Thu, Aug 18, 2011
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Round Mtn is another Sierra obscurity that doesn't land on anybody's radar unless they happen to be a peakbagger living in Bishop. Overshadowed by the likes of Mt. Humphreys, Mt. Tom, and Mt. Sill, the 11,000-foot summit is clearly visible from town, but often ignored for the higher summits behind it. Far to the east of the Sierra crest, it lies outside SEKI and even outside the John Muir Wilderness. Still, it has more than 1,200ft of prominence and was one of the highest summits in the area I had yet to climb. The area immediately surrounding it is a not-so-popular 4x4 area known mostly to local fishermen and off-road enthusiasts. One could drive to the base of the peak with the appropriate vehicle, but I thought it more sporting to start from Glacier Lodge on Big Pine Creek. Two participants planned to drive to the area, Evan to ride his bike to, or near to the summit, Bill to hike the peak along with Sky Haven and a few others in the area. We had six at the trailhead at 6a, but two of these, Tom and Ephrat, were heading to Winchell instead. And so it was just four of us heading up to Round Mtn from Glacier Lodge on another fine Sierra day.
Our route started from the overnight lot, initially following the main trail west as it traverses a short distance above the north side of the canyon. Just past the pack station we found the unsigned trail that forks off to the right as it switchbacks its way up the side of the canyon to Logging Flat. The trail appears to be used primarily by packers, though we saw no other traffic on it by horse, mule or human the entire day. After reaching Logging Flat we followed some ducks that led across the meadow where the trail was weak, then through a portion of forest to a junction where it meets the more established trail coming up from First Falls. The views looking south opens up to take in the high peaks around the drainage of the South Fork of Big Pine Creek, including Middle Palisades and Norman Clyde Peak.
Above Grouse Spring the trail eases off as it passes over a high knoll where we got our first view north to Sugarloaf, blocking the view to Round Mtn behind it. The forest has given way to drier chaparral, but we are soon in forest again as we pass through High Meadows and continue towards Baker Creek. As we started down towards the marshy meadows around the creek, we left the trail to head cross-country more directly towards our destination to the northeast. We spied an old cabin on the creek, a ranch building of sorts for the large fenced area where cattle still graze in season. Our party of four split up on this section as we picked different routes to cross the creek and surrounding marsh and then contour through the scrub to climb out of the Baker Creek drainage. The scrub thinned out as we entered Sanger Meadow in the large expanse called Coyote Flat.
Michael and I reconvened and the two of us decided to head first to the bonus peak, Sugarloaf. Jeff and Tom had likewise regrouped further west in the meadow, the two apparently heading to Round Mtn. They had seen us across the meadow but declined to follow. Our route went up the southwest side of Sugarloaf, taking advantage of some large blocks and boulders on the left side to avoid some of the brushier slopes found to the right. The climbing was steep but offered no technical challenges, which pretty much describes all sides of this rounded volcanic cone.
We reached the summit shortly after 9a, to swell views in all directions. Round Mountain could be found just a tad higher to the north, the town of Big Pine far below to the southeast, a fine view of the Palisades to the south and the broad Coyote Flat to the west, ringed by high mountains and the Sierra Crest beyond. A rusted tin can held a register that saw very few entries, seeing a party every couple of years. The oldest scrap dated to 1947 with Chester Versteeg's signature, a rare find, indeed.
The distance between the two peaks is less than two miles, though there's a drop of more than 600ft to the saddle between them. The terrain is not difficult, consisting of a moderately steep boulder/talus descent off the north side of Sugarloaf, the partial use of an old Jeep track near the saddle, then low density scrub on the slope up to the South Ridge of Round Mtn that we followed to the summit, taking about an hour.
We found both Jeff and Tom at the summit, a large Harrison map in Tom's lap with both of them discussing the many summits that could be seen from this vantage point. They had been there more than half an hour and were soon ready to head back, as Michael and I took some photos of the wonderful views offered. There were two benchmarks found, a generic USGS one without any identifying stamps, and a second by the US Coast and Geologic Survey stamped, "ROUND NO. 2". There was no register that any of us could find about the large summit area. Tom took off south along the ridge in the same direction we'd come, intent on tagging Sugarloaf on his way back, while Jeff followed Michael and I down the SE Slopes, content to call it a day with the primary peak.
We hadn't seen any sign of Bill or Evan who we expected to reach the summit before us. As we headed down the SE Slopes we spotted a small figure making its way across Coyote Flat along one of the access roads on a bike - Evan, no doubt. We met up with him at the base of the mountain, about as far as he could ride before either leaving the bike or pushing/carrying it to the summit. He wasn't sure he even wanted to go to the summit, happy to just be out riding his bike. He had started from some 7-8 miles to the northeast near Lookout Mountain after coaxing his truck up the long drive from the Owens Valley below. In the end he decided to head for the summit though he left the bike at the base, while the three of us continued southwest across Coyote Flat towards Baker Creek.
The 7.5' topo shows a trail heading almost due south from Sanger Meadow to High Meadows and we did our best to find and follow this trail, with almost no success. We found a mix of brush and sidehilling and some meandering to keep the bushwhack to a minimum, but try as we might we could find no sign of the trail that was supposed to be there. Jeff fell behind on this section, winded from the fast pace that Michael and I kept up across the varied terrain, and we eventually lost track of him. As we approached High Meadows we spotted a series of ducks leading up through the forest understory and eventually back to the trail. They weren't all that helpful because we had already gotten this far knowing we would soon be back on the trail once we crossed to the west side of the meadows.
Back on the trail we enjoyed the easier travel, now mostly downhill, along with some fine views of the Palisades across the deep canyon formed by Big Pine Creek. The most prominent peak was Mt. Alice in the foreground just across the creek - tomorrow's bonus peak, and it looked as much of a talus heap on all sides as it has been described in the literature. Our primary destination was Buck Mtn just behind it, and while we made the descent back to Glacier Lodge I studied the east side of the two peaks, looking for the most brush-free ascent routes and ways to avoid the worst of the talus. The overview provided by our descent would prove most helpful in making the following day's effort more enjoyable.
It was 1:15p before Michael and I returned to the TH at the overnight parking lot. We were the first to get back, Jeff about 15 minutes behind us. The others would come straggling in over the next few hours from the various other peaks including Thunderbolt, Winchell, and others. Most of us would reconvene in Big Pine later in the afternoon, driving back up again to Glacier Lodge the next morning.
Michael and I once again finished the day together, keeping us in a tie for the Yellow jersey.
Bill Peters had driven up to Coyote Flat in order to tag a bunch of peaks the easy way. The effort paid off as he climbed five summits to Tom Grundy's two, putting them both in a tie for the Polka Dot jersey with 16 summits in seven days. A bit sneaky perhaps, but well within the rules...
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