Memorial Weekend 2006 Trip Report

Red Mountain (5,261 ft), Scodie Mountain (7,294 ft), Keynot Peak (11,107 ft), Mount Inyo (10,975 ft)

Dates: May 26 to May 30, 2006
Participants: Daniel Baxter and Adam Helman

Note: All NAD83 UTM coordinates are in zone 11S.

The chief goal of this trip was to climb the twin summits of Keynot Peak and Mount Inyo in the Inyo Mountains just east of Lone Pine. In so doing, both Dan Baxter and I secured yet another of California's Fifty Finest prominence peaks.

Although it is generally agreed that Keynot Peak is the higher summit, the elevation difference is sufficiently small as to make climbing both peaks mandatory to state with absolute certainty that the higher summit (and hence the one with over 3,000 feet of prominence) was indeed visited.

For those following subjective peak lists, the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section (DPS) lists Mount Inyo as an "emblem peak" - one that enjoys special status owing to some measure that nobody can quite pin down.

To fill-in the weekend (and rather fully I admit), Dan and I climbed both Red Mountain and Scodie Mountain the previous day. These peaks are on the California 2,000+ foot prominence list, and, as a result of the collective effort, we each enjoy four new peaks of which three have 2,000+ feet of prominence.

Visual sightings from both Keynot Peak and Mount Inyo indicate that
Keynot Peak is unquestionably the higher mountain.

The climb of Keynot / Inyo was highlighted by truly spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada Range, the vista improving with increased elevation. Snow draped the top one-third of the Sierran summits, adding considerably to the quality of our observations.

From our 10,080 foot high camp at the Inyo-Keynot saddle we had an unobstructed view from Olancha Peak in the south to Mount Tom in the north - nearly one hundred miles of unbroken escarpment rising ten thousand feet above the Owens Valley. Atop Mount Inyo we identified White Mountain Peak well to the north - a summit not visible from either our high camp or from atop Keynot Peak due to the obstructing mass of Mount Inyo itself.

Our views of the Sierra Nevada were
the finest I have experienced in California.

Dan and I got along well; and this despite by predilection to overemphasize the enjoyment of food at nearly every opportunity. Indeed, after returning to Lone Pine, Dan treated me to dinner at the restaurant of my choosing.

I fully expect Dan Baxter to join me on future prominence-oriented climbing trips. In addition, Dan need only scale North Palisade (of his home county) to become the next California county highpoint list completer.

The remainder of this note describes our trip in greater detail. GPS-derived UTM coordinates for the Inyo / Keynot climb are provided below.

Friday May 26 - Desert Meeting

Originally Red Mountain was not on the itinerary because of heat concerns. However the forecast called for lower temperatures over the weekend. I thus recommended that we add Red Mountain to our plans - and meet at its base the previous evening.

Dan and I found one another at the junction of Highway 395 and Trona Road. We caravaned to a good starting point for Red Mountain, elevation 3,800 feet, northwest of the peak.

Saturday May 27 - Red and Scodie Mountains

My thermometer read 42° F when we started uphill after first light - certainly not "hot" by any but an Antarctic standard! A high wind made travel on the summit ridge less than enjoyable; the windchill suggesting both gloves and a second layer while atop. This was a remarkable contrast with the original fear of unacceptably high daytime temperatures. The entire hike lasted 2 hours 30 minutes and entailed 1,500 feet of total elevation gain.

The summit features a windbreak as four acetylene gas cylinders - presumably empty!

After hot chocolate in nearby Johannesburg, we drove via Route 395, Inyokern, Route 14, and Route 178 to Walker Campground - the Scodie Mountain trailhead.

The climb of Scodie involved navigational issues and some steep, sandy terrain to get from the gully at 6,000 feet to the WNW - ESE trending summit ridge at 6,800 feet. The final fifteen vertical feet is Class 3 as a rock outcrop.

Dan had split his Ghirardelli milk chocolate into two blocks, giving me one during our summit break. This I gladly enjoyed for much of the descent with various candies and dried fruit on-hand. Indeed, Dan shared all of his food with me - and I greatly appreciate the gesture - especially as I have traveled with people who are inexplicably and singlemindedly protective of their food (as if they are going to starve or cannot financially afford to share it).

