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DesertMud - Hiking, Mountain Biking, Pine Trees, Southern California
Hiking Mountain Biking Pine Trees Jun 16, 2024
Special Instructions
Wilderness Permit Req'd
White Mountain Ranger Station
798 North Main Street
Bishop, CA 93514

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You are here: Home : Hiking Last Updated on 09/21/2003    
Diff: Rating 9/10
Scenic: Rating 5/10
Tech: Rating 5/10
Split Mountain
         via Red Mountain Trail, North Ridge East
Location: Sierra Nevadas, Inyo National Forest, California
Region: Sierras - Big Pine
Wilderness: John Muir Wilderness
Total Distance: 16 Mi
Elevation Gain: 8,000 Ft
Season: June-Sept
Type: Out & Back
Start Elev: 6,570 Ft
Peak Elev: 14,058 Ft

Peak List Peak List
Peak Name Elevation
Split Mountain 14,042 Ft

Hike added by
on 09/20/2003
Driving Directions
Two ways:

Standard route:
Blue route on map below including the red portion from where it meets the red portion to the trailhead.

From Southern California, head up Hwy 395 north to Big Pine. Make a left on Crocker Rd. Please visit http://www.climber.org/DrivingDirections/redlake.html for detailed directions of this route. The instructions below from Dave Johnson are very good and accurate. I drove this route in the dark and depended on these instructions and the stars to get me to the trailhead. It took me about 2 hours to get to the trailhead from Hwy 395. If you take this route I highly suggest a 4WD with moderate to high clearance. At Mile 10 (see below), Dave mentions this being the roughest portion of the road. There is one downgrade section along this stretch that is loose, rocky and rutted more so than anything else on the entire road to the trailhead. To get down all you need is a high clearance vehicle. But to get back up, a 4WD is essential in my opinion. Anything else would be questionable of whether you could get back up or not. A 2WD full-size truck with high enough clearance may do fine if you load the bed with rock (pleanty available). I walked this section and observed where pleanty of large tires had been spinning... so to play it safe, take a 4WD. I drove a stock Chevy S-10, 2003, 2WD along this route and it was not too fun because the level of clearance needed is at minimum that provided by a small pickup (without preforming serious modifications to the road). There is no way that my truck would have made it back up this section... but by the time I realized this, it was too late to backup. Needless to say, I found and took the 2nd route below to get outta there. So what I have to say to anyone interested in taking this route is... 4WD highly recommended!! Don't take anything with less than about 8 inches of ground clearance.

One note about Dave's directions below: the signs he mentions at mile 9.7 and 11.4 are very small and just show an arrow pointing the direction to go. At mile 11.4 the arrow points the way you will be going when you return.

-- Begin Dave's Directions --

Source: Dave Johnson, 9/1999

This was my first trip to the Red Lake trailhead. I found it to be fairly easy and straightforward. The rangers at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop grossly exaggerated the road condition. We did the trip in a Ford Explorer, never using 4WD. The only other car at the trailhead was a Honda Accord! They went slow and used some 4x8's to bridge gaps. I wouldn't recommend this, but any vehicle with high clearance should be able to make it with few problems. Stream crossings could be more difficult in the early season, however. There is a creek crossing with a 12" pipe across it that we almost bottomed out on. I found Steve Eckert's 1999 description of the road to be very accurate. I'd allow 1 hour for the drive from Big Pine. Here's my description of the road in:

Mile 0 - Crocker Rd. & Hwy.395. Take Crocker Rd. (paved) west from Big Pine.
Mile 2.6 - Left on McMurray Meadows Rd. (dirt). Take an immediate left and stay on the main dirt road as it curves to the southwest. Stay on the obvious, graded dirt road, avoiding side roads.
Mile 9.2 - McMurray Meadows. There will be a fenced area on your right as you curve south. Stay left as you leave the meadows.
Mile 9.7 - A small sign indicates you are on the road to the Red Lake trailhead. You soon come to two stream crossings.
Mile 10 - Just after the second stream, you come to a road on your left. Take this road, heading east (downhill) along Fuller Creek. This appears to take you in the wrong direction, but it is the correct road! This is the roughest section of the drive, which includes a stream crossing with a pipe running across it.
Mile 11.4 - Turn right (southwest) at another Red Lake trailhead sign
Mile 11.6 - Make a sharp turn over Tinehama Creek on a small bridge. You will soon see a range fence on your left with a farmhouse in the distance.
Mile 12.1 - Go right at another trailhead sign onto Rd. 10S01A. Stay on this road as it gradually climbs southwest, avoiding several side roads that go left.
Mile 14.2 - The road ends at a sign pointing left to the parking area and right to the trail. Go left a short distance to the Forest Service's Red Lake trailhead sign.

