Broke Down in Bishop

Kyle, my son in law, missed out on circumnavigating Mt. Whitney last October. Unsure if it would work out we latched onto the latest available permit for the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek last Christmas and listed our means of travel from the drop down list as “dogsled” and from another dropdown list asserted that we would be bring a goat. We left it to the powers that be to decide if the goat would be pulling the dogsled, but if you have ever been up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek you would surely know that the goat would probably make it but the sled would have to be winched up and any dogs would be pretty iffy.

One can only wonder how many travelers in the Inyo wilderness actually bring dogsleds or goats so as to justify the dropdowns, but bureaucracy develops a logic of its own and it was our good fortune that when we went to collect our permit we found an official with a sense of humor.

But I get ahead of the story because driving through Yosemite on the way down we smelled some very bad smells from my old Honda hybrid and pulled into an overlook to find the belt to the air conditioner pump smoking and watch it snap before our eyes. The air conditioner was not a problem but we found as we proceeded that the very same belt drove the water pump and we began overheating as we climbed the hills.

We pulled in at this random icon promising a pay phone in the trees and discovered that we had lost all our pay phone skills and there was no cell reception whatsoever. We redeveloped a few rudimentary skills to the extent that we were able to get through to AAA who promised that although we had crossed the line into the province of Southern California a tow truck WOULD be coming.

The essence of wilderness is self sufficiency. After more than enough time for the tow to arrive and having further cajoled the pay phone into calling my daughter for connected outside help, we began to realize that we were in the wilderness and on our own. A little investigation revealed that although the belt drove the water pump, the radiator fan was electric and still functional. With a couple of brilliant suggestions from Kyle that we turn on the heater full blast and crack the hood, we basically drove air cooled Civic hybrid from Porcupine flat to Bishop, stopping to let that electric fan do its job when we began to overheat.

Bright and early the next morning as the service manager was putting his key in the door we delivered the wounded car to the Honda dealer, rented a replacement, and after what I believed was an understanding to “just fix it”, we were on our way to our meeting with the permit official with a sense of humor about dogsleds and goats.


The morning Iceberg Lake.


Kyle resting above Guitar Lake.

From the top of Mt. Whitney I called the dealer to find the progress and was informed my service manager was on vacation and the mechanic was awaiting my authorization to order the rather expensive air conditioning pump. He got it then and there and when I arrived the third of July I was informed that even if the parts arrived there would be no time before the holiday weekend to install them.

Rats! I kept the rental and drove back to Santa Rosa for the weekend, got up at 4AM the following Monday and arrived in Bishop to learn that in spite of our verification the prior week, the pump, but not the clutch, had arrived.

“Bloody cocksucking rats!”, in the words of a memorable aussie  mountaineer met during a storm many years ago in an alpine hut in British Columbia. He claimed to have harpooned several with his ice axe in a hut on Mt. Kenya

Fortunately I was prepared this time with the full regalia of modern connectivity and set to work with a laptop and mifi in a funky motel. As evening approached and the monsoon eased its grip on the mountains I headed up to Sierra View in the Inyo mountains.




The next morning I worked until check out time, dropped by the UC White Mountain field station at the end of Line Road to inquire after an old friend, Frank Powell, who had been director there for twenty years and got directions to Black Canyon.

Black Canyon must be an ancient fault as it cuts diagonally across the Inyos roughly parallel to the analogous Kern canyon in the Sierra across the valley. The climb begins through tuffaceous alluvial fan conglomerates with a spectacular lens of brilliant white tuff from the Long Valley caldera explosion about 750 kya. Isotopically identical ash from this explosion has been identified as far away as Sonoma county.

The black in Black Canyon comes from the Andrews member of the Campito formation and darl slaty members of the Deep Springs formation of the latest Precambrian and early Cambrian (500-530 mya) when creatures more elegant than worms and microbes were just getting started. The Deep Springs is a bit older and pre trilobite.


At some point gold bearing quartz intruded contacts between limestone and more silica rich slate beds and miners followed.



As you enter Black Canyon proper black Deep Springs slates are bedded almost level but as you progress northeastward the bedding gets contorted and twisted in three dimensions as if by a giant dough hook so much that Deep Springs sometimes appears to be intruded into the Campito. Makes you feel that our models of geology are broken down.


If there is any moral to this story it is that if you must break down, Bishop is a great place to do it.



This entry was posted in Geography, Geology, History of Life, Mount Whitney, Paleogeography, Sierra View and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Broke Down in Bishop

  1. Kay says:

    Beautiful photos. May I have your permission to paint them?

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