Luba Leef and I spent a month, mid-July to mid-August of this year, in the Sierras. We stayed in our trailer in Mammoth Lakes and sought out only climbs that we could do in a day, that were non-technical, and that had some aesthetic appeal. We restricted our choices to peaks accessible between South Lake and Twin Lakes to the north. I’d like to share with you only things that I find lacking in the “standard” sources, e.g. Secor, Summitpost, namely, was the route worthwhile, pleasurable, or the opposite? Were there any tricks that I had to discover the hard way? First, several caveats.
Nothing, with only a few exceptions, is easy in the Sierras. Route finding can be tough. Lots of class 2 is really very steep, very loose/unstable slope. Class 3 can range from Class 2-4. Before August 1st, generally you should have an ice axe, maybe crampons, and know how to use them, though this depends upon the exposure of the slope and the previous year's snowfall. Have a realistic turnaround time and respect it; these routes can be quite long for a day if any problem arises. The Sierras generally can be navigated with map and compass; in fact, I forgot my GPS and didn’t miss it. Midsummer weather is often nice, often without rain or electricity, but always be on the lookout. The Sierras are exquisitely beautiful. Enjoy.
I’ve arranged the peaks in groupings as follow: must-do, OK, not recommended, and ones to consider but not climbed by me. I’ve not included peaks done in the past for fear that information may not be up-to-date. Remember, this is a subjective listing. I’ll not provide basic information readily available in standard sources.
1. Basin Mountain, 13240’. Prominent from Hwy 395, very scenic, fairly easy to follow, but long at 14 miles round trip and 5240 elevation gain. Be sure to drive all the way up the road to the metal gate; to pass lower Horton Lake at the old mining buildings, across the outlet end on an obscure log bridge; to pass BOTH little lakes above (do not attempt to climb the slabs with the snow couloir running down the middle unless you’re prepared for Class 5;) stay a bit right as you rise above 2nd lake to summit on good boulders, moving leftward gradually near the top to the true summit, which has pleasant class 3 slabs just below it. Descend rapidly to 2nd lake via loose scree slope to north.
2. Bloody Mountain, 12544’. Prominent red ridge/peak rising above Mammoth Basin to the South. It’s one of the few significant peaks that has trail all the way to the top, yet it’s still Class 2 and can be quite steep/exposed. The area is quite scenic. Main problem is the drive up to trailhead and finding the trailhead. The Laurel Creek road is very bad with lots of large boulders (Class 3+) clearly requiring high clearance and 4WD. I was able to make it in my Xterra but it was obnoxious. Yet, if you park at the bottom the distance is considerable and vertical over 5000’. The trailhead is a periodically-cairned obscure trail, unmarked otherwise, about ¼ mile below the end of the road. Forget bagging Laurel Peak from the common saddle as slope is very steep and loose.
3. Mount Conness, 12590’. Via East Ridge from Sawmill Campground, an absolute delight, quite short if done directly, scenic, with a classic, exposed summit ridge, but only low Class 3. Finding the trail is a major problem. After passing about ½ mile through the campground, the trail is washed out, unmarked. Look for a broad single log bridge on the left. Be sure to climb through the prominent cascade, then directly ascend- traverse the broad basin to the “notch.” Too early in the year, this bowl has snow requiring ice axe; also, a serious cornice may block the ascent to the plateau below the summit ridge, so best done late August or later.
Looking down a south gully from Conness ridge
4. Mount Dade, 13600’. A gem and the least intimidating of its siblings (Abbott and Mills) and only Class 2 if hit right. It has a great summit. Best approach is via Treasure Lakes. Just past Long Lake, ascend the North end of a large grey ridge forming up, proceed across to South keeping right of ridge top, dropping to the lakes when seen. Cross NE lake on right side then SW lake on right side, angle upwards to slopes right of Hourglass Couloir, and climb through a Class 2 gully to high saddle above; or else, climb the hourglass if snow is good.
5. Mount Dana, 13057’. A superb, scenic Class 1+ trail hike with a very alpine feel. Trailhead is obscure, directly behind the entrance station at Tioga Pass, but trail is easy to follow. Do late season if you wish to avoid snow but could be a great snowshoe route.
6. Mount Goode, 13085’. Very scenic approach to a dramatic summit. it is straightforward yet requiring some route-finding once you leave trail. It's basically class 2, but due to snow on the west slope approach greatly limiting options, it was class 3. The summit block is also class 3.
