Desolation Six Summits Loop

The Desolation Wilderness is the most rugged region near Lake Tahoe with the star attraction being Lake Aloha set amidst the granite slopes of the Crystal Range. Since it’s relatively accessible to Lake Tahoe, it is the most visited wilderness area in the United States per square foot. While there is no shortage of people on the trails on a busy summer weekend, I still found plenty of solitude in this granite playground during two visits to the Desolation this summer. In this first post I’ll cover the adventure run in July which entailed an aesthetic ridge route climbing the six highest summits in the Desolation Wilderness over 11h42m roundtrip out of the Mount Ralston Trailhead. The next post recaps a scenic and logical loop entirely on trails out of Bayview near gorgeous Emerald Bay done in late August. Complete photo album of the six summits loop here.

When looking at the map, a logical route links up the highest points in the Crystal Range from Pyramid Peak to Mount Agassiz to Mount Price. Jacks Peak and Dicks Peak are separated by the relatively low Mosquito Pass but they are close in proximity to each other. After descending to Dicks Pass from Dicks Peak, one can traverse a high ridge to Mount Tallac making for an aesthetic high route linking the six highest points of the Desolation Wilderness that is virtually all off-trail. I parked the car at the Ralston Peak trailhead and ran down Highway 50 to the Rocky Canyon use path. This path is steep and gains altitude efficiently reaching the meadow below Pyramid Peak quickly. The path continues up the last few hundred feet below the summit where there is some large boulder hoping. After enjoying the view from Pyramid and continued down the north slope and traversed over to a small section of rock scrambling. Continuing along the ridge and ascended a couple minor high points and then found myself on the slopes below Mount Agassiz. Mount Agassiz has an interesting summit pinnacle perched above Lake Aloha. From Agassiz, Mount Price is only a few minutes away running along easy dirt slopes. The descent from Mount Price to Mosquito Pass entails some downclimbing to a notch and then a long stretch of walking along slabs. The views of Lake Aloha from here are stupendous, with colors ranging from a deep azure in the deeper portions to turquoise. Eventually down at Mosquito Pass I crossed right over and began the ascent up Jacks Peak. It is on this ascent that that I found the most stunning views of Lake Aloha and the Crystal Range. Moving higher up the slopes, the birds eye view of the Aloha region was magnificent.

Unfortunately, the character of the rock changes dramatically north and east of Mosquito Pass. Instead of solid granite, the rock becomes progressively more fractured and loose. This makes for more arduous travel, but eventually I made it to the summit of Jacks Peak. From Jacks, Dicks Peak looks like a massive rubble pile (which it basically is). Fortunately, it doesn’t take as long as it looks to traverse between the two peaks. From Dicks Peak it was surprisingly time consuming to reach Dicks Pass and the high ridge between Dicks Pass and Mount Tallac proved even more time consuming. While this ridge starts out easy, it quickly transitions to loose shale. This stretch is not without its rewards as there are great views of Lake Tahoe on one side and Gilmore Lake on the other. I finally connected with the Mount Tallac and continued up the final slopes to the summit. I hadn’t seen many people to this point, but the renowned summit of Tallac had dozens of hikers enjoying the spectacular vista of Lake Tahoe. From this point to the finish was entirely on trail including a beautiful run along the shores of Lake Aloha. However, on the climb towards Ralston Peak I became dehydrated with no water available (note: fill up water before departing Lake Aloha).  I was happy to crest the ridge and begin the long descent to the Ralston Peak parking area, reaching the trailhead 11h42m after setting out.  Complete photo album of the six summits loop here.

Along the Ralston Peak trail I was not far from the summit of Ralston Peak, which would make for a seven summit day, but at 9,200 feet it’s substantially than the six primary summits of this route in both elevation and stature. Thus, I left Ralston for the next time I do this loop. Moreover, route knowledge will definitely allow me to go substantially faster on on the other parts the next time I attempt this loop. One major difference would be descending from Dicks Pass to Gilmore Lake on the Tahoe Rim Trail and then climbing back up to Mount Tallac. While this would diminish the high ridge nature of the route, it would allow for substantial time savings and perhaps completion below 10 hours. It is worth noting that water is scarce on the route, particularly later in the season, so plan accordingly.

