By: Steve Smith
Hume Canyon is a major canyon between San Lucas Canyon and Daisy Canyon on the east side of the Inyo Mountains. This canyon starts at Mexican Spring on the crest at 9,600' and extends down to 1,800' where it opens up into Saline Valley. It is shown but not named on the Cerro and Craig Canyon 7.5" maps but is identified as Hume Canyon on some other maps. BLM Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness volunteers Matt Webb, Dave Bowler, Wendell Moyer, Doug McLean, Rich Henke, John McCully, Gerry Goss, Morgan Irby, Tom Budlong, Marty Dickes and Jerry Boggs joined me for an exploratory descent of November 1-3, 1995.
The closest roadhead to Hume Canyon in Saline Valley was the Daisy Canyon tram road. Parking most of our vehicles there, we did the long shuttle of everyone up to Mexican Spring which is about a mile north of Pleasant Peak. This spring is easily reached by 4-WD vehicle and had a small collection tank which was full of water when we arrived late in the day. Our group left the spring by descending directly down the bottom of the canyon which was open and easy backpacking. Everyone had full backpacks which were heavy with water since we had no idea if any water would be available during our three day trip.
At 8,600' the canyon bottom narrowed and we climbed up and around this narrow section on the northside. As it was late in the day, we ended up camping on an open slope at 8,600' with a nice panoramic view an Saline Valley and the changing desert colors as the sun set. It was a pitch black night with everyone talking around the campfire when we spotted the lights of a jet plane flying far below us southbound through Saline Valley. I will never forget the sight of seeing the lights of the plane start coming up out of the valley and heading directly towards us in the darkness. We had obviously been detected by some type of nighttime sensing device on the plane and within about 15 seconds, the jet roared at low elevation directly over our heads - apparently turning sideways in the process since a strange line of about six bright blue lights appeared during the last few seconds of the flyover. We wondered how the recorded imagery of 12 people in a isolated desert range would be deciphered at some airbase later that night.
On the next day, the group downclimbed back down to the canyon bottom below the narrows and everyone was enjoying the great weather. Then, at 8,100' John McCully stumbled on loose rocks in the steep canyon bottom and fell forward. With a heavy backpack, he could not avoid cutting his face as he landed on some rocks. There were no other injuries other than a couple of facial cuts but it was obvious they needed to be stitched up as quickly as possible. Several members and I helped John return to the vehicles at Mexican Spring and Jerry Boggs drove him back to Ridgecrest for medical treatment. We all got a kick out of the fact that John's main concern was getting a photo of himself to be used in the SAGE.
After regrouping, the group continued their descent and passed a historic campsite at 7,600'. There were the remains of an old stove, some tools, lots of old cans and bottles and as common at most historic Inyo sites, the remains of several Bighorn sheep. Apparently the miners made use of Bighorn sheep for food during historic times. As we worked our way down a narrow portion of canyon, another jet came directly up the canyon at what seemed to be a slow speed pass. We wondered if it was a daytime follow up flight to practice picking us up again with their imagery equipment.
Continuing down canyon, the canyon again narrowed and a 60' high waterfall was encountered at 7,100' (Rappel No. 1). There was an accessible climb around on the northside of this waterfall with a 50' pitch which could be downclimbed by good rock climbers - only Morgan opted to do the downclimb while the rest of up rappelled. A little farther down canyon at 6,420' a 80' high waterfall (Rappel No. 2) was encountered. This waterfall shows as the first of two "falls" labeled on the topographic maps which cover this canyon. There was no apparent possible climb around on this one which was fairly vertical and clear of brush. At 6,300' a very impressive 200' + vertical waterfall into a huge basin was reached. It was possible to climb around this waterfall on the northside. Immediately below the basin at 6,100' there was a 55' high waterfall (Rappel No. 3). There were no cracks for pitons so we ended up using a large log and Doug put in a bolt or two solid rappel anchors. A short distance further, there was an exposed 20' pitch with an overhang where we used belays to get people and packs down.
The canyon opened up a little bit after than and for our second night camp we were in a pleasant site at 5,800' on the rocky canyon floor. There was some old scattered equipment, water jugs, a plastic tarp, etc. which indicated that someone had previously been this far up canyon. As usual, we discussed a variety of topics that evening around the campfire, with one reoccurring topic being our upcoming trip to climb Ojos del Salado in Chile. Ever since six of the Inyo volunteers had climbed Cerro Aconcagua in 1992 and heard about Ojos, we had planned to climb this remote peak in the Atacama desert which is the second highest peak in the western hemisphere. So there was considerable discussion about the logistics of our upcoming December trip, sharing of views of the difficulties in getting to the remote peak and our interpretation of the limited climbing route information we had all been reading. Since none of us knew anyone who had ever climbed the peak and climbing information is skimpy, we had a lot of unknowns to talk about. Wendell Moyer was very enthusiastic, as were the rest of us, about the upcoming trip to Ojos and we had a lot of fun times discussing and planning the adventure. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, Hume Canyon turned out to be Wendell's final Inyo trip and Ojos his final mountain climb. While descending Ojos on December 13th after a successful summit climb, Wendell succumbed to the altitude just short of getting back down to the Refugio Cesar Tehos at 19,400.
Heading out the next morning on our third day, the next section of the canyon was easy walking as the canyon generally broadened out and was open hiking through sparse vegetation. There was a good surface flow of water from 5,200'-4,800' which looked like it would be a good year round source of water. Along the quarter mile of flowing water, there were lots of fresh sign of Bighorn sheep and several coveys of chukker were seen along with, unfortunately, quite a few invading tamarisk trees.
The canyon again narrowed down and at 3,100' we encountered a vertical 80' high waterfall (Rappel No. 4) where the second "falls" is indicated on the map. It was a beautiful sight in the narrow steep walled canyon as we took turns lowering our packs and rappelling down into a deep "slot" with a limited view of Saline Valley laid out below us. Below Rappel No. 4, the canyon really opened up and it was fast, easy walking through open terrain down to the canyon mouth at 1,800'. We spotted an old camp site at the spot out of the wash on the north side of the canyon mouth where we regrouped to begin our three mile cross country hike to the Daisy Canyon roadhead. About .5 miles north of the mouth at 1,700' we found some type of a missile nose cone. It was about 2'x4' in size with nothing inside. From there, we all enjoyed the peasant hike in the open desert and beautiful desert day to where our vehicles were parked on the salt tram road.
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