Jun 24, 2016
I had visited most of the high summits in the White Mtns in previous years, but had neglected a stretch of the crest between Peak 13,615ft (north of White Mtn Peak) and Mt. Dubois. Between these are three named summits that appear in Andy Zdon's Desert Summits: two 12,600-foot+ summits on the crest and the 11,300-foot Indian Peak off the west side of the crest that Zdon describes as the hardest summit in the White Mtns to reach. The plan was to see if we could reach all three of these in a long day from Indian Canyon to the east. There would be no shortage of daylight and we'd have the advantage of Patrick's brand-new Jeep Grand Cherokee. We knew almost nothing about the condition of the road or exactly how far up it we could drive, so there was some speculation in the plan that we'd have to deal with as it came.
Patrick and I awoke shortly before 6a, having spent the night camped at Montgomery Pass next to the burned out ruins of the casino that once anchored a small community here. We drove east and south into Fish Lake Valley, then onto the dirt Indian Canyon Rd. I managed to drive the van only the first 3.5mi across to the west side of Fish Lake Valley. For the most part, this section of the road was in decent condition and managed if one looks out for rocks. I completely missed a buried rock right in the middle of the road and plowed strongly into it, dragging the 30lb boulder about 20ft before it became lodged solidly under the vehicle. Rats. I got out to inspect things while Patrick came up from behind, wondering exactly why I'd stopped. I decided to get out the jack and lift up the car while Patrick thought it might be possible to hack at the thing with his ice-axe. He went back to the Grand Cherokee to retrieve it and began to dig at the dirt around it while I was setting up the jack. After a few minutes' effort he found he could move the thing and exclaimed success, "See?! I told you the axe would work!" Not willing to give him full credit, I pointed out that I had just lifted the car by several inches and suspected he'd have been digging a lot longer with out the help of the jack. In any event, the two of us managed to dislodge the boulder in all of about five minutes' time - pretty good teamwork, I thought.
We left the van next to a spur road going to an abandoned home on the west side of Fish Valley. I piled my gear into the GC, enough for an expected overnight stay somewhere in Indian Canyon, and we drove off together. The road would prove a test piece of sorts for Patrick's GC, quite a bit tougher than the previous night's warmup to Sugarloaf. Upon entering the canyon there were several creek crossings that proved easy enough for the vehicle's 10 1/2 inches of clearance. Parts of the road were washed out with rough bypasses having been created, others places further up were overgrown and brushy, still others had deep ruts combined with the overgrown brush. There was no escaping the dust and scratches that would soon cover the vehicle from front to back. Luckily Patrick was already resigned to the fate his freshly painted car was to suffer, taking the beating as a badge of honor he might sooner rather than later pin on. He managed to drive 11mi up the canyon from the highway, getting us to the 9,200-foot level and the Wilderness boundary. It turned out to be a little further than I had guessed we might get, shaving a small distance off our expected hiking route. Not bad...
Due to the longish drive, we didn't get an early start on the hike, not heading out until nearly 9a. We initially followed the continuing (but more heavily overgrown and eroded) road up for about 1/3mi before abandoning it in favor of the rising ridgeline that we would use to climb up towards the crest, avoiding cliff areas to the right. We climbed more than 2,000ft in the first two hours, up steep terrain that was thankfully free of any serious brush. Patrick began to fall behind after the first half hour and several times I stopped to wait when he'd gotten out of view. He had the disadvantage of not being acclimatized as I'd been with my climbing to 12,000ft in Yosemite the day before. Somewhere along the way out of Indian Canyon I found my first obsidian artifact ever, a discarded spear point or arrowhead. I left the object on a nearby rock to see if Patrick might spot it when he came by, but he did not.
We reached easier ground after exiting the canyon and began contouring around the east side of the crest to avoid the unranked Peak 11,784ft. I paused a third time on the south side of this summit before we needed to begin a 400-foot descent down to a saddle on the crest. By the time Patrick had caught up he'd decided that he was only going to climb the first peak, Headley, today, not feeling up to the full circuit. I thought I might be able to reach Indian Peak and meet up with him on the way back along the crest, but that proved silly - he wasn't that much slower when we were on easier ground and the distance to Indian Peak and back was more effort than I'd guessed. Nevertheless, we parted at this point and I went off at a more determined pace, not stopping save for short breaks at the summits.
I made my way directly to Headley Peak, bypassing the higher east summit as neither had enough prominence to be ranked, and I really didn't know if I was going to have enough energy to reach Mt. Hogue later in the day. I reached Headley's summit just after noon. I found some pieces of broken glass at a small summit cairn and looked no further, though Patrick reported later finding the current register upon closer inspection. I was more interested in making sure to reach Indian Peak, given its reputation. The effort between the two along the connecting ridgeline involves dropping 1,900ft to a saddle before reclimbing 500ft to Indian Peak over the course of 1.7mi. It didn't seem all that big of a deal when I first looked at it from Headley, but the difficulties would soon become apparent. The drop from Headley starts off easily enough over good terrain with firm rock, but then begins to grow steeper and steeper with less pleasant footing, eventually becoming a steep, loose talus field that goes on for almost 1,000ft - ugh, ugh. I wasn't sure which would be worse, descending this slope and risking a slip and injury, or having to reclimb it later and getting knackered.
