Tue, Apr 19, 2016
Having driven up the Sierra East Side the day before, I could see that there was a great deal of snow at the higher elevations. Though I had my snowshoes with me in the van on my drive from LA to Reno, I really didn't want to use them if it could be avoided. I wanted to hike in the Bodie Hills north of Mono Lake, summits whose tops didn't rise much above 9,000ft. Luckily these would be below snow level, for the most part. The two highest summits, Potato Peak and Bodie Mtn I had climbed almost 9yrs earlier. I was back to tackle a handful of peaks in Zdon's Desert Summits. Daria had sent me an email a week earlier, wondering what I was up to. It so happened I was going to be in her neighborhood for a few days so I invited her to join along. We had a fine time, making better progress than I had expected, giving us a chance to add a few bonus peaks along the way.
I had camped overnight along a lonely dirt road on the north side of Mono Lake. I was to meet Daria at the Bodie turnoff on US395 at 7a, about 12-15mi up the road from where I'd parked. I overslept, not waking until nearly 6:45a, so it was a mad rush to jump out of the sack, grab some breakfast food and immediately start driving. I ate and drank and drove at a good clip, passing most of the few vehicles I found on the highway. As I went over Conway Summit with about six miles to go, I noticed another fast driver gaining on me from behind. They didn't quite catch up by the time I reached the turnoff 5 minutes late. I wasn't all that surprised to find it was Daria, also rushing madly, having started her drive from Big Pine several hours earlier. I was still wearing the sweatpants I'd slept in. We took about five minutes to regroup (and give me a chance to change) before driving both cars east on SR270 to the Bodie ghost town.
It was a long drive in, some 12mi on pavement that turned to excellent dirt about halfway in. Now a state park, I was a little surprised to see the ghost town and road closed at the entrance station, a sign indicating the park didn't open for another hour at 9a. The road services other areas outside the ghost town, including a long drive into Nevada and back to the pavement near Hawthorne more than 25mi away. Since we weren't going to visit the ghost town, could we drive through? I was inclined to think not, and the white trucks parked at the Visitor Center made me think we would draw the ire of park rangers who might see us drive in. I turned to Daria to ask what she thought. She showed not the slightest hesitation. Perhaps even more than myself, she seemed happy to beg forgiveness than ask permission, so off went. I suspect there wouldn't be much begging on her part if we were caught - probably more like incensed arguing ("What do you mean we can't drive through?!"). We drove past the Visitor Center without arousing enough attention to get someone to come out and confront us, and a few minutes later we were driving out the NE end of the park. Problem solved.
The road deteriorates some past the ghost town, but it was still good enough to get the van through. We paused at a large puddle of water stretching across the road. "You gonna go for it?" Daria asked. "Yeah, I think so..." was my reply and so I did though not without hesitation and a few extra dings on the undercarraige. "As long as the exhaust stays intact..." was my only concern as I bumped my way through. We stopped short of five miles beyond Bodie at a fork in the road indicated by Zdon, parking the van here. I had expected that we would have to walk from this point on the rougher dirt fork to the left heading north to our first two peaks. Daria's Subaru Outback would let us drive almost two miles closer, helping us speed through today's summits.
We went over the top and down the south side before turning SSW towards Beauty Peak a little over a mile away. We had to drop almost 500ft to a broad saddle between the two before climbing up to the second summit in about 45min. We found a cairn, the wooden remains of a survey tower and a Lilley/MacLeod register from 2003. Aside from the notable dynamic duo, there were other familiar names in the register, including Bob Sumner, Sue & Vic Henney, and Brian and Marie French. Beauty seems to see about the same yearly traffic as Bald, perhaps a tad more. How one bump got named Bald and the other Beauty is a bit of a mystery considering they are very similar in appearance from most vantage points. On our hike back to the car we came across an unusual sight, what appeared to be eagle feathers still attached to a few bones. Did an eagle die here and get scavenged, or did another predator somehow catch it unawares? Nature is a tough schoolmaster, to be sure...
Starting off shortly before noon, we found the biggest obstacle at the start, a wide jump over Bodie Creek. We followed the old road southeast and east to its end at a spring just shy of two miles in. From here a use/cow trail can be followed for another 1/3mi until we more or less lost it about 2/3mi due west of Braly West. From here we climbed rocky slopes directly to the highpoint after crossing over the unmarked state line. There was a pretty view to the southwest of Mono Lake, unusually flat and showing a fine reflection even at a distance of more than 15mi. A register had been left here in 1999 by Ed Brawley Jr from New Mexico, obviously to climb his namesake peak. He also left a historical account of the peak and its naming (including the mispelling). Ironically, with the recent name correction, it would no longer qualify as Ed's namesake. The register was a clumsy collection of printed loose pages in the style of a Mt. Whitney register. There was no sign of Barbara & Gordon in the subsequent years to correct this unfortunate arrangement.
After a short break we headed east off the summit, finding this side more characteristic of a steep, rocky Sierra slope than the typically benign Bodie Hills variety. A good deal of sand made the descent fast and fun, far better than if we'd tried to ascend this way. We dropped to a wide, flat saddle between the two before climbing the easier Braly East half an hour later. We found no register at this lower point. In order to avoid reclimbing the west summit, we dropped back towards the saddle and then began a contouring route around its north side, whereupon we came across the twin evils of aspens and soft snow. The aspens were a tangled mess of trees engaged in behavior unbecoming of proper forests. The trees were closely spaced, branches growing haphazardly in all direction down to ground level and took much ducking, meandering, and sacrificing of clothing to make it through. Once past this we hit upon a slope of snow that would posthole past our knees, brush lying in wait below to trip us up further. Ugh, ugh. The nastiness lasted perhaps 15min, but of course it seemed much longer. We spent a much more pleasant last hour finding our way back to the road, Bodie Creek, and our car, finishing up before 4p.
We dined at the Jolly Cone that evening, just finishing before their 7p closing time. Afterwards we headed north out of town on SR182, driving a few miles north to Masonic Rd, west of Bridgeport Reservoir. We drove about 3/4mi up this wide, excellently graded dirt road to a flat turnoff where we could spend the night. We watched a few movies (Jackass the Movie [bad, imo] & Two Days in the Valley [confusing, but a much better movie, I thought]) before calling it a night with more summits on tap for the next morning...
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