Mount Mary Austin via Baxter Pass

  • Updated: June 05, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

June 4th & 5th, 2016
Mount Mary Austin (13,051')

I was up in this area to climb Diamond Peak and Black in 2012 but after a rough first day climbing from the cars at 6k, setting up camp at 10k, and then doing the 13k Diamond via the north chute my fellow carpool riders were completely trashed by the time we made it back down to camp.  Figuring I'd be back here sometime I elected to hike out the next morning with them rather than make them sit around and wait.

I've always intended to go back in the spring for Black (and nearby bonus bump Mary Austin) but dreaded the climb up Baxter due to the condition of the trail.

4 years later I'd mostly forgotten and finally figured it would be worth another shot.

The nice thing about these peaks is since they are in Inyo and not the National Park you can get night drop permits.  Also since it's Baxter it's not likely to ever fill up.  Granted this only works if you plan ahead and since we only decided to do this on Thursday we were stuck getting a walk in.

We drove up late, crashed at Alabama Hills for a few hours, and were at the Lone Pine ranger station when it opened.

They don't do first come first serve anymore instead everyone outside when the office opens pulls a number and they use that order.  It relieves a bit of the stress of needing to line up at 6 am just so you're sure you get spots at one of the more restrictive trailheads but it also means it's somewhat of a crapshoot how quickly you'll be in and out.  We pulled number 13 so we had a bit of a wait before we were called.

30 minutes later we were talking to a rather nice woman who confirmed that there were no other permit slots taken for Baxter and rattled off the usual rules and regulations.

Everything was going rather swimmingly until we reached the part about fires not being allowed above x altitude.  In Baxter the line is 10,400 ft but she was convinced that was where the trailhead started and therefore our entire trip would be in the no fire zone.  My innocent disagreement pointing out the trailhead actually started at 6k earned me a scornful "Well then you're disagreeing with the government" and a strong gesture at her laminated reference sheet.  I retreated in the face of federal authority.

Soon after we found ourselves at the Baxter trailhead itself which had inexplicably relocated itself 4,400 ft down from where the government had dutifully documented its existence.

The Baxter Pass trailhead is passenger car friendly and easy to find.  There are bear boxes but no bathrooms and just enough cover to bivy.  The only real surprise was the second car waiting for us there as I didn't expect we'd see anyone.

As the trail starts at 6000 ft and due to the fact it runs through an extensive burn area it's quite warm especially near the bottom.

The trail crosses the water in several places.  Some of these are fairly straightforward while others require a bit of exploration and care to get across.

For what it's worth the trail seemed to be in much better shape than I remember from when I did Diamond.  There's maybe a few less downed trees and the trail is a bit easier to follow.

Diamond Peak looming in the distance
We did meet the owner of the other vehicle just under Summit Meadow.  He was day hiking Diamond and on his way out after having spent some time getting the other pinnacle of Diamond and running out of time to do Black.

We reached Summit Meadow just below 10k and set up camp in the same spot we had stayed 4 years ago.  This has a nice view and a rather nice fire pit both of which were only enhanced by the bottles worth of red wine we'd hauled up to go with dinner.

The next morning we got moving with the sun lamenting the fact we wouldn't have another night in such a nice camp.

We left the trail around 10,600, crossed the stream by gingerly walking across a snow bridge.

Filling up water before entering the moraine

We followed a combination of snow and rock for the next 2000 vertical feet.

It would have been far nicer with more snow.  The next time I'm up here I'm really coming in better snow conditions.

Looking over at the south side of Diamond

Looking across at Baxter Pass and Diamond
Technically we did have crampon conditions for a brief period of about an hour.  However we'd elected to leave them in the car and only carried ice axes which did turn out to be plenty.

Since this was early season and a high peak the altitude hit us a bit harder than usual.  This wasn't unexpected.

At 12,500 we reached the saddle and strolled up the slope to Mary Austin and some rather nice views.

I'd planned to do Black also but looked across the ridge and at how long it had taken us to get this far it was clear that wasn't going to happen.  We still had to pack up, hike out, and drive home 5 hours or so.  Black was going to have to wait.  Again.

The descent was a combination of slogging down rapidly melting snow and some short glissades.

This is actually a crossing right on the trail.  Due to some large downed trees it's best to avoid but in order to do that you have to exit the trail before the switchbacks which leave you basically stuck here.

We made it across gingerly only to find out another wonderful little Baxter Pass specialty

They seem to be some species of stinging nettle and hurt like hell leaving painful bumps on our legs for the rest of the day.  Attempts to wash or scrub the affected area had little effect.  We identified the plant the hard way by moving through a rather large patch during a stream crossing right in the middle of a big move that couldn't be paused or reversed.

Yaaay Baxter.

It was a late night getting home.

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