Mount Inyo, New York Butte, Pleasant Point
By: Igor Mamedalin
Originally, this climbing event was billed to include a climb of Nelson Peak on Saturday and of the remaining four on Sunday, as an extended dayhike. However, due to the popular outcry and the leaders' innate sensibilities, the trip was scaled down to mortal level and converted to a two day 26+ mile backpack of the four Inyo ridge peaks.
At 5:30 am Saturday morning, thirteen mortal souls gathered outside of Lone Pine Station in quest of adventure. The skies were specked with remnants of the preceding night's showers. Three 4WD vehicles were used to set up the car shuttle by leaving two vehicles at the foot of Inyo Peak (end of a poor road about seven miles northeast of Lone Pine Station): The remaining vehicles were used to carry everyone up a well graded dirt road to Cerro Gordo. From Cerro Gordo we drove another mile to a saddle on the Swansea road (3rd class) where we parked and mounted our packs onto our eager backs (with 10 to 12 quarts of water each). The adventure began.
Following an old pipeline trail we soon. rejoined the Swansea jeep road northwest of Pleasant. Dumping the heavy packs, all scampered up the class 2 slopes of Pleasant for a "pleasant" view of the surrounding vistas and of our ultimate destinations in the far distance. After returning to the packs, we continued the stroll along the Swansea road as scattered clouds drifted over the ridge. The temperature was perfect and the view of thunderclouds forming over the Sierras was spectacular. Unfortunately, the thunderclouds caught up with us as we ate lunch at the old salt mine tramway, a historic site.
Scattered drizzles accompanied us on our way to Burgess Mine. As we neared Burgess Mine the distance between the front and the rear of the group began to grow: one of the thirteen mortals was feeling ill (headache and nausea, diagnosed as altitude sickness). In the shelter of the Burgess Mine cabin (with primitive fireplace) we waited for the thunderclouds to pass and attempted to nurse the ill climber back to health. With neither objective realized (clouds still drizzling and climber still ill) and with cabin fever mounting after the two hour confinement, we ventured on toward New York Butte now only two miles away. After climbing New York Butte, camp was made early a few hundred feet from. the top, With ample wood around us, a bonfire was kept fueled all night to keep Jim Farkas warm (he chose to travel light without a sleeping bag). Everyone stayed dry through the night as thundershowers managed skirted around our campsite (were we mortal?).
Although morning dawned too early, we were rewarded with unrivaled views of the Sierras and Owens Valley to the west and of the Saline Valley to the east. Unfortunately, morning also found our one mortal poorly rested and still ill. Two climbers (an E rated leader and a provisional I leader) stepped forward to take the ill climber down. With the ill climber in good hands, the remaining group was able to continue as scheduled, in good conscience, toward their objective in the distance. Two routes were available to expedite the evacuation. Cars could be reached by retracing the steps for fourteen miles of ups and downs along Swansea road. Or, cars could be reached in six miles by continuing north to Forgotten Pass, following a trail along the west face of Keynot Peak and then dropping cross down a ridge to the cars. The leaders recommended the shorter, primarily cross-country, route as they set off at 6:30 with the remaining group of fellow ridge runners.
Ten mortals continued, off trail and off road, along the winding ridge and over a few more bumps to Forgotten (or is it Forbidden) Gap. From there we skirted the talus slopes on the west side of the Keynot, keeping level with the Gap, until an old unmaintained mining trail was found. Taking the mining trail we followed it up to the main Keynot ridge and then on around to a ridge east of the summit. From here we scrambled on up to Keynot to have lunch.
As we ate lunch on top of Keynot Peak, speculation abounded about the adventures that might have befallen on the evacuating party. As later reported, the evacuating party experienced had adequate adventures. They remained in camp nursing the ill climber until 9 am before continuing north toward Forgotten Gap. By avoiding minor bumps on the ridge, they subjected themselves to difficult side-hilling which impeded their progress. Unable to find a trail across the west face of Keynot (the trail no longer exists), they chose to take the distinct trail down to French Springs. However, since the cars were not parked at French Springs, the strongest climber ventured north cross-country to another canyon at the mouth of which the cars were parked. The remaining two evacuees continued down the trail until they encountered a temporary uphill stretch. Here they dropped into the canyon, traversing a couple of dry waterfalls, and proceeded downstream until a major waterfall forced them to regain the ridge with the trail which eventually delivered them to French Springs. The solo evacuee, likewise, chose to negotiate the canyon bottom filled with numerous treacherous waterfalls as he homed in on the cars. Finally, at 7pm the three exhausted evacuees were reunited at French Springs from where they drove back to Cerro Gordo. Lessons learned: known longer routes are ultimately shorter than unknown 'shorter' routes and, in the desert, ridges are easier than canyon bottoms.
Meanwhile, finishing lunch the main group proceeded down the ridge to the saddle below Inyo Peak. Leaving the packs at the saddle, eight thirsty mortals rushed on up Inyo to celebrate the attainment of George Tucker's desert emblem. Champagne, no, sparkling cider was at hand to quench our thirst. Plans were laid to continue our ridge traverse on to Waucoba, some other day. From the Inyo-Keynot saddle we dropped down directly into the canyon, bypassing BedSprings camp, to explore a new way off Inyo. Carefully picking our way and avoiding 3rd class waterfalls we reached the canyon bottom and followed it on out to our cars (wrong! one car!) which was reached by 7:30 pm. It appeared to us that, the evacuating party successfully made it out of the wilderness and took off in one vehicle to bring back more vehicles from Cerro Gordo. Well, ten climbers and their packs were stuffed into Dale's truck and hauled on out to the original meeting place outside of Lone Pine Station. From there, drivers were ferried to their cars at Cerro Gordo while others awaited for their rides in the middle of the desert until midnight. All thirteen mortals eventually made it home in the wee-wee hours of Monday morning.
Many thanks to Eric Schumacher for the fine assist and to Dale Van Dalsem for the excellent advice and to all other mortals for their support and exuberant participation. Other participants were:
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