By: Ron Hudson
The east side of the Inyo Mountains area has held my interest since I saw the canyons from Saline Valley years ago, yet I knew few people had ever visited them or even knew about them. So, I signed up for Ron Jones' trip "Grand Tour of the Inyos", but planned to meet his group by starting in Saline Valley to avoid some driving and days off.
I had in my pack food for 4 1/2 days (9 lb.-all dry food), 2 1/2 qt water(5 lb.), total pack 29 lbs. Started at 4:50 AM Monday from near the mouth of Beveridge Cyn.; went 2 mi across the desert to the mouth of Hunter Cyn (Hunter Sprs). Buildings and equipment are there, but I passed by quietly (leave sleeping dogs lay!). Filled up with water - area very green - trees, birds, flowers, lizards. Found the trail (just S of little Hunter Cyn and is on the 7.5' map) after a little x-c and began the long uphill. Climbed from 1600' to high point 6100' in good time, passing an old site (way station?), then down to Bighorn Springs at about 5000'. Good water there and mining ruins. Boiler and steam engine remnants. No sign of anybody though. No foot prints all day. Ate and rested from 11 am to 2 pm; hoping to join Ron Jones' group, but nobody showed up. Next I explored Bighorn Mine, and then found my way to the Hunter-Beveridge ridge top at 8470'. I was careful to look for a sign of trail down to the north, and did find a carsonite marker from the BLM showing the start spot - 300-400 yd from where the ridge top begins to climb abruptly to the SW - 200 m NE of pt. 8781T.
I followed the old trail down, going around rock slides in places. 4 inch Pinyon pines were growing in the middle of this inactive trail! After a long day I finally got down to Frenchy's cabin (6360') in Beveridge Cyn just at dark. I saw footprints, which belonged to Robert Hayes from Bishop, who was joining the trip from Forgotten Pass. We talked and I cooked dinner, elated after a successful long day on this new terrain. The cabin turned out to be the nicest accommodation on the trip. I still felt good, after the 8000' day (and slept well).
Tuesday, I then explored the Beveridge mine (1 mi down canyon at 5500'). A lot of equipment and mine shafts there, even a tramway. Robert wanted to check out the trail I did on Monday. I then went up the Cyn fork from the mine to Cove Spring (6500') -- more mining equipment, overgrown by wild roses. I passed an arrastre along the way, which is flat rocks laid out on the ground in a circle so that larger rocks are rolled on them to crush the ore. This was before the steam-powered crushers were set up. The 1800' climb up to the Keynot Cabin (at 8280') was straightforward, and I had plenty of time there to read, cook, and listen to my tiny radio (Las Vegas FM stations). Great location, in the pines, and view!
Wednesday, left gear in cabin and went up the ridge to Keynot Peak (11101'). Passed an arrastre that had a round roller arrangement, about 10' in diameter, with access underneath for crushed ore or water. Forest had Pinyon, juniper, then whitebark pine. Snow in shady areas. Amazing view of the Sierra Nevada! I noticed some red color about 150' S of the peak and saw a tent, wind pants, tarp, and other backpacking equipment. I spent some time drying the things out and rolling them up, cleaning up the site. The equipment belonged to Marty Dickes of Desert Survivors, who is also an Inyo NF summer ranger, who broke her ankle up there on a solo Inyos traverse attempt. She had luckily been discovered by 2 hikers and helicoptered off the mtn, leaving some of her gear.
Then I went back down the ridge. Too icy N of Keynot to risk breaking my ankle! Explored the Keynot mine --building sites, even two ore carts which still rolled on their tracks. One metal cabin had been recently restored, then destroyed by two boulders the size of a car now sitting on its floor. A huge bulldozer, which apparently was helicoptered in piece by piece in a wasted revival of mining of activity in the 1970s sits down in the canyon--what a white elephant! Back to the cabin at dark, and the group was there -- Ron, Jim, Jerry, Ken and Mario. They started from about the 9000' level and got caught in a snowstorm the second day and were running a day behind schedule..
Thursday, we looked around Keynot mine some more, then traversed out and up on the old trail (where we could find it) out to the flattened ridge end. We passed Tom Budlong, who was improving trail on his way to meet Steve Smith of the BLM, Morgan Irby of Desert Survivors, and other volunteers for the Inyo Wilderness (study area then). Amazing to see another human being!
Went down to McElvoy Cyn and the ruins there. Warm and a few flowers at the 5300' elevation. Looked at the 5-stamp mill, boiler, steam driver, (flywheel, cylinder, etc.). Went down canyon through the thickets to see the "beekeeper cabin". Not really worth the 45 minute jaunt to get there. A few old rusted implements and decayed bedding at the ruin. Thunder! The little bit of rain then cooled things down a bit.
The group then went on to Pat Keyes Pass and Owens Valley. I climbed back up the 8000' ridge from the day before then went E on trail down to the mouth of Keynot Cyn. I passed a cache (left there by helicopter) with water, fire equipment, and emergency rations. I sampled the survival tablets, "Datrex USCG approved", containing wheat flour, vegetable shortening, cane sugar, coconut, and salt. Same ingredients as donuts!
So Friday was 7000' of elevation loss, about 15 miles -- hard on the knees but with lighter pack. Interesting trail, from pines to the desert floor. Many different kinds of rocks. A couple mine adits along the way (cool inside). I could imagine the mule trains with the 100 lb. iron stamps for the mills, boiler parts, etc. to build the mills, ore coming down, and all the provisions for the hundreds of miners that lived up there!
At 6pm back at my car the air temperature was 96 degrees. So I ate, drank and bathed using the (hot) water I had in the car. Next morning I walked the half mile up to the mouth of Beveridge Cyn to fill my car water jugs - insurance for the drive out.
So, the Inyos are wild, remote, and scenic visited by only a few. A trail system is already in place built by miners. For those willing to do a lot of uphill hiking (light pack recommended), the reward is great. Thanks to Ron Jones for initiating and leading the trip.
Ron Jones is leading a trip to the Inyo's this May and I'm leading one in June. Both trips should provide more adventure.
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