Etymology Story


It was 32F outside when I went to bed and I expected it to be much colder by morning, camped at 9,000ft alongside Virginia Creek, north of Lundy Canyon in the Sierra. The wind picked up sometime in the middle of the night and brought with it warmer air, and I was surprised to find it 48F when I got up at 6a. This would do nicely for a pre-sunrise start, unlike the previous morning when it was 14F and I was afraid to get going until the sun had been up awhile. I had in mind two relatively short hikes to a couple of named, but unimpressive summits overlooking Mono Lake before I had to head home on the last of a three-day outing.

Copper Mountain

This unassuming summit lies at the eastern end of the high ridgeline separating Lundy Canyon to the south from Virginia Lakes to the north. Mt. Olsen and Black Mtn are the two dominant 11,000-foot summits on the western half of the ridge, while Copper Mtn barely makes it to 9,400ft with less than 100ft of prominence. What it has going in its favor is easy access and a fantastic view of Mono Lake. The peak lies in the SE corner of Jordan Basin, a high-desert area in the Toiyabe National Forest serviced by a series of Forest Service roads. High-clearance is sufficient to access most of the roads but without such a vehicle, I had to settle for hiking the roads out of the campground along Virginia Creek where I'd parked. I had first to climb up and over a low ridgeline, the lateral moraine for the glacier that once flowed down the canyon from the southwest. Once this bit of easy cross-country was accomplished, I could see the road system on the other side and descended to meet it. The full moon was getting ready to set over the right shoulder of Dunderberg Peak behind me while Mono Lake could be seen in the predawn sky to the southeast. There are two roads one can take to get to Copper Mtn. I took the lower one that goes by Jordan Spring, approaching the peak from the north. There are several aspen forests along the way that would be quite tedious to penetrate were it not for the road cutting through it. Where the road veers southwest to climb steeply to the saddle west of the summit, I headed up the north side of Copper Mtn more directly over class 2 terrain, finding my way to the summit rocks shortly after 7:30a. The sun had been up almost an hour by this time and was reflecting brightly off the waters of Mono Lake. The wind had not subsided any and was blowing with terrific force, making it difficult to stay upright on the exposed summit. I found a register jar and ducked off to the leeward side to avoid the brunt of the wind and take a short break.

The register dated back to 2003 with about 13 pages of entries, though the only name I recognized was Terry Flood who visited earlier in the year during the summer. Aside from the nice view of Mono Lake (much better view in the afternoon, I'd imagine), the snowy northern aspect of Gilcrest Peak, Mt. Warren and Lee Vining Peak could be seen to the southwest on the other side of Lundy Canyon. To the northeast, the Bodie Hills form a brown sea of rolling hills. I descended to the saddle on the west side and took the high road for the return. It wanders through a forest of mountain mahogany, then through pines as it climbs gently to about 9,800ft at its highpoint. The road then turns north to meet a pair of roads along the lateral morraine I had first climbed up. The downhill trek along the top of the moraine was the nicest part of the hike with open views and easy walking for about a mile. Once I was due south of my start, I dropped off the road to the north, descending the slope to reach the van at the campground. All told, I was out about 2.5hrs.

Mono Dome

Almost six miles due south of Copper Mtn, Mono Dome overlooks Tioga Canyon on its north side. There is a dirt road climbing up from SR120 to the Boy Scout camp at 10,000ft on the north side of Mono Dome that I used years ago to climb Lee Vining Peak. I tried to use this road again back in the summer but found it too rough now for the van. My starting point today would be from SR120 at a turnout southwest of the peak. I had scoped out the slopes a few days earlier when I drove down from Tioga Pass and judged it workable, despite the steepness and brush. The initial slope is ridiculously steep it turns out, rising 1,800ft in less than 2/3mi. The brush was manageable but took lots of meandering to avoid the worst of it. The upper slope, where the gradient begins to lessen, is covered in one of the healthiest forests of mountain mahogany I've seen yet. It became thicker and more claustrophobic as I penetrated into it, eventually reducing me to crawling on my hands and knees. I thought it odd that I didn't give up at this point since I couldn't see above and beyond to have any real idea how long this mess was going to last. All I had to go on was hope, really - hope that it would end soon and lead to something more manageable. And so it did. Which is the sort of thing my brain must have remembered from similar experiences in the past - all bad things eventually end. Usually. I crawled into a small clearing that led to a larger one and soon a path of sorts developed and I found my way out of the maze. Pinyons and other pines took over, providing better ground for walking. Snow began to make an appearance as I moved over onto the shadier north side of the rounded ridge I was following. I had about half a mile to cover over this easier ground, going past one false summit (that actually looked like a dome) before finally reaching the rocky highpoint that seemed very undome-like. Though partially surrounded with trees, it had a superb view of Mono Lake, much as one might expect from looking at the map. A register was mainly filled with the dozens of visits from one Boy Scout troop or another, all written in green ink on a collection of loose pages, none of them dating back more than a season or two. Ron Moe left a notepad more recently during a visit three months earlier.

To avoid the mahogany mess I'd been through, I plotted a different course for the return, utilizing a drainage to the south of the summit that I had initially intended to use for the ascent. This route proved far less brushy. I stayed in pine forest as much as possible, avoiding large swaths of aspens growing in the drainage. The runted, avalanche-surviving trees grow in tangled masses that can be quite unpleasant to pass through. Where the pines gave out I dropped into the gully that begins gently but soon rolls off steeply. In the upper portions this gully is a little brushy but not bad at all. It then becomes more open as the gully widens some and begins to drop more quickly. The lower part is characterized by some not un-fun class 3 scrambling that continues all the way to the highway with no serious impediments. By the time I had finally reached the highway it was nearly 1p, having taken a little more than three hours for the roundtrip effort. I walked the short distance up the pavement to the van where I took off my boots filled with debris, shook out the stuff that had collected in the pockets of my pants and daypack, finally changing into some fresh clothes. Time to head back over Tioga Pass and home, just before the next minor storm was due to come through and threaten to close the pass again...

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