Mount Inyo


By: Alterio (Bill) Banks


One of my first and almost last climbs occurred on July 4, 1974. I'd recently emigrated to California from Michigan and was irresistibly impressed with the beauty and adventure of mountains. I've deleted much interesting details to make them conform to your proviso that they be of about one type written page in length.

I selected Mt. Iyo from an Auto Club highway map. I had no prior knowledge or appreciation for what was required to climb any mountain, much less an 11,000 foot desert peak!

Armed only with ignorance, a book bag, and a can of soda pop I drove to Lone Pine from Pasadena one Saturday morning and found the roadhead to Inyo around noon. The temperature in Lone Pine was over l00F as I recall. I started climbing at the lower mine. When the miners trail ended I started up the ridge to the northeast toward what a dot on the highway map showed as Mt. Inyo. I guess I must have thought that there would be a sign or a flag on top signaling the way to the summit and I had no idea how long or how far it was to the top.

At what I now reckon was about 6,500 ft I noticed an abandoned vertical mine shaft. It was about 4:30pm.

For the next 4 1/2 hours I just kept going up and over until I reached what a book in a metal container said was Mt. Inyo. It was just about 30 minutes after darkness, 9pm when I reached the summit. Needless to say my thirst was colossal and the one can of pop I'd brought was like nothing.

After signing the register I started down toward the lights of Lone Pine. After one hour I could no longer even see my feet much less my direction of descent or the ridge I'd ascended.

Dizziness, dry heaves, a salt sealed throat, and panic overtook me as I realized the magnitude of my foolhardiness and miscalculation. Unbelievably, the night temperature, and heat still radiating from the desert varnished scree slopes, was about 90 F. I fainted and awakened prostrate amongst the roots of brush at least 5 or 6 times.

I realistically calculated that if I lay still and tried to survive the night, the lack of water would find me dead by morning. I was now totally disoriented, lost, and had no idea where my car was.

I decided I was probably going to die whatever I did or didn't do, so, I decided to just keep going. By now I was crawling, stumbling and falling every 5 minutes. I fainted innumerable times but I'd always "wake-up" after who knows how long a duration of unconsciousness, and continue downward. After passing out the last time, I felt around in the darkness to regain my feet and I neatly fell head-first down a "hole in the ground". In my fuzzy remembering I figured with a galvanizing shock, that what I'd almost tumbled down might be the same vertical mining shaft I'd noted at about 6,500' while ascending.

This was my only indication as to possibly which direction my car might be. Crawling tumbling, and rolling downhill now, at 4:30am I finally saw a glint from an object in the star light to the south.

Truly miraculously I stumbled and crawled up to what turned out to be my car. Inside and for the next 4 hours while driving to L.A., I drank more than 20 cans of hot soda pop I'd left on my back seat.

The rest is history. I later taught myself during the next 25 years what I needed to survive all my subsequent solo climbs in the deserts of east Oregon, Canyon country, Baja, North Africa, Saudi Arabia and the peaks of East Africa, the Indian Himalayas, and the California Sierras.

There's something to be said for lessons learned when one climbs almost always solo and often without referring to a topo even when I have them. No one ever knows where I am or when I'll return. I don't suggest that any of you should follow my example.

I not infrequently have to push, dig, or levitate my ancient vehicles over 4WD tracks at night on my way to trailheads, and somehow I manage to make it to the top and back on every peak I've attempted, often ;by untraditional routes. The success of my unconventional approach to climbing solo and direct is due probably to the jackass or desert bighorn in me, or both.

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