Mount Inyo, Keynot Peak, Waucoba Mountain
2-Jun-95 (Private trip)
By: Ron Hudson
We had only two fully ready for the (now private) trip, myself and Gary Craig. John McCully drove us (he was recovering from an injury). We then decided to do just the southern portion of the crest. The whole route -- up Waucoba and on top the entire Inyo whole crest - to S of New York Butte - is 42 miles and 14,000' gain per the map. Too much for just us two and one car. If we were to have any problems, there would be more options in the more southern section for bailing out.
We drove to Waucoba and dayhiked it Saturday, then drove over to Winnedumah (Paiute Monument). It was a two hour uphill backpack to get to the crest there. You now walk a little bit farther than previously since the area was included in the Inyo Mountains Wilderness. Nice place to camp on the ridge there, but you need to bring your water. In the morning I climbed the 80' monolith and rappelled down - some friction and 5.5 or so moves with a couple pieces of pro to put in. Then Gary and I started our hike along the crest to the south.
We had planned to do 19 miles of crest, and meet John Sunday at the Burgess Mine roadhead N of NY Butte. Much of the first day was a lot of boulders, brush, and route finding. It was difficult going. We would sometimes be standing on dead trees looking for a way to go. In places were rock gendarmes up to class 3. We had the necessary light packs. Weather was great, and no tent was needed.
I scheduled the trip at a time to hopefully have some snow remaining. Without any snow, one should be prepared to detour 3000' down a canyon for water. Fortunately with the near record year of precipitation there were snow patches, and they could be verified from the Owens Valley. It took us 6 hours to do 4 slow miles of crest to get to the first snow, which was at 9500'. Next time I do this would go down W of the crest in a couple of N-S drainage ramps that parallel the crest from about the 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 mile point S of Winnedumah. Although the ramps are not on the crest top, I saw more open terrain there. The next mile after the water was pretty slow, a particularly brushy section, even though the terrain was flattish now.
We saw no human tracks until we neared Sally Keyes Pass at the 8 mile point. There was evidence of a campsite at the pass above Willow Springs which is on the Saline Valley side. Obsidian chips at one spot later. We saw no evidence of game in that first 7-8 miles, like deer, coyote, or even a rabbit. No scat nor tracks. Only a few birds and lizards much of the way. Vegetation was mountain mahogany, pinyon pine, manzanita, and sagebrush. There was, however, some nice limber pine forest high up on north-facing slopes.
We went on until dark, camping 1.0 mi NW of Mt Inyo -- good spot -- flat, protected, and melting snowbank for water. 12 hours to do 9 miles and 4000' gain (on the map)! Actual amount we walked, I am sure, considerably higher accounting for all the up, down, and around, among the brush and over the rugged terrain.
The next day we started at daylight and continued to Mt. Inyo. We read in the register that George Pfeiffer had hiked up there alone to try to meet us the day before, but missed us since we were running late. Nice of you to do that, George! Next, there was some steep snow to negotiate on the N side before Keynot. We then crossed over to the west side which was free of snow. Then to the Keynot summit and next down from Keynot traversing the long slope to Forgotten Pass. When we were 1/2 mile S of the Pass, we realized we couldn't make it to meet John by the Burgess mine in time. If he didn't see us there by 1-2:00, he was to check the canyons down near Lone Pine. So we canceled doing the last 5 miles to New York Butte and Burgess Mine, turned around, and went back down to Forgotten Pass and down the trail to the roadhead for French Spring -- 5000' of loss.
I left most of my gear there, stocked up with some water, and walked the 2 miles to the main N-S road. I waited an hour but not one car was going north! So then I proceeded toward Lone Pine (5 miles distant), not knowing where John would be, and happened to see him in the distance driving down from Long John Canyon. I ran and ran but missed him by 150 yards as he drove on to Lone Pine. So I walked on, exhausted, and then, a car! A rancher took me to town. Keeping my eyes peeled, I saw John getting gas! What luck! I was glad to see him! It turned out he had checked the canyon roadheads already, all except the canyon we came down. So we drove back the 7 miles, picked up Gary and my gear, and were heading back to L.A. by 5:30 PM..
So the trip was tough going. But it was neat exploring a route, not knowing what would happen next, and having the extreme solitude and wild feeling because few, if any having done the crest before. The going along the ridge among the boulders and brush would be faster and easier if somebody were to take the time to search out the best route and mark it with cairns. Lopping off sharp dead branches and clearing through the brush with a machete would also make the going easier. A trail would encourage more to visit. Maybe that is better. Maybe the extreme solitude without any trail is better. I don't know. I imagine some sort of a use trail is likely to emerge when some others try it.
The view all along the route is pretty amazing. You see the Sierra crest on one side and look down about 10,000 feet to Saline Valley on the other. The north section of the Inyo Crest between Winneduma and Waucoba Mtn looks less difficult -- more gradual and forested. I will look to that as my next exploratory in the area.
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