Mt. Tom is the immense, good-looking peak just west-northwest of Bishop. It is situated right on the eastern edge of the Sierra crest, allowing for a very large vertical relief. The Owens Valley, at the base of Mt. Tom, is a little over 4,000 feet, and the summit of Mt. Tom is nearly 14,000, for almost 10,000 feet of relief. Most routes allow some elevation gain before arrival at the trailhead/departure point. None of the recognized routes are technically difficult, most are class 2-3, but they are all strenuous and long. The views from the summit are memorable, and you are unlikely to see many tourists along the way. This peak does not get very many ascents, the summit register is sparsely signed.
This is one the few Sierra peaks that Norman Clyde is not credited with making the first ascent.
Mt. Tom is about 10 miles outside Bishop, California, and you should consult the individual route descriptions to decide how to access the peak. For the east to north side routes, access is via Pine Creek Road, a clearly marked turnoff from Highway 395 North. For the south side routes, leave Bishop on Highway 168 headed west. In about seven and one-half miles, you will see the Buttermilk Road on your right. Follow this road, which leads past the famous Buttermilk Boulders, until you reach a fork at 1.7 miles. Take the right fork, continue until mile 6.2, and again take the right fork. In a mile or so, you will find a nice shaded parking area, and the Horton Lakes Trailhead is another one-third mile or so. There are many side roads, if in doubt follow the most heavily traffic'd direction.
There are no permits required, and the Horton Lakes Trail is non-quota.
The mountain may be climbed in any month of the year. There are many good ski descents to be had, Elderberry Canyon being the most well-known. This is a fine, steep, spring skiing bonus.
Camping is available at the Horton Creek Campground and, as of May 23 2005, there is a fee of $5 per night with a maximum stay of 28 days in a calendar year. Prior to that date, the camping was free. There is no potable water at this campground. The campground is generally open from April 20 to November 1. Click here for additional info on the Horton Creek Campground. Primitive camping is also allowed at the trailheads listed above.
Mt. Tom was named after Thomas Clark, who claims to have been guided to the top by Indians, for the first known ascent of the peak, in the 1860s.
From Place Names of the Sierra Nevada, by Peter Browning
Elderberry Canyon began to be noticed when Stanley Lambert discovered tungsten deposits near the head of the canyon in 1940. In 1941, Lambert leased the property to Kenneth Irons, who hired a crew and built the 6-mile long trail up Elderberry Canyon. The trail switchbacked steeply up the canyon for a 4,600' gain. The trail was used to pack in the mining paraphenalia, and to remove (by mule) a few hundred tons of high grade ore in 1942 and 1943. By then, most of the ore body was mined out. In the early 1950s an attempt was made to build a road all the way up to the mine, and reached nearly 8,000' before the developers gave up. This road is still recognizable from the Owens Valley, it switchbacks up the next gully to the east of Elderberry Canyon.
From Mine in the Sky, by Joseph M. Kurtak