Black Mountain P1K DS / DPG
Peak 9,060ft P300

Sat, Sep 10, 2005

With: Matthew Holliman
Jeff Dhungana

Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile


For the second day in a row we started driving thinking we were going to climb one peak, only to go after something completely different. Our intentions this morning were to meet Jeff at the South Lake TH and pay a visit to Trapezoid Peak via the class 4 North Ridge. It was very late when we got to our bivy site along SR168 the previous night, well past 1a, and we were dreadfully in want of blowing Jeff off for the 7a start. But that wouldn't do, not as responsible climbing partners, so fueled with about 5 hours of sleep and no dinner or breakfast, we found our way to the TH not a minute past the appointed time. It was incredibly windy as we drove up, something like 30mph by my estimate. The temperature was near freezing, but the windchill brought it well below that. Large whitecaps were being whipped up on the lake surface and the aspens were being thrashed about like rag dolls. We found Jeff inside his car with glove, hat, and a jacket on. He'd slept in his car at the TH and commented that he was buffetted about all night. The conditions were miserable for a hike, let alone a class 4 climb on an exposed ridge. Matthew suggested maybe we should try for something across the Owens Valley in the Inyos. He mentioned Waucoba Mtn, which was enough to send me scrambling back to the car.

We drove back down to Bishop, then ditched Jeff's car at the gas station, three of us driving off in Matthew's car towards Big Pine. Matthew was consulting his desert peaks guidebook, and grew discouraged on the route description for Waucomba which included 25 miles on dirt road - one way. As we headed east on SR168 he narrowed our choices down to Black Mtn, a prominent peak from US395 and Big Pine, just north of SR168. We had no idea where the peak was really, having never heard of it, so we just followed the guidebook. We found the Forest Service road near the crest, now just 4 miles to go along the dirt road according to the guidebook. As we passed numerous forks not mentioned in the book, Matthew commented that the author is often pretty sketchy on details. I didn't give us much chance of getting to the peak as we guessed on at least four forks, but lo and behold after almost 5 miles, we drove up to a flat area just before a mine that was described as the trailhead. Sometimes you get lucky.

Unlike the weather in the morning at South Lake, it was almost warm with only a slight breeze. We were on the east side of the double-summited peak, maybe 400ft below the east peak. Matthew's guidebook said to follow some road or other and then take some angle or other around some side or other. "Why can't we just go straight up?" I asked. No one had a reason why that might be foolish, so that's what we did. It took all of 15 minutes to reach the top. Not exactly a difficult summit. The west summit stood off some distance, partially blocking our view to the Sierra behind it. We looked through the messy summit register on the east summit before tucking it back in place without bothering to sign it. It took us another 30 minutes to traverse over to the west summit where we were treated to the finest Sierra overlook I've yet seen (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8). Much better than the view from White Mtn Peak or the overlook along the road to the bristlecone groves, Black Mtn is a good deal closer and more centrally located. We could name over 30 peaks along or near the Sierra crest in a broad panorama stretching for easily a hundred miles from south of Olancha to Yosemite to the north. That alone made a visit to Black Mtn worthwhile. The windy conditions over the Sierra made for very clear skies in that direction, providing excellent detail of the mountains.

Over 3,000ft lower and a few miles to south we could see SR168 snaking up the canyon. I expected that it might make for an interesting descent route if we could get one of us to drive the car back down the road from the trailhead where we'd left it. I suggested drawing straws to see who got driving duties, but Matthew volunteered to do the honors. Either he thought the route too uninteresting, was too tired from the day before, or perhaps was worried of the prospect that Jeff might be the one chosen to take his car back over the rough road. I never asked him the reason.

Jeff and I headed off the South Ridge and then down towards a dirt mining road we had spotted from the north summit. The descent wasn't terribly interesting, but it was certainly more fun than the ascent. We were down to the highway in little over an hour, then sat around to wait for Matthew. There was no shade and the canyon kept out any breeze, so we found ourselves warmer than we would have liked. We lay around trying to doze with our caps over our faces, but it wasn't an easy undertaking. After about 45 minutes we began to wonder what happened to Matthew. We built miniature cairns and rock walls in the gravel around where we were lying to while away the time. Eventually Matthew arrived, a bit over an hour since we'd arrived and more than two since we left him at the summit. He hadn't gotten lost - it just took that much time to get back to the car and drive back.


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