Mount Harrington is an impressive but relatively unknown peak along the Monarch Divide which separates the glacier-carved canyons of the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River. The peak lies within the Monarch Wilderness on National Forest land, perhaps the most rugged and alpine region of this relatively small wilderness area that is adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park. Mount Harrington rises just over 11,000 feet which is a fairly modest altitude compared to peaks farther east, but the relief from the bottom of the canyons is extremely impressive as the Monarch Divide is over 7,000 feet above the canyon bottoms. The result is a ideal vantage across both canyons overlooking a sea of peaks in some of the most rugged and wild terrain in the lower 48. It’s a long climb to reach Mount Harrington since all approaches start from the bottom of Kings Canyon. However, the reward for the many miles and lots of elevation gain is a short but sweet third class scramble along an exposed ridge to a small rocky summit perched above Kings Canyon. The 360 degree panorama includes views of the Great Western Divide, Kings Kern Divide and Kaweahs to the south, the Palisades and Cirque Crest to the east, and the LeConte Divide, Goddard Divide, and Black Divide to the north. The most dramatic view, however, is the view of Mount Harrington itself from a peaklet along the Monarch Divide just to north of the summit. From this outstanding vantage Mount Harrington takes on a Matterhornesque profile. When combined with the 7,000 ft of relief down to the bottom of Kings Canyon and the rugged backdrop of the many peaks of the southern Sierra, it’s one of the great vistas in the region. Complete photo album here.
The two main approaches to reach Mount Harrington are Lewis Creek and Deer Cove. Lewis Creek starts in Kings Canyon National Park and is slightly longer but includes some more shade under pine trees. The Deer Cove approach is entirely in the Monarch Wilderness and is the shortest route, but is exposed to sun for the first part and has some sections that are quite sandy. The Deer Cove route was closed for a couple years after the Rough Fire due to extensive fire damage, but a lot of work from the forest service and volunteers has enabled the trail to reopen as of August of 2017. They did a fantastic job clearing out the many blowdowns and brush from the trailhead to Frypan Meadow (the first 6 miles). Due to the amazing trail work it’s a very pleasant trail that is well graded and has some awesome views of the Great Western Divide and also Mount Harrington from below. While signs of the fire are still visible, the land is incredibly resilient and many of the trees have re-sprouted and the brush has filled back in. The Deer Cove Trail is also a great descent route as the sandy nature of the trail makes for an cushy descent for downhill running. One word of caution is the Deer Cove Trail is largely exposed to the sun all the way to Wildman Meadows (~4.5 miles in) so an early start is recommend. Just before Wildman Meadows at 7600 ft, the trail rounds a corner and enters a completely different ecosystem, from the south facing brushy slopes experienced to this point to a spectacular red fir forest with bountiful ferns and lush grassy meadows. The trail continues through the lovely forest to the junction with Frypan Meadows. At this junction the trail work ceases and the trail becomes more rugged with some downed trees and faint tread as it continues climbing in the fir and pine forest. Some flagging placed by the ranger helps to stay on track, however these can be difficult to see at times in a rather nondescript forest setting. In particular, at 8500 feet after crossing the East Fork of Grizzly Creek the maps show the trail traversing west into a small drainage and up to a saddle at 9000 ft. The original trail bed does exist here as we found, but this does not appear to be the consensus route used currently. Instead, a use path heads straight up the ridge and meets the original trail where it traverses back east at ~9200 ft. This new route avoids some brush that has overgrown the original track where it switchbacks at 9000. Back on the original trail, continue up through lush meadows and pine forest to a small spur above Grizzly Lake at about 9800 ft. Here the trail disappears for good and it’s all cross country travel. The most efficient route is to follow the drainage up from Grizzly Lake to the east face of Mount Harrington. Immediately below the face are some very pretty meadows with a babbling brook and wildflowers in season. The east face of Harrington provides a dramatic backdrop as the cliffs rise over 1000 ft above. From the meadow, the terrain transitions to friendly granite slabs providing an efficient route to the Monarch Divide. Ascend to the peaklet north of Mount Harrington and marvel at the amazing rock fin and then continue down talus to the saddle between the peaklet and Harrington. Here the scramble portion beings, a short but sweet class 3 scramble. The scramble is not technically difficult but there is exposure with cliffs on both sides. The summit views are marvelous and the summit register is an original placed in 1966. It appears only 2-3 parties per year make the trip up the Harrington – a remote and not frequently visited destination indeed! The fun does not need to end after Mount Harrington. On the north side of the Monarch Divide lies a beautiful basin at the headwaters of the Gorge of Despair featuring several interesting rock features along the Silver Spur and small lakes. The rock features of particular interest to alpine rock climbers. Peak 10697 is a prominent pointy summit and includes a great view of the surrounding region including Lake 9599 (the westernmost Swamp Lake) and the Palisades in the distance. A peak to the north of the lake that empties into the Gorge of Despite is named Tenderfoot Peak (10,641 ft) and also includes an original register placed in 1980 with very few entries. The register is located in a small glass jar in the summit rocks. Continuing north along this ridge would likely yield more views including Tehipite Dome and Tehipite Valley.