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Walker Mtn is the highpoint of a large stretch of Sierra bordered by US395, Buckeye Creek and the West Walker River. The USGS has designated this the New Range, but it is hardly clear what constitutes it as "New" nor why it is designated as a subrange of the Sierra Nevada. It lies outside the National Park and Wilderness boundaries and appears to be primarily used for grazing cattle and hunting. Walker Mtn has almost 1,700ft of prominence and landed on my short list of summits over 9,000ft with more than 1,000ft of prominence. I had also never been to this area, so all the trails and access roads would be new to me. I had spent the night at a rough TH overlooking Willow Flat along the Little Walker River. With several miles of trail hiking in the morning, I decided to wake early, well before dawn for an early start by headlamp.
I was starting at 5:45a, heading down the gated old road leading to Willow Flat. There is a rancher's homstead at a junction here, but I could not see much of it in the predawn light. By the time I was able to put away the headlamp I had gone past the end of the road and started up the trail which I found meandering through the woods on the east side of the river. There was no obvious place to leave the trail to start my way up to Hanging Valley Ridge, so I looked for one of the less brushy routes I could find. Aspens and willows made the going somewhat brushy when I first left the trail, but things improved gradually until I was above the aspen line and in more open terrain. Daybreak came shortly before 7a, lighting up the peaks on the west side of the river, Peak 10,727ft and Mt. Emma, where I hoped to end up later in the morning.
Hanging Valley Ridge is not the shortest nor easiest approach to Walker Mtn, but I was interested in climbing the highpoint of the ridge on my way to the higher Walker Mtn. It is a nice hike along the broad ridgeline leading to its highpoint further south. There are great views to be had, especially in the early morning when the air is clearest, and the cross-country hiking is quite easy. I reached the summit not long after 8a and was surprised to find a register here. The contents dated back to the early 1990s, but much of it had been exposed to the weather and hardly readable.
I continued south over the summit to Hanging Valley, an interesting shallow valley cut into the plateau stretching south from Hanging Valley Ridge and Walker Mtn. A small stream cuts through the center with some green vegetation found sporadically on either side, but mostly the valley is comprised of acres upon acre of volcanic talus. Despite its rugged appearance, the SW Ridge dropping off the summit is no more than class 2 (in fact a game trail makes most of it easy) as is the SE Ridge of Walker. Although there is almost 400ft to drop between the two summits, it took only half an hour to make my way from one to the other. I chased off a small group of deer on the ridge up to Walker Mtn, two does and two bucks that made some sort of double date. They ran up the ridge and over the summit, never to be seen the rest of the day. I found a register in a tin box dating back to 1985. More than 40 pages were filled with names. Barbara and Gordon had visited in 1988. Other recognizable names included Don Palmer and Adam Jantz along with the two most recent entries by Mark Adrian and Richard Carey. It was a more popular peak than I would have guessed. The views take in the vast extent of the West Walker River from its headwaters at Tower Peak and Yosemite to the south, stretching around the west side of the New Range and far to the north as it goes around the Sweetwater Range and eventually ends up at Walker Lake inside Nevada.
Almost due north, across the Little Walker River rises Peak 10,727ft, sporting nearly 700ft of prominence. I planned this as my next objective followed by a traverse to the lower Mt. Emma before calling it a day. I dropped down the west side of Walker Mtn, initially following the NW Ridge until it sort of disappeared into the West Face. Portions of this were rather steep, but still class 2, dropping more than 2,500ft down to the river. I crossed to the west side of the river where I picked up a maintained trail which I followed downstream for about a mile. I passed through a campsite among the trees before entering more open ground as I neared Peak 10,727ft. The trail then went through a forest of aspens. I left the trail amongst the aspens, bushwhacking my up a drainage on the southwest side of the mountain. I intended to follow this higher up until I was west of the summit, but it proved too brushy and tedious. Instead I made my way more directly up terribly loose talus (also very tedious) for something like 1,700ft over the next hour. Ugh. Double ugh - this was not much fun.
It was 11:15a by the time I landed on the flat summit. The highpoint was not obvious but not very important either. No register to be found in several likely locations that I checked. I spent no time here other than to take a few moments for photographs. I continued north across open, unvegetated talus, then dropping 600ft to a wooded saddle on the SW side of Mt. Emma. A last modest climb of 400ft saw me to the summit of Emma by 11:45a. There was a benchmark beaten almost beyond recognition along with a register placed by Pete Yamagata back in 1984. There were many entries in the notebook, evidence of the peak's popularity (one can drive to within a mile on the north side). There is a fine view sweeping out in more than 180 degrees towards the north. It took about 40 minutes to descend the open slopes on the east side of Mt. Emma to the Little Walker River. After crossing back to the west side I wandered past a redwood patio deck built with a view along the river, complete with a fire pit in the middle to ward off chilly evenings. The owner was presumably the rancher who lived in the home across the road located just above the patio. From there it was a short walk back to the TH, less than five minutes, where I arrived not long after 12:30p.
I showered there at the TH, changed into some fresh clothes, then started the 5hr drive back home. In the three days I was out I hit all the summits I had intended, pretty much as expected. This last day was particularly nice, hiking in a new area I hadn't been to before. Not as spectacular as the High Sierra, but enjoyable nonetheless.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Peak 10,727ft - Mt. Emma
This page last updated: Sun Dec 23 16:57:41 2012
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