Complete photo album of the six summits loop here.

Suiattle Crest 50 Mile 2012

I returned to repeat the Suiattle Crest 50 mile adventure run on August 20th. The original run was done on August 4, 2009 in 13h37m. Last week I completed it in 11h44m (1h53m faster). This complete loop, entailing six passes, covers most of the highlights in this region of the Glacier Peak Wilderness including a breathtaking view from Little Giant Pass, a tour through wild Napeequa Valley, 360 vistas from the High Pass area, verdant wildflower meadows, stunning Lyman Lakes, and Spider Gap. It’s quintessential North Cascades scenery – well worth a revisit after three years. With GPS, I found that total elevation gain is actually higher (near 14,000 ft), but distance is a couple miles short of 50 miles. The route/trails are in essentially the same condition as three years ago: Napeequa valley is still quite brushy (and wet in the morning) and the climb up to High Pass is nicely hidden in the brush (tip: the use path starts at the far end of the meadow near the cascading stream and it’s worth spending the time to find it since the slide alder is unsavory in this area. It’s sad to note the recession of the Lyman Glacier, which is essentially now a remnant ice patch. Despite relatively healthy snowpacks the last couple years, the glacier has continued to lose thickness appearing noticeably smaller than my visit in 2009 with the terminus even receding from the last glacial lake. It seems only a matter of time before the permanent ice vanishes entirely. The receding glaciers in the Cascades are clear signals of global warming. Splits, video and some photos below with the compete album here.

Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time (difference 2012 vs. 2009)
Little Giant TH (2,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 06:40
Little Giant Pass (6,409 ft) : 1:18:36 / 1:18:36 / 07:59 (-17)
High Pass (6,876 ft) : 4:30:18 / 3:11:41 / 11:10 (-1:05)
Buck Creek Pass (5,796 ft) : 5:39:01 / 1:08:46 / 12:19 (-1:04)
Cloudy Pass (6,420 ft) : 8:10:20 / 2:31:19 / 14:50 (-1:08)
Spider Gap (7,040 ft) : 9:32:11 / 1:21:50 / 16:12 (-1:28)
Phelps Creek TH (3,500 ft) : 11:01:50 / 1:29:38 / 17:42 (-1:41)
Little Giant TH (2,600 ft) : 11:44:19 / 42:29 / 18:24 (-1:53)


  • La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0
  • First Endurance EFS Fruit Punch Drink Mix
  • Injinji Midweight Performance Toesocks
  • Ultimate Direction Wasp Pack
  • Rudy Project sunglasses
  • Black Diamond Z-Poles

Ptarmigan Traverse FKT 2012

Uli Steidl and I completed the Ptarmigan Traverse in 12h17m a new FKT. It has been three years since I last enjoyed the Ptarmigan Traverse so it was time to come back to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Cascades and refresh the prior FKT, which was set by Colin Abercrombie and me on July 28, 2009 (14h36m). This time I was joined by distance running legend Uli Steidl who has innumerable running victories and accolades to his name from road marathons to mountain running to ultras. Conditions were very similar to 2009 with nearly identical weather (hottest days of the summer). Prior to this run I figured somewhere in the 12 hour range was possible and we were able to hit that target finishing the traverse in 12:17. We started at the Cascade Pass trailhead at 4:49 am and finished at Downey Creek Bridge at 5:06 pm. Complete photo album here.

Overall, the 2h19m improvement from the 2009 time was due to a consistently faster effort throughout the traverse (see comparison below). I attribute this to more route experience and dialing in on nutrition and hydration, which helped keep energy levels high especially in the second half of the traverse. Bachlor Creek was as lovely (brushy) as ever although we avoided making any time consuming errors in the brush and the Downey Creek Trail felt as long as I had remembered. The 8.5 mile jog along the Suiattle River Road seemed especially needless because there were five forest service vehicles parked at the Downey Creek Bridge. In fact, the closed portion of the road is in better shape than the open part! It seemed like they were prepping the road, perhaps for opening? An open road will inevitably result in an opportunity to better time, all else equal, because no matter what the thought of 8.5 mile further prevents forces you to keep a little bit reserved in the tank.

