Mt. Olsen P300
South Peak south_n1 P300
Black Mountain black_n P300

Tue, Aug 5, 2008

With: Mike Larkin

Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile


Looking for an easy day prior to a long outing the next day, I suggested we head to the Virginia Lakes area and climb some of the easy peaks on the south side of the high valley. Mike readily agreed. Like the previous day, we did not get an early start, reaching our makeshift TH only after 7:30a. There were no roads or trails to the summits we planned to visit, and finding a suitable place to park was not obvious. We settled on a shady spot on the south side of the main road, then headed down one of the side roads in search of a route across Virginia Creek. This was easily addressed with a fine bridge that carried the side road over the creek and on to a number of the private cabins and properties found in the area. We crossed an undeveloped private lot, worked our way through the forest understory and emerged on the south slopes heading up towards Mt. Olsen.

The climb up talus-strewn slopes to Mt. Olsen took little more than an hour from the car, much easier than the previous day's effort to Mt. Dubois. We were treated to swell views of Dunderberg Peak on the north side of the valley, as well as some of the other surrounding peaks further west. Once atop the summit ridge, we were treated to even more amazing views off to the south looking down to Lundy Lake and across its canyon to Gilcrest Peak and Mt. Scowden. Mono Lake could be seen in the distance to the southeast beyond Lundy Lake, and to the southwest could be seen the high peaks on the Yosemite border including Mt. Conness and North Peak.

We found a small film cannister tucked inside a twisted aluminum beer can under the summit cairn. Inside were a some thin sheets of paper with familiar names scrawled on them. Andy Smatko and party had placed the register in 1980, with others adding names every few years or so. That there were few entries probably did not mean the summit was rarely climbed - more likely it's just a matter of the register being easily overlooked. After a short stay we continued west along the ridge, easy class 1-2 hiking down to the saddle between Olsen and the higher, unofficially named South Peak further west. It took less than an hour to make it from one summit to the other, arriving atop South Peak at 10a. There was a PVC pole that evidently held a flag at one time, but it had been torn to shreds and relieved of duty long before we reached it. The only remnants of the flag were the rivets still attached to the pole. There was no register at the summit.

Continuing along the ridgeline further west, we took another hour to reach the top of Black Mtn. Here was a well-used register box chock full of papers, register books, and other tidbits. As the highest point along the ridge, Black Mtn sees a lot of visitors. Originally we had conceived of continuing on the ridgeline west of Black Mtn, to the pass over which the Virginia Lakes Trail passes a few miles to the northwest. But the ridgeline grows more jagged beyond this point and looked more arduous than fun, so we looked for a speedier alternative back down. We found just such a route down a broad chute on the north side of the peak. It took me less than 15 minutes to make the 1,400-foot descent, Mike taking about twice that long in a more careful fashion.

Regrouping at the base of the mountain on the north side, we moved further north to pick up the Virginia Lakes Trail in the vicinity of Frog Lakes. Once back on the trail, it was an easy matter to follow it down, past Cooney and Blue Lakes, past the trailhead, and down the road a ways to where we'd parked the car. The whole outing was almost exactly five hours, just what we needed for an easy, but enjoyable day. The weather, threatening much of the day, held off until we had returned to Lee Vining, after which it rained on and off through the afternoon. Hopefully it would clear up before I started on the next day's ambitious outing to Piute Mtn...


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