I eventually reached easier ground when the slope lessened and the footing firmed about 500ft above the saddle. After passing along the saddle and climbing decent terrain thereafter, I topped out on Indian Peak around 1:10p. There was a small, metal film cannister serving as a register found under the highest rocks. Before looking, I assumed it must have been left by Andy Smatko, but the oldest entry was on a scrap dating to only 2004. Bob Sumner had visited in 2006 with about half a dozen other parties signing in since then on a few narrow pieces of paper. Almost all the names were among the Usual Suspects from the CA peakbagging rolls.
While I was sitting on the summit taking in some pretty spectacular views across the Owens Valley and along the length of the White Mtns, I began to consider how I was going to get to Mt. Hogue. Zdon seems to indicate it was necessary to return back over Headley Peak in order to reach Indian Valley, and it was this route I was initially planning. But upon looking northeast towards Hogue, I noted that Birch Creek Canyon, separating Hogue and Indian, might make for a considerably shorter route. Had I done more research ahead of time, I would have found that a DPS party headed by Daryn Dodge had done just this two years earlier. It seemed like a stroke of genius as the route worked out better than I'd hoped. I first returned to the saddle with Headley, then turned northeast and began to drop into the Birch Creek drainage, losing some 900ft in the process. As I dropped closer to the streambed in the south fork, the gradient increased considerably and I realized I would have to drop quite a bit further, some 300ft or so, to reach the confluence with the north fork which I would then need to ascend. I decided instead to sidehill across steep slopes between the two forks, contouring at the 9,900-foot level (Daryn reported his party doing like-wise at the 10,000-foot level in the report I read later on peakbagger.com). Once in the north fork I found the going absolutely delightful. Unlike the south fork which runs up a steep, narrow canyon, the north fork of Birch Creek rises far more gently over a course of nearly 3mi in a wide, easy to navigate valley. I followed this up for almost two miles, enjoying the sounds of the babbling creek running down the middle, the lush, green grasses that made for soft footing, and the highlight - a herd of six bighorn rams that I disturbed as I passed through. They ran 100ft up the slope before turning to watch me with a wary eye. After I was safely up the valley a few hundred yards they returned to the bottom to resume grazing. I probably should have continued north up the main channel as the easiest route to Hogue, but instead I started climbing out to the left a little early, thinking I was closer to the summit than I was. This final 1,500ft of climbing took a lot of effort, boosting the overall gain on the day to over 7,000ft, a big day to be sure. I reached one plateau above Birch Creek only to find I still had another 400ft of climbing to the northwest, and then another false summit just before the end with the true highpoint still 100yds away.
I finally pulled up to the highpoint just after 4p. Sitting at the southern end of the miles-long Pellisier Flats, one can see this long, flat ridge rising slowly up to Mt. Dubois at the far northern end, the highest point in the northern part of the range with more than 2,000ft of prominence. The best register of the day was found here, placed by Gordon MacLeod & friends back in 1984. In all there were 25 pages of names, many recognizable, more not. There was a second, smaller register that had three pages of entries from the 1990s, I suspect left when the original went missing for much of that decade. Getting back to the car would go much faster than I had anticipated. I didn't realize at first that I was barely 2mi from the car in a straight line. There is only one short stretch of uphill along the descent route, a climb of perhaps 100ft to get out of the Birch Creek drainage and over the main crest. Cliffs in the direct line from Hogue prevented me from taking the shortest route, but the diversion around the cliffs to the south was not a large one. I ended up dropping to the trail we had discovered in the morning, and from there I pretty much followed the ascent route back to the car. The descent from Hogue took only an hour and ten minutes, getting me back by 5:20p. Patrick had been back almost two hours and was happy to see me well before sunset, worried about driving back down the canyon in the dark.
The return drive went quite smoothly, despite Patrick's concerns. There was more bushwhacking and scrapes on the GC, but that was fully expected. Laura was planning to drive up the canyon to meet us for the evening and hike with us for the rest of the weekend. Her 2WD Element would not be able to negotiate the length of the canyon that we'd managed and we weren't sure exactly how far she'd get. We found her hiking up the road about the 7,900-foot level, close to the CA/NV border. She'd managed to drive to just south of Davis Mtn about a mile down the canyon from where we'd found here, where the road washout began. After being warmly greeted, we drove her back down to her car where we mulled over options. We decided to spend the night at this dry campsite that worked out surprisingly well. At 7,500ft elevation, the temperature was quite pleasant for the early evening while we drank beers, prepared dinner and caught up with each other, without the bother of a single mosquito. I slept comfortably outside that night under the stars, one of the few times I'd been found camping outside the van. It was surprisingly pleasant, really...
This page last updated: Tue Apr 25 16:09:12 2017
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