26 May 2013

Horton: Mount Tom

Inyo National Forest

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

Day two. The morning started too soon when the moon dropped down to a particular angle and the tent and fly were just not enough to block the light. Eventually, I decided to try to get a few photos and look for alpine glow in the morning twilight. There wasn't really anything but ordinary sunrise lighting.

campsite view of moon over Sierras
The view from my tent in the morning twilight as the first birds start to chirp and the bright just past full moon still hangs in the sky.

moon setting into the steep mountains
Dial the exposure compensation way down and I managed to grab a hand-held photo of the moon, scars and all, setting with a few tries.

waterfall coming over the steep rocks of the western side of the valley
Brightening rocks as the sunlight moves down the valley wall and a waterfall of snow melt.


We had breakfast, packed up our day hiking gear, and started up the old mining road again heading for Mount Tom. At first the road appears to take a more determined upward slope and have reduced to a wide path, but that turns out to be an illusion from the vantage point of the junction to Horton Lake. It continues at the same grade as before and generally still maintains the whole width. A few rock slides have reduced spots to a precarious feeling track along the edge, but the trail seems well traveled and even these spots have solid tread. One hairpin has a slide on it and a trail leading out past it, but it doesn't take long to notice the missed turn. We climbed with no snow at all until the very top where a drift blocks the entire road. Up past this ice blockade, we found ourselves in Hanging Valley, overlooking the first set of mine shafts and auxiliary construction.

road zig zagging up the valley side
The road is still well established as it climbs the glacial valley walls to Hanging Valley.

decaying road supports showing at the edge
Wood and iron were set to hold the road into place, but now the supports are decaying.

little lakes on the way to Upper Horton
A series of lakes that lead from Horton up to Upper Horton. The route up to Upper Horton looks reasonably free from snow, but the lake itself is still mostly frozen over.

mine workings in Hanging Valley
Hanging Valley and its mine workings under a thin layer of snow.

Some seem to climb Tom by the ridge next to us, but we had decided to go around along the road to the old tungsten mine on the west side of the mountain. This mine is also the top end of a ruined tramway. From there it is a steep scree climb for over 1000 feet.

road climbing thousands of feet up a slope in the next valley to the north
A look at the mountains to the north. These, too, have a zig-zag scar of mining road climbing into their high reaches from the valley floor. The Pine Creek Tungsten Mill is at the bottom, near where the old tram used to drop to.

a couple of the flowers in this high zone
A selection of wildflowers willing to grow at 11,800 feet.

We poked around the tramway ruins. Light rail tracks and ore carts and the crank start machinery to keep it going remain. The buildings have all collapsed and the couple shafts were full of ice, preventing any dangerous activity in them. The wooden supports for the tramway are still standing and a trail seems to wind up the mountain visiting them.

tramway supports dotting the mountain in a row
The wooden tramway supports that once delivered tungsten ore to the valley below.

crank start engine rusting on the side of the mountain
Go on, give it a crank, see if it starts up again.

light rail dropping off the side, a mine shaft in the distance
The light rail is not in good shape. A second mine shaft can be seen in the distance.

ruined ore carts down the mountain
Below the road, what is left of a couple of ore carts are sliding down the mountain.

After poking around the abandoned metal, we started up the steep scree slope. Too many steps made only a few inches progress upward with a foot worth of effort. At first it was often dirt to climb, which slid easily. Then there were rock options that would be stable for a couple feet, then start sliding just as much as the dirt. Trying to find a path was an ever changing game. The mine below us didn't seem to retreat very quickly. The GPS seemed to think I was doing a lot of standing still as I tried to work out what the next few steps would be over and over again. Still, somehow, the rocks above got closer and the mine below got further away. Eventually we found a bit of ridge, and a little later we found a peak. Two false peaks were also found by our lead.

looking up a very steep scree slope
Looking up the scree strewn chute above the tramway ruins.

unadorned reference mark set by USGS
Reference mark no. 1 is easy to find, for now, on the precarious peak. Disappointingly, it isn't even stamped with the year. Following the arrow, I come to a divot in the peak in short order. The station mark is probably somewhere far below, a victim of the ever crumbling mountain. There was no second reference mark visible either.

southwest view
The view to the southwest, Hanging Valley at the lower right.

Pine Lake, probably, to west-north-west
The view to the west northwest with, probably, Pine Lake.

Buttermilk Flat, southeast
The view to the southeast, over the Buttermilk Country.

Upper Horton Lake
Upper Horton Lake from above. The ice is thinning.

After trying to take in the vastness of snowy peaks surrounding us, we started the dreaded task of getting back down off the mountain. I found a couple large cairns I'd come past coming up and managed to stick fairly well to the same path. The others went down the chute next to the one we'd come up. I worried that they were going to miss the mine and end up coming back up along the trail from the tramway supports, but they managed to move a bit to the left and meet the upward route a little above the mine. From there, the path becomes easy again.

Coming to the roads that circle around Hanging Valley, the boys decided they didn't really want to look at more mine stuff, at least not if there was snow walking involved. They went on while I looked around. Much of what is left was covered by the snow because the buildings have completely collapsed. I found one shaft on the east side of the valley, but couldn't locate the one on the west for certain.

light rail tracks leading to open air
Light rail tracks leading nowhere now. The east side mine shaft can be seen across the valley.

collapsed structures and more tracks
More light rail for moving ore carts full of ore around. On the far side of the snow is a building turned upside down by the snow collapsing it. Closer, someone has used the abandoned timbers for a campfire. In the snow may be another mine shaft or just a shed.

miner's boot, leather shrinking in the weather and nails showing
An old boot with nails that isn't doing well in the weather.

After wandering around what I could see of the mine workings, I traversed the last large snow field back to the road down. The snow wasn't too soft, so wasn't much more work than walking on the road below it. I made my way past the snow plug at the top of the road, then just sailed right back down the good path. Once I had food in my stomach, I was quite ready for a bit of sleep.

Continue reading: day 3




©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 29 May 2013

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