Mt. Goode from north end of Long Lake
7. Mount Lamarck, 13417’. Very scenic approach, albeit a bit confusing. This is an important portal to the Evolution Basin (through the col) by shortest route. The crux is passing the Lamarck Lakes. You cross the creek only once right to left, below the outlet of lower lake, then remain in a corridor left of the lower and part of upper lakes. The trail is obscured by landslides in places. Keep aiming for the huge 750’ ridge rising to the south of upper lake. After ascending this, you’re in the hanging valley that leads to top. Note that the summit is not the high point!
8. Matterhorn Peak, 12279’. Extremely dramatic pinnacled summit visible from quite far away. The surrounding landscape is stark and rugged. The route is long and can be confusing including finding the trail from the campground. But beyond, there is really trail all the way up Horse Creek to the small lake at approximately 9820’ if you follow the cairns carefully. Passing this lake is critical for orientation. Ascent above is straightforward keeping to left and above the West Fork of Horse Creek until just below the couloir east of summit. Being a north approach, expect snow unless done very late in season. The east couloir is very steep, very unstable and thus dangerous, especially for groups over two people, or for the inexperienced. It’s hard to protect. Summit block is a real treat but requires some route finding if cairns not in place; it’s class 3.
Matterhorn summit pinnacle from the north
9. Mount Morgan, 13748’. One of the big guys, it has to be done because it’s there, however reasonable routes are limited in number on basis of distance and difficulty. A north approach up from Francis Lake is nice, class 2. From this lake sweep widely to right and up a broad drainage then back to left to gain a wonderful ridge that ascends the middle of the north canyon meeting the western north ridge high up. Take this to top. You could also traverse the western north ridge from its origin but this is a considerable amount of Class 2 and 3 scrambling, pleasant, but very exhausting.
Mt. Morgan from west end of the north ridge
10. Mount Morrison, 12268’. This is one of the most dramatic crags in the Sierras as it hovers over Convict Lake. Though many routes are possible, the east slope is easiest and quite pleasant…but not easy. The initial slope after parking at the south side of the lake is a miserable chaparral slog. I’m told you can actually drive up to top of this slope, which would help. The hike up to the tarn marking the point of ascent of the east slope requires minor route finding. The key to starting up the east slope is to head up a loose-looking wide gully on a usage trail. It’s not too loose, passing efficiently on the right side of broken outcrops, taking you ½ way up to the top, to just below a broad rocky upper face with dominant gully higher up. Follow trail and cairns closely as it’s not a clear route, most being class 2 but loose and exposed. The summit is great, off to the right.
11. Patricia Peak, 11962’. A sweet shorter hike, seldom done. From Rock Creek Rd., the trailhead is unmarked and uncairned. It is directly across the road from the entrance drive to Rock Creek Lodge (not Resort, which is further south). The trail (toward Hilton Lakes) deposits you directly at the north ridge. Stay on the crest of this broad ridge for a pleasant class 3 experience on high quality granitic boulders to the northeast of 3 summits. The descent directly off south summit possible but messy.
12. Pyramid Peak, 12866’. An appealing pyramidal mass sitting, unfortunately, in the shadow of giants, (Bear Creek Spire, Dade etc.) it is seldom done but offers a very pleasant Class 2-3 experience. Approach as for Treasure Lakes, leaving the trail for the large grey ridge, which you can follow all the way up to the base of Pyramids’ north ridge. Higher on ridge, it gets a bit too involved, so simply ascend/traverse on the right side, below ridge, until level of summit.
Pyramid Peak from the north
13. Mount Starr, 12835’. Another underrated gem, done via the east slope, offers another short but classic class 2 climbing route. Leave the (as of this writing unmarked!) Mono Pass Trail only 5-6 minutes up onto the 1st, unmarked but well-defined trail on the right. Look up and observe the progressively shrinking cliff band below summit ridge as you move to right. Ascend between the end of this band and a small, broad triangular outcrop. Route-find the most efficient way up on this loose but not overly steep slope with lots of boulders, clusters of trees. From the broad summit ridge above, it’s a simple scramble westward to top. Descend via Mono Pass for a scenic loop hike.
14. Mount Tom, 13652’. The 800 lbs gorilla of the Sierras, it’s huge, intimidating and offers no simple way up, but it must be done by any self-respecting peakbagger. The north ridge route is simply too much for the average mortal to tackle in one day and is very unpleasantly loose/steep for 1st 2000-3000 feet. The route via Horton Lake/Tungstar Mine is straightforward, mostly on well-defined old mining road, but final 2000’ above the mine is obnoxiously steep and unstable and can be a bit dangerous. Elderberry Canyon route is probably nicest overall but involves some route finding challenges in lower portion and is still quite long. ( I never completed the last segment of this route up the north summit ridge due to extreme winds but believe its OK.)
