The shadow of Mt Tom covering Bishop at Sunset
\The shadow of Mt Tom covering Bishop at Sunset

After Sunday’s successful climb of Basin I was a bit worried about how sore I’d feel upon waking up Monday morning. Normally this wouldn’t be a concern but I was definitely feeling my lack of exercise. Fortunately I woke feeling fairly strong and acclimated, ready to take on Mt Tom, a long time bucket list peak.

Our plan was to follow the old mining road to the ruins of the Tungstar Mine, then follow the west chutes and ribs to the summit of Mt  Tom. Round trip total distance from camp would be about 7.5 miles with about 3800 ft of elevation change. The first part of the hike, along the road to the mine, is straightforward and easy, but climbing from the mine to the summit involves scrambling up 2000 ft in 1/2 mile in awful terrain. Or so I had heard.

We took off from camp, passing the nearby old cabins, and followed the old road for two miles to the hanging valley at ~11,700 ft. The 1800 ft climb was not bad, even though the old road has deteriorated into overgrown single track trail in many places. At one switchback it is a bit difficult to follow due to rockslides that have slowly overtaken the old road. Nature: 1. Human engineering: 0.

Get a map and GPS track of this route up Mount Tom

Looking down the gully that the switchbacks climb
Looking down the gully that the switchbacks climb. Camp in the center.

At the top of the climb you pop out into a desolate hanging valley, criss-crossed with old mining roads that look like they were built yesterday. Mining ruins scatter the landscape, and towering above it all is Mount Tom. We followed the main road over to the ruins of the Tungstar Mine.

Top of the switchbacks. Roads, mining ruins all around. Mt Tom towers above all.
Top of the switchbacks. Roads, mining ruins all around. Mt Tom towers above all.

There is all kinds of mining junk at Tungstar, including some big old Ingersoll Rand engines and parts of the old tramway mechanisms.  We didn’t spend too long looking around since we were more concerned with figuring out the route up Tom. From the mine the terrain didn’t look too appealing – steep and loose were the words that came to mind. It had taken us about two hours to get from camp to the mine. From the looks of it, the last 1/2 mile to the summit was going to take longer than that.

Old diggings and the steep chutes leading to the summit
Old diggings and the steep chutes leading to the summit

After some poking  around we found a use trail that headed up the chute behind the mine. It wandered a bit aimlessly, with several variations that people had taken, but for the most part it headed up, up, up, through steep sand and loose rock. I don’t think my foot once stood on solid ground – everything moved. I relied heavily on my poles and hands to maintain balance. Some photos to show the steepness:

Taking a break about 500 ft up from the mine
Taking a break about 500 ft up from the mine
Pavla working her way up the slope
Pavla working her way up the slope

The route description we had said to head up the chute, then cross over a rib, then another chute, cross another rib, and head up the third chute to the summit. This is exactly what we did, and it worked, but I’m not convinced it was the easiest route we could have taken. The route was 90% what I just described – loose and slidey. Occasionally we’d find some solid talus but it never lasted long. In the third chute, just below the summit, there was a nice ridge of solid rock that I could keep one hand on while moving my feet through the loose rock and sand – that was one of the better sections.

In the 3rd chute (the gendarme is a good visual marker)
In the 3rd chute (the gendarme is a good visual marker)

Unfortunately we never could tell from below what pile of rocks was the actual summit so we just kept following use trails upwards. But there were so many use trails we never knew if we were on a ‘good’ one. Eventually we popped out on the upper ridge, and according to our GPS devices we were within about 250 feet of the summit. We dropped our packs and kept working our way up.

The final few hundred feet to the summit of Mt tom
The final few hundred feet to the summit of Mt tom
Which one is it?
Which one is it?

Slightly higher, we could see about four rock outcroppings that could have been the summit. I was ahead and didn’t know which one to aim for. I made a choice based on use trails and cairns and headed towards a distinctly red pile of rocks (center of photo above). As I got closer I realized the pile next to the red rocks was a little bit higher so I changed course. I was so relieved when I saw a benchmark on a rock in front of me! Then I saw the summit register. FINALLY!

Me on the summit of Mt Tom
Me on the summit of Mt Tom

We let out a lot of WOO HOOOOs and yelps before signing the register and taking pictures. A group of guys that we had seen coming down that morning had left a brand new register book so I got a front page sign-in. We took some time to enjoy the view and I took this panorama video.


I was a bit concerned about the descent since that kind of terrain can be pretty dangerous when you move through it too quickly. The loose rocks meant we had to spread out and move carefully to prevent sending rocks down on others. Still, it took an hour less to get down than get up. I practically kissed the Tungstar Mine equipment when we were back on solid road.

Ingersoll Rand engines at the Tungstar Mine
Ingersoll Rand engines at the Tungstar Mine

I am extraordinarily happy that I got Mt Tom, a bucket list peak. But it would take a lot for me to do that slog again! Here are some approximate stats from our climb, leaving camp at about 7:45 in the morning and returning around 6pm.

Leg

Distance

Elevation Gain

Time

Camp to top of Switchbacks at Hanging Valley 2 mi 1800 ft 1.5 hours
Hanging Valley to Tungstar Mine 1.3 mi 100 ft 45 min (time looking at equipment)
Tungstar Mine to Summit 0.6 mi 1800 ft 3.5 hours
Summit to Tungstar Mine 0.6 mi -1800 ft 2.5 hours
Tunsgstar Mine to top of switchbacks 1.3 mi -100 ft ~1 hr (time looking at equipment)
Top of switchbacks to camp 2 mi -1800 ft 1 hour

Map of my GPS track of the climb:


So long Mt Tom!

Mt Tom
Mt Tom

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  2. John T

    Howdy, this page is very nicely put together.
    I’m planning on doing it this Sunday with a couple friends. We’re camping at Horton lake over the weekend. I have studied the route you took from a couple websites, and considering an alternate route – up the southern ridge, starting from basically the spot where the mining road crests the 1800′ ridge. Studying this south ridge, it is a lot more gradual, and looks like one could manage it more easily than the scree-strewn chutes on the west face. It looks safer in that you won’t have to pay attention to loose material coming down on top of you, or falling out from under your feet. In the vary last seconds of your video above, you can see down the ridge from the summit. What do you think? Thanks, John

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