We've been wanting to visit the old salt tram remains in the Inyo mountains east of Lone Pine, CA ever since I first read a trip report put up by Teotwaki over a year ago. We made plans to join a couple other trips to the area, but schedule conflicts always got in the way. We finally made it a couple weekends ago, and it was definitely worth the wait.
A week or so before our planned departure Teotwaki posted a trip report in which he recounted that waning daylight and deep snow at 9200' had prevented him from reaching the tram keeper's cabin. A call to the BLM ranger a few days before we left did nothing to provide any optimism - she thought we were still a few weeks too early for the route to open up.
Determined to make something of our weekend one way or the other, we left for Lone Pine Friday AM with an alternate plan of traversing Saline Valley firmly in mind. After hooking up with our friends Mike & Denny in Lone Pine, we walked down to The Seasons for dinner. Over dinner we discussed our options. The weather had been unseasonably warm for most of the week. Temps in Lone Pine on Friday were nearly 80*, and a few valleys to the east Death Valley was forecast to hit 108*. We decided to give it a go, figuring that if we ran into too much snow we could always come down off the mountain and head over to Saline Valley.
As we headed up into the Inyo mountains it wasn't long before we could see signs of the old salt tram towers. We stopped to walk up a short, steep hill overlooking the Owens (Dry) Lake and take a look at the remains of a collapsed tower. Already the view of the Sierras was pretty spectacular.
Owens Lake Viewpoint
Our Rigs Below
We continued up the hill looking for signs of the old tram, but also keeping one eye peeled for any signs of snow at higher elevations. Passing by a couple nice campsites with great views of the Sierras, we eventually reached the short spur to the Burgess Mine. We explored around the old mine shack and ate lunch here with an imposing view of the snow capped Sierras across the Owens Valley.
At the Burgess Mine we got our first view of the Saline Valley to the east of the Inyo mountains, and also began to see a fair amount of snow on the north facing slopes.
Saline Valley View
Back on the main trail we continued up towards the tram keeper's cabin. Exactly as Teotwaki indicated we shortly reached a deep snow bank sitting astride the road. It appeared to be the remains of a cornice formed over the winter (there is a steep bowl off to the left of the road), and the road disappeared under the snow only to reappear a couple hundred feet further up the hill. The leading edge of the snow was quite vertical, and about 2-3 feet high. (Sorry about the pic quality - these were snapped with my wife's Blackberry). We took some time to recon, and walked up the road a ways to see what else was in store for us. It looked like if we could get past this snowfield the way was clear all the way to the top tram tower.
We returned to the rigs and broke out the shovels. We shoveled snow to make a ramp so we could drive up on top of the snow. We were pretty lucky with the snow conditions. The top 6" were soft, so the tires got good traction, but underneath it was very firm, almost ice, so you didn't sink in very far. Once we were on top of the snow we were able to drive right up the snow field to where the road reappeared at the top. You can just see the road reappear at the top right corner of the picture.
Here's a link to a short video of Mike taking his jeep over the first part of the snow obstacle: Mike Up and Over