Mount Mary Austin (13,051 ft) is one of a few mountains in the California Sierra Nevada named after a woman. Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934) wrote many books about the desert; her most well-known book is The Land of Little Rain (1903). She lived most of her life in Independence, California. In fact, her home is now a historical landmark in Independence.
Mt. Mary Austin is an easy access peak in the Southern Sierra Nevada. It is best approached via the Baxter Pass trailhead (same trailhead as used for Diamond Peak). From the Baxter Pass trailhead (6035 ft) to the summit of Mt Mary Austin it's approximately 6 miles with 7016 feet of elevation gain.
The trail ascends gradually and enters the canyon of North Fork of Oak Creek, following a tributary of Oak Creek on the north (right) side. Then, the trail crosses this small tributary at approx 6430 ft to the left (south side). It continues to the 2nd crossing (which is actually the 1st crossing of North Fork of Oak Creek) where the trail crosses south (left) again at 6760 ft. You will follow the creek on the south side 'til the 3rd and last creek crossing at 8400 ft. Now, you'll be on the north (right) side of the creek and ascend a flat ground choked with brush. Near Summit Meadow at 10,000 ft, there is a nice camp area where you are surrounded by pine trees.
Route: North Couloir: Class 2-3. This is an easily accessible training climb for the veteran and perfect for a beginner to learn on. It is best to do it as a snow climb in the spring. To get to the base (~ 10,300 ft) of the North Couloir of Mt Mary Austin from the 10,000 ft camp, proceed upwards to where you see on your left (looking south) a talus/scree field and the obvious large chute. The couloir is wide, perhaps as much as 100 feet or so, and it is about 30-35 degrees. It is not a straight couloir like the U-notch. It twists every 500 ft or so. It goes up for about 2200 ft. The North Couloir ends at a notch (elev: ~ 12,470 ft) just north of the actual true summit. So, after topping out at the notch, you still have a 20-minute walk to the true, south summit of Mt Mary Austin. You will see a couple of false summits on the way there. You know you have reached the top when you see the summit register on the southeast mound. The register is one of those green rectangular metal army boxes (by the way, the register needs a pen or pencil there as of April 5, 2003). To descend: either go down the North Couloir or descend northwest through exposed talus down into the Oak Creek drainage.
Baxter Pass Trailhead Approach: Coming from the south, take US 395 north to the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery turnoff (a few miles north past the town of Independence, CA). Turn left (west) onto a paved road to the Oak Creek campground. Past the campground, follow the dirt road (for about 3-4 miles) to the "Baxter Pass" trailhead at the end of the road. BTW, right at the trailhead there is a great campsite amongst a circle of oak trees as well as an open-air pit toilet.
If you are day hiking the peak, no permit is needed (as stated by the Inyo National Forest). However, overnight trips do require a wilderness permit. Permits can be obtained at the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station in Lone Pine, California (Phone: 760/876-6200). Ask for the "Baxter Pass" permit. Also, because of the restricted access due to Bighorn Sheep habitat, Mount Mary Austin can only be climbed from December 15 to July 1.
When To Climb
Can only be climbed from December 15 to July 1 due to Bighorn Sheep conservation. Winter climbs prepare for winter conditions (snowshoes, ice axe, crampons, shovel, avalanche beacon & probes, very warm clothing, etc). The best time to go is in early season in the spring time when the North Couloir is filled with snow.
Camping is allowed in the area and the mountain.
You can car camp a few miles below from the Baxter Pass trailhead at the Oak Creek campground (there is a fee; Elev = 5000 ft) or simply spent the night right at the Baxter Pass trailhead (Elev = 6035 ft). Did I mention there is an open-air pit toilet at the Baxter Pass trailhead.
Camping on the mountain: there is a small but nice camp area close to the trail at ~ 10,000 ft near the Summit Meadow area.
Contact the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station in Lone Pine, California at (760) 876-6200.
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