Comparison: 2012 / 2009 / 2008 (difference 2012 to 2009)
Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 0
Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 43 / 48 / 55 (- 5)
Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 1:39 / 1:50 / 2:13 (- 11)
Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 3:26 / 3:40 / 5:00 (- 14)
Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 4:10 / 4:26 / 6:20 (- 16)
White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 6:25 / 7:11 / 9:51 (- 46)
Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 7:52 / 8:54 / 11:55 (- 1:02)
Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 8:55 / 10:16 / 13:42 (- 1:21)
Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 10:51 / 12:48 / 16:30 (- 1:57)
Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 12:17 / 14:36 / 18:10 (- 2:19)

Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time
Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 04:49
Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 43:10 / 43:10 / 05:32
Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 1:38:34 / 55:24 / 06:27
Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 3:25:37 / 1:47:02 / 08:14
Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 4:10:17 / 44:40 / 08:59
White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 6:24:54 / 2:14:36 / 11:14
Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 7:52:01 / 1:27:07 / 12:41
Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 8:54:49 / 1:02:47 / 13:44
Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 10:51:23 / 1:56:34 / 15:40
Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 12:17:15 / 1:25:51 / 17:06

Complete photo album here.

Big Bird, Deadman Canyon & the Tablelands

The Great Western Divide region of the Southern High Sierra is one of my favorite spots in the entire range. On this day I scoped out a spectacular figure-8 loop (see google maps overlay at the bottom of this post) out of Wolverton in Sequoia National Park that is mostly off-trail and stays high above the tree line nearly the entire way. The eastern loop of the figure-8 is the more challenging portion with big elevation changes and slab scrambling while the western loop is easy, open cross-country terrain. The start of the route features a quick ascent to the granite high country of the aptly named Tablelands via the Pear Lake Trail and up through pleasant cross country travel to Tableland Meadows.  Once at high pass above Big Bird Lake I climbed up and over Big Bird Peak with fantastic views of the Great Western Divide and the Tablelands across to the Alta Peak massif. From Big Bird Peak the route traversed above Big Bird Lake to an unnamed summit with stupendous views down to shimmering Big Bird Lake below and precipitous cliffs on the east side down to Deadman Canyon. A quick trip from this summit brought me to Horn Col and then a traverse to Elizabeth Pass where I climbed a small summit along the ridge to enjoy more fantastic views of the Great Western Divide.

From Elizabeth Pass I descended down and into wild and remote Deadman Canyon to near Ranger Meadows. The broad upper basin is separated from the canyon by a headwall with a large waterfall on a high angle granite slab. The trail through Deadman Canyon is very faint in spots manifesting the lack of travel through this area which is 25 miles from the nearest road. I left the Deadman Canyon path and scrambled up to gorgeous Big Bird Lake, which is indeed relatively big for an alpine lake and is surrounded by granite cliffs in a wild setting. After enjoying the amazing setting at Bird Bird Lake, I ascended through slabs back up to the shallow pass near Big Bird Peak. From there, I crossed the Tablelands along its crest passing by numerous small tarns and ultimately the stunning Moose Lake perfectly framed with a backdrop of the Great Western Divide. The final portion entailed ascending all four high points of the Alta Peak massif. I especially enjoyed the stately Southern Foxtail Pines growing high on the slopes of Alta. Once I was on top of the primary Alta Peak summit (where the trail goes) it was a 7 mile trail run back to Wolverton.  There was amazing clarity for mid-June with the Central Valley clearly visible over 10,000 feet below.Total time for the ~40 mile route was 13:36 roundtrip. There was amazing clarity for mid-June with the Central Valley clearly visible over 10,000 feet below. Some of my favorite photos are below with many more here.

Many more photos in the complete album here.


