New York Butte


By: Fred Johnson


This is the second historical climb writeup sent to me (Dean Acheson) by Fred Johnson, who is one of the few climbers from the early forties days with Chester Versteeg who’s “still kickin’.” He shared some of his prints from that era and! thought others would enjoy the writeup and some of the prints.

After picking up my good friends Ian Mackinlay and Carlo Schueller, we drove out of town under a dark, threatening sky. But fears of bad weather quickly folded once we hit the desert, where there was nothing but sun. A stop at Mojave for a hamburger, malt, and a straw hat.

The desert was canopied with many fleecy afternoon thunderheads, which meant taking a few pictures along Hwy 395. At Lone Pine we cooled off with a couple of Cokes at the Keebird, then drove off in search of a swim. We went up as far as Chrysler and Cook’s pack station on Carroll Creek before giving up on finding a good swimming spot. So we came back to town for a huge steak dinner.

About 8:OOP we started looking for the Sierra Club group in Jawbone Canyon. After a couple false leads, we finally located them a few miles east of Lone Pine over a typical desert washboard road. We camped here, with the lights from Manzanar winking in the distance and the Sierra shilouetted behind.

Up at 2:30A in May 19 to break camp and begin what they said was to be a 5,000’, 13-mile climb to New York Butte. At 4:00, at the end of the road at Dead Mules Springs, we passed the main group, who had backpacked in the short way and were just crawling out of their sacks. Here we started the climb out of the canyon. It was soon light as we met a ridge, went around a hill, then entered a wash that brought us to another ridge. At 5:30 we met four of the group who had camped at about 7,500’ in some pinon pines to be on hand for the sunrise. Then some tomato juice before starting the next half of the climb that continued up the ridge to more level ground, where, on the Inyo crest at 9,500’, we passed the Old Ironsides mine, abandoned in 1942. From here we made a long contour before climbing up to the summit ridge, which is plainly seen much of the way. Finally, at 8:55 we scrambled up the last rocks to the top, where we found the bench mark, cairn, and register. The rest of the group didn’t start arriving until 9:45; so I enjoyed a long stay on top enjoying one of the best views I’ve ever had. What could I see? So many of the desert peaks, the Saline and Owens Valleys, and 40 miles of the eastern escarpment of the Sierra, which held, among so many peaks, seven 14,000’ summits. The most striking thing to me was the contrast of New York Butte’s steep mountain wall rising from the barren Saline Valley so many thousands of feet below. I enjoyed talking with our leader Niles Werner, who knew so much about the Sierra peaks as well as the desert ones. Before leaving, several of us visited the crag just a few hundred feet to the south and judged it to be a bit higher than the marked summit.

We wasted little time on the way down, although we did stop to poke around the Old Ironsides mine and stopped for a bite to eat at the pinon pines. By now ominous thunderheads were everywhere. Despite the cloud cover, we still had to endure the scorching heat which we had avoided with our early morning start. The trail seemed endless as we walked our feet off. At last, at 3:55P, we reached the cars, a welcome sight to say the least. Then to Lone Pine for a malt and on home, with frequent stops to water our dry mouths.

Fred Johnson

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