french spring trail flowers

Lonesome Miner Trail

I finished a solo tour of old mines in the Inyo mountain range of central California west of Death Valley. The “Lonesome Miner Trail” — what the late Wendell Moyer* called it — is 40-50 miles of rough, hard-to-follow disused trail involving somewhere near 17,000 vertical feet of elevation gain/loss.

Because I didn’t have shuttles arranged, I added about 50 bonus miles (and 14k more vertical feet) to the route: I walked thru Death Valley to the Hunter Cyn trailhead. That was 18 miles with 7.5 liters of water on my back, only to experience torrential rain the first night in San Lucas Canyon. Ugh! I didn’t have to carry all that water! To avoid what was pretty heavy snow on steep terrain, I hiked out the French Spring trail March 28 and then back in May 1st. At the end of my hike, I walked out the Pat Keyes Trail and then all the way to highway 395 to hitch back to Lone Pine.

Only counting the actual 30 miles of its length, the Lonesome Miner Trail is by far the most difficult “trail” I’ve hiked, definitely tougher mile-for-mile than the Hayduke and Sierra High Route and Lowest-to-Highest.

Why so tough? Elevation changes! As soon as it drops 2000-3000 feet, it goes right back up 2000-3000′. Hikers must carry large amounts of water spring-to-spring in the radiant, sometimes sweltering heat of Death Valley. At times the unmaintained trail would vanish *poof* and I’d be left clamboring around piles or rock trying to aim at where I thought the trail would pick up again. Rinse, repeat. Concerns were cacti, rattlers, cyanide poisoning, and long plunges to my certain death. The total isolation, high risk, and exposure to 49er history frozen in time (and one surprise big Paiute camp with tremendous petroglyphs**) makes the Lonesome Miner Trail a treat one might love to hate.

Here’s a few photographs from spring 2017 2-section hike of the LMT. I’ve been up several times since to scout out things that struck my fancy in 2017. But these photos are all from my LMT hike in 2017.

March 2017

Old San Lucas canyon salt road, mostly a view of rocks and Death Valley geologySan Lucas Canyon

San Lucas Canyon was “on the way” along my 18-mile walk to the Hunter Canyon TH from highway 190. I was mesmerized by this remote gem. This canyon would be much like many other Death Valley Canyons except one thing. Incredibly, at one point it was economically advantageous to build a road up a 70-foot dryfall to cart up SALT (before the tram was built). Salt, not gold. Once the tram was functioning, the road stopped being used. This was last driven by a pair of drunk men in the 1960s. At this point it would be too dangerous to try to drive since slides have covered most the old road surface and threaten to slip more. I could hardly HIKE it, but its path is still clear… and incredibly steep and narrow. If you’re interested in seeing more, there are some great photos of San Lucas canyon over here. Curious about more information, read here, from the Waag brothers.

hunter canyon trail miner campIt’s a 5000′ climb out of the gate on the Lonesome Miner Trail south end. If you need to, you can stop here for the night.
a panorama of the inside of a very weathered old wood mining cabin, with some survival provisions and cots inside.An indoor pano of Bighorn cabin. It’s a quaint spot that probably no longer looks like this since the LMT has become more popular. It felt more like a clubhouse for the LMT creators. You can see a Wendell Moyer memorial posted on the wall at left.
6pm sunset at Bighorn cabin makes it very cold very quick!
snow on a trail with pinon trees and a view of a deep valley below

It’s not just that it was sorta COLD, but I was growing concerned about the high slope angles on trail and remaining snow/ice patches esp on the north faces. I decided to descend for a few weeks and wait for it to melt, then hike back up and continue. I came out over Forgotten Pass.

Cacti like this are common in the Inyo Range, but always fun to see. Exiting French Spring Trail (over Forgotten Pass).

May 2017

Flowers are blooming in the Inyo foothills and as it turns out, up high too!

colorful desert flowers with rocky canyon walls in backgroundThe base of French Spring Canyon

It takes me a day to get up over Forgotten Pass. I breakfast down at Frenchie’s then head up to Beveridge Canyon for the night. Luckily for me the trail to the pass just below the Beveridge cabin is impressive and mostly easy to follow due to the rock work. If you’re on it, you’ll KNOW you’re on it, and if you’re not on it, you’ll be sorta screwed cuz this is a steep climb!

I’ve been to the ghost town a few times and its wild how each time you find things you never saw before. I’d say part of that is because most the town has been swallowed in willow and rose.

It’s proper that a ghost town would have a ghost of an outhouse.

Beveridge Cabin is the most intact cabin on the LMT, probably because it’s the most remote. Gorgeous relic.

Inside of a very old, dimly lit and dusty historic mining cabin in California.
An entry from a Wendell Moyer memorial hike in 1996, and it looks like Edward Abbey was also here soon after. Bah humbug. (But really though, I agree, which is why I don’t share GPX of this route, and will point out that the available GPX files online are WRONG.)

I did not bring a rescue beacon, and read in one of the cabin journals how Marty Dickes, Ridgecrest BLM Wilderness Coordinator (as of 1994) slipped and broke her ankle on Keynot Peak in 1994, and had to bivy in a snowstorm for two days before being lifted out. I thought a little about that, and was more glad I made the decision to descend in March.

panorama of Saline Valley in DVNP from above.The panoramic views of Death Valley (Saline Valley) are breathtaking.
I wonder if these ruins are still in McElvoy Canyon? Last I heard even the stamp mill had been washed away!
quartz crystals found at an old gold mineMcElvoy Canyon – at least the man-made settlements and structures – has been decimated by two major flash floods since I visited. Who knows if piles of quartz crystals will still be sitting around the old camps?
How can you tell this is trail? Tip for hiking less-worn routes like the LMT: look for worn areas of soil, cut trees, and cairns. This photo shows all three. On an un-maintained steep trail like the LMT, always always always be ready for a switchback. Missed switchbacks are the #1 way to get lost out there.

OKAY I feel like this needs to be said: Just because I took this trail and OWNED IT while female, does NOT mean that it is easy to navigate, hike, and survive it. It means that I’m an experienced soloist and tough as nails. For perspective, I’m also the only female to solo thru hike the Hayduke Trail – and I did that twice. So please remember that when you plan your LMT hike. It’s not “easy because some girl hiked it.”


Check out my maps of the Lonesome Miner Trail. (Coming soon as of July 2023)!

* Wendell Moyer died happy above 20,000 feet in Chile after long mountaineering career. He helped scout and rebuild much of the LMT and the crew chose to adopt his lil’ moniker for the patchwork route. This route is sacred on so many levels, Wendell being near the core. His family owns property at the base of Hunter Canyon in Death Valley, and remains interested in this route.

** NOT TELLING WHERE. Other hikers I met in 2018 at Frenchie’s Cabin had just found a prayer stick in a small cave they spotted while hiking. They left it in place. All items found should be left in place so that others can enjoy them, too.