Bald Peak P300 DS
Beauty Peak P500 DS
Braly Peaks West P1K DS
Braly Peaks East P300
Mt. Biedeman P300 DS

Tue, Apr 19, 2016

With: Daria Malin

Bald Peak
Beauty Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


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.

Bald Peak / Beauty Peak

These two summits are small bumps sticking out from an 8,000-foot+ plateau found between Rough and Bodie Creeks north of the ghost town. The road grew rougher where we parked about three miles from Bald Peak, though one could drive almost anywhere across this nearly barren high desert with the appropriate vehicle. The roads depicted on the topo map are mere depressions in the rocky landscape and not all that easy to drive on. As Zdon points out, better to park here as the "walk across the plateau is wonderful." And so it was. High clouds kept the sun from making things too warm and we found the weather ideal for hiking. After about a mile and half we passed by a CA/NV boundary marker, not realizing the two peaks were not in California, but just across the border in Nevada. Beauty Peak is one of those rare summits that falls between the current border and the old Von Schmidt Line, at this point only 1/7mi apart. We hiked the old roads north past Beauty Peak, aiming for the further peak first. A pair of antelope at a distance spotted us and charged off for parts unknown without letting us get close. The spur road ended as we hiked up the northwest side of Bald Peak, reaching the summit in an hour. Along with a benchmark, we found a small register dating to 2014. There was a second entry from 2015 before our own, the small data set suggesting the peak sees about one party per year.

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...

Braly Peaks

After returning to the car we drove back down to the junction and then northeast about half a mile to another junction where an old road crosses Bodie Creek and heads up towards Braly Peaks. The peaks are named for a prospector who first came to the area in 1860. Until recently they were mispelled as Brawley Peaks and will continue to be so for some time until the maps are updated. The two highest points in this collection are both located in Nevada, the highest being Braly Peaks West with more than 1,200ft of prominence. Somewhat longer than the first outing, we would cover more than 7mi and over 2,000ft of gain in the effort, once again starting in California.

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.

Mt. Biedeman

Initially I wasn't sure that we'd be able to the first four peaks in one day, which is why we drove both cars in through Bodie. Now it was clear that that hadn't been necessary. Further, Daria was in favor of doing Biedeman as well which would allow us to dine in Bridgeport instead of somewhere along the the Bodie road. I was game as well, so we drove both vehicle back through the ghost down and back along the paved portion of SR270 until we were about 1.5mi north of Biedeman. Once again, the Forester made things considerably easier. We drove it on a rough dirt road described by Zdon to a saddle immediately west of the summit, only about 1/3mi away. Though somewhat steep, the hike was a comparative piece of cake taking all of 15 minutes. No register on this peak but we found a very nice view of Mono Lake to the south, framed by the snowy Sierra on two sides. Daria took the opportunity to climb a somewhat precarious summit cairn for a hero shot with Bodie Mtn in the background. Ten additional minutes saw us back to the car by 5:30p.

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...


Kirk D comments on 12/06/18:
The Beauty Peak summit register a real gem with regards to long standing Bishop and Eastside residents. In addition to the names 'signing in' already familiar to you, these include :
Francis Cholewa, Bob Harrington, (the late) James Wilson, Kay Wilson and Larry Nahm. Must be a pretty special place to have drawn such a wonderful collection of locals.
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