Mt. Tom, southwest ridge
Luba on Mt. Tom summit, looking north
1. Carson Peak, 10909’. Though not too tall, it’s a very striking presence over June Lake. An interesting but challenging class 2 route is via Fern Lake. Ascend from the lakes’ northwest corner onto an ill-defined ramp SSW until you hit a striking 6-trunked fir 500’ above. Then route-find straight up (leaving cairns as needed) to the broad, flat summit plateau. As you move up this plateau, keep left to avoid a false summit. The views are magnificent.
2. Cloudripper, 13525’. This intimidating-looking crag from the west on a very rugged class 3+ ridge system, is a gratifying goal. Done from the west, the approach trail past the Chocolate Lakes is confusing. There are two west gullies; do the righthand one. The upper section, after you branch into a right fork, is steep, loose, and a bit confusing. Near the top, move left below a large wall to a class 2+ boulder slope, then pop up to summit ridge through a narrow notch; then leftward along pleasant class 2 bouldery ridge to top. This is a committing climb that seemed to drain us!
Gully of Cloudripper
Cloudripper from the west
3. Hurd Peak, 12237’. It is a dramatic and imposing feature above South Lake. Perhaps the shortest and easiest route is via the east face where there are three dominant gullies. The middle one is best overall and takes you to the true summit, the southern of three pinnacles. It’s easiest to leave the trail at the north end of Long Lake heading for grey slabs at NE corner of mountain, initially on usage trail that skirts the irregular shoreline on the west side. Finding the correct gully via this approach can be confusing; one might want to hike further south on the trail to find a good landmark (we used a snow patch). Also confusing is that the middle gully appears to end abruptly shortly after it starts! Climb around this obstruction and all will be clear.
Hurd Peak from South Lake
4. Rosie Finch, 12744’. Despite a cute name, it’s not such a cute peak, but worthwhile in view of its location in the Little Lakes basin. The class 3 ascent up the east Ridge was problematic as there really is no east ridge until the very top, and there it is class 4-5, too rugged to climb. We picked our way up the east slopes on rock ribs, then did a long, ugly traverse leftward below the summit ridge until we could break through to the top. The summit, though seldom visited, was quite pleasant. The class 2 east slope/bowl route was initially very steep/loose/unstable, then it became straightforward, but was a very long and somewhat tiring traverse back to the Morgan Pass trail. I’m told that the class 4 north ridge route is pleasant, solid, and, since it indeed looks reasonable, would recommend a try.
1. Reversed Peak, 9481’. From the west, it is hopelessly steep and loose. From the south and east, where there is a pleasant trail system, it's hard to find from June Lake, and it’s extremely brushy. Besides, it ain’t much!
2. Mount Emerson, 13225’. A real disappointment, via the class 3 SE gully to SE ridge. The hike up to start of gully is pleasant. From there it was class 4 and 5 pitches on wet, unstable rock. After 400-500 feet, we bailed via three rappels!
3. The following peaks, upon direct inspection from adjacent vantage points, appeared like dreadfully uninteresting slogs: Huntington, Stanford, Broken Finger, Monodome, and Lee Vining.
1. Crystal Crag, near Mammoth Lakes
MT. MORIAH & SCHELL TRAVERSE
Jen and Jose en route to Mt. Moriah following the trail through the aspens
A dramatic rock formation along the trail
Jake posing on top of shale-like cliff
Jake on the Table, a huge plateau at 11,000' with Mt. Moriah in the background
Jose, Jen, and Jake on Mt. Moriah
Looking down on part of the Table from the summit
Jose and Jake taking a break out of the wind just below S. Schell
View back to S. Schell, with Henry just visible descending
Joel on mighty Taft Peak
On a hot weekday in Las Vegas four members of the club headed north to the Mt. Moriah Wilderness to climb Mt. Moriah which is one of the club’s 50 Classics. Joel, Jake, Jen and Jose made camp at 7000 feet near the cool breezes of Hampton Creek Thursday night. As the moon lit the campsite, all crawled into their sleeping bags for the 5:30 a.m. start the next day. Everyone awoke at 4:30 the next morning to get a quick breakfast and hit the trail.
