Pat Keyes Ridge
By: Steve Smith
Four BLM Friends of the Inyo Wilderness joined with me for some exploration of the Pat Keyes area on the east side of the Inyo Mountains and descent of the Pat Keyes Ridgeline down into the Saline Valley. Wendell Moyer, Tom Budlong, Marty Dickes, Doug McLean and I accessed the Pat Keyes Ridge via the Pat Keyes/Lonesome Miner Trail. Starting on September 13th from the trailhead at Reward in Owens Valley, we had a short first day following the long car shuttle and made camp at the spring located along the trail at 7,700'. Next day, we encountered an Inyo rattlesnake as we followed the Pat Keyes Trail through Pat Keyes Pass at 9,600' where it crosses the Inyo Crest about four miles north of Mt. Inyo. Following the trail down for 800', we camped for the second night along the trail in a beautiful meadow at 8,800' surrounded by pinyon pines and great views of Mt. Inyo and Keynot Peak.
Next day, we followed the trail down to historic cabin remains at 8,200' which are a short distance above the Pat Keyes mine. We made camp and then spent the day mapping out a newly discovered trail which leads two miles north and drops down to some historic cabin remains at 6,800' in Cougar Canyon. Volunteer Gerry Goss had found the beginning of the trail during one of our earlier trips to descend Cougar Canyon and we enjoyed being able to get it mapped out. It was a great day discovering the old trail and seeing some historic features along the old route. On day three, we used the morning to hike three miles south on the Lonesome Miner Trail down to Pat Keyes millsite at 7,100' in Pat Keyes Canyon to refill with water. Returning back up to the ridge, we left extra water at the cabin ruins and then followed a short segment of trail down to the Pat Keyes mine at 8,000' along the top of the Pat Keyes Ridge. This mine had a lot of activity with various multi-levels of tunnels and rock tailings perched high on the north side of Pat Keyes Canyon with impressive panoramic views of the Inyos and Saline Valley.
From the Pat Keyes mine down to the roadhead at 1,600' in Saline Valley was an unknown for us. From the mine, we were able to generally stay on top of the ridgeline during the descent. The ridge had no difficult rock climbing sections and was generally pleasant hiking along the crest - certainly much easier than the McElvoy Ridge which had some difficult or tedious stretches. Several game trails were observed crossing the ridge at around 7,500' - probably trails used by Bighorn sheep. Two Indian rock rings were observed at around 6,700'.
We camped at 6,400' and had great views the length of Saline Valley. This was the first point where we observed any evidence of previous use - a few old water containers, can of coffee, etc. were found. At 2,900', we encountered the upper end of a faint trail. At this point, we had a good view down into the bottom of Pat Keyes Canyon and were able to see waterfall No. 12 a little ways above the lower end of the canyon. The faint trail on the bottom end of the Pat Keyes Ridge extends all the way down to the roadhead at 1,600' although we lost it and did the last 500' descent on very steep scree. The last waterfall (No. 13) in Pat Keyes Canyon was dry. This ridgeline traverse presented no difficult climbing problems and provides a doable backpacking route for backpackers wanting some cross country travel in the Inyo Mountains Wilderness.
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