Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christmas Week

A week of training hikes and generally enjoying the outdoors in the Eastern Sierra, White and Inyo Mountains.

Grouse Mountain

Map Track

7 miles

Bird List

Approach to Grouse Mountain with Sierra Crest beyond
We started off the week in the lowland of Buttermilk Country just west of Bishop. Susan and I had both been to the top of Grouse Mountain once before and that was years ago. Hikin' Bill went with us and had been to the top before but from a different approach. We struggled a little bit with route finding on this mostly cross-country hike throughout the day, but not seriously. It was a fun day with plenty of rock scrambling at the top, especially when those rocks include a little bit of slippery snow!  Birds were few and far between with the best being a few Western Bluebirds in the flats on the way back to the car.

Mt. Tom and Basin Peak

About to leave the primitive road for cross-country to the top

Working our way up the slope

Ridge on Grouse Mountain with Sierra beyond

Mt. Tom with Hikin' Bill approaching

Sierra Crest (Mt. Humphreys and Mt. Emerson) from Grouse Mountain

The "Peak Finder" app makes for easy identification of mountain names (same view as previous photo)

Susan and Hikin' Bill doing a bit of scrambling

On to the final summit

Basin Peak beyond a ridge

Susan and Bill approach the summit with Mt. Tom beyond

The view from near the top across the Owens Valley to the White Mountains

Mt. Tom

Mt. Tom and Basin Mountain

Susan showing off her scrambling skills near the top


Hikin' Bill on the summit

Picking our way through the Jeffrey Pines on the descent

Interesting and steep terrain as we move down slope

A view back to the summit

Silver Canyon

Map Track

13+ miles

Bird List

Entrance to upper Silver Canyon
After an aborted attempt to snowshoe into the High Sierra a couple days later because of deep powder snow, we put on our dirt hiking shoes again the next day and headed across the Owens Valley to the White Mountains for a repeat hike up Silver Canyon. You can read more about the route from our account last April. The temperatures were cold, never exceeding 20F as we climbed the over 4,000 feet to above 10,500 feet on the ridge. Birds were few and far between but we did have a special surprise near the top where we found a single Greater Sage-Grouse hanging out on a sunny south facing slope. This is a very tough species to find in Inyo County. Gaining the last couple trail miles to the ridge required some snow slogging in up to 4-5 inches of powder.

The sun rises late in the bottom of the canyon

A nice sunrise on the canyon walls

As we climb higher the Sierra Crest starts to emerge to the west

The Sierra Crest across the Owens Valley to the west

The snow wasn't too deep at lower elevations

Looking down into Silver Canyon and the Sierra beyond

Icy grass tufts in the snow

More ice crystals on the grass
Historic cabin at 9,800 feet elevation

Foxtail Pine grove at 10,000 feet elevation

Walking through the Foxtails

Sierra Crest panorama

Our first indication that a Sage-Grouse was nearby

Sage-Grouse tracks.  Susan found the bird about 50 yards up slope walking away.

White Mountains crest looking north

White Mountains crest looking northeast

Traversing the crest in powder snow - in trail running shoes.  Brrrr...

Bristlecone sign at the top of Silver Canyon

Sierra Crest and Owens Valley panorama from the top

Ice crystals

Descending Silver Canyon jeep road

Silver Canyon jeep road

Sunset over the Sierra on the way home

Deadman Canyon (Inyo Mountains)

Map Track

10+ miles

Bird List

Low end of Deadman Canyon
Late in the week the Sierra weather deteriorated with cold gusty wind in the high country. We headed across the Owens Valley to the Inyo Mountains and a spot Susan picked from a quad map while sitting at home. Deadman Canyon fit the theme for the week for us, we'd been reading mountain climbing expedition books, Into Thin Air and K2 - spoiler: everyone dies... It also looked as good as any place to hike - lower elevation to stay out of the snow and a spot we'd never explored. To get there we traveled east on Highway 168 out of Big Pine, then took the right fork toward Death Valley a few miles from town.  Another 7 or so miles brought us to a feature on the road called Devils Gate and we parked shortly beyond. The coolest bird sighting of the day came right away as we passed through the Devils Gate - a nice flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches flushed from the side of the road. 

Quad map shows 4X4 road
The ancient USGS quad maps show a 4X4 road going up Deadman Canyon but that turned out to be old news. Flood damage at the mouth of the canyon, and a BLM road closure at the top, meant that only a few motorcycle tracks could be found now. The walking was easy though, on mostly decomposed slate. We started at about 6,200 feet elevation in a typical sagebrush desert terrain. It wasn't until over 7,000 feet before we hit the start of trees with pinyon pine and juniper dominating.

We continued up canyon cresting at about 8,000 feet into a lovely tableland with small peaklets and lots of interesting views and terrain. As we headed off cross-country to bag a small peak nearby we came across a well built wildlife guzzler. These guzzlers dot the desert all through the Owens Valley, and Indian Wells Valley to the south, put in over the years by various hunting and conservation organizations (and individuals). The idea is to collect rainwater when it falls, store it in a tank, and make it available to wildlife during the dryer parts of the year. Most are made with a large concrete apron that funnels water to an underground tank. This one was quite unique being build with old satellite dishes as collectors, a plastic storage tank underground, and a series of pipes to direct the water to a small output are for the wildlife. It is all frozen solid now but I'm sure it works great when most needed spring through fall.

We had lunch just below the small peak summit and finally had some bird activity.  A small flock of noisy Pinyon Jays joined us nearby and a couple of Juniper Titimice flitted in the trees a few yards away. After satisfying our growling bellies we continued across the top to finish a small loop through the high tablelands. I know that Gray Vireo requires some pretty specific habitat and this area looks perfect to me. Gray Vireo has only been found in Inyo County at one location in the Grapevine Mountains near Death Valley, on the border with Nevada. This spot will be well worth checking in the spring. It is a dead-ringer for the pinyon-juniper habitat that holds numerous vireos at the Rose Mine south of Big Bear.

After finishing the loop on top we backtracked down Deadman Canyon to the car to complete an enjoyable desert hiking day.

View back toward Devils Gate

View down canyon and across to the Sierra Crest

Pinyon, junipers, and some snow

View down canyon from higher elevation

Inyo Mountain crest

Wildlife guzzler storage tank - and rain collectors (old satellite dishes) behind

Guzzler output station (frozen over now)

View west from Inyo Crest

Dormant cactus

View north from crest

View east from crest

Another Sierra crest view from the top

Susan and Hikin' Bill on the top

Beautiful old juniper

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