A personal revelation: hard sausage, chocolate, and dried kiwi fruit makes a good taste combination.

On descent we traveled a steep gully that eventually brought us to the point at 5,500 feet where the "standard" route leads southwest rather than southeast. Evidently we were in the steeper southeast gully. The entire effort consumed exactly 5 hours 30 minutes including all breaks; and entailed 2,300 feet of net elevation gain and perhaps 2,400 feet of total gain owing to some ups-and-downs along the main summit ridge.

We again caravaned to Lone Pine, thence to the two-wheel-drive trailhead for Keynot / Inyo at 4,800 feet. My vehicle could easily have made it to the four-wheel-drive trailhead at 5,500 feet. However I did not spot the turnoff to its approach road until too late - and it made sense to camp with Dan rather than one mile apart at separate trailheads.

That evening I ate an enormous meal - one that included both my planned food (a fat beef, rice and bean burrito; Chinese noodles with sesame vinagrette; beef spare ribs in Sherry wine glaze) and two delicious bowls of soup provided by Dan. I was ready to "burst" - and yet realized that all the energy would be needed for the next day's effort.

Sunday May 28 - Backpack to High Camp

We followed the main route described in the DPS guidebook for Mount Inyo and Keynot Peak.

The climb to high camp was arduous. Both Dan and I carried 2 1/2 gallons of water or "water equivalent" - food that contains a good amount of water (black beans; mango; V-8 juice; etc...). This additional twenty pounds of weight was quite burdensome. We generally stopped every hour, with 750 to 1,000 feet of gain each leg.

A particularly exhausting section extends from completing the switchbacks at 7,850 feet, to gaining the east-trending ridge immediately east of point 9,155 feet. I could not believe that the "trail" (in truth just a braided set of scree paths) went directly upslope rather than performing switchbacks. With a daypack or a backpack without two gallons of water this section would have been much more pleasant. As it stood I was prepared to forget the whole affair - it was terrifically tiresome.

I perform relatively poorly with a heavy backpack compared to most people because 50 pounds is such a large fraction of my weight. My heart rate jumps to 150 no problem ....

We made camp at the saddle in-between Inyo and Keynot. The true, prominence-defining saddle for Mount Inyo is at 10,000-10,040 feet, and lies one hill north of our camp at 10,080+ feet. We camped there because it is the location one naturally meets the main, north-south summit ridge after having come from the west along the standard route described in the DPS guidebook.

From our saddle camp we had views both east and west, and the contrast between snowy Sierra Nevada and the dry, desert ranges to the east was noteworthy. Views north and south were blocked by Mount Inyo and the hill immediately at-hand; and by Keynot Peak, respectively. We slept by 8 p.m.

Monday May 29 - Keynot / Inyo Summits and Descent

Dan and I opted for Keynot Peak as the first summit - we wanted to "get the prominence" lest "something" preclude a second summit climb. About one-quarter mile before the peak itself we descended from the main ridge to avoid serious rock, and, just to the east (left) of the ridge, and perhaps 30 to 50 feet below it, encountered a faint trail that led steeply over 200 vertical feet clear to the summit area.

I have not read about this path in any report; and it surprised Edward Earl to learn of such a path when I described our climb over the telephone. He climbed Keynot and Inyo one August and stuck to the ridgeline rocks for a Class 3 ascent. Had Edward known about our path (supposing it was not constructed afterwards) he would surely have considered that alternate route.

The round-trip from high camp consumed about 2 1/2 hours - and, after a short break we proceeded to Inyo.

Navigation is an issue (albeit minor) for Inyo because one should traverse west of the main ridge, and yet not drop down excessively far into the bowl just southwest of the main summit. The final push entails boulder scrambling regardless of the exact path selected.

From either summit one sees Mount Patterson to the north, lying between the Sierra crest on the left (west) and White Mountain Peak on the right (east).

Backsighting from Mount Inyo to Keynot Peak showed the latter to be definitely higher relative to the horizon than did Mount Inyo appear when atop Keynot Peak. In my view, therefore, Keynot Peak is unquestionably the higher mountain.