2012 Adventure Run Ideas – Cascades

The North Cascades of Washington state are a special place. These mountains were the inception of my adventure running in 2006. While I do many more trips in the High Sierra these days, I always look forward to a trip up to WA to visit some of my favorite mountains. The North Cascades have a unique character as glistening white glaciers beneath rugged summit pinnacles juxtapose deep green valleys choked with brush and forest. Here are a few ideas for this year:

  • Isolation Traverse: The traverse from Snowfield Peak to Eldorado Peak is the missing link to two areas that I have visited many times. I’m especially interested in views of the immense McAllister Glacier icefall and an up-close view of Backbone ridge. 
  • Pickets Westside: From Hannegan Pass to Diablo Lake, this route through the Pickets is even more remote and rugged than 2010′s Luna Cirque Traverse and passes underneath the towering walls of the Southern Picket “fence.” The terrain is arduous and challenging so the Westside is only traversed a couple times a year, if at all. Intense summit names like Challenger, Fury, Terror, Crooked Thumb, and Phantom manifest the difficulty of reaching this fabled region and there is virtually no evidence of human impact.
  • Mount Redoubt & Mount Spickard: The Redoubt region is located near the Canadian border and it’s been a long time since I’ve visited this highly scenic corner of the North Cascades. It would be nice to do the Redoubt High Route to Whatcom Pass with stupendous views of the Picket Range. 
  • Luna Peak: The highest point in the Picket Range, Luna Peak also offers the best view with its eastern position offset from the crest of the Northern and Southern Picket Range. The view from the summit at sunrise is pictured below and I would like to return to watch another sunrise from its summit. Plus, it’s been a couple years since I’ve had the honor of battling the Access Creek bushwhack!
  • Mount Logan: I have climbed Mount Logan twice, but the view from the summit of the Eldorado Ice Cap and Boston Glacier is breathtaking. This mountain is one of the more remote summit in the range, but lends itself to running with a long approach on trail.
  • Mount Formidable: A summit along the Ptarmigan Traverse that I climbed in 2005. This summit provides amazing views in all directions and the approach is equally scenic.
  • Wonderland Trail: The 94 mile loop around Mount Rainier has been on my mind for a few years. This outing entails a lot of planning and preparation so I’m not sure it will get done this year, but we’ll see if the opportunity presents itself.
Past adventure run ideas for the Cascades: 

Photo Locations:

  1. Dome Peak from White Rock Lakes, 2008
  2. The Southern Pickets from the summit of Luna Peak, 2005
  3. View from Austera Peak, 2011
  4. Mount Challenger and Whatcom Peak reflect in Tapto Lakes, 2005
  5. Ridge to Mount Fury, 2008
  6. View of the Eldorado Ice Cap from the summit of Forbidden Peak, 2006
  7. Dana Glacier, 2008
  8. View of Boston Glacier from the summit of Mount Logan, 2006
  9. View of the Dakobed Range from near High Pass, 2009
  10. Southern Pickets from the summit of West McMillan Spire, 2011

2012 Adventure Run Ideas – High Sierra

I have been fortunate enough to explore some amazing spots in the High Sierra over the last few years, but the outstanding scenery in the “range of light” keeps me coming back for more. Virtually every trip features a stunning combination of rugged granite peaks, placid alpine lakes and colorful meadows in an authentic wilderness setting. The High Sierras are a special place. Following are some adventure run ideas for next summer:

