25 May 2013

Horton: Horton Lake

Inyo National Forest

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

I was given a chance to head to the Sierras and bag a couple of peaks in a three day bit of backpacking a week ago and had to jump at it. The snow pack is so low this year that the high peaks are already fairly clear. The plan was to head up and grab a permit for Horton Lakes and climb the old mining road to the lower lake for the night. The next day, up to our pick of Basin Mountain or Mount Tom, picking off the other one on the following day before packing back out to the car. I found it hard to believe that a trail head could be so little used that you could walk in around noon on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and grab a permit for three, but at 11AM we walked in and did so. The other seven spots for the day's quota appear to have gone unused. There are reasons for this. The trail starts at the end of four miles of road that even the USGS map denotes as 4WD which comes after a couple miles of bad dirt road and a little bit of good dirt road and there aren't a lot of options for getting out of the valley for longer trips. We took in the last of the Mule Days parade in Bishop and headed for the hills, making it to near the gate thanks to some exceptionally high clearance.

the valley we leave behind
Partway up a mining road off of Buttermilk Road, looking back over the valley we leave behind.

mule's ears, a composite flower
Not just mules, but random bursts of mule's ear came out for the Mule Days.

trail head
Looking ahead, there is just an old gate and then a few long switchbacks climbing up the valley. Mount Tom is in the background, nearly nude.


We passed an old rusted sign on the ground making an effort to threaten us for use of the private road, but nearly illegible. We walked past the wooden John Muir Wilderness sign and started up the couple of switchbacks. The road makes a leisurely climb at a typical road grade, which I hadn't expected of a mining road. It passes through a couple stands of cottonwood that are all very small, but lying among the young trees are much larger but fire ravished trunks. After the first stand, there should be another mining road up to a prospect on Basin Mountain. While the high switchbacks stand out clearly on the mountain side, it is not easy to see where they meet the road we were following. Rounding over a hill, we came along old buildings for the Sonny Boy Mine.

white flowers on a bush with black and yellow insects
The flowers are generally tiny, except the mule's ear, but numerous in this spring.

the southerly view of mountains
Buttermilk Flats and the mountains somewhat south of our location.

rolling land in the valley between mountains
Mule's ear on the rocky slopes and cottonwoods in the creek valley as the old mining road makes its way slowly upward.

Sonny Boy Mine outbuildings
The Sonny Boy Mine buildings included a main living area, a garage of sorts of local material, and a wooden seated biffy all situated by the picturesque creek.

breaks, but no wheels
The location also includes all kinds of iron debris.

After the buildings, we passed over the creek on a vehicle bridge that didn't look very old, which seemed odd to find in the Wilderness. A road to the actual mine high above on Mount Tom is easy to find just past the bridge and looks to be being used as a trail. We kept to the main route still, which goes high through the valley. Below, the creek roars in places, especially over the two large cascades.

glacial valley with a creek carving a V out of the bottom
The old road bed is generally very good as it makes a high route through the valley to Horton Lake. Two large cascades are visible, one pouring water from the main lake to a small lower lake and one below that small lake.

lower cascade, almost a waterfall
The lower cascade as the creek hits a hard bit of rock and nearly has a waterfall.

lip of land at the bottom of the main lake
Up past this lip of rock with trees and we will be at Horton Lake.

As we climbed the last bit, I spotted a use trail down to the upper cascade and maybe down to the lower lake. The trail looked well established, but was hard to distinguish where it met the old road. Above that is the "No Campfires" sign signally 10,000 feet. An ancient barbed wire fence presumably protects the old mine related buildings at Horton Lake from intruders, but we almost passed it without noticing.

a bit of barbed wire fencing
The old fence posts can be seen on either side of the road, but is in very poor shape.

lake below Horton Lake
Below Horton Lake is a much smaller lake.

upper cascade
The upper cascade that takes the water from Horton to the lower lake.

Climbing up along a short switchback and passing a use trail that may have been a short cut or another camping spot, we came out above the lake and in view of the old buildings. Passing by the buildings, we chose sites from the nice selection and set to setting up camp.

mining buildings at Horton Lake
More corrugated sheet metal roofs on cabins of a little different construction than the mine down the road.

more discarded iron
Bits of machinery can be found around here as well.

a small valley and route to Basin Mountain
Our proposed route up Basin Mountain follows this valley on the other side of the lake.

Horton Lake
Horton Lake, looking in the direction of the outflow.

The high walls to the west leave the valley in shadow well before sunset, but sunrises come up nicely through the wide eastern valley. We talked and ate and pondered when the moon, now just past full, would rise and fall, then watched for afterglow on the high peaks to the south and settled into bed.

Continue reading: day 2




©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 28 May 2013

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