Deer Mountain (8,796) and Pothole Dome (8,720+)

4 Aug 1997 - by Pat Ibbetson

Following an excellent suggestion by Owen Maloy, I decided to hike up Deer Mountain near Mammoth on my way home from Sunday's climb of Abbot. Not knowing where the peak was, I had to stop at the USFS visitors center near the eastern edge of town to get directions which were to take the Mammoth Scenic Loop, turn north onto the road signed for Inyo Craters and drive to the trailhead. I was very surprised by what I saw on the back road. It very much reminded me of the dense forests of the west side minus one thing: the smog. The hike to the craters took about 10 minutes. The craters were amazing. The first crater one reaches is the Dragon's Neck. There is a use trail that circles the entire crater. Although hard to follow in places, it was easy going and yielded spectacular views down to pea soup colored lake at the bottom of the crater. After circling the first crater I headed to the east side of the next higher up crater which held an even larger green lake far at its bottom. The trail petered out around the north side of the crater. From here I headed north up the steep but easy slope of deer mountain following a use trail at first. Near the top the vegetation started to vanish and hard packed volcanic sand and rock resembling concrete provided an interesting challenge for my "car" shoes. After slipping and sliding downhill a few times, I finally reached the rim of the crater. Deer Mountain is the high point of the crater. The shortest path was around the east side, which quickly turned into a knife edge. Although this sounds strange, using crampons and straddling the rim of the crater would have been perfect. I was forced to head west and downslope, slipping sometimes, into the drainage that came out of the crater. From here a steeper but easy duff slope gave access to the north rim where the high point could be walked up with little effort. There was no benchmark or summit register on top, but the view of the surrounding mountains was reward enough. On my way down to the trailhead I hiked out to a small peaklet that rose from the north side of the mountain which was slightly lower than the crater rim.

Following the advice of Tony Cruz, I stopped in Tuolumne Meadows to hike Lembert and Dog domes. When I arrived I had plenty of time for the short hike but there was nowhere to park! It was now time for plan B. My only problem was that I didn't have a plan B... I continued on down the road towards Fairview dome and parked on the north side of the road about half a mile from the large lot at the west end of the meadow. To the north was a photographer shooting the formation at the west end of the meadows that I believe is called Pothole Dome. If it's good enough to photograph then its certainly worth the hike out. After a few hundred yards of the wet meadow I reached the class 1 slopes of the dome. It took about 10 minutes to reach the high point which is far to the northwest out of sight of the road. Almost the entire east slope was walkable class 1 but the most direct route involved a small bit of class 2 scrambling. The view of the river and the surrounding peaks was spectacular. This was my first dome in the area, and although it isn't as prominent as its neighbors Daff and Fairview, the view more than justified the effort. An easier way up the dome would be to park at the lot at the west end of the meadow and take the trail east to the south side of the dome. From here a use trail led up to the east slopes. My drive home to Fresno was the most agonizing I've ever experienced. I was caught behind some tourists from the east coast who insisted on practically stopping before each and every turn. Apparently the "Slower traffic use turnouts" signs didn't mean anything to them. By the time I reached coarsegold, a whopping 4 hours from the meadows, my brakes were completely shot.

These weren't necessarily spectacular peaks from a mountaineering point of view, but they are very relaxing and enjoyable hikes that someone of any skill level could enjoy. I would recommend them both to anyone, especially after completing a tough trip, such as the north face of Abbot.


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