In August of 2012 Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I attempted to climb Mount Williamson which is the second highest peak in California. Mount Williamson is located a few miles north of Mount Whitney, which is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. But our adventure was cut short, when on the third day of our journey following George Creek toward the summit, Mother Nature was in control and released thunder showers canceling our adventure.
Here we are a year later and once again permits were obtained to climb to the summit of Mount Williamson. Weather predictions were hot and dry for the next five days along the Eastern Sierra Mountains. Timing is right to start this adventure. We departed from Oakhurst driving through Yosemite National Park to Tioga Pass Road and Highway 395. Then preceded south past Bishop to the town of Independence, where we'll drive along the unpaved Foothill desert road over seven miles to the George Creek trail Head.
This rough and scenic desert road followed through the area below those towering sentinels in the Lone Pine area of the Eastern Sierra Mountains. After almost four miles we arrived at the Shepherd Creek run-off crossing. The earth covered culvert bridge was missing and all that remained was a fast stream of water flowing through a trench much too rough to attempt a crossing with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
With no physical means of crossing up stream or downstream we decided to drive back to Independence and drive south once again on Highway 395. Maybe we'll locate an alternate route to the George Creek Trailhead. Once again all roads leading to our trailhead were blocked with road barriers. The aftermath of the high elevation thunder storm of July 22 will take time to repair these desert roads.
Before departure from Oakhurst we reviewed an alternate hike following Rock Creek Road past Tom's Place to the trailhead leading to Mount Morgan. We stopped at the Ranger Station in Bishop once again to exchange our permits to the Mount Morgan Trailhead. After almost ten hours of driving today we finally arrived at Rock Creek Lake and the trailhead. Now keep in mind on July 22 a lighting strike from the same storm started a 20,000 plus acre forest fire in the Mammoth Lakes area called the Aspen Fire. The smoke from this unstable fire created a barrier of thick gray smoke so thick that fishermen around the lake were wearing scarfs or masks to filter the air. At this time Mount Morgan is out of the question, so back to reviewing our map and research another alternate plan?
We found a campsite at a lower elevation outside of the thick smoke along Rock Creek and settled in for the night. The next morning we decided to drive north and maybe permits will be available for the Lundy Canyon or Virginia Lakes area. Permits were available for the Lundy Canyon area and hopefully the smoke from the Aspen Fire hasn't traveled this far north.
Checking our map we decided to drive to the upper trailhead above Lundy Lake and try to locate the old mining road that leads up to the Erie and Gorilla Mines. If time allows maybe today we'll descend back to the beaver ponds along Old Mill Creek and locate the old wooden shed and follow that trail up to the Don Alvadore Mine. Yes, I said beaver ponds that extended over 100 feet in length. Remarkable how these aquatic animals created mutable ponds for living quarters along Old Mill Creek.
After locating a log jam we crossed Old Mill Creek and followed a loose scree slope until crossing the old mining road located on the mountain side. This ancient road has been around since the late 1800's. Today it is the victim of time, landslides, overgrown with Aspen Trees and mountain vegetation. Finally we arrived at the Erie Mine's twin entrances. One opening was for storage of equipment and the other extended back within the mountain over one hundred and fifty feet. The floor still had the ore car rails and its walls were dripping from the natural springs disturbed by the miners over a century ago. Today this seepage formed a pool that flows out the mine entrance.
We estimated our time to climb over the loose scree above this mine to locate the Gorilla Mine was another three hours round trip. So we elected to descend back to the creek and locate the wooden shed and the trail to the Don Alvadore Mine. We found the wooden shed only 200 yards from the Old Mill Creek. South of the shed was the worn mining trail.
After almost 45 minutes of climbing those ancient switch-back trails, we came across a man-made ledge which introduced us to the opening of the Don Alvadore Mine. In front of the mine is a discarded automobile engine and frame which was probably used to operate an air compressor which in turn operated equipment to extract that precious yellow metal. This mine was over 400 feet in depth with an operational ore car still rolling on its original rails.
Sometimes the best laid plans can be interrupted by nature. Persistence is the word that best describes our adventure. After some resistance of natural causes we finally succeeded with an alternate adventure and discovered a few more Sierra Mountain Secrets.