By: Will McWhinney
The SPS/GLS group was scheduled to meet at 7:00 am, Saturday, July 29, 2000, at the Convict Creek trailhead. Jim Potter and I drove up Friday morning, with a stop for good lunches at Primo Burgers in Mojave. Owens Valley was very hot, over 100 degrees, and filled with smoke from the week-old Manter Fire. Convict Lake Rd. has a clear sign, right across from the Mammoth Airport. Cows played chicken on the road. The barebones trailhead parking lot was on the right, before the Lodge. The lake and adjacent campground had toilets with sinks, potable running water and trash bins. The Lodge had a store that opens at 7 am and sells hot coffee and hot showers. There was even a fancy restaurant.
The area has a gruesome history. It was once named Monte Diablo, perhaps due to the fantastic colors of Mt Morrison and the Sevehah Cliffs, which loom over the apparent box canyon. In 1871, three escaped prisoners from the territorial prison in Carson City tried to outrun a local posse. They were trapped and in the ensuing gunfight the leader of the posse, Robert Morrison, was killed. The convicts were later captured and two were lynched. In 1992 three youths broke through the ice and died along with their three rescuers. Only weeks before our trip, a hiker broke an arm crossing the creek. Jim and I hiked around the shore of mile-long Convict Lake, including the new boardwalk across the creek. We met Karen in the parking lot and carpooled down to Tom's Place for some truly bad food. There we ran into Asher and his niece Michelle. Asher regaled us with tales of his recent climb of Mt Rainier and had some good blueberry pie, while Michelle bravely admitted this would be her first backpacking trip ever. We left while the band was setting up. Back at the trailhead we ignored the No-Camping sign and slept next to our cars.
Saturday at 7:40 am fifteen of us headed out. The trail follows the lake, and then rises up switchbacks to the side of Convict Creek in a narrow valley. After a section of small firs and pines we came to the stream crossing, the only good one around. A combination of wet and dry logs, timbers, and rocks, paved our way for a precarious but dry crossing. We had a snack and filtered water before continuing up the narrow, talus-y trail to Mildred Lake. A left turn at a trail junction just before the lake kept us on the south side of the lake and its eastern meadow, which was a little squishy and jumping with frogs. A hillock on the bank of the creek gave us our lunch stop seating. The snowfilled eastern couloir of Red Slate Mtn rose high above us to the west. The use trail up to Bright Dot Lake and Mt Baldwin was easy to find, at the first creek coming down from the south after the lake. It's a good trail that rises through steep switchbacks to a wide ledge halfway up, a moonscape of gray sand. To the southeast lies an outcropping of marble and translucent calcite. We crossed it and continued up to the next small rock ridge. The use trail followed the bottom of a shallow gully to the southwest before climbing up to the high point before dropping down to Bright Dot Lake or continuing up to Baldwin. At 3:30 pm we camped on the nearer, south end of the lake above a small meadow. It was tricky keeping more than 25 feet way from the lake and streams, but a smaller group would have no problem. Jane and Patrick scouted the opposite end of the lake and reported one nice large campsite. Only a few mosquitoes bothered us at happy hour, which among other tasty foods starred Sun Dried Tomato Cheese Bread from Schatt's, Armenian Pizzas from Trader Joe's, humus from Von's, and lemon drops, which, Byron assured us, prevent altitude sickness. We all went to bed early in anticipation of the next morning's summit attempt.
The night turned to day with Jane's wake-up yodel at 5:00 am, Sunday. We all leapt up to greet the day; all except for the five who chose to enjoy the morning at the lake. By 6:15 the hikers headed for a fine use trail which goes up the right side of the northwest ridge. The trail continued below a snow patch, which from a distance looked like a rabbit head with ears. We followed the southern ear to a short band of angled rock, which we surmounted. The footholds were big, wet, and scree covered. Just above was the calcite mine, where we walked on a path of shining crystals and picked out some small souvenirs for the folks below. The trail continued up a crack of red rock to the south. Once on the slope we followed the trail across the sandy scree for a while, but found better footing close to the southern ridgeline. The ten of us topped out at 8:10 -the lemon drops had worked. Therewasn't much of a view to the south because of the smoke; we could only see to Bear Creek Spire. But there were beautiful vistas nearby and we were all pleased with our accomplishment. It was my first lead for the SPS and Rick told us that it was his first Sierra peak. Jane reported that it was her sixtieth climb of the year!
Soft scree made for an easy descent back to the mine. Loose rocks on the rock band below the mine meant we had to be careful of each other. We were back to camp by 10 am. At 11:30 we regretfully left our weekend retreat and lifted our packs for the return trip. Asher and a couple of his friends wanted to hike out more slowly, so we appointed Karen deputy sweep, a role which she filled admirably. The crossing was again made nervously but successfully and we reached our cars by 3:40 pm.
Jim and I waited for Asher, et al., and when they arrived we all headed for dinner at Los Amigos in Bishop, where we got big portions of tasty food at reasonable prices with very enthusiastic service. Leaders: Will McWhinney and Asher Waxman. Participants: Arlene Reiss, Byron Cook, Gary Bowen, Jane Gibbons, Jim Gannon, Jim Potter, Joy Kobayashi, Karen Raasch, Michael Seay, Michelle Owen, Patrick Wood, Rick Gordon, Suzanne Tanaka. Some of the participants were members of the SPS, some of the GLS, and some, like the leaders, were members of both.
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