Peak 8,475ft P300
Peak 8,900ft P300
Indiana Summit
Peak 9,124ft

Thu, Aug 5, 2021

With: Patrick O'Neill

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2


I was back in California after three weeks in other states, a day before the 2021 Sierra Challenge was to start. It had been well over a year since I had last seen Patrick, so I was happy to hook up with him for some warm-up hikes in the Mono Lake area. I had in mind a handful of minor summits that had been skipped on previous visits. We met up off US395 south of Mono Lake for the first two summits in the Mono Craters, one of the youngest ranges in North America.

Peak 8,475ft

Mono Craters are mostly piles of decomposing volcanic rock. They can be very tedious to climb and very quickly descended, in general. Peak 8,475ft was one such summit. Patrick wanted to use his Grand Cherokee so that he could deploy the solar panels away from the highway (where they might get stolen). Seems his expensive cooler wasn't as cool as expected due to an electrical issue, the usual sort of thing that happens to Patrick. We drove a dirt road to within about 2/3mi of the summit on the south side, stopping at the end of the road in a small clearing at the base of a gully. We followed a use trail up this gully heading east and northeast (the topo map shows a non-existing trail nearby) for less than half a mile, then went steeply up the embankment on the north side. This was the most tedious slope of the day, a loose, crappy mess of boulders and sand, thankfully short. Once up to the plateau, the summit can be seen half a mile to the north and the hiking becomes more pleasant. There is almost no vegetation found on these cinder cones, giving one the feeling of walking on the moon. We walked up the easy ridgeline to the summit with a view overlooking Mono Lake, the northern half of the Mono Craters, and a portion of the Sierra crest. On the way down, we headed southwest and south for a more direct return. We were hoping for a nice sandy boot ski, but there were too many rocks embedded in the sand to make this easy or enjoyable. But it did get us down in less than 20min, just over an hour for the roundtrip.

Peak 8,900ft

This one is found towards the south end of the range, a messier affair than the first. We were able to drive within about 2/3mi of the summit, taking a Forest road to a locked gate at an active quarry, though there was no work going on today. The summit area is half-filled with loose, broken lava rocks that makes for slow and somewhat unsafe travel. We started off heading west away from the quarry, finding an old road and following it up towards the plateau, then a tough traverse northwest up and over a number of ridges and troughs to get to the summit at the northern end. The last part is easier sand stuff like we'd found on the first summit, but it would take us a full hour to reach the highpoint. The return would take us only about 35min as we chose to go through the quarry, now that we knew there was no activity today. We still had sections of loose rubble, but they were short and we were able to use some of the quarry roads to get us back to the start.

Indiana Summit

This is a questionable summit found about five miles southeast of Mono Craters. The route we took from Mono Craters (FR1S08) went through a section of some of the worst washboarding we'd ever been on. It had the Grand Cherokee rocking violently from side to side, Patrick concerned that the heavy cooler in the back was going to be wrest from its moorings. He would swear up and down, changing speed to get the car to stop oscillating, but with minimal luck. Once on Bald Mtn road (a much better maintained dirt/gravel road), things got better. We followed this southeast and east, then south on Big Springs Rd (FR2S04), which passes by Indiana Summit on the west side. We got out and walked about 100yds over sparsely forested terrain to claim the highpoint. Very disappointing. Afterwards, we made an effort to drive to Bald Mtn, a summit Patrick hadn't been to, but were blocked by downfall less than a mile from the summit. Of course we could have walked the rest of the way, but neither of us cared anymore at this point. Back to US395 we went.

Peak 9,124ft

This last summit is located above the town of Mammoth Lakes, on the north side of SR203. It turned out to be the most interesting summit of the day. We were able to drive nearly to the summit, leaving us with a two minute walk to the forest top. The summit itself had little of interest, but on the south side we discovered an old chairlift tower that used to service a bobsled run. There was a dilapidated station and three oddly painted bobsleds in the same area. With some imagination, you can still make out where the old track ran down the south side of the mountain. Later, I found references to it dating back to 1991, but I suspect liability issues may have led to its demise. After checking things out, we headed back to our vehicle and Mammoth Lakes where we were staying the first few days of the Challenge.


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