There are two reasonable starting points for the North Ridge route. The easiest to access is on Pine Creek Road. Get off Hwy 395 about 10 miles north of Bishop just south of the Sherwin Grade onto westbound Pine Creek Road. Drive this paved road for 5.5 miles until directly north of the north ridge of Mt Tom. At this point a lateral ridge that forms the south wall of Pine Creek Canyon joins the north ridge of Mt Tom.
The other starting point is also accessed by driving up Pine Creek Road. However, for this departure point, turn left off Pine Creek Road at 3 miles from Hwy 395 onto the first residential street in the town of Rovana. Drive 0.2 miles south until the street T’s into another road. Turn left and drive for about 0.1 mile until the junction with a dirt road that heads southwest toward Mt Tom. Take this road for 1.8 miles to another junction and turn right. Follow this road as far as you can. Regular passenger cars can easily make it about 0.5 miles. High-clearance 4WD can go an additional 0.25 miles.
The two starting points are at the same elevation and the routes from either will be the same distance. The advantages to starting on the dirt road are not having to cross Pine Creek, and the possibility of secluded camping at the hike’s starting point. The dirt road starting point also makes more sense if you want to make a loop hike by descending Elderberry Canyon.
From the Pine Creek Road starting point, cross the creek, pick your way through brush, and head towards the junction between Mt Tom’s north ridge and the lateral ridge paralleling Pine Creek.
From the dirt road starting point, follow the deteriorating road until it disappears, then pick your way through brush up the drainage, heading toward the junction between Mt Tom’s north ridge and the east-west ridge at the mouth of Pine Creek Canyon. You can either continue all the way to the junction of the ridges and begin the real climb on the north ridge proper, or take one of the long chutes on climber’s left that bring you to the north ridge higher up.
Routefinding on the rest of the route is straightforward- just stay on or near the top of the ridge until you reach the summit. It stays an easy class 2 scramble all the way. Be aware that the top 2600 feet of the route will probably take longer than the bottom 5100 feet. Two other factors to consider are that there is no water on the route once the snow melts, and the ridge is exposed to high winds and lightning. Try to climb when the forecast calls for low winds and no threat of thunderstorms.
Seriously consider doing the route as a dayhike. At first glance the mind rejects the possibility- it just looks too huge. But if you carefully consider the numbers, it is really not that unreasonable. From car to summit is only 5 miles and 7700 ft. If you can maintain a pace of just 0.6 mph and a climb rate of 960 ft/hour, you can summit in 8 hours. Allow a 1 mph hiking rate down, and you’ve gone car-to-car in 13 hours. Admittedly, a taxing day, but doable without resorting to flashlight in spring through fall, and definitely less work than hauling 50 lbs of gear, food and water for an overnighter.
When there is substantial snow on the route, crampons and ice axe can be reassuring. On warm, early spring days, snowshoes/skis will help reduce postholing. When the snow is gone, carry a lot of water.
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