New York Butte, Pleasant Point
By: Ed Lubin, George Denny
As we were about to leave our Keeler meeting place at 8:00 AM, on Saturday, a row of closely spaced shiny dark 4WD vehicles passed by us on Hwy 136. It appeared to be an official motorcade, but was in reality members of the Desert Peaks Section bound for the townsite of Cerro Gordo, to climb Pleasant for the Bob Hicks (1X) Duane McRuer (2X) Doug Mantle (3X) list completion celebration,
Our group headed the opposite direction, led by George Denny who replaced Paul Bloland, the scheduled co-leader for our trip into the Inyo Range to bag both New York Butte (10668') and Pleasant Mtn (9690') over the weekend, and do some sightseeing. Unfortunately, Paul had to miss the trip due to an ailing back,
George was already our guide to be, because he had driven the rough, Swansea, Cerro Gordo roads before. Through his knowledge and skill we were able to use the 'DPS Road and Peak Guide' Drive/Route B/Western Approach (Guide No 1.10) for N.Y. Butte; then exit by way of Cerro Gordo, using Drive/Route B/Southern Approach, without great difficulty. Owen Maloy was even able to drive his small Suburu coupe, much to the amazement of the drivers we met while underway (all hunters) who were unaware the car had 4WD. It only had to be pushed once.
Our experience could be misleading because in some locations the two roads are poor and potentially dangerous, There are very steep up and down grades, and lo-lo gear was used often. Driving certainly was not easy. Only mechanically sound 4WD vehicles with high clearance and tires with good traction are suitable. For safety, there should be accompanying vehicles; best with CB radios.
The drive routes are accurately described in the "Guide", but road conditions could change. Consider contacting fellow DPS member, Steve Smith, before venturing on a trip: W (619) 375 7125, He is a BLM Ranger based in Ridgecrest.
George Denny and Jim Whitted led in a Ford Bronco II; with Steve Durkee, I followed in my Jeep Cherokee; then came Owen in his Suburu; John Thomassen, Kaye Rowley in a Jeep CJ; George Pfeiffer and Judy Ware in a Toyota 4 Runner.
We drove to the trailhead for N,Y. Butte in about 3.5 hours, having taken time for sightseeing enroute. Hiking at a moderate pace, we were all atop the narrow, fin like summit block within one hour (more difficult than "Guide" Class 1). The views are spectacular; particularly of the Sierra Nevada. By looking along the top of the eastern escarpment, the earth's curvature can be seen. Waiting for us, appearing quite fresh and as if he were just out for an easy stroll, was Alterio "Bill" Banks, who had signed up for our trip, but canceled (as possibly some of the seven others had) upon learning that we would not be using Climb/Route A, He likes that route and has been up it around 25 times. It had taken him 4 hours to hike 5·5 miles, and climb over 6500 feet. He began .3 miles in from Hwy 136, thereby adding 1.5 miles to the Guide distance.
We then headed back to our vehicles and drove south along the Inyo Crest to the summit station for what once had been the longest cable tram in the world, 13 miles, and designed just to haul salt. It was in operation between 1915 and 1930. This impressive, gigantic structure, a marvel of engineering, was alone worth the arduous drive. The abandoned tram's western terminus is near Swansea, The eastern terminus for the tramway is in the Saline Valley.
We then drove to the starting point for Pleasant Mtn, Climb/Route C'. The steep grade down from here is considered the worst place when driving in from Cerro Gordo; which some think is easier than from Swansea. It has a drop-off along the edge, and the shale road can be slippery.
We climbed the peak and got down with well over of daylight remaining. I reached the rounded, class 1 summit in 30 minutes with Jim Whitted on his first DPS trip close behind. Camp was set up among the pinyon pine where we parked for the climb. A better locations at the opposite end of the spur road was already occupied. Food and drink were brought by various members of the group, but tops I think was the Champagne provided by George Pfeiffer and a delicious pasta dish served by Kaye Rowley. My collapsible, rollable GI fire ring functioned well and I hope DPS members can use the practical design. After a good nights sleep, Sunday morning we broke camp and headed for Cerro Gordo, arriving in about 45 minutes. There, we met Jody Stewart, owner of the holdings. Except for the road, the historic silver, lead and zinc mining area is now closed to the general public due to liability problems.
Attractive, and sociable, Jody drew a disheartening picture of lost hope and dreams for the historic area; abuse by the DWP (a conspicuous relay station) and indifference from the state and organizations who should care. But she was full of praise for the Backroad Explorers Committee, Federal Aeronautics Administration, and Phelps Dodge Corp who have been leased the mining rights. The history is fascinating. It was the Comstock of Los Angeles. At one time its minerals comprised 1/3 of all shipments from the Port of San Pedro.
Our Group divided here; George Pfeiffer, Judy Ware and Owen Maloy headed for home, while the rest of us drove down the east side of the range on good dirt road, headed toward Saline Valley and the hot springs; quite impractical because of the distance involved, but not once regretted. Although not our purpose for going, enroute we saw the eastern terminus of the tramway. Only the day before, the Saline Valley Road had been newly dedicated as a "Backcountry Byway" by BLM. There was considerably more back road driving than climbing on our trip; but the features combined nicely (the ideally we would have met the list completion celebrants on Pleasant Mtn) and the Fall weather was perfect.
Sidelines:I caravaned with George Denny and Jim Whitted all the way from Los Angeles. When we reached Red Rock Canyon, George took us to see what he called the "Dutch Cleanser Mine"; a series of large 45 degree down sloping tunnels roughly 150 feet apart, which lead to a transverse tunnel. Once there were rails in this main tunnel going to a tram that was used for carrying what was mined to a point down in Last Chance Canyon. Because a lantern is needed, the mine can be visited day or nighttime, headed from or to Los Angeles, It is interesting to see, but enter at your own risk. To reach from Hwy 14, turn onto the Redrock/Inyokern Rd located 9.1 miles north of the Randsburg Rd intersection, 12 miles south of Hwy 178 West, and drive 2.7 miles NNE; turn right, SE, 1.9 miles. Warning, cliff at roads end. Ref: AAA Kern County map.
At George's suggestion, we carcamped Friday night off of Movie Road, a Joshua Tree National Monument-like location north of the Whitney Portal Road, on the western side of the Alabama Hills, outside Lone Pine. Also new to me.
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