Mt. Patterson P2K DPS / OGUL / PYNSP / WSC / GBP
Potato Peak P2K
Bodie Mountain

Sun, Dec 2, 2007

With: Evan Rasmussen

Etymology
Potato Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Mt. Patterson later climbed Wed, Aug 5, 2009

Evan Rasmussen and I planned a week of peakbagging in the desert regions of California. His interest was in the range highpoints while mine lay in the DPS list - fortunately there was enough overlap to keep us occupied for much of the week. The weather was decidedly iffy, on the very cold side, not too surprising for early December. It was in the high 30s when I left San Jose, only growing colder as I drove across the Central Valley in the dead of night. Because the seasonal snows had held off for much of the fall, I was able to drive over Sonora Pass in order to meet Evan near the trailhead for Patterson, the highpoint of the Sweetwater Range. The temperature continued to drop, recording a low of 11F as I went over the pass - nearly a record low for me, as the coldest I've found was 9F - far too cold for hiking or climbing. The road had a thin layer of snow and ice for about a mile on either side of the pass, making the drive a bit hairier than I had expected (no chains!). I began to think maybe Caltrans should close the road. Fortunately I didn't skid off the road and the temperature warmed to a balmy 41F by the time I got down to US395. I found Evan's camper parked off the road a few miles before Bridgeport just where we had agreed, and after pulling in behind him on the dirt road I promptly crawled into the back of my van and went to sleep - there would be no early start today.

Evan woke me up around 7:30a as the sun was just cresting the hills to the east. After a quick breakfast, we drove together in his camper truck as far as the north side of Lobdell Lake following the directions from the DPS guide. We attempted to go further, but quickly ran into the limits of his vehicle with larger rocks pounding the undercaraige and violently rocking the camper attached to the truck bed. No need to beat up his truck on a relatively easy peak, so we left it parked off the side of road near the lake, heading out on foot around 8:30a.

The hiking is not difficult, in fact there is a 4x4 road that goes all the way to the summit. Despite this, we somehow missed a turn somewhere (or thought we did when the road had a short downhill heading north). We climbed a steep hillside cross-country through the woods before discovering the road again a few hundred feet later. We then continued on the road the rest of the way to the summit. The range appears to be criss-crossed with old roads going over and around the rounded ridgelines and barren upper elevations. Despite the sun coming out, the weather was downright frigid. The higher we got, the stronger the wind blew, a biting cold that had us wearing all the clothes we had brought with us and wishing we had more. Most of the snow that fell at this higher elevation, not much to begin with, had blown away leaving just the windpacked remnants amongst the rocks. No longer able to have a conversation in the fierce wind, we continued on in silence, glad that it was only wind to contend with and not the blizzard that might have accompanied it.

It was just after 10:30a when we reached the summit. The wind was fiercest here, blowing in excess of 50mph. The summit register was tucked in a small group of rocks, but we left it there as we ducked over the north side of the summit to get out of the icy blast. The wind was almost non-existent as we rested among the boulders that make up this side of the mountain. The views were clear, well into Nevada and west to the Sierra (if one wanted to fight the wind to get the view). Looking north I made out the Sisters that I had been wanting to do in a long traverse across the range. Today was not the day however - too cold and no shuttle set up. We didn't stay long even though we were out of the wind as we still had another peak we wanted to climb.

Going back over the windy summit, Evan continued down while I tried to sign us into the register. I pulled the register out of the rocks, then got down on my knees to keep the wind from blowing me over (it was incredibly strong). Unfortunately, the wind kicked up dust and small grains of sand around where my body created an eddy, with a bunch of it flying up into my eyes. Ouch! After about a minute of trying to see if the flying dirt would subside, I gave up and put the register back - no signature is worth that much. Jogging downhill and into the wind, I shortly caught up with Evan. Together we made the descent back to Lobdell Lake and the truck, this time taking the road the entire way. It was just after noontime when we returned, making for about a 3.5hr effort.

Back we drove to US395, picking up my van along the way. We stopped briefly in Bridgeport to take a few photos and intending to get lunch there. Of the few options that were open, nothing appealed to us and we continued south on the highway. Next on the agenda was the highpoint of the Bodie Hills, the oddly named Potato Peak. We dropped the van off again at the turnoff to Bodie, and together we drove into the old ghost town turned state park. We found no one manning the kiosk at the entrance, saving us a few dollars. What we didn't know was whether we'd be able to get out later in the day since it was almost certain that we wouldn't finish up with the peak until after the 4p closing. Not passing any gates (that could be locked on us) as we drove in, we were satisfied that the closing must have pertained to the ghost town itself, not the road that goes part way around the perimeter.

There were a few cars in the large dirt lot as we cruised through, one of them a ranger's truck. We struck off west at a fork just past the parking area, heading up a road that we guessed would lead towards our peak. A few miles up the road we found ourselves on the NE side of Potato Peak and NW of Bodie Peak, about equidistant to them, just about as close as we could get. We parked off the side of the road and just after 2p started up. The slope was tame and the terrain relatively easy to hike cross-country through. Most of the vegetation was brown and either dead or hibernating for the winter. We used an old road leading halfway up the mountain to make things even easier. It took us only about 40 minutes to cover the short distance to the summit of Potato.

Though not as windy as on Patterson earlier, it was still strong enough to drive us off the summit after a short visit and a few minutes to take in the views. Mono Lake could be seen to the south, the Sierra to the west, the Sweetwaters to the north, and Bodie Peak to the east. After taking some quick photos of the so-so views (it was now hazier than it had been earlier), we started down. Evan had no interest in tagging nearby Bodie Peak, so he headed back while I motored east to the broad saddle before climbing the similarly easy Bodie. About the only plus over Potato was that Bodie Peak had a fine view of the town below its eastern slopes. I headed northwest off the summit in a more or less direct line back to the camper where Evan was awaiting my return. The whole outing took about an hour and three quarters.

We had dinner in Bishop on our way to Death Valley. Afterwards I stopped in Big Pine to get a $5 shower at the market there. Thankfully the water was nice and hot, but the shower room was so cold that there was a layer of ice in the toilet bowl that I had to break through before I could use it - certainly the first time I've ever encountered that scenario. I met up again with Evan at the US395/SR190 junction, and together we drove about an hour towards the park, spending the night at an overlook just before dropping down into Panamint Valley. I was tired from all the driving in the last 24hrs more than from the hiking, and I had little trouble falling asleep in the back of the van.

Continued...


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