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On Highway 395, Split Mountain (14,065’) is nearly hidden from view because it is behind Mt Tinemaha (12,519’). Most of the people who travel this trail intend to climb Split Mountain. They are young, strong and fit. Few folks would do this as a day hike but after seeing photos taken of Split Top Mountain by climbers, I was amazed by the beauty of this mountain. I had seen and photographed it from the west in Upper Basin along the JMT but never realized how beautiful this mountain (also known as South Palisade) is from the east side. I knew I wanted photographs of it, considered the “cost” and was willing to pay the price. I was even able to convince my wife and two friends Annie and Steve to accompany me on this hike.
This is really an esoteric but legendary effort even to find the trailhead. I have researched this hike for two years. The folks at the White Mountain ranger station have a single sheet map of the route to the trailhead that begins off Glacier Lodge Road east of Big Pine. There are other routes listed on the Internet. I would not take any vehicle on the “road” to the trailhead that was not a high clearance 4x4 no matter what others may state. I have driven the road to the Taboose Pass trailhead and it is an expressway by comparison. A short wheelbase vehicle is not necessary but is preferred. My crew cab Silverado had a hard time crossing Tinemaha creek because of the sharp turn immediately before the crossing (see photographs). We also crossed Fuller Creek, which was dry for us this time of year. On the return trip, you have quite a climb after crossing this dry creek bed. There are also several washed out areas, which make the road narrow in spots. This is NOT a drive I would recommend at night.
This is a 10 mile round trip hike to the pond below Split Mountain with about 4,000’ of elevation gain overall. The trail essentially follows the north side of Red Mountain Creek. The hike is on an exposed use trail with some Cairns and yellow flagging tape to help find the way. The trail travels through two areas of brush. The first area (marked CREEK on the Topographical map) has a nice creek for filtered or treated water resupply. The second brushy area can be confusing. Outbound we came to a fork in the trail. We should have turned right and followed the wet rocks up rather than continuing on the wet grassy trail. You can see us climbing because we went the wrong way. Inbound you will come to small campsite by a big pine tree the correct trail back leaves from that area.
We began the hike at 7am on a cool morning and it took us 6 hours to reach the pond. You will not see the whole mountain until you are near the pond. We spent a half hour resting, eating and admiring this magnificent mountain and then headed back to the car. Our return took us 5 hours. Steve went all the way to Red Lake and caught some Golden Trout then headed back to his truck. He needed a headlamp to finish the hike back. We ate dinner in Bishop and didn’t get back to Mammoth Lakes until 9:30pm.
I took the photographs with the Sony A7R2 and the 16-35mm 2.8 GM lens. I also used a backup Sony A600 with a 16-70mm Zeiss f4 lens. I probably have too many photographs but each one was bought and paid for by great effort. As I approach my 73rd birthday, this is my hardest day hike since Baxter Pass.
Steve The Local Being A Docent
Paying The Price For A Wrong Turn In The Brush
Resting With A View
Red Mountain In Sunlight With Inyo Mountains To The East
Be Careful Here
Morning Light From Highway 395
Green Outline Of Red Mountain Creek Leading Toward Split Mountain