  • Glacier Ridge and Big Wet Meadow: One of the most remote spots in the entire range. In fact, just to reach Big West Meadows to get a glimpse of the Whaleback and Glacier Ridge requires a 40 mile round trip hike/run with substantial elevation gain and loss in both directions. However, the sheer granite cliffs rising above the picturesque meadows is simply magical. Last year I climbed the Whaleback itself but this time I’d like to ascend Glacier Ridge, the high point across the valley to the West. Glacier Ridge is a striking aiguille rising from an immense granite ridgeline. Panoramic views from the top include the Great Western Divide and Kaweah Range. 
  • Mount Winchell: A member of the Palisades subrange, the most alpine region in the High Sierra. I’ve heard the class three route up the summit is lots of fun and a trip up the North Fork Big Pine drainage is always a pleasure.
  • Ritter & Banner: Last climbed in 2007, it has been awhile since I have visited these two summits that form the centerpiece of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This time I intend to make a large loop out of Agnew Meadows including Garnet Lake, Thousand Island Lake, Lake Catherine and Lake Ediza.
  • High Sierra Trail – Whitney Portal to Crescent Meadows: This magnificent route stretches 72 miles from Whitney Portal on the eastern side of the Sierras to Crescent Meadows on the western side in Sequoia National Park. The trip includes a big ascent of Mount Whitney right from the start but is largely downhill afterwards (except for the gradual ascent up to Kaweah Gap). This trail features stunning scenery throughout and passes through one of the most magnificent basins in the High Sierra in Hamilton Lakes and the Valhallas. The primary logistical problems don’t involve the trail and are twofold: (1) obtaining a permit to hike in Whitney Trail, even if it will likely be ascended in the middle of the night, and (2) the car shuttle with a substantial amount of driving to get from the start to the finish.
  • Arrow Peak & Bench Lake: The view of Arrow Peak from Bench Lake is one of the classic views in the Sierra. It’s quite a slog to get back there via Taboose Pass as the climb literally starts in the desert of Owens Valley, but it looks like it will be worth it!
  • Observation Peak and Amphitheater Lake: A remote destination with long approach routes by any means. I would likely ascend Taboose Pass and then head up the John Muir Trail towards Mather Pass before splitting off just before the pass and heading cross country over a different pass to the west and through a basin to the objective. Amphitheater Lake looks spectacular!
  • Middle Palisade: A 14er in the rugged Palisades group that I climbed in 2009. It would be nice to return and go for a faster time, but I would not sacrifice enjoying stunning Finger Lake, with its turquoise glacial water and towering granite slabs (pictured below). 
  • Langley: Another great trail run up the southermost fourteener in the Sierras and one of the highest trailheads at over 10,000 feet. A loop around Langley/Cottonwood area has been on the list for awhile but it’s about as far from the Bay Area as you can get.  Hopefully I’ll get to it this season in conjunction with acclimation for a run of the High Sierra Trail.
  • Tower Peak: An impressive peak in Northern Yosemite accessed from below Sonora Pass. This trip looks to be around 35 miles roundtrip.
  • Mount Stanford: The “shyest” major peak in the Sierra, Mount Stanford just barely misses the 14,000 foot level so it is infrequently climbed, but I’ve got to climb the peak named after my alma mater at some point!
  • Northern Yosemite 50: delicious 50 mile loop in northern Yosemite originating at Twin Lakes and entailing five passes, including highlight stops at Peeler Lake, the Benson Lake Riviera, Matterhorn Canyon, and Sawtooth Ridge. I ran this loop last year, but it’s so good that I definitely want to return.
  • Palisades Circumnavigation: A complete tour of the Palisades Group including passage through five  high passes: Scimitar Pass, Potluck Pass, Thunderbolt Pass, and Jigsaw Pass.
Past adventure run ideas for the High Sierra:

Photo Locations: 

  1. Dusy Basin, 2011
  2. Finger Lake below Middle Palisade, 2009
  3. Bear Creek Spire from Long Lake, 2011
  4. Milestone Peak from Milestone Creek, 2011
  5. Banner Peak (center) and Mount Ritter (left) from Thousand Island Lake, 2007
  6. The Whaleback from Big Wet Meadow, 2011
  7. Fin Dome near Arrowhead Lake, 2010
  8. Picture Peak from Sailor Lake, 2007

2011 Adventure Run Recap

2011 was another great year for adventure running with lots of trips to the High Sierra and a couple in the North Cascades of Washington State. It was great to venture into some of the most remote regions in both ranges and see terrain I have never seen. I’m already looking forward to adventures in 2012 but here are some photos and links to full reports from the adventures of this past year. See 2010 recap here.

