Peak 8,700ft
Juniper BM P1K DS / DPG
Piper Mountain Wilderness HP
Peak 8,820ft
Peak 7,900ft P500
Peak 7,900ft P500
Cowhorn BM
Peak 8,060ft P1K

Tue, May 23, 2017
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Juniper BM previously climbed Sun, Jun 14, 2015

At the start of a week-long roadtrip, I headed to the Cowhorn Mtns, a sub-range of the Inyo Mtns at the far northern end. I had been here two years earlier with Tom Becht, tagging a couple of P1Ks in the area including Juniper BM. I was unaware at the time that the Piper Mountain Wilderness HP is found just below the summit on the east side, so this was a return visit to tag that one. Peak 8,060ft is another P1K that I missed on that trip and then missed again when I was in Eureka Valley with Brian French earlier this year. A snowstorm cut our trip short and we were unable to make it to this isolated summit south of Cowhorn Valley. I had thought in the morning that I should be able to get the two of these in the same day. I didn't realize just how much daylight there is at this time of year, an insane amount it would seem, and I found myself extending both outings on the fly to take in some additional bonus peaks. Even after 20mi and almost 7,000ft of gain, I still finished up with more than 3hrs of daylight remaining. I was too tuckered to attempt more so I called it a day at 4:30p.

Loop 1: North of Little Cowhorn Valley

Starting from the pavement on Death Valley Rd, this was going to be less than 3mi one-way, but sort of grew a little out of control. I had only brought 32oz of Gatorade and had to ration that to make it stretch for the 6hr outing. I started up a 4WD road that Tom and I had driven his Jeep on that first visit which made for a much shorter hike that day. I left the road almost as soon as I started on it, cutting up a drainage to shortcut the road, then leaving it for good after less than a mile at the 7,600-foot level. I climbed more than 1,000ft up to Peak 8,700ft on the south side since it was more or less on the way to the Wilderness HP. I was surprised to find a register here, place by Barbara and Gordon back in 1976. There were a few additional entries in the 80s and 90s, then a few more since the turn of the millenium. Bob Sumner was the last entry from two years earlier. I next dropped to a saddle between the peak and Juniper BM to the north, then climbed up to a higher saddle on Juniper BM's east side. Hiking up the east side of Juniper BM, I figured it would be easy to pass by the Wilderness HP. Though I had the LoJ coordinate loaded in my GPSr, I was unable to find a cairn or register around that point. Since Juniper BM is just over 1/10th mile from the Wilderness HP, I decided to tag that one before looking again on the way down.

Unfortunately, the old Walt Wheelock register from 1959 was no longer at Juniper BM's summit, a new one taking its place in 2016, courtesy of Richard Carey. Surprisingly, Doug Mantle had visited back in March - it is exceedingly rare to find his name on a summit that is not on one of the Sierra Club's lists. At nearly 9,000ft, the summit affords a fine view of the snowy Sierra in the background to the west, Split Mtn prominently displayed in the center of the panorama. Reversing course, I wandered back down the east side, this time looking more carefully and eventually finding a small cairn (which I made larger) about 70ft from the LoJ point. Richard Carey had left this register as well on that same day in May of 2016. Taking a short break here, I started poking around on my GPSr and found a bonus Peak 8,820ft a little over a mile to the northeast. I was close, it seemed, so off I went. I dropped down to a small valley with a 4WD road passing through it (the same one we had parked the Jeep on during that first visit to Juniper BM) before climbing onto the easy SW ridge of Peak 8,820ft. Finding no register there, I left one of my own before starting back down.

Two other bonus peaks popped up on the GPSr over on the south side of Little Cowhorn Valley, just south of the pavement, so again I extended the outing to tackle these, realizing at this point that I would have to conserve my Gatorade which was now half gone. I dropped 1,800ft over the course of a couple miles, crossing the pavement before starting up the south side. Neither peak is particularly hard, close as they are to the road. Interestingly, they both have the same height and prominence though separated by a mile with a 500-foot+ gap between them. Neither held a register though both were climbed by Bob Sumner back in 2006 (Sue & Vic show a PB entry on one of them in 2016). They both have nice views looking south across Cowhorn Valley to Peak 8,060ft and north across Little Cowhorn Valley to Juniper BM. Around 12:15p I finally made my way back to the van after some six hours. I didn't see a single vehicle ply the road in that time.

After more than 4,000ft of gain, I was pretty tired but I figured lunch would give me the extra energy I would need to tackle Peak 8,060ft in the afternoon. Canned chicken breast on Ritz crackers, a fruit cup and 16oz of soda were just the ticket. The rest and the food did wonders and I was starting the second hike only half an hour later.

Loop 2: South of Cowhorn Valley

I drove a few miles south on the well-graded gravel/dirt Saline Valley Rd before parking at the junction with a spur 4WD road heading east into Cowhorn Valley. I had brought the mountain bike for just this sort of outing, using it to make short work of the first 2mi, an easy grade going downhill a short distance before flattening out for the remaining distance across the valley. There was much sand where I parked the bike and the south slopes leading up to the ridge between Peak 8,060ft and Cowhorn BM looked steep and somewhat unpleasant. Rather than tackle the slope directly, I chose to go up a gully that worked nicely with little brush. Once atop the ridge, I looked again at the GPSr and discovered that Cowhorn BM was only 2/3mi to the west. It wasn't in the direction I was traveling, but it was too close to pass up. Up and over two slightly lower bumps, I made my way to the highest point at the western end of the ridge. Here I found the benchmark and another Gordon/Barbara register, this one from 1984, with eight pages of entries. There was an even older register in a rusted tobacco tin, but the contents were unreadable as they turned to dust upon opening it. Oops.

I reversed course and headed east, following the ridge along a number of bumps to find my way to the P1K after a little more than an hour. Or at least what I thought was the highpoint. It was the point identified on LoJ, but looking north, another point a quarter mile in that direction that I had conveniently bypassed on my way, looked higher. I pulled out my hand level and took a peek, sure enough it was 15-20ft higher. Rats. Back I went. I found a large cairn there, a generic benchmark, another Barbara/Gordon register and a zillion ladybugs flitting about the summit. I sat down below the highpoint to avoid them and photograph the register contents, but no sooner had I started than the ladybugs began to swarm me enmasse. I had to hurriedly finish my task before brushing hundreds of them off me and my clothes. I could not guarantee that some were not injured or killed in the process. Leaving the summit to the ladybugs, I descended a more direct route back to Cowhorn Valley and the bike. Another 15min of riding had me back to the van by 4:30p. By now it had warmed to nearly 85F at 7,000ft, quite warm for hiking. I cranked the AC and drove back down towards Big Pine before stopping to take a shower just outside town. I then drove to Bishop to while away the rest of the afternoon in the air-conditioned Starbucks before grabbing dinner and heading back up to the mountains. More fun on tap tomorrow...


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Kirk D from Sparks comments on 05/31/17:
Your recent 'back of eastside' trip reports have jogged some fine memories. While lucky enough to still have lived in Bishop, a January 1985 ski day above Little Cowhorn below Peak 7,900' and the paved road comes to mind.

We used 2 cars as our 'lift' and spent the day 'carving' turns thru the Joshua Trees there. No doubt there was some herb involved, but sadly no camera to record the event.

Not quite sure on this fun fact ? but I think it is the farthest northern occurrence of Joshua Trees in CA. Perhaps someone out in Burd-land can comment on this ?
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