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.

Grrrr

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.

Snow!

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.

Inviting?

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

ugh

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

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