September 2001

In 1972, I was near the end of my backpacking experience.  I had gotten involved with it at a late age, being 36 years old when I first started. That made me 39 when I made this trip. It was to be a loop trip starting at Pine Creek, North and West of Bishop, California in the Eastern High Sierra. It would go West, much of it cross-country, past Lake Italy and  over to parts of what is now the Pacific Crest Trail and looping back to pick up French Canyon and over Pine Creek Pass to Pine Lake, Pine Creek and my truck camper. 


Late snows limited us to Lake Italy and return, as the passes we needed were still closed.  But this gave us two chances to view the famous Stratcor/U.S.Tungsten mine’s mill viewed from our trail on the North flank of Mt. Tom, as well as the Brownstone Mine above us on the trail.


Backpacking is a whole different way to explore versus our usual dual purpose motorcycles out of a road-end base camp.  In backpacking, there are a number of differences, as probably many of you readers already know, but I’ll hit some high points (pun intended) to acquaint those who haven’t done it. 


First, of course, you are carrying your “base Camp” with you.  Where you stop can be camp for the day or a lunch stop.  Second is the matter of weight.  My hiking partner and Guru, Warren, made the trip with me.  His backpack weighed but 35-40 pounds.  Mine, carrying  both a Pentax Single Lens Reflex 35mm camera and a Stereo-Realist stereoscopic 35mm camera each weighing 2 ˝ pounds, plus film for each,  food for my lunches and snacks came to 55 pounds weighed with a spring-hook scale at the trail head.  By comparison, I am also a larger person over-all, and my own gear is thus heavier to begin with.  We split breakfast and supper and special stove fuel, but were on our own for lunch.


Also,  we trained for the backpack as travelling cross-country requires different muscles and at times balancing techniques.  I also carried a home-made aluminum 6’ walking staff, which helped travel quite a bit.  Finally, as we would be travelling from 5,000 feet elevation to 12,300 feet at Italy Pass, and back, strong boots are a necessity.


August 1972, after a long drive from Los Angeles, we arrived. As we made our way slowly up the steep, dusty, tree-root crossed trail, we met a large party coming down.  They were quite impressed that we were climbing up the “down” route!  And now to the pictures.  The first two were taken from the trail we were going up (a horse-packing route).  The remaining four pictures of the Brownstone mine were taken on our return from Lake Italy and we were but a few miles and hours from my truck way below.


At the time Warren and I travelled by the Pine Creek tungsten mine on our way to a much further destination, I  knew very little about this mine and it’s elaborate mill.  In fact I was quite surprised to see the mill buildings and our trail, for a ways along the flanks of Mt. Tom, did not permit us to directly view the mine itself, at 8,000 to 12,000 feet  elevation  up Morgan Creek, which joins Pine Creek at the mill site.


The Brownstone Mine also fed this mill.  The steep sides of the Eastern high Sierras, makes mining operations in the Bishop Tungsten District challenging, to say the very least; especially in the earlier days of developing the mines.


The block of the earth that makes up the Sierras is tilted West and partially raised, sloping it’s top surface from the rugged Eastern edge to the gentle agricultural plains in West Central California.  This accounts for the meteorological and erosional phenomena we see, and makes living and working in this range of mountains a real task.


The area is still seismically active and prone to avalanches of both rock and soil as well as snow.

In fact, there was a major earthquake at the head of Pine Creek Canyon, October 4th 1978, where the Brownstone Mine (in my pictures) is located.  Fortunately, a crew of drillers preparing test holes were inside the Brownstone at the time, safe from the cascading rocks and boulders falling off the cliff walls.  Equipment outside the mine was heavily damaged, as you can imagine.


Back in 1972, when we were returning from our “Sierra Safari”, we passed the abandoned wooden skeletons of the aerial tram from the Brownstone Mine as you can see in the pictures. Larry, my usual partner in all these explorations, informed me they no longer exist.


Warren and I took some last pictures,  turned a corner of the trail, and headed down to the horse packing station where we had left my truck.  There, we cleaned ourselves up, a change of clothes, snacks, and headed back to Los Angeles, the noise, and the smog. 


Jerome W. Anderson