Some of the most interesting and colorful geology in the Sierra lies in a region centered in the Convict Creek and McGee Creek watersheds. The mountains here are composed of brilliant red, white and gray rocks, a stark contrast to the familiar granite that composes most of the Sierra. Instead of the solid nature of Sierra granite, the rocks here are generally loose so the mountains in this region have earned a reputation for tedious choss. However, it is my opinion that the fascinating geology and incredible scenery of this region more than makes up for the inconveniences. The tallest mountain in the region is Red Slate Mountain which can be accessed by a relatively easy class 2 talus climb from McGee Pass and is therefore far and away the most popular mountain in the region. I have ascended Red Slate Mountain several times, always passing by Red and White Mountain along the way, and making a point to someday climb the peak. I finally got around to this ascent last autumn intentionally timed in connection with the stellar fall color in the lower portion of McGee Creek canyon. My next post will feature fall color photography from lower McGee Creek Canyon. Full photo album here. Route on Strava here.
Red & White Mountain leaves an impression from all directions. The mountain towers above beautiful Big McGee Lake and the surrounding meadows beckoning for a closer look. In addition, the north face of Red and White Mountain is a centerpiece of the view south from Red Slate Mountain. One of the most dramatic beautiful views along the Sierra High Route is Red & White Mountain above the meadows of Laurel Creek. Unlