Keynot Peak, Forgotten Pass, Keynot Mine, New York Butte


By: Erik Siering


Forgotten Pass (9,560') is the lowpoint between Keynot Peak and New York Butte in the Inyo Mountains. It is accessible from the Owens Valley by the excellent French Spring Trail. Bob Sumner and I twice crossed the Pass on fastlight loop trips this past May. First on a two-day backpack to the north, second on an adventuresome dayhike to the south. Sadly, the historic glass jar register that once hung in a tree at the Pass is gone.

Part 1: 5/6-5/7

The backpack took us from the French Spring trailhead (4,780') to Forgotten Pass, over Keynot Peak (11,101'), and down to the Beveridge Ridge Cabin (8,350'). This is where Bob and I had stayed midway on our Lonesome Miner Trail excursion last year (DPS Sage #264). We now returned to casually explore the Keynot Mine. The beavertail cacti were in bloom, and the creosote and sage were a vibrant green from the recent storms.

Our route from the Pass to Keynot Peak was an unpleasant sidehill contour below the ridgeline pinnacles. The top offered great views of the Sierra and Saline Valley. Dick and Jill had already twice signed in the register this year. We dropped east to the Beveridge Ridge, soon intersecting the good miners' trail to the cabin, and passing an orecrushing arrastre. Snow patches lingered on northfacing slopes. The tall, leaning cabin remains sound. The occasional rodent still stirs from within the fireplace wood pile. Tom Budlong and Brian Webb recently repapered its roof Few others had visited in the past year. The Keynot Mine is a short jaunt down the trail. We poked around the adits, and the decaying modem heavy equipment. It is amusing to speculate on just when does mining debris takes on historic importance... is it with the patina of rust? Purists like the Desert Survivors oppose active mining, yet they revere the trails, ruins and cabins of past efforts. Go figure. Happy hour was at sunset with tequila on the cabin porch, where we pondered the long snow couloir on the north face of nearby Survivor Peak.

In the morning we departed uphill, adhering to the miners' trail as it traversed off the ridge on to the eastern flank of Keynot Peak. Here is the ruin of the old sawmill (10,000') that had supplied timber to the Keynot Mine. We climbed directly west to the saddle below the summit. Another register entry completed our ad hoc series of climbs to Keynot Peak in recent years... once from all four directions is an adequate exercise of lunacy! We descended south to a notch in the ridge (10,600'), where we traced the faint miners' trail that zig-zags west across the slopes to intersect the French Spring Trail (9,000').

Stats: 18 miles, 10,000 ft gain, 2 short days

Part 2: 5/20

Our second time to the Pass in as many weeks was on a dayhike over Peaks 10457' and 10292', New York Butte (10,668'), and then to the Burgess Mine. We would descend the good track (so we thought) to exit Long John Canyon. It was a strenuous loop to see much of the history and terrain of the southern Inyo Range.

It was a warmer day and the sage was now a bit less green, as we set out on the French Spring Trail. My truck and the chilled Snakebites (English ale and hard cider), were parked below Long John Canyon (4200'). This is short of the former DPS parking spot. The roadway beyond this point had been ravaged by the El Nino winter two years ago. An indication of what we'd find in the canyon.

We ascended a good use trail from the Pass to the top of Peak 10457' (10414' by the 7.5 min topo). The last entry in the climber's register was Bob's in May 1998. It is surprising that a prominent 10K peak in the Inyos lacks a given name. We continued south along the crest, to the west of rocky Peak 10292', and crossed the flats towards Peak 10186% The brush is minimal, and is easily avoided where present. Here we merged with the Inyo Crest miners' path as it contours towards Goat Spring. This excellent trail leads nearly to the top of New York Butte. Snow remained in the northern chutes. We headed south on trail and road to the Burgess Mine and Cabin, visible below.

Shortly before we reached the cabin, we startled a pair that drove past us in their new jeep. This rudimentary shelter is far less inviting than the cabin on Beveridge Ridge. Passing by the Burgess Well (dry) and a large arrastre, we picked up the faint track to Long John Canyon at an unmarked brown BLM wilderness stake. It was a disappointment.

The route was sporadically ducked. It traverses along a ridge before dropping into a drainage (7600'). It rises out of the drainage (6800') on a long contour, before dropping abruptly to the spring in Long John Canyon (5600'). Latter portions of the path have been erased by time and lack of use; in many places it is indiscernible but for the ducks. Note that the trail alignment is more accurately shown on the 15 min than on the 7.5 min topo.

En route, we encountered a frantic mother quail performing its broken wing decoy dance. Further on, we flushed the half-dozen tiny baby quail spilling through the brush. They were less than a week old.

The lush foliage of the spring harbored few mine ruins apart from an old trough and a water tank. Bob and I trudged west down the dry, rocky wash. The canyon floor has been scoured clean by floods in recent years. Virtually none of the old roadbed remains until the canyon widens at the Black Warrior Mine (4800'). The road is intact for a mile or so here at the old DPS trailhead, until it again becomes eroded in the flood plain. We had parked in the distinctive light-colored sand flat below the road washouts. Fresh 4wd tracks were signs of unsuccessful attempts to get much closer to the canyon entrance.

Stats: 23 miles, 7400 ft gain, 12 hours roundtrip.

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