It was the first day of the 2023 Sierra Challenge, but none of my companions
were much interested in a very long outing to Doghead Peak in Northern Yosemite.
So instead, we planned a Jeeping day in the Bodie Hills that would include a
handful of minor summits. After camping near Travertine Hot Springs (not
a very good hot springs), we met up in Bridgeport at 6:30a, then headed off in
the two Jeeps. We would end up with about 35mi of dirt road driving,
collecting six summits for a pretty full day.
We drove up Aurora Canyon on a well-graded road, though there was some
damage from the spring runoff. It is a pretty straightforward climb from
the road on the east side of the peak, but we used a pretty rough 4WD road to
get us even closer from a saddle on the peak's south side. It took
less than 15min to climb the 400ft and 1/3mi to the summit, mostly through
open forest with a cap of loose talus for the last 100ft. We
found a relatively new register left by Barbara Lilley in 2020.
Ours was the only other party to sign it. Views today were weak due to
heavy haze. It had the look of smoke but did not have any smell and would
dissipate by evening. Strange, that.
We drove another mile up Aurora Canyon, turning left at a junction before
parking where this decent road tops out over a saddle on the east side of Peak
8,911ft. This was another 400-foot climb over half a mile,
easy sagebrush terrain.
The crux was getting over (or under) the barbed-wire
fence where we started - lots of cattle can be found grazing in the area. The
open summit has a large cairn that held another register from
Barbara placed on the same day as the previous one. About 40min for the
Heading further north into the range, Kristine spotted the steep road going up
the SE side of Masonic Mountain and was instantly excited. "We HAVE to
go up there!" I had been to Masonic Mtn on a previous visit and had planned to
bypass it, but gave in to Kristine's enthusiasm. We took both Jeeps up in 4-Low,
even using the rear lockers on the loosest part just before topping out. There
is a microwave relay tower at the end of the road,
the highpoint in the rocks to one side. We snapped a photo of the
benchmark found there, a few view shots, and then headed
back down. As it turns out, this would be the only summit we could use for
credit on the Sierra Challenge today - ironic since it's a drive-up.
Another four to five miles of driving would get us Dome Hill. Along the
way, we passed by several old mine works that Kristine once again got
excited enough to have us stop to let her check them out. The roads out
to Dome Hill got progressively worse, requiring high-clearance but not 4WD.
Parking at a high saddle on the west side of the peak, we had less
than half a mile and minimal elevation to reach the summit. No views
due to trees. No register either, so we left one of ours. Before
heading back down, we continued the short distance over the east side of the
summit to visit the Von Schmidt boundary marker Kristine had noted on the topo
map. We found a crumpled pile of rocks and a fallen wooden survey
marker, not one of the neat concrete markers we'd seen elsewhere. A little
We next drove back south to Aurora Canyon, then up to a saddle and down into an
unnamed valley, part of the Rough Creek drainage. We parked alongside
a small creek, a mile southeast of Peak 8,882ft. We had hoped to use a
rougher 4WD track that goes over the peak's north shoulder, higher and closer
to the summit. We found the start of the old road, but it looked to see little
or no traffic anymore and I was reluctant to risk getting stuck somewhere on it.
Our southern route was easier to drive to, and the hike not really bad,
climbing 1,000ft over the mile distance to the highpoint. Most of it was mild
sagebrush slopes, some junipers higher on the slope, and some
heavier brush found about halfway up - but no real bushwhacking - Iris
might disagree after spending considerable time later removing numerous stickers
and such from her boots and socks. There are two closely-spaced
summits, on which we couldn't agree which was highest. I thought the
further one to the northwest was slightly higher and we left a second
register there before returning on a less-brushy alternate.
This last summit was only a short drive east and south from the previous one,
taking us on a pretty rough track for about half the mile distance. We had to
pass through a wire gate (more cattle found around here) before
parking in the sagebrush since we found no turnout on the narrow track.
The 2/3mi hike to the summit climbs steeply at first, then easing for
the second half. The summit is found at the north end of a very large,
grassy summit plateau at the edge of cliffs on the north side. We left
a last register on this summit while taking a short break, then
returned the same way.
It was 3p by the time we returned to the Jeeps, taking little
time to get out of our hiking shoes and opening some cold beers for the
hour-long drive back out of the hills. A good time was had by all...