The Lonesome Miner Trail
By: Steve Smith
Since starting our Inyo Mountains exploration work in 1989, I had over the years hiked all sections of the imposing Lonesome Miner Trail (LMT). But, I had only done it piecemeal and had only been on some of the sections once. So when BLM "Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness" volunteer Tom Budlong proposed doing it all in one long backpack, I signed on for what would be the second longest backpack I had ever done. This was Tom's second year in a row to do the entire 40-mile LMT straight through. In 1995, he led it north to south in seven days with about 21,000' of gain.
This year, the trip was planned to go from south to north with 17,000'+ of gain. Volunteers Morgan Irby and Marty Dickes signed on to rehike the trail in this directions as they had done the 1995 trip from north to south and along with Brian and Matt Webb and Ron Jones are the only others to have done the entire trail. BLM Ridgecrest Recreation Planner Dave Wash and I also signed on for what ]:knew would be a memorable experience - as it turned out, it was plus a few surprises along the way. The weather forecast did not look good for an extended backpack since there was a major storm passing through and another due to arrive. But as we DSP'ers know, you can never be sure how these storms may materialize in the desert areas.
HUNTER CANYON TRAILHEAD
This part of the LMT has been the most difficult to follow but fortunately, we've just about got it completely figured out. From the Bighorn Mine, the trail contours westward for .5-mile to an area of prospects before switchbacking directly upwards on some well built trail past other mining prospects. We still missed the trail for about 300' but then had it the rest of the way which now makes the south side ascent of Hunter Ridge a pleasant backpack. We were able to do this segment in about three hours plus another hour along the way building ducks and clearing a few rocks to help make the trail more apparent. By mid-morning we were about half way up the ridge when we broke through the clouds and had a beautiful view of sunlit mountains surrounded by an ocean of cloud's below. The Hunter Ridge cross over is a beautiful campsite with impressive vistas of Hunter and Beveridge Canyons where we placed one of several small engraved brass plaques we carried to memorialize Wendell Moyer's Inyo explorations and naming of the LMT.
It was a fun and tranquil descent down the north side of the Hunter Ridge into Beveridge Canyon. Following the trail through a dense conifer forest and snow patches, the only challenge here was the 400' of rockslide partway down where the trail is obliterated. From the bottom of the rockslide, the trail resumes by traversing westward, up canyon to reach Frenchy's cabin and water at 6,100' where we camped. Tuesday, we followed the LMT for a mile down Beveridge Canyon past the various mining relies to the 5-stamp mill and aerial tram at 5,100'. From here, its good trail up the ridgeline to the Beveridge cabin on the Beveridge Ridge at 8,300'.
BEVERIDGE CABIN - LMT MIDPOINT
ROCKFALL IN MCELVOY CANYON
Friday morning was bright and clear as we headed northward past a number of old mining sites and mining relies. It's a good trail as you climb up around the eastern rampart of Mt. Inyo to the top of the McElvoy Ridge at 8,200'. The McElvoy Ridge at this point is notable for its broad, linear forested plateau. The LMT goes for a mile west across this plateau before turning northward to contour towards Pat Keyes Canyon. After a delightful contour through the light snow cover and colorful late afternoon lighting, we dropped into Pat Keyes Canyon and reached our campsite at the Pat Keyes millsite. The Pat Keyes Canyon cross over isn't as strenuous as the other canyons since the trail crosses the canyon bottom fairly high up at 7,800'. With the cloud cover gone, it was a considerably colder night for us. Saturday, we had a great climb up to the Pat Keyes Ridge in bright sunlight. After checking out the relies associated with the Pat Keyes mine, we headed westward up the Pat Keyes Ridge to reach Pat Keyes Pass at 9,600'. We got into some deeper snow for the last .25-mile but it was a scenic delight climbing up to the pass in snow and the late afternoon shadows.
Our last night was spent camping at Pat Keyes Pass where we had a perfect windless night where we could look down on the lights in Owens Valley. Sunday was a relaxing day as we leisurely descended 4,700' to the Reward Trailhead at 4,900'. Volunteer Gerry Goss was there to meet us - he had attempted twice during the week to backpack in to meet us but had been turned back by bad weather. We then headed back to Saline Valley to retrieve our vehicles at Hunter and meet for an evening of socializing. In Saline, I got a flat tire but told the others to go ahead to get things set up while I changed the tire. Imagine my surprise to find my spare tire was also flat. After an hour or so, Tom and Marty drove back to find me stranded. Fortunately Marty had the same pickup as mine and was carrying two spare tires so we were in good shape - wrong. After helping me put the spare tire on the front, they took off but when I tried to go, the truck wouldn't budge. The rim on the borrowed spare was deeper and so the tire was pushed against part of the front axle. Tom and Marty drove back to find me still stranded and while we were pondering this dilemma, DVNP Ranger Dave Brenner came along. He had seen this before and told us to switch the spare to the back where there was nothing on the rear axle to hit. So, later than expected, we all, including Dave Brenner, had an enjoyable evening socializing at the Moyer Saline residence.
The Lonesome Miner Trail is a terrific outing experience and is just one of the 16 historic trails we have found so far in the southern part of the range. During the development of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness Management Plan, decisions will be made regarding which, if any of these trails should be signed or maintained and how much information should be developed to increase public awareness about the trails. Discussions regarding these issues continue and in the meantime I enjoy at least letting the climbing community know about our exploratory activities. I have prepared brief information sheets for both the LMT and accessing Beveridge Canyon which I can provide upon request.
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