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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
|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 Horton Lakes, Basin Mountain, and Mount Tom climb
Useful Guides and Gear:
So long Mt Tom!