During the past few decades, one of my favorite recreational areas is Mono Hot Springs.
This remote resort is surrounded by the Kaiser and Ansel Adams Wilderness. I can honestly say, the numerous lakes and ancient hiking trails in this area were the beginnings of my hiking adventures.
One mountain adventure I’ll share with you is one that I’ve repeated four separate times - the climb to the summit of Mary’s Mountain. I’ve asked myself ... what is the attraction to climbing this remote summit that has no trails? Could it be the variation of terrain, which requires multiple skills, or is it just the distant views overlooking the San Joaquin River as it travels west toward the Minaret Mountains?
On Sept. 4, I arrived at Mono Hot Spring to fulfill a speaking engagement the following night. Through complications beyond my control, my presentation was moved forward one day. Now I have a full day to choose any trail into the backcountry. What adventure should I attempt tomorrow?
As I faced Mary’s Mountain my mind started reminiscing to my first climb back in 1989. I couldn’t forget the resistance the mountain gave me on that eventful day. Since there are no trails to the summit ... I picked a line through the Manzanita Bushes which varied between three and six feet high.
Boulder hopping was another challenge which was shared with a few steep blind canyons. If I can recall, through trial and error, I did arrive at the saddle before starting my final push to the summit.
Now let me state again that I’ve made this climb four separate times before, but each climb was from a different starting point. Here I stand, nine years later, and staring at that mountain base once again. But in my subconscious I’ve made my decision - tomorrow morning I’m going to climb that mountain and rekindle a few of those lost memories.
At 7:15 the following morning I started my drive on the ‘cheap and nasty road’ (as it was named back in 1955) toward Edison Lake. Once again I decided to attempt another route and maybe shorten the climbing time to the summit. I started at a lower elevation around 6,900 feet hoping to avoid the thick manzanita bushes growing in the adjacent canyon. Maybe I can find a new path over solid rock slabs of granite.
After committing myself to this new route for almost an hour, this decision proved to be a mistake. The mountain is much too steep at this location for blazing a new route. Now I’m faced with forging my way through the canyon filled with manzanita bushes. I did have some luck and followed bear tracks and coyote tracks which led me through the most difficult brushy areas.
Finally after two hours I arrived at the saddle. If my mind hasn’t failed me, I have to hike through the saddle, staying on the east side before starting my finial climb to the summit at 8,535 feet.
After following a water-eroded, run-off canyon which ended at a steep wall, I remembered at this point my old route would be toward the left. Years ago a friend told me at this point if you turn right, this is a combination of class two and three climbing. I decided to attempt the challenge of this new route to the top.
There are steeper boulders to climb but on a positive note, even though my climbing time was 30 minutes longer, the rewards are the breathtaking views. The summit looked the same with the same Jeffery Pine trees sharing the area I used for my overnight stay back in 1996. Even the discarded wood slat left over from the surveying days of 1934 was still attached to the neighboring tree.
In 1989 I removed this wood slat from the tree and carved my initials and date on its surface. Today I’ll add 2015 and place the sign back to its original location.
I descended on the north side and found my old route which was much easier across the solid granite. I can now bypass the canyon overgrown with manzanita bushes. Normally this adventure would be around five hours total hiking time taking my old route. Today my total time was six hours and 40 minutes. But I did spend over an hour on the summit just enjoying those 360-degree distant views. To the east Bear Dome at 9,980 feet offered a different perspective form this elevation.
One local resident disappointed me by not leaving its markings in the soft decomposed granite. On my previous four adventures, there were cougar tracks in the flat area around the tree displaying the wooden sign. I will not wait another nine years before returning to this pristine location. I did miss those distant views from this remote summit.