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Day 4 of the Sierra Challenge saw 14 of us heading to Hanging Valley Peak out of the Horton Lake Trailhead. The peak and nearby bonus Peak 12,140ft lie west of Mt. Tom across Hanging Valley, site of much mining activity back in the day. An old mining road, now trail, winds it's way up the south side of Hanging Valley, climbing about 3,500ft in 5mi. I last used the trail in 2004 when climbing the far more dominate Mt. Tom. I don't recall the road/trail conditions from that visit 18yrs ago, but it seems there have been quite a few washouts along the trail to keep things interesting.
Clouds from the previous afternoon/evening had not completely dissipated when we started out at 6a. This would lead to earlier thunderstorms today, some of it falling before we got back, but only a few drops where we were hiking. I took up the caboose position from the start, but slowly caught up to Chris, Tom B and Iris as we made our way around to the Horton Creek drainage, up through a lovely meadow, and then a steady, unrelenting climb up past Horton Lake and the switchbacks leading to Hanging Valley. Somewhere in the switchbacks I caught up to Sean Casserly who stopped on one of the shady portions of the trail to take a break. I reached the top of the road at the south end of Hanging Valley by 8:30a. Ahead I could see three others heading to Peak 12,140ft a short distance to the southwest, so I followed them. It would still take almost 20min to climb the class 2 slopes, a mix of granite boulders and sand, to the summit.
The three in front of me turned out to be Tom G, Matthew, and Yumi. Others had gone to Hanging Valley first. It was a bit chilly and weather was threatening, so we didn't stay long. We left a register here, while collecting a few other fellow climbers on their way up. The summit offers views looking west and northwest into the Gable Lakes drainage. Gable Lakes Peak rises dramatically to the southwest, the highest peak looking towards the Sierra Crest. To the east of course is the far higher Mt. Tom, looking even more imposing with the clouds threatening. To the southeast rises Basin Mtn with the Horton Lake drainage in the foreground.
Yumi was the first to take off from the summit, but the rest of us soon followed. Tom G, Matthew and myself stuck together as we made our way along the traverse to Hanging Valley via the connecting ridgeline, favoring the east side when difficulties on the very ridge were encountered. There was some amusement as we fought some through the dwarf forest of pines that grew on the boulder slopes. We soon realized that the ridge was not the quickest way between the summits, though it was a fun little exercise (better would have been to drop lower into Hanging Valley and then up to the second peak from the southeast).
We eventually reached Hanging Valley Peak by 9:30a, finding Sean C, Sean R, Mason, Zee and Yumi already there. We took a group photo, and then others when a few more arrived later. It wasn't clear which of two similar points was the highest, but the group had settled at the northern point, about 0.12mi from the southern point marked by LoJ. Tom G, Matthew and I had gone over the southern point so figured we'd covered our bases. Mason went over it afterwards to check, finding a battered geocache that did not survive the one or two winters that it was there. We didn't make any measurements, but the north summit looked higher. There was only modest interest in visiting Mt. Tom by those that hadn't been to its summit. Sean R was interested, but wanted someone to join him. No one did, so it was left untrammeled.
While most of the others started on the traverse south to visit Peak 12,140ft, Tom and I headed down to Hanging Valley and then back down the five miles of old road. Yumi caught up and passed us by somewhere in the switchbacks. Mason would catch us as well, but decided to join Tom and I for the rest of the descent. A short distance above Horton Lake and the cabins found there, we ran across brother Jim who was trying to work his way to the west end of the lake for more fishing. A late-starting Wyatt was also there, on his way up to Hanging Valley - hopefully he wouldn't get caught in a downpour. Further along the trail, Mason noticed the skies were unleashing rain ahead of us in the Buttermilks. It would make for wet roads on the drive out, but none fell on us. We got back shortly after noon, happy to call it a day. After driving back to Bishop, I would have time to shower and rest up before joining the others for the SC cookoff at the Church of Grundy later that afternoon...
This page last updated: Tue Sep 6 13:01:17 2022
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