  1. Cone Peak “Sea to Sky” - January 29th: Second annual trip from the Big Sur Coast up to 5,155 ft Cone Peak with spectacular views and a redwood canyon. I’ve dreamed of doing this run when there is fresh snow atop Cone Peak so we’ll see if I can get lucky with timing this year. 
  2. Winter Alta Peak – January 31st: Amazing views of the Great Western Divide on this snowshoe trip out of Wolverton in Sequoia National Park. 
  3. Bear Creek Spire & Mount Dade – July 3rd: My second visit to this lovely basin with picturesque alpine lakes and rugged alpine beauty. 
  4. Mount Sill – July 4th: My second time up 14,159 ft Mount Sill, known as the best viewpoint in the High Sierra. The route features a crossing of the Palisade Glacier, largest body of ice remaining in the Sierra Nevada, surrounded by the towering walls of Mount Sill, North Palisade and Thunderbolt Peak. 
  5. Mount Lyell & Mount Maclure – July 9th: Improved my time by 65 minutes to 8:50 roundtrip for the climb of these two peaks that are the roof of Yosemite!  
  6. The Whaleback & Big Wet Meadows – July 23rd:  A 50 mile adventure run up Cloud Canyon and Big Wet Meadows to climb Whaleback, one of the most remote spots in the High Sierra. Incredible! 
  7. Primus, Austera & Eldorado – July 30th: Colin Abercrombie and I toured the Eldroado Ice Cap climbing Primus Peak, Austera Peak and Eldorado along the way. We started at 2 am and finished at 5:40 pm for a 15:40 day. It has been since 2005 that we explored the ice cap towards Austera so it was nice to return to this scenically stellar region and explore a new area beyond Austera to the North Klawatti Glacier and Primus Peak.
  8. West McMillan Spire – August 1st: Awesome climb of this impressive summit in the Southern Pickets in a new FKT of 8:14 roundtrip.  
  9. Northern Yosemite 50 Mile Loop – August 6th: An “instant classic” adventure run of a 50+ mile loop in the remote Northern Yosemite region beginning at Twin Lakes, and including five passes, the Benson Lake riviera and a summit of Volunteer Peak. I’ll definitely be returning to do this one again! 
  10. Milestone & Midway – September 3rd: An adventure run to climb Milestone Mountain (13,641 ft) and Midway Mountain (13,666 ft) along the Great Western Divide, two of the most remote points in the High Sierra. Milestone Creek and Basin are exceptionally scenic with lovely alpine lakes and tarns, polished granite, and the towering peaks of the Great Western Divide.  
  11. TRT-Flume Trail 27 Mile Loop – September 10th: Great 27+ mile loop in the northeast part of Lake Tahoe with nice trails and awesome views. 
  12. Eagle Scout Peak & Kaweah Gap – September 25th: An adventure run to Eagle Scout Peak via Kaweah Gap in 9:38 roundtrip from Crescent Meadows. Eagle Scout Peak is located just south of Kaweah Gap along the Great Western Divide in a remote region of Sequoia National Park. The climb of the 12,000 ft peak entails over 45 miles roundtrip and 8,000+ ft of elevation gain. While it’s a long way just to Kaweah Gap along the High Sierra Trail (21 miles from Crescent Meadow), the scenery is phenomenal and well worth the effort. The sapphire blue of Hamilton Lakes and the towering granite walls of Angel Wings and the Valhallas are truly magnificent.  
  13. Mount Dana – October 16th: A quick climb up this summit near Tioga Pass for early morning light on freshly snow covered peaks of the Yosemite high country. 
  14. Vogelsang Peak – October 16th: The afternoon part after Mount Dana was a climb of Vogelsang, with great trails and nice views. 
  15. Mount Conness via Young Lakes – October 23rd: Another spectacular fall day in the Sierras with an extremely scenic and pleasant climb of Mount Conness via Young Lakes. The route we took is one of the longer approaches to the mountain, but the views of Tuolumne Meadows and gorgeous Young Lakes along the way more than compensated. I did not have any expectations for Young Lakes but they turned out to be one of the highlights of the day and we spent considerable time at the main lower lake both on the trek in and on the way out. New snow on the surrounding cliffs of the Young Lakes cirque added to the beauty and this is a place I will definitely be returning to explore.
  16. Mount McDuffie & Ladder Lake – October 30th: My favorite adventure run of the year, Ladder Lake along the way to Mount McDuffie is one of the most rugged and wild corners of the High Sierra that I have seen. While the ascent of Mount McDuffie might not be the most aesthetic, the summit provides a magnificent vantage of most of the Palisades, the Ionian Basin, and Le Conte Canyon

