Hanna Mountain
Flatiron Butte
Peak 11,500ft P900

Thu, Aug 15, 2013

With: Daria Malin

Etymology
Hanna Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX

As a warmup for the Sierra Challenge, I chose to revisit the Little Walker River, found just south of the junction of SR108 and US395. The previous year I had climbed Walker Mtn and a few other summits in the vicinity, only a few miles from the TH. Looking south from Walker Mtn one can see to the end of Burt Canyon more than three miles distance, ringed by a high ridge upon which a number of named features can be found. Ink Rocks, Hanna Mtn, Flatiron Butte and several unnamed summits are located there. It was to this ridgeline that I wanted to pay a visit on my second trip to the area. Daria drove up from Big Pine to join me. I found her car parked off US395 on the dirt Little Walker Rd sometime around midnight. I pulled over to a flattish spot and crawled in the back of the van to spend the night. It's a lonely stretch of highway and there was little traffic to disturb one's sleep.

We were up not long after 6a and together we drove in the van the three or four miles south to the trailhead. While the road, particularly the last half mile, had not been improved any since my last visit, it had also not deteriorated much, and the few additional dents I took to the undercarraige from loose rocks proved inconsequential. The hike along the trail up the Little Walker River is a long one, taking us more than two hours. At the start we passed by several summer cabins with fine views overlooking the river. About an hour and a half along we were surprised to see not cattle, but upwards of 500 sheep grazing in Burt Canyon along the river. A spanish-speaking sheepherder came over to see what we were about, along with his three australian sheep dogs. We were able to convey that we were only out for the day, but we got nothing from him. In fact, he had a somewhat guilty look about him and I wondered if he was exercising a legal grazing right. That he, his dogs, and all the sheep were gone - probably driven into an adjacent canyon - upon our return, lent some credence to my doubts. But who knows?

Leaving the sheep behind, Burt Canyon opened up more to give us our first views to the surrounding ridgeline at the south end. The first impression one gets is of the fine granite formation known as Flatiron Butte, an unusual intrusion in an area comprised mostly of overlying volcanic rock. The NE Buttress and East Face appear to scream out to rock climbers. After reaching its summit, the register would tell us we weren't the first ones to notice its potential. Near the end of the trail is a large boulder lying in the middle of a large meadow. Overhanging on almost all sides, we found no reasonable way to climb the thing, much as we wanted to. We crossed the Little Walker River for a last time as we bypassed Flatiron Butte and headed for the volcanic features called Ink Rocks located on the east side of the ridgeline. We scrambled up some easy slabs to a higher meadow, then more slabs and talus to the base of Ink Rocks. Daria ascended to the left of what appeared to be the highest pinnacle while I ascended to the right. Upon reaching the ridge I moved around to the back side, looking for a possible route up to the top. I found nothing I would trust to solo footwork - this was proving to be much harder than what I had hoped for. I went back to the ridgeline and moved west a short distance, then sat down to wait for Daria in a location where I was sure I couldn't miss her. I half expected to see her poking her head out from the summit when she didn't show up for five or ten minutes. Eventually I spotted her retreating from the same side she had attempted to ascend - she had no better luck than I in the end. As one of the few named formations north of Yosemite to go at class 5, I might have to come back in the future with a rope, gear and a better plan.

We next turned our attention to Hanna Mtn, about a third of a mile to the southwest. We found the rock both varied and interesting. Some odd volcanic slabs, icky talus slopes and some decent scrambling. The last few hundred feet were loose and steep and not so great, but by 11a we had reached the 11,460-foot summit. A MacLeod/Lilley register dating to 1988 had more than 30 pages of entries. Some names we recognized, like Adam Jantz from 2010. Gail Hanna of San Diego visited her namesake summit in 2007. Most of the other names were unknown to us. The summit affords a fine view of Burt Canyon to the north and the Yosemite border to the south. After about 20 minutes we continued west along the crest, leaving the broad summit of Hanna to head for Flatiron Butte. While the better climbing is no doubt up the sheer faces and steep buttresses from the north and east, the scrambing from the ridge proved to be good fun with some solid class 3. Granite north of Yosemite - what a nice treat!

It was almost noon before we found our way to the north summit. A register there had entries from climbing notables Bruce Binder (Brutus of Wyde), Ken Hove (Burl Guido), Elaine Holland (Nurse Ratchet), and Craig Harris (Dingus Milktoast). That they listed both real and online names suggests they must have thought the Grade V, 5.9+, A2, 10-pitch route they climbed noteworthy. Their 2001 climb was followed up by another in 2003, with other climbers joining in a few times since. A very recent one seemed to claim the FA of one of the same routes climbed a decade earlier. And so it goes. We went back across the gap between the two summits and climbed to the highpoint of the southern summit. Gordon and Barbara had left another register here on the same day they visited Hanna (one has to wonder how many registers they carried on any given day). This seemed to be the summit visited by peakbaggers, so perhaps it was the highest of the two.

Last on the agenda was the highest point on the ridge, oddly unnamed, about half a mile west of Flatiron Butte's south summit. The best scrambling of the day was descending from the south summit to the west on a wonderfully fun class 3 ridge dropping to a saddle between the two peaks. It took about half an hour to cover the distance to Peak 11,500ft where we arrived shortly before 1p. Low and behold, the third MacLeod/Lilley register of the day, though this was housed in a small aluminum canister, suggesting the duo were running out of register containers on that day back in 1988. Daria sat eating a very sad-looking PB&J sandwich that had inevitably been smashed in her daypack while I perused and photographed the register contents.

I had two more unnamed summits, neither of any serious note, that we could do if we continued on the ridge. But being a warmup day for the Challenge and already having been at it more than six hours, Daria voted against continuing and I acquiesced, not much caring myself. We descended a talus slope to the north of Peak 11,500ft that led us back down into Burt Canyon and the Little Walker River. It would be just after 4p before we returned to the van at the end of the day.

We returned to US395, picking up Daria's car in the process, and drove to Bridgeport where we found Sean O'Rourke sitting outside the library, taking advantage of the free wifi access found there. Of course we were there for the same reason, so the three of us spent an hour online, sitting in the vestibule of the now closed library, planted on the hard ground. Afterwards we went to the Jolly Cone for dinner (with the exception of Sean who had come prepared with a canned vegetable burrito medley of his own creation), and then up the road to Twin Lakes to find a free spot to park our vehicles for the night. All in all, not a bad warmup day, even if a bit longer than intended.

Continued...


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Blair Hunewill comments on 09/04/15:
My wife and I spent a few days in Burt Canyon. We summited Hanna, Flatiron Butte and pk 11,500' also. Only 11,500 had a register. Those sheep are permitted for that area and we saw plenty of sign of their occupation but they had moved on. Your trip reports are always useful to us. We got to the Ink Rocks last and could not find an easy way up them. Do you know of anyone that has summited this formation?
More of Bob's Trip Reports

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