We returned to high camp; packed; ate quickly (a rarity for me); and began the long descent just after 1:30 p.m. In contrast to the seven hour ascent, we reached our vehicles at 5:10 p.m. a "mere" 3 hours 40 minutes later.

Three young females (no more than 25 years) were also descending the mountain as we approached the four wheel drive trailhead in the rocky gully. They had started at 8 a.m. and, as it was 4:30 or so, had made good time IF they indeed climbed Keynot Peak as they claimed. They had driven from Bishop at 6:30 a.m. and had climbed the obvious west ridge right from the four wheel drive trailhead. The small size of their daypacks made me jealous - for I too could ascend at 1,500 feet an hour without carrying 2 F-ing gallons of water!

The total elevation gain for Mount Inyo was 900 feet of net gain plus twice the sum of two 100 foot downhill segments - 1,300 feet. The total elevation gain for Keynot Peak was 1,050 feet of net gain plus a short downhill section to avoid ridgeline pinnacles - 1,100 feet. The total elevation gain for reaching high camp was 5,300 feet as exactly one vertical mile of net gain plus twice ten feet of downhill travel on the switchbacks from the waterfall (6,200 feet) to "topping-out" at 7,850 feet.

The total elevation gain for climbing both peaks from the two wheel drive trailhead is 7,700 feet - not the 7,000 feet quoted in the DPS guidebook.

On the drive out we encountered rock collectors - with their vehicles parked on the approach road. Upset at this, both Dan and I shouted to the adult leaders to move their vehicles immediately. One of the teenager collectors shouted back, "There is no place to park off the road". A lie - just 100 yards downroad all vehicles were pulled-off the road to allow our passage.

In Lone Pine we enjoyed "Mexican" food at Dan's expense. The banana chimichanga and Mexican "fried" ice cream were enjoyed prior to my taco salad. I envied Dan's chili rellenos. Most significantly, I finally ate some of the green, jalapeño jelly "saguaro cactus" purchased at Tucson Airport last November. I waited until a significant desert peak was climbed prior to eating some of this spicy, four-inch tall confection. Dan commented that no saguaro cacti live on either Inyo or Keynot. However it is the heat and desolation of these peaks that are reminiscent of a desert environment.

Dan returned to Fresno - a six hour haul that I learned lasted until 12:30 a.m. As an orthopedic surgeon there were six operations to attend the next day, and so Dan had to be home that very night.

In contrast my evening schedule was less rigorous, driving 100 miles to the gravel pullout at Route 395 and Trona Road where we had met on Friday. I slept before nine as the western sky became competely dark.

Tuesday May 30 - Complete the Drive Home

Despite waiting until the next day, I found residual holiday traffic southbound on Interstate 15 over Cajon Summit. To avoid some of the congestion I took Route 215 through San Bernardino and Riverside. I was home by roughly 10 a.m.

A pint of ice cream was well-earned the following day after the weekend's 11,600 feet of elevation gain.

GPS-Derived UTM Coordinates for Mount Inyo / Keynot Peak (NAD83 datum)

(Easting, Northing, elevation (feet)) Topographic chart Description
***************************** *************** **********
(408492 E, 4062585 N, 4802) click here two wheel drive trailhead
(409413 E, 4063093 N, 5493) click here four wheel drive trailhead
(410416 E, 4063477 N, 6232) click here near waterfall - start of switchbacks
(410635 E, 4063329 N, 6985) click here halfway up switchbacks at a good, level rest stop
(411017 E, 4063185 N, 7865) click here top of switchbacks - start of steepest section
(411515 E, 4063600 N, 8869) click here level with base of rock pinnacle 9155
(411735 E, 4063741 N, 9168) click here reach east-west ridge; end of steep section
(412066 E, 4063877 N, 9293) click here bedspring "camp"
(412579 E, 4064213 N, 10057) click here high camp at saddle
(414029 E, 4062863 N, 11096) click here Keynot Peak summit
(412242 E, 4064991 N, 10639) click here top of obvious hill enroute to Inyo summit
(411988 E, 4065946 N, 10980) click here Inyo Peak summit