Mount McDuffie & Ladder Lake

With an impending change in the weather pattern to more winter-like conditions, I decided to take full advantage of the remaining nice days with an adventure run deep into Kings Canyon NP along the Black Divide. The objective was Mount McDuffie via Ladder Lake, a route that entails around 35 miles roundtrip and nearly 11,000 ft of vertical gain, with 5,000+ ft of that climbing off-trail and often arduous. None of the route is very technical, but the 1/2 mile traverse along the crest of the Black Divide to the summit to McDuffie features much loose rock on steep slopes requiring caution and a painstaking amount of time. Ladder Lake along the way is one of the most rugged and wild corners of the High Sierra I have seen. A rarely visited cirque (no trail access) with breathtaking scenery makes this spot a real gem. While the ascent of Mount McDuffie might not be the most aesthetic, the summit provides a spectacular vantage of most of the Palisades, the Ionian Basin, and Le Conte Canyon. Total roundtrip time out of the South Lake Trailhead (outside Bishop) was just over 14.5 hrs starting at 4:40 am and finishing at 7:15 pm. I reached the summit in 6:37 and enjoyed the view for nearly 30 minutes. A summit register was placed at the summit in August 2008 and features very few entries, including only one prior entry for 2011. On the way back I spent quite a bit of time at Ladder Lake for photography and to take in the amazing setting as much as possible considering how short the days are this time of year. A few favorite shots are below and many more photos are located here.

The Citadel reflects in Ladder Lake

Click for a larger version of this annotated image!

Evening light on the Palisades from Dusy Basin

Ladder Lake in the morning.

Turquoise and blue – stunning Ladder Lake.

Many more photos are located here.

Mount Conness via Young Lakes

October 23rd was another spectacular fall day in the Sierras with an extremely scenic and pleasant climb of Mount Conness via Young Lakes. This outing came a day after the Brazen Racing Rocky Ridge Half Marathon Championships and fit the bill for a more low-key day in the mountains physically. The route we took is one of the longer approaches to the mountain, but the views of Tuolumne Meadows and gorgeous Young Lakes along the way more than compensated. I did not have any expectations for Young Lakes but they turned out to be one of the highlights of the day complete with a full-fledged alpine beach! New snow on the surrounding cliffs of the Young Lakes cirque added to the beauty and we spent considerable time at the main lower lake both on the trek in and on the way out. We contemplated taking a swim but the crisp fall temperatures behooved us to stay dry. This is definitely a spot I will definitely be returning to explore further. The summit of Mount Conness provides a commanding view of virtually all of the Yosemite high country including a great overlook of Half Dome and Tenaya Lake as if you are flying. My favorite angle from the summit was looking up Lyell Canyon to Mount Lyell and Mount Maclure. Roundtrip was around 8 hours with plenty of breaks and photography. Here are some of my favorite photos with many more here.


After climbing Mount Dana in the morning, we drove to Tuolumne Meadows and set out for Vogelsang Peak. It was a gorgeous afternoon with beautiful cloud formations and comfortable temperatures for running. The trail up to Tuolumne Pass is great for running with few impediments and a gradual ascent. From Tuolumne Pass we encountered some snow along the trail up to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp which was closed for the season although a ranger was still present. From the High Sierra Camp we continued up over slabs to picturesque Vogelsang Lake. Just above the lake the off-trail portion of the climb to the summit of Vogelsang Peak commences. This climb is typically very straightforward but considerable snow from the storm a couple weeks ago made some sections more interesting. Vogelsang is in a unique position to the west of the Cathedral Range crest so there is a great view of Mount Maclure, Mount Lyell, and Florence Peak. In addition, the Clark Range to the southwest can viewed in its entirety and Half Dome looms large to the northwest. Round trip was just over 5 hours. More photos here