-- End Dave's Directions --

Alternative Route
Red route on the map below
I bailed out on this hike at Red Lake a few hours after getting there on Saturday because I was worried about being able to drive out and make it to work on Monday. My 2WD Chevy S-10 would not have made it back up the grade mentioned above without a tow. Because I had minimal clearance from the rocks on this stretch of road I was worried that a tow could damage my truck. The USGS topo map of the area shows many other roads in the area that appear to be more direct routes from Hwy 395 to the Red Lake parking area. Problem is, all but one of the routes is gated and locked private property with posted no trespassing. See the image below for the route I found. The route is as follows: from the trailhead parking head down the road a few hundred feet to the large sign on your left and make a right here. In maybe 100 yards or so there is a junction with a road to the right. Stay left here. Eventually the road you are on will deadend at another road at 90 degrees. On the opposite side of this road is a fence and gates with no trespassing signs. To the right, this road deadends. Make a left here and follow parallel with the fence, due north. Cross Tinemaha Creek (signed). When you come up the other side of the creek, there is a 3-way junction. The road to the right deadends in a couple hundred feet at private property. The road to your left takes you back along the standard route described above. Take the third option - straight on a very rocky road that first heads north along the fence, then turns with the fence and follows it due east. Take it easy and slow on this very rocky road. The rocks are mostly rounded but large and well seated in the ground. This road does not require 4WD as there is only a slight grade, but it does require high clearance. My Chevy S-10 pickup was about the minimum clearance that you could take on this road with some careful driving, it has about 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Continue along the fence toward the base of the hill in front of you. Stay off the sandy roads on your right. Continue following the rocky road to the base of the hill and then to the right around the west nose of the hill. At this point the road is graded dirt (not rocky!) and gets better as you head out. Follow this same road around the base of the hill saying off the roads to the right which head back up and deadend at private property. The road you are on eventually passes through the main mining area. Stay on the main road and follow it out, it is wide and graded. It eventaully becomes paved as the USGS map shows. Just past Tinemaha campground you will make a left on the paved road and follow it to it's end at Fish Springs road. Make a right here and go a short distance back to Hwy 395. You are now a few miles south of Big Pine.
Alternative route directions to get to trailhead (reverse of above).
From Southern California, take Hwy 395 north to a few miles south of Big Pine. Make a left at the first sign to Fish Springs road. In a few hundred yards, make a left onto Tinemaha road. Follow it to Tinemaha campground. Make a right to get to the campground and continue on the road through the campground. Stay straight on the same road. It will eventually become a nice unpaved graded road. Make a right at the entrance to the mine. Follow the main road around the mine. At the west end of the base of the hill, turn onto the rocky road, that runs parallel with the fence in the distance. Follow this road around the fenced area as it eventually turns to the south. Shortly thereafter will be a 3-way junction, go straight. This road will shortly drop to Tinemaha creek and back up with a tight turn involved. Continue due south on thie road to a junction to the right (left is gated private property and straight is gated private property. Make the right and stay on the main road, avoiding the many side roads that head to the left. At the next main junction is a large sign that says Red Mountain Trailhead to the right, Parking to the left. Make the left and park near the large Forest Service Red Mountain sign.

The main route took me about 2 hours from Hwy 395 in the dark. Taking the alternate route out got me back to the highway in about 55 minutes (during daylight). Both routes require moderate to high clearance due to large firmly planted rocks and some large rock/rutted areas. 4WD is highly suggested for an exit via the standard route. All other routes do not require 4WD but do require at lease about 8 inches of ground clearance.
From the parking area head up the road to the trail which takes off from the road near a small creek. The trail is fairly easy to follow for the bulk of the hike to Red Lake. Anyone with some hiking experience should be able to say on the trail. Coming back I noticed a few side trails that I did not notice going up. One was just below Red Lake on the decent near the creek. The trail here follows a tiny creek down, not a branch to the right with placed logs indicating it is the wrong way. Further down there is another spot that you will need to look out for. The trail heads down a fairly steep loose portion and then makes a 90 degree turn to the left across a small dry wash, but another trail continues downhill. Make the left here.
I didn't think much of this area. I wouldn't go back unless I just wanted to do all the 14ers. Most of the hike to Red Lake is deserty. At Red Lake there are sparse stunted trees... not much shade. Just above Red Lake all the trees disappear.

I did not complete this hike. I intended to but because I was worried about how long it would take to get out I pack up to Red Lake, set up camp, tore it down a few hours later and headed down at 3:45pm. Got back to my truck at 5:45pm and back to the highway at 6:40pm. I was back to the highway before dark. That was a relief.
Trail Condition
A good portion of the trail to Red Lake is steep. There are some steep stretches that are loose sand/rock and make things difficult with a heavy pack. Near the streams, the trail has overhanging branches that make for minor ducking/manuvering. You should have a map and know how to use it if you do this hike.
Forest Details
Desert scrub most of the way to Red Lake. A few stunted trees at Red Lake, nothing above that.
Some dikes are visible in the mountains south of Red Lake.
Notes about this hike report
It took about 4 hours to get to Red Lake from the parking area going at a relaxed pace.

The only reason I'd go back would be to complete all the 14'ers. This is not the most scenic hike and shade is extremely limited.
Additional Elevation & Distance Information
Red Lake is at 10,459 feet.
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