Backpacking to Horton Lake and Climbing Mt Tom

This memorial day weekend i wanted to do a multi day dive trip but at the same time i thought some backpacking trip in the high sierras would be a good training exercise. Sung wanted to go to Horton Lake and climb Mt Tom so i decided to join him since none of the multi day dive trips looked interesting to me.

The plan was to drive up to Bishop, get our permits and establish camp at Horton Lake on Saturday. Sunday we would climb Mt Tom and then after spending one more night at Horton Lake on Monday we wanted to climb Basin Mountain and hike back out. We figured snow gear (ice axe and crampons) won’t be required on Mt Tom but weren’t sure of Basin Mt. Sung’s friend Valerie from Santa Barbara was going to join us.

Met with Sung and Valerie at the golden valley park and ride at 7.30am and we were on our way. Getting walk in permits at the lone pine ranger station was pretty straight forward process and by the time we reached Bishop it was time for mule day parade there. Mule Days is an annual event in Bishop with lots going on and it definitely draws a crowd.

We had lunch there and then drove to the trailhead. The trailhead is little bit tricky to find and you definitely need a vehicle with high clearance. My Rav4 wouldn’t have made it and i was glad that we took Sung’s Xterra. From Bishop you have to take 168 and then the buttermilk road which goes beyond the famous Buttermilk boulders. It gets little tricky but if you stay on your right at every turn off you will eventually see a sign for Horton lakes trailhead and then you follow the road until the gate. If you don’t have vehicle with high clearance then it can add upto 4 miles to your hike.

We had plenty of time to get to horton lake since its only about 4 mile hike from the trailhead so we took our time and checked out the remains of the Sonny Boy Mine on the way up. The trail is a gradual ascent where you gain about 2000 ft of elevation. We got to the lake and established camp site close to it, after dinner it was soon time to go to bed. I had only 4 hours of sleep the previous night and the moon rise was at about 9.30 pm so i didn’t have the patience to stay awake till then.

The plan for next day was to wake up whenever and then climb Mt Tom, we figured it would be an easy day and we should be back by 2pm but we were wrong about that. There was nothing easy about getting to top of Mt Tom and i decided to carry most of the stuff for training purposes so i had almost 30-35 lbs on me. Had breakfast and we started at around 7am and it took almost two hours to get to hidden valley, its a continuos uphill climb to get there and then a gentle path to Tungstar Mine.

We could see the planned route of Basin mountain and it seemed that it still had plenty of snow. We would have to traverse couple of snow fields and even though it might have been possible to do it without crampons and ice axe we didn’t want to risk it. We thought about just going to one of the upper lakes and then turn around but first we had to get to summit of Mt Tom.

The remains of Tungstar mines are pretty cool to look at with plenty of old school machinery lying around, some engines, rail tracks, rail carts, cables etc. The mines were buried with snow but i wouldn’t have dared to explore further regardless. The trail to the summit goes a little further up the mountain and then just disappears, you have to now work your way through scree and plenty of loose rocks.

I found little bit of snow which was lot easier to climb than the scree but unfortunately it didn’t last for long. It was a slow but steady progress and Sung thought he had found the summit but as others have warned it wasn’t the true summit. We had to traverse more to the left and climb another chute to get to the true summit which Sung finally found on his third attempt.

We took our sweet time on the summit enjoying the views and i snapped quite a few shots with some attempts at panorama, I am quite happy with the results i got from it.

The prospect of descending that loose scree didn’t look too appealing but we didn’t have a choice and slowly but surely got down without any incidents. It almost took the me amount of time to descend as going up which was a first for me. We chose not to take the small detour to check out a mine shaft on the other side of the hidden valley. I thought about staying there a little longer for light to fade and hopefully get some sunset pics but there were small clouds rolling in so it didn’t look too promising so i gave up on that idea.

After another hour of climbing down we finally made it back to the camp at around 6pm and it was time for dinner and bed. Next morning the plan was to just check out one of the lakes at the bottom of Basin Mt and then head back.

Next day morning i had opportunity to take some sunrise pics but the lazy me decided to stay in my tent since i didn’t have the motivation to go out in the wind and the cold. I also didn’t want to be the first one out so i just stayed in bed, i got out only when i heard others. Because of the wind there were ripples in the lake all the time so i didn’t get a good chance at getting some reflection pics but after breakfast there was finally a brief period when it was calm and i finally managed to get one good shot.

We went around the lake to see if we could get to one of the upper lakes but there was still a decent amount on snow and none of us wanted to climb any scree on the other side so after about an hour of scrambling around we decided to turn back, pack out the camp and have lunch in bishop.

The hike back out was uneventful except for a garter snake crossing my path, he was pretty quick. I was surprised to find one at 8000ft didn’t think they would reside so high up. We had decided on Indian food for lunch and managed to find Karma Indian Restaurant in Bishop which had ok food. The Indian food snob in me wasn’t too impressed by its authenticity.

I got back home at around 7pm and it was a nice laid back weekend. Driving to Mammoth its hard to miss Mt Tom and i can now finally say that i have climbed that mountain and in winter it could present some really fun lines in the chutes.

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