OverviewBlacksmith Peak is the northwestern terminus of the Sawtooth Ridge, and offers routes from class 3 (though not all the way to the actual summit) through III 5.8 A2. The spectacular Northwest Face offers a couple of aid routes, and some fine free routes. In July 1996, Dave Nettle and Mike Davis put up The Forge, an 8-pitch 5.11 route on quality granite. If interested, I have a topo of the route which I do not have permission to post, but I will share it individually.
When viewed from the northwest, Blacksmith displays one of the largest and most impressive faces in the Northern Sierra. The true summit requires climbing of up to 5.6, and to get anywhere near the top calls for sporty 3rd class, and if your route-finding isn't too good, maybe some 4th or 5th class.
Getting ThereThe two best trailheads to access this peak are the Barney Lake trailhead, also known as the Robinson Creek trailhead, and the Horse Creek Trailhead. The trailhead parking is at the south end of Upper Twin Lake, at the Mono Village Resort.
The easiest access to the area is from US 395. From the north, as you arrive in the tiny town of Bridgeport, watch for the first right hand turn just after the Shell filling station (rip-off gas prices--see below). This is Twin Lakes Road. From the south, enter Bridgeport and proceed to the end of town and take the last left-hand turn, right across from Buster's Market. This is the same Twin Lakes Road. At the end of the road is Mono Village. If you are staying overnight, enter the Village and bear left, along the shoreline to the boat trailer parking and a large dirt turnaround. The trailhead parking is along the edge of the turnaround. Dayhiker parking is along the shoreline of the lake prior to the turnaround.
From either parking area (they are quite close together), to get to the Barney Lake Trailhead, enter the campground through the main entrance. There are 3 roads branching off to the west from here. Take the middle road, and watch for a meadow on your left after a couple hundred yards . If you see it, you are on the correct road. Otherwise, backtrack and try again, there are many roads running through the campground area. When you see the meadow, continue on and you will pass a cable stretched across the road, and this is the recognized trailhead. Follow the road to the sign indicating the turnoff to Barney Lake. This is the long way around, and offers access to the west and and southwest sides of the peak. The more direct alternative, offering access to the spectacular northwest side, is to ascend the trail-less Blacksmith Creek drainage, which you will want to avoid if at all possible. Ascending this drainage is a loose, steep, sandy bushwhack for the first couple miles, before it turns into a loose talus scramble with occasional stretches of deep sand. There is a lot of rockfall activity here as well, there is fresh debris everywhere. To get to this drainage, follow the directions above, but when you reach the sign indicating the Barney Lake Trail turnoff, continue straight ahead, across the bridge, past the Mono Village waterworks, and take any of the many use/game trails that ascend the drainage.
The Horse Creek Trail gives access to the Cleaver Notch, or alternatively, cross the crest via Matterhorn Pass to Burro Pass, or the East Couloir of Matterhorn Peak, and descend part-way down the south side and traverse west. The cross-country travel on the south side of the ridge is not too difficult, but this is a long alternative.
To get to the Horse Creek Trail, follow a well-worn path out of the south end of the turnaround, cross a wood-decked auto-sized bridge, continue southbound, and watch for a footbridge made of logs. On the south side of the footbridge, turn left (east) and you are on the trail.
Red TapeIf you intend to leave your vehicle overnight, you must buy a pass from Mono Village to park there, $7 per vehicle. The pass is purchased from the person in the building at the entrance to the campground. You may stay for as many nights as you wish for your $7, but if you leave and come back, you will be required to buy another overnight pass. If you are a dayhiker, Mono Village requests that you park alongside the shore of the lake rather than in the overnight parking area in the loop at the end of the road, and there is no cost.
If you wish to stay in the Hoover Wilderness, a wilderness permit is required. To get one, go to the Bridgeport Ranger Station , a USFS facility just southeast of Bridgeport along US 395.
When To ClimbSpring, summer, and fall are the main climbing seasons here, and the road is not always kept open in the winter, at least not to the end. The avalanche considerations are foremost in the decision to plow (or not plow) the road. Spring and summer mean lots and lots of hungry mosquitos in the area, and it gets better in the fall, even though the days are shorter.