The well-maintained trail follows Hampton Creek for about the first three miles as it gradually climbs 2000 feet. As the trail heads higher the group climbed to the top of The Table, a large flat area of sub-alpine tundra. As the crew continued up the shoulder of Moriah’s sub-peak the clouds started to build seemingly in a train-like formation from the summit of Wheeler Peak just over 20 miles to the south west . For one member Jen, this was a noteworthy climb because this was her fourth4th attempt on the summit, all previous attempts having been turned back due to weather. She was determined to not let that happen again.
At 11,600 feet, after going around the sub-peak that hides Moriah, everyone left the trail to head straight up to the small saddle between the sub-peak and Moriah; each of chose his or her own line of attack. At 10:50 that morning the first of the group obtained the summit at 12,072 feet. Everyone signed the register and hung out on top for about 15 minutes before getting the packs back on and heading down a scree slope down to the trail.
By 3 pm that afternoon the 4 J’s hung around camp replenishing their bodies with antioxidant-rich beer and wine and chatted about the adventure. As Jake washed his hands in the creek he looked over a couple of feet to his right and noticed a snake nicely coiled in the grass. We later learned that the rattlesnake was enjoying his day by the creek as well as we were. As the sun went down everyone retreated to their sleeping bags once again. Jen finally topped her weather ridden nemesis, Jake completed his first summit with the club and Joel and Jose had another box to check on their LVMC 50 Classic list.
A rattlesnake sharing our beautiful camping spot along Hampton Creek
The next day Joel, Jen, Jake and Jose slept in at camp as it was going to be a rest day. After slowly packing up camp Jen headed back to Vegas while Joel, Jake and Jose went to Ely to grab lunch at the Chinese buffet in Ely. The food was voted unanimously good by all in attendance.
After an early lunch the 3 headed to camp below the Schells in the Schell Creek Range. After some paved and off road driving the three arrived at the crème del la crème of campsites that included: a large area for parking, 2 picnic tables, many rounds of wood, a steel firepit, a large flattened area for tents, a swing in the trees, easy access to water, easy trailhead access, and to top it off a private outhouse! This outhouse was outstanding; it came with all the bells and whistles including an air freshener, fly tape and plentiful TP. We were thrilled!
Our luxurious camping spot on Berry Creek before hiking the Schells
Jake testing out the swing
Henry's freshly-caught dinner
After Joel and Jose set up a car shuttle ( the goal the next day was to hike up to S. Schell peak and traverse the ridge over to N. Schell) Henry the Mountain Man (will be addressed as HTMM further on) met the group hanging out at camp after doing some trout fishing in the nearby lakes. After some delightful conversation all went to bed for the early start the next day.
Well before the sun was up, the group of four were on the trail headed to S. Schell. After some nice, gradual hiking in lush aspen woods, the group reached the base of S. Schell where they were met with loose talus in sizes from small to large. After a bit of schlepping directly up the group made it up to S. Schell. At the peak the group stayed on the eastern side of the ridge because the western side was a bit breezy (severe understatement).
From the top of S. Schell the group split up. Joel, Jake & Jose were going to continue the 6 miles on to N. Schell and needed to make haste. HTMM had a bit more time on his hands as he was going to continue on to Mt. Taft (another major peak on this ridge) and then return to camp. The group of three tagged Mt. Taft and two other noted, but unnamed peaks on the ridge. Not only was there a battle of elevation gain and loss but the wind at this time was horrendous with gusts that may have amounted to over 60 mph. Atop a smaller peak on the ridge the group of three looked off into the distance at Taft and saw a figure making its way up. It was HTMM reaching his goal of the peak. We saw him summit and then continued onward towards our last peak, N. Schell.
There were many ups and downs on the ridge with multiple gain/losses of 400-600 ft. in between peaks. At long last, we came to the final push up to N. Schell and it seemed as if unbelievably, the wind had gotten worse. At last, after 10 miles, nearly 5700’ gain and fighting the wind to stay upright, Joel, Jake and Jose were at the top of N. Schell. A few photos at the top were taken before making the hasty retreat down the scree slopes out of the wind. Finally a long day was over. The three piled into the cached vehicle and headed to camp to pack up. Shortly after, HTMM made it into camp. Joel and Jose later logged into peakbagger.com to note their accomplishment after getting home from the long drive just to see a red dot turn green (join the free site, you’ll get addicted too).
Taking a break along the long crest of the Schells
Joel on N. Schell looking south as the wind howls
Jake and Joel loading up with protein from a pre-hike meal of 8-meat pizza
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