and just walked down on what felt like a bed of needles; at this point, I didn’t care anymore. Eventually, we hit the road where Scott and Asaka would come up, but it seemed overgrown and filled with rocks. We decided they wouldn’t want to drive this and since they weren’t here yet, we kept on walking down the road.

Looking into the Owen’s Valley from Union Wash
Looking back at Mt. Inyo from the road
Coming down the road

Eventually, we reached a spot where we had cell reception and the road seemed to improve considerably. We figured this was a good place to stop, so we all promptly collapsed onto the road. I finally took the time to take the rocks out of my socks and drink my last few sips of water while we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.

Come save us!

Finally, out in the distance, we saw plumes of dust and heard the rumbling of motors: we were free! Asaka and Scott soon pulled up, happy to see us. We were very happy to see them, but at least at that moment, I was happier to see ice-cold bottles of water in the cooler. We agreed to meet up for dinner later while we all stumbled into our cars. We gave Brett a ride back to his car on the way out which meant I was relegated to using the cooler in the trunk as my seat. Slowly sipping on some water, I gazed out at the Inyos as we drove away; we had done it! At the time, it was one of my toughest hikes ever and covered some really remote areas. I didn’t record a track that day, but from some snooping on Caltopo, I estimate around 20 miles and 5800+ feet of gain: not too different stats-wise from many other climbs I did that summer, but over much rougher and uncharted terrain. I could name off at least a half-dozen people that could complete this ridge traverse in far less time than it took us, but for the moment, I was perfectly content. By the next morning, however, I was no longer content, so I ran up above Onion Valley to the 11,742 foot-tall Independence Peak the next day 🙂

Sunset over Lone Pine

Ellis Peak

After spending the previous few days north of Tahoe, we decided it would be best to stick around the lake today. However, most of the peaks around the lake still have a fair amount of snow which had closed many of the access roads. We had already done all the East side OGULs, so we had to get a little creative with the West side stuff.

Ellis peak is an OGUL and P1k typically accessed from Blackwood Canyon to the northwest. Despite almost being free of snow, the entire road is gated forcing us to choose another route. I had planned out a possible snowshoe day for Ellis Peak back in the winter that never came to fruition, but because of it, I knew there might be access from the south of Ellis peak at the Rubicon Trail.

The Rubicon Trail is a world-famous off-road trail made for rock crawlers with 40-inch wheels driven by grizzled middle-aged men who drink too much beer. It runs from Tahoma along the shore of Lake Tahoe to Loon Lake, an isolated lake in the stark granite landscape. While we had no intention of driving it, the staging area (which has paved road access) provided a good way to get close to the snow-free south side of Ellis Peak. We had no beta on the route, but it looked doable.

We drove down the paved road to the Rubicon Trail staging area where we saw hordes of decked out jeeps and trailers carrying ATVs. For fun, we decided to drive a few hundred feet down the Rubicon Trail to say that we had driven on it. We only got a couple hundred yards before we were confronted with a steep section filled with boulders. We turned around, drove back, found a parking spot, and started hiking. We certainly didn’t fit in, but we soon turned off onto the much less traveled Buck Lake trail.

Heading up the Buck Lake Trail
Heading up the Buck Lake Trail

It was a little crazy to imagine that people actually drive this road, but given the size of the wheels on some jeeps in the parking lot, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We continued up the road with snow covering some sections, but it had been recently driven, so there were always tracks.

Hiking up
Hiking up

The higher we got, the worse the road got and we were continually impressed at how a car could get up it.

Boulders or a Road
Boulders or a Road?

Eventually, we got views of Buck Lake proper and towards the Desolation Wilderness.

Buck Lake and Desolation
Buck Lake and Desolation

Higher up, the road started to have considerable snow cover, so we just cut uphill towards the summit. The snow was hard-packed and there wasn’t much post-holing thankfully.

Almost to the top

Around 2 hours and 4 miles after starting, we topped out on Ellis Peak. There were spectacular views of the surrounding Lake Tahoe region and the high peaks. We could see the snow-free south face of Twin Peaks and lamented that Black Canyon Road was still closed.

Standing on Ellis
View South
Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks

We took a short rest up top then headed back down, again marveling at the road.

Ready to eat jeeps!
Ready to eat jeeps!

I would only recommend this route if there isn’t too much snow, but Blackwood Canyon Road is still closed. It’s a good early season route, but I think the standard trail is much prettier.

Adams Peak, Crystal Peak, Dixie Mountain

I’ve been stuck inside doing online school for the past 2 months and have been going slightly crazy. Staring at a Zoom meeting all day then doing my homework on my school-issued iPad was pretty tough, not only on my overall psyche but my eyes too. Thankfully, I took my last AP test this past week and finished up school on yesterday, so now was the time to head out to the mountains. Our original plan was to head out to Arc Dome and some Great Basin peaks, but a late season snow storm postponed those plans. Instead, we decided to head up to our cabin in Truckee for a few days to let the snow in Nevada melt, and in the meantime, we could climb some OGULs.

Adams Peak

We got into Truckee late Friday night, so we took a lazy morning on Saturday before heading out around midday. We drove north through the large Sierra Valley and then north on CA-284 to Frenchman Lake.

Frenchman Lake
Frenchman Lake

We drove across the dam and headed up through a maze of dirt roads to the trailhead for Adams Peak.

Heading up the mountain
Heading up the mountain

We followed Dean Gaudet’s driving track from peakbagger and found the roads to generally be in good shape. I would say they were passable in a high clearance 2WD, but 4WD was nice.

