Flatiron Ridge P500
Peak 11,180ft
Ink Rocks North

Sep 16, 2021

With: Kristine Swigart

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile


With much of the state's national forests closed, Kristine and I were hiking in the only one left open, Humboldt-Toiyabe, in a portion of the Hoover Wilderness north of Yosemite. Our goals were Flatiron Ridge between Molybdenite and Buckeye Canyons, and Ink Rocks, a pair of challenging volcanic pinnacles further south. I met Kristine at the junction of US395 and Little Walker Rd before 7a. We left her car there and drove the Jeep to the trailhead on Molybdenite Creek, just beyond the Obsidian Campground. The road is well-maintained, and driveable by pretty much any vehicle. We knew that Ink Rocks South was more than class 3, so we had brought climbing rope and gear with which to tackle it. It wasn't until we were at the trailhead that it dawned on us how hard this could make the outing, with something like 18mi roundtrip and more than 4,000ft of gain. We waffled back and forth, eventually deciding to leave the climbing gear in the Jeep. Afterwards, we were both glad we did, as it made the outing far more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.

We set out just after 7a on a surprisingly decent trail - no downfall, no brush encroachment, fairly easy to follow. We hiked the trail for 3.5mi, through aspen forest and dry, desert scrub found in the lower reaches of Molybdenite Canyon. We reached the turnoff at the 8,800-foot level where the topo map shows the McMillan Cabin to be located (we didn't see the cabin, but weren't looking for it, either). This was the start of a 1,400-foot climb up to Flatiron Ridge. The initial slope was covered in annoying aspens, made palatable only by the cow paths we could follow to avoid any real bushwhacking. Though we didn't see any cattle today, there was plenty of evidence of their existence, and we suspect that there are far more cows grazing in the canyon than people using the trail. After about 400ft we turned south, crossing a brushy, but mostly dry creek to gain the pine forested upper slopes where travel would be much easier. This was much better terrain that we ascended for the next half hour. The forest gradually thins, leaving smaller, widely-spaced trees on the upper slopes where strong winter winds would topple any tree that dares to grow too tall. It was just after 9a when we reached the ridge proper, and here is where the most enjoyable stretch of the day would begin.

The ridge was about as fun as we had hoped. We could have continued on the trail several miles before climbing up to the highpoint, but our route would maximize our time at elevation where we could get views overlooking this part of the Hoover Wilderness. Unfortunately, heavy smoke from several Sequoia fires were obscuring distance views, but it was still pretty nice. To the northwest, we could look across Molybdenite Canyon to Hanging Valley Ridge, and to the southeast was Buckey Ridge across from Buckeye Canyon. The ridge was undulating with several intermediate points to reach the ridge highpoint, but the terrain was easy enough that it bothered us little. Kristine liked to dig among the rocks at these intermediate points to see if she could find an obscure register, but today she would have to such luck. We spent an hour and a half along the ridge to reach the highpoint around the halfway point. There was a wooden post sticking out of the rocks, but no register that we could find. We knew that Smatko had been here, so our search was more thorough than usual, but still we came up empty. And for whatever reason, we both forgot to leave one of the registers we were carrying with us. Peak 11,180ft was a bonus peak another half mile to the south, a distance we easily covered in about 20min, only about 280ft above the high saddle between them. Smatko had been to this one as well (he was on a quest to climb all the 11,000-foot+ summits in the High Sierra), but again, no register was found. This time we remembered to leave one of ours.

Now past 11a, we continued south along the ridge, heading towards Ink Rocks. The route ahead looked a bit more daunting than the section we had already covered, but it turned out to be a bit of an illusion. There is one section of easy class 3 encountered about 20min after leaving Peak 11,180ft. We stayed on or close to the ridge, no need to bypass the various rock formations. Past this, the terrain becomes easy again, continuing to the head of Molybdenite Canyon. We crossed the southernmost stretch of this canyon, then hopped onto the ridge that separates Burt Canyon from Buckeye Canyon. Ink Rocks is located about halfway across this ridge, anchored on the southwest side by Hanna Mtn. The terrain changes more dramatically here, with loose volcanic rock and dirt characterizing the ridge. We had to pick our way more carefully along it, favoring the east side where difficulties were encountered. Kristine led us slowly across this last section as we found the unstable slopes a bit unsettling. We couldn't really tell if we would slide off or hold steady, so we played it cautiously. On the way back, Kristine commented that we were moving much faster, which of course was due to the fact that we'd already traversed it and found we hadn't plunged down the slope. The route is class 3 up to the lower north summit (Ink Rocks North) where we arrived around 12:30p. The sight of the higher, more impressive Ink Rocks South before us was humbling - there were no obvious routes looking at it from our vantage point. We knew that Chris Kerth had visited both of these summits earier in the year. Finding no easy way between them, he backtracked to the north, then dropped low on the east side before finding a class 3-4 route up on that side. Still, he was stopped at the last 20-30ft by class 5 terrain that he felt unsafe soloing. Kristine and I had no wish to repeat the feat, knowing we had no better skills, so we were content to call it good from the north summit. We left a register under some rocks and reversed our route back off to the north.

Once on easier ground, we continued north, dropping into Molybdenite Canyon to find our way back to the trail. The topo map shows the trail ending about a mile from the drainage's southern end, so we would have at least that much cross-country. After dropping about 300ft, there is considerable brush that must be avoided. This is easy at first, but grows denser the closer one gets to the bottom of the canyon. Luckily, cattle have grazed the slopes here for decades, and with a bit of searching, one can find their paths through the thicker sections of willow. We did not find the end of the trail where indicated on the topo map, but about half a mile further down. The trail then quickly becomes well-defined and easier to follow. It's still a long way down the trail and would take us another two hours to cover the six miles back to the car. I was beginning to limp during the last hour and Kristine slowly cruised ahead of me and eventually out of sight. Shortly before reaching the TH, I ran across a gentleman heading in the opposite direction. He knew who I was immediately. I thought maybe he had stopped to talk to Kristine (he hadn't), but it turns out he had recognized my license plate and vehicle. He was Tom Kearns from Mammoth Lakes, and mentioned a few folks he'd hiked with before I recognized Daryn Dodge. We spoke for a few minutes before continuing on our way. It was 4:15p by the time I wandered back to the TH.

I found Kristine back at the Jeep, and we wasted little time changing into shorts and more comfortable footwear. We had a few recovery beers for the drive back out. We'd spent more than 9hrs on the outing and had earned some cold medicine. On the drive back out to the highway and Kristine's car, we talked about the outing the next day in the New Range. We wanted to set up a car shuttle, but didn't know how Kristine's Subaru would handle the rougher road at the one end. She suggested I could easily check it out this evening, so after dropping her off, I did just that. The road in question forks off the well-maintained Buckeye Rd, going up the By-Day Creek drainage about a mile and a half before getting blocked by a locked gate. I even had cell service there, so I was able to relay the information back to Kristine, who had headed home to Topaz Lake. I would spend a quiet evening at the TH, the only vehicle there that evening and all the next day...


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