CampingThere are pay campgrounds at Mono Village at the end of Twin Lakes Road, as well as the Paha Campground , Robinson Creek Campground , and numerous other pay campgrounds along the way to Twin Lakes. Personally, I hate to pay to lay in the dirt, so I camp along Buckeye Road, which is accessed by the turnoff to Doc 'N' Al's resort, another pay camping area a couple of miles north of Lower Twin Lake. Take the turn, and pass the resort on the left, and continue onto Buckeye Road, across the bridge over Robinson Creek, and onto public land.
Mountain ConditionsNo cams here, yet. The NWS weather is pretty reliable and detailed, and is worth checking out. The Bridgeport Ranger Station may be able to offer some insights.
The Sawtooth TraverseThe Sawtooth Traverse, covering the ridgeline between Matterhorn Peak and Blacksmith Peak, was first accomplished in 1984 by Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler. The first ascentionists took the hard and long way to do the traverse, starting at the toe of The Cleaver, and traversing the entire Cleaver to the summit of Cleaver Peak. They then turned southeast, and traversed the rest of the ridge to Matterhorn Peak. Clevenger and Fiddler spent 2 days on their climb.
The traverse is most commonly done from the southeast, beginning at Matterhorn Peak, to the northwest, ending at Blacksmith Peak. Peter Croft has lent the traverse some notoriety by free-soloing the entire long, knife-edge ridge from SE to NW. The difficulty doesn't exceed 5.8, and with a rope this seems pretty casual, but the exposure wears on you after a while. And then there are the rappels. Personally, I hate to rappel. I know, if done right, it's plenty safe. But I don't like to. Some of the rappels are nearly a full rope length, and free-hanging to boot. Makes it more of an adventure...
The traverse is tremendously exposed, especially along the section from The Dragtooth all the way to Blacksmith. Driving along Hwy 395 throught the Bridgeport Valley, it is easy to assume that the ridgeline is only steep on one side, like the ridgeline of the Whitney Massif, but this is not so. It is steeper and more exposed (well, maybe not more exposed, but still plenty enough) on the southeast side than the northwest side.
So if the Sierra Nevada is getting too boring and predictable for you, strap 'em on and try this traverse!
Fred Claussen is still missing...Fred disappeared on August 1, 2003 while on a loop trip from Mono Village to Barney Lake, to Crown Lake, and on around the Sawtooth Ridge, descending Horse Creek Canyon back to Mono Village. He was last seen near Crown Lake. He was carrying a sizable load of camera and sound gear with the intent of recording the sights and sounds of forecast T-Storms.
If you come across any unattended gear, especially gear that looks a little weathered, call the Mono County Sheriff's Office at 760-932-7549 and they'll get the info to the Mono County SAR Team. He is likely still out there, and his wife cannot collect inheritance until either 7 years have passed, or some evidence of his demise is found. His wife has purchased a search dog, and is continuing the search along with periodic forays by the Mono County SAR Team. Keep your eyes open while traveling in this area.
GasolineCaution -- Extremely high fuel prices in Bridgeport! Price for regular unleaded as of 4/30/07 - $395.9!
Unreasonably high fuel prices in Bridgeport motivated me to add this section. There are 2 filling stations in Bridgeport, and both are owned by the same shyster. The fuel prices are often a dollar or more per gallon higher than surrounding areas. With this in mind, I want to recommend to everyone using a trailhead in the Bridgeport area to fill up well before you arrive.
If arriving from the north, fill up in Minden/Gardnerville, or next best, at Topaz Lake. Coming in over Tioga, Lee Vining is also expensive, but (slightly) less than Bridgeport. From the south, Bishop is the best bet, but Mammoth is 40 - 50 cents per gallon less than Bridgeport. Coming over Sonora Pass, I guess you're out of luck unless you buy enough in Sonora to get over and back.
If you for some reason do find yourself in need of fuel in the Bridgeport area, Mono Village (at Upper Twin Lake) has fuel for 20-30 cents cheaper than in town.
While the fuel prices are a rip-off, other merchants in town are more reasonable, especially restaurants.
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