Red Mountain P1K
Blind Spring Hill P1K DS / DPG
Diana Peak
Anderson Peak
China Peak
Pearce Peak
Buscones Peak
Modoc Peak

Tue, Jun 25, 2013
Red Mountain
Blind Spring Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


Red Mountain

Red Mountain lies just west of Rock Creek in the Little Lakes area of the Sierra between Mammoth and Bishop. Largely ignored in the summer, it is a popular ski destination in winter and spring though few go as far as the actual summit which is an inconvenient distance away from the ski run. It was one of only four California summits with an elevation above 10,000ft and prominence over 1,000ft that I had yet to visit. I was on the East Side for my first visit of the season tagging some other prominence summits in the area. Laura and Jim had joined me the day before for some other obscurities, but Jim had left that afternoon to head to Lassen Volcanic NP. Laura and I had spent the night sleeping in our vehicles off Rock Creek Rd. Laura was not feeling well in the morning and decided not to risk further injury to her foot which had taken a small beating the previous day. So as she drove home to Bishop, I was on my own for the hike to Red Mountain just after 7:30a.

I had originally planned to take the Davis/Hilton Lakes Trail further up the road that goes over the broad ridgeline that connects Red Mtn with Patricia Peak and eventually the Sierra Crest. Looking up the slope to the west from where we parked, it now seemed that I could save a few extra miles by simply heading up cross-country from where we'd spent the night. Though steep, the terrain did not appear all that brushy and I went with this better plan (an even shorter route heads directly up from the Aspen Park Group Campground to the summit, I found later). Clouds from the tail end of a late season storm were still milling about the crest, dropping light rain in places but not terribly threatening. Blue skies dominated further east with Red Mountain appearing to lie in the transition zone between unsettled and settled weather. It took only half an hour to climb the slope out of Rock Creek to easier ground above.

The 7.5' topo map shows a small drainage with a few marshy areas south of the summit and it was through this zone I traveled. The creek crossings were trivial and the marshes were mostly dry even in June thanks to the low snow year, making for a pleasant walk across them. The trees gave way to low pine bushes and views that begin to open up. Clouds over Mt. Morgan (N) showed rainy conditions to the west. In a first, I was treated to a huge rainbow whose entire arc was lower than where I stood. In another first, I caught sight of bear retreating from the summit which was only a few minutes away. I've seen plenty of bears, but never near the top of a mountain. It came running in my direction, but at a tangent to a circle maybe 40 yards in diameter (yes, math fans, that means it came within about 20 yards of me). It stopped at the tangent point, looking confused. This gave me a small window to capture that penultimate of pictures - bear and rainbow. Surely I will win a National Geographic contest with this. The bear paused to get his bearings, looked around, and once having spotted me again, tore off downslope through the bush, awkwardly leaping over and into shrub and rock alike. How it didn't break a leg was a bit of mystery.

Excitement abated, I continued the short distance to the rounded, rock and sand summit. A glass jar held two registers, both left by MacLeod/Lilley, though 26 years apart. Most of the initial register was tattered and barely readable. The second one was in better shape and contained entries as recently as a few months ago (by Nancy Fiddler, no less). There were other notables including Brian French in the register, but I did not take the time to photograph them all. The summit is so large that to really appreciate the views one needs to take a walk around the periphery to take them all in. I first walked to the west to take in the Nevahbe Ridge leading to Mt. Morgan and the Hilton Creek drainage. Moving to the north, one can take in a sweeping view of the upper Owens Valley and the Tablelands between Mammoth Lakes, Benton and Bishop, with Lake Crowley as the centerpiece. To the northeast rise the White Mountains with White Mtn Peak as the highest point. Wheeler Crest dominates the view to the east. The most picturesque view is to the south with most of the high peaks of the Little Lakes Valley visible and suitably dressed in lingering snow, framed by the passing storm clouds. The southwest saw the Davis and Hilton Creek lakes nestled in the valley below the Sierra crest with more forboding clouds packed tightly overhead.

My return route was largely along the same general route I had taken up, even more enjoyable when one is heading downhill. I marveled at a large field of wild onions that I passed through and paused to take pictures of shooting stars and some of the summits I had missed on the way up, including Wheeler Peak and Mt. Morgan (S). I was back by 11a, making for a short 3 1/2 hour outing. Though I had to drive home today, it was still too early to call it a day, so I decided to drive northeast across the Tablelands and the Benton Range to Blind Spring Hill on the west side of Benton.

Blind Spring Hill

Though not much over 7,000ft in elevation (less than the town of Mammoth Lakes), Blind Spring Hill has nearly 1,300ft of prominence. It was the site of varied, but not extensive mining back in the day, but that has played out and all that is left are a bunch of old jeep tracks, some tailings, and a couple of deep pits one could stumble into if not careful. The easiest approach is from the north via Benton Hot Springs and SR120. If coming from the west, there is a cutoff, Cattle Drive Rd, that can be used just before reaching the small collection of buildings that make up Benton Hot Springs. There is a small Piute reservation just south of town through which the main road passes, then a lonely stretch of excellent dirt road heading south. With high clearance and 4WD one can drive many of the roads around Blind Spring Hill, but with my limited capabilities I simply parked off the main road near a cattle gate and some high tension power lines.

The highpoint is 1,300ft and less than 2 miles from where I parked, mostly following along one of the jeep tracks rising up into the small range. There are many claim boundary markers found along the way, most often using a three to four-foot section of PVC piping set vertically amongst a rock cairn. Not all the old roads are shown on the topo map which can be helpful for navigating the terrain, though not really necessary. The cross-country over the boulder-strewn slopes is not difficult as the vegetation is very dry and light. It took about 50 minutes to cover the distance to the highpoint where I found in addition to a benchmark, a 1990 MacLeod/Lilley register with about seven pages filled. There were a few scraps as well including the oldest I noted from 1966, but for the most part these were unreadable due to weathering. The names in the register were almost all familiar highpointers and other peakbaggers. Andy Zdon and his father Ed visited more than once. The views in all directions take in a lot of rock and extensive desert views. The best view I thought was to the east where Montgomery Peak and the White Mountains rise sharply from the desert floor. From this distance and height, the Sierra is just a background of distant peaks whose snow remnants give a clue their great extent.

Probably back in the mining days when someone's hole-in-the-ground needed to be distinguished from the next guy's, half a dozen lower bumps to the north got names that found their way to the USGS maps and database. They are all located within a few square miles so it seemed almost a freebie to tag these extra summits for worthless credit. And pretty much worthless they were. I spent a bit more than an hour tagging each in turn via a combination of roads and easy cross-country. There's little to say about them other than they're all straightforward. From the summit of the last one, Modoc Peak, rather than retrace my route back along the ascent road, I decided to more directly drop off the west side, with a descending traverse that cut across the slopes. I took advantage of some fun boot skiing down a few large piles of tailings, but most of it was cross-country. I passed over a number of old roads, but none of them were heading in the right direction so they went unused. Eventually I landed on the main road out of Benton Hot Springs and followed it for 3/4 mile back to the van. It was 3p by now and time to head home. There were a few other summits in the area along SR120 that I was interested in (particularly Granite Peak which looks pretty decent on the drive back to US395), but these would wait for some future visit...

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