Heading out
Heading out

After parking, we headed out around 2 pm and promptly got lost. The Forest Service map had a road heading out from where we parked, so we headed out on the old road that we thought was behind our car. Soon enough, we realize we were off course and corrected our error with just a smidgen of bushwhacking.

An interesting tree along the way
An interesting tree along the way

The correct road was quite overgrown and obviously hadn’t been driven in several years, but it was easy for hiking. We soon broke through into a bright green, lush meadow.


It had been about a month since we last hiked and several more since we had done something beyond Bay Area peaks, so it was quite a shock to be in a lush, high sierra meadow. After we crossed this meadow, we met up with a road. I had assumed that it would be a crazy ATV track, but it looked totally driveable and had tire tracks on it that looked like a normal car. Maybe some future peakbagger can investigate how to get here.

A Good Road
A Good Road

We followed this road a bit before we did some cross country sidehilling to meet up with another road that would take us high up the mountain. This one was much rougher, but again it was fine for hiking. We’re both out of shape, so we trudged up at a relatively slow, but steady pace. Before long, we reached the summit area.

Summit Area
Summit Area

Adams has two peaks that are almost the same height, and it has been debated for decades about which one is higher. LoJ says the East summit is two feet, but some people are adamant that its the West summit. Regardless, we decided to climb both, so we didn’t have to worry about any debate.

Bushwacking to the West Summit
Bushwacking to the West Summit

We chose to head up to the West summit first, but instead of checking earlier trip reports, we just bushwhacked up the face. I scouted ahead of Scott, had to crawl a few times, ripped my pants, and got cut up, but I got to the top in a pretty direct route.

On top of Adams West
On top of Adams West

After spending the last two months inside staring at Zoom calls, this was quite a welcome change of scenery. It had felt like I was a spectator to my own life and time had warped into one. It was almost like my life had turned into a swimming pool of honey, and I was spending all my energy trying to swim through, but only getting a few feet. Once I made it up to the top, the pool immediately turned to water again, and I was able to effortlessly glide through; I can tell it’s going to be a good summer 🙂

Wide-angle shot of the East Summit
Wide-angle shot of the East Summit

The register and benchmark were on this summit, but we still wanted to get to the other summit. We had a hell of time bushwacking down to the saddle and found ourselves crawling a few times, but it was all very short.

Head-high brush
Head-high brush

Once at the saddle, we traversed around to the north side of the peak and found an easy route to the top without any bushwhacking. The views from here were mostly similar, but there were also nice views of some Nevada Peaks (Limbo, Purgatory, Tohakum) that we had climbed last year.

Looking towards the Gold Lake Area
Looking towards the Gold Lake Area

We ate our lunch on top, then headed back down to our car. What had taken 2 hours to go up took only 40 minutes to descend.


Crystal Peak

Since we had time (well, not really but we didn’t mind staying out in the dark), we headed over to try our hand at Crystal Peak, a P300 with no beta. We drove back around the mountain and then headed up the other side.

Good Gravel
Good Gravel

Once we turned onto a spur to get to the peak however, the road soon degraded into a pretty serious 4WD endeavor. Scott expertly navigated it, but the car still slipped a few times. This is definitely high clearance 4WD only territory. Eventually, we came to an intersection where the road went from tough, but passable, to not passable without damaging our car. Since we were less than a half-mile from the peak, we parked here and made the easy walk to the top.

Starting out
Starting out

We chose to head cross-country rather than follow the road which turned out to be a good decision. There was some minor bushwhacking, but we topped out soon enough.

On top!
On top!

The views were about the same as on Adam’s but the top was interesting. It was a 30-foot high quartz mound that earned the moniker Crystal Peak well.

The Crystal mound
The crystal mound

Dixie Mountain

It was getting late in the day, but we still had one more summit to go. We dropped back down to Frenchman Lake, then went around the other side of the lake to the turnoff for the Dixie Mountain lookout. The sun was dropping over the hills, so we had to hurry up if we wanted to catch the sunset from the top. It was a bumpy ride to the top, but not too bad. There was a little bit of snow, but people had driven through previously and there were nice slots for our wheels to go.

On another note, we made a mistake in the podcast we listened to. I had downloaded some true crime podcasts and for some reason, I thought it would be fun to listen to “MISSING: The Yuba County Five.” I won’t explain the story in depth (there’s lots of info online), but essentially 5 boys who were supposed to be at a college basketball game drove high up into the snowy Sierra Nevada, walked twenty miles in a blizzard to a cabin, and perished sometime later. The story is rife with spookiness from them starving to death in a cabin that was stocked with food to a midnight spotting of the boys with a random woman deep in the mountains. Nobody knows what they were doing up there, and foul play is suspected, but it was a little comical/creepy listening to the podcast. The hosts kept mentioning how they were on a remote, unmaintained, and snowy road deep in the Plumas National Forest. We soon realized that we were on the same kind of road in the Plumas National Forest. Of course, the incident happened closer to the Central Valley, but it was still a little unnerving to listen to the podcast.

Anyhoo, we parked at the top of the road and made the short walk to the lookout. There was a bit of snow on the trail which it slightly sketchy, but we managed just fine.

Top of the Road
Top of the Road
The trail to the lookout
The trail to the lookout

Nobody was staffing the lookout, but the deck was still open so we admired the sunset from there. This was a slightly new area of California for us, so we had fun admiring the 360 degree views.

We headed back down and drove on back to Truckee. A good day…