Bodie Mountain, Potato Peak, Crater Mountain

5-Jun-99

By: Bob Michael


A week of awful weather - January in June - had me wondering whether this trip would have to be cancelled two years running. Luckily, the pesky low that brought lots of new snow to the Sierras and Whites and lows in the 20's ejected eastward just in time. Eight adventurers assembled on a cold, blustery Saturday morning at Bodie and consolidated vehicles to drive a little over two miles up the good dirt road that starts at the visitors' parking lot. We parked in a flat area at 9020' where a jeep track takes off to the SW.

Our route traversed rolling wide-open gray-green sagebrush country reminiscent of South Park, Colorado another high cold and place. These are the first 10,000" peaks I've ever seen in the United States without one single pine tree of one kind or another - the only trees we saw all, day were an aspen grove, still leafless in early June, in the partial lee of a granite ridge at 93001. Apparently, the climate is just too brutal for pines to get a start. If the mountains had been denuded during the heyday of Bodie, you'd think you would see old stumps. The road encounters a fence at 94001, and the route turns steeply uphill to the WNW, still following eroded jeep ruts up the Mountainside. Where the track levels off at 99501 on the south side of Bodie Mountain, we cut up to the summit.

As 10,000' peaks go, it's rather unimpressive. However, it does command a fabulous view of the northern Sierra crest from Bishop to Sonora Pass; everyone agreed it was one of the best views they'd ever had, anywhere. To the south, Glass Mountain rose past the white-rimmed blueness of Mono Lake; the White Mountains were magnificent in heavy new snow. To the north was the gentle dome of the Sweetwater Range, home of Mt. Patterson (and Ron "Motu" Grau's upcoming list finish); to their east was Nevada's impressive Wassuk Range (awful name) and 11,239' Mt Grant. Bodie and its minepocked hills were far below. A tremendous panorama of the high West! Black clouds threatened for a while on the summit, but never did anything serious. Before hypothermia set in, we headed west off the. Wind blasted summit, rejoining the jeep track. We passed through a gate in the fence and picked off Potato, which rises about 2001 above the road. It has a nice little cl 2 summit knob to give it character. No register was found, so Pete Yamagata placed one, After lunch and more marveling at the view, we returned to Bodie and prowled the townsite for a couple hours. We regrouped at Nicely's Restaurant in Lee Vining.

After dinner, we drove south on 395 to the intersection of State highway 120. Three miles east of the road to the south shore of Mono Lake, we turned south off 120 on a fairly good dirt road to camp in the nice Jeffrey pine forest east of Mono Craters.

Next morning, a diminished group of four diehards drove a short distance SW from camp, stopping at about 73501, where the combination of steepness and loose ground made the going iffy,, Mono Craters are a geologically very recent chain of short-lived volcanoes, erupted along a N-S rift zone - all part of the Mammoth Long Valley-volcanic complex. The lava here is light, colored and rich in silica (rhyolitic); and this makes it thick and viscous, unlike black, silica-poor, runny basalt. When erupted, this lava tends to stay in place, squeezing up into domes and heaps; think of the lava dome inside Mt. St. Helens.

The route up the NE flank of Crater Mountain soon turned into an exhausting, character-building slog kicking steps into loose, sliding volcanic sand and gravel. Where possible, I steered towards clumps of pines because the needle duff made a thatch that sort of holds this grunge together. The phrase "hill from Hell" took shape in my mind... Patty Kline said she didn't mind it. (Patty can be strange at times.) Presently we dragged ourselves into the 8800' saddle between Crater and the bump to its north; one more short sliding slog up to the "crater" rim and it was all worth it. The summit area is science-fiction surrealist; a slight central depression floored by light gray gravel, as neatly dressed as in a Zen rock garden, is rimmed by castellated broken gray crags scattered about like stage props for Wagner's Ring of the Niebelungen. Chunks of beautiful black obsidianglass lie all about. I've never seen a summit anything like it. The highest crag is steep cl 2+ on its east side, very rotten; lots of big sharp rocks are ready to come down. But once on top, we had a hard time leaving; we looked across Mono Lake's blue saucer to where we had hiked the day before. The view of the grotesque volcanic land-forms to the north and south was backdropped by the Sierras and Whites. We noted in the summit register that the peak had been climbed at least twice before on scheduled DPS trips, in 1990 and in 1965. Because of the dangerous terrain, we descended one at a time.

At least the plunge-stepping descent down "Misery Hill" was fast and fun. Back at the cars, we savored-the deep blue sky, the warm sun, and the wind sighing in the pines, reluctant to start the long drive home.

My thanks to those inquisitive souls not totally bound to the tyranny of the LIST who made the trip. Participants Saturday were myself, Patty Kline (assistant), Dave Welbourn, Delores Holladay, Neal Scott, Judy Ware Sara Wyrens, and Pete Yamagata. Dave and Delores slogged with the leaders on Crater Mountain.


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