Cerro Gordo Peak, Mount Keynot, New York Butte


By: Bill Henderson


Cerro Gordo, that southern rampart of the Inyo Mtns, has been frequently climbed in the past by the Desert Peaks Section. Its very accessible summit has lost its charm for most of the Desert Peakers. However, it always makes a good trip for persons unfamiliar with the Inyo or White Mtns.

During the last weekend of September, 14 hikers turned out for this year's trip to Cerro Gordo. Though the temperature was very low, the group staged a square dance Saturday evening in the old ghost town of Cerro Gordo, and a rip-roarin' time was had by all.

On Sunday, all 14 hiked to the peak. The hikers consisted of Dede, Roy, Linda Lee, and Dougie Gorin; John Delmonte, Jess Lang, Marie Smith, Hazel Elbinger, Joan Ayloff, Mary Rumery, Clyde Crane, Leroy Arnold, and Emily and Bob Bear. Dougie Gorin is probably no older than 4 years, and made the entire climb under his own power in 1-1/2 hours. For Emily Bear and Roy Gorin, this was their sixth qualifying peak for membership in the D.P.S. Glad to have your aboard, Emily and Roy.

Sunday afternoon, Roy and Bob climbed Mt. Pleasant, a much more interesting peak only a short hike to the north. Keynote (Monarch) October 21, 22. Fourteen turned out for this trip also, and I believe, most of them will remember this trip as one of the high points of their climbing careers. It is too bad more people didn't make the climb, but maybe the six thousand feet in one day changed some minds. At least this was the elevation gain published in the schedule. After the trip was over and several of us checked our maps at home, we were thoroughly amazed to find that the differential elevation was not 6,000, but 6,800. And even more surprising, 7 of the group made the 6800 feet in 6 hours and 30 minutes. (Those starting Sunday)

The hike was scheduled to start Sunday morning, but in order to gain more enjoyment from this beautiful country, Walter and Bernice Heniniger, Fritz Slowman, Tom Kendig, Floyd Henney, Peggy Fredierik, and Leroy Arnold shoved off Saturday morning with packs on their backs. They climbed about 3500 ft. before making camp by a spring at the upper end of a very narrow canyon. It was only noon, so Peggy, Leroy, Floyd, Tom, and Fritz decided to go on up to New York Butte and look it over. Leaving their packs behind, they coutinued to the ridge at l0,000 ft, thence south over several intermediate peaks , and finally, at 9:00 P.M. the summit of New York Butte was their's. Fritz, not wanting to miss his second ascent of Keynot, returned to the spring and a warm sleeping bag, but the other four decided New York Butte was enough so a roaring fire was built, and a gorgeous sunrise awaited.

Sunday morning, seven others; Bob Bear, Willard Dean, John Delmonte, Niles and Louise Werner, and Margie and myself struggled to open our eyes. It was 3:00 A.M. and the beautiful moon of the early morning had disappeared below the Sierra in the West. By 4:00 the party was on the way. In 1/2 mile we passed the corral at French's spring. Here the canyon narrowed rapidly to nearly a slit. The trail cut back along the north side of the main canyon, and 55 switchbacks later we were far above the canyon, on a high plateau. The Alpine glow was now forming on the Sierra across the Owens valley, and our vantage point was perfect.

In several more miles, we once more entered the canyon. Here, it was steep and very narrow with vertical walls on the sides - no place to be in a cloud burst. We had no more than entered the canyon when our nostrils sensed smoke being carried on the cool draft that was slipping down the canyon, and apparently making every sharp bend. We expected to come onto the camp any minute, but it was 30 or 40 minutes of climbing away, at the head of the canyon where it broadened into an open slope.

There was Bernice, Walter, and Fritz, ready to start for Keynote. They told us of the other four on New York butte, and we envied them their grand position for the sunrise.

It was only 6:45 and we were still in the shade of the high ridge to be ascended. At l0:30 we were enjoying the cool shade of the fox tail pine on the summit of Keynote, which is truly the finest observation point in the Inyo Mtns. But the question everyone was asking, was, who built this wonderful trail. It passed within a few hundred yards of the summit of Keynote, and then continued along the ridge to the North. No doubt it was miners, but it would be interesting to know.

To tell the final episode, the 175 switchbacks were completed in reverse in 3 hrs flat. I feel sure that henceforth Keynote will take its place with Dubois, Boundary, and Telescope as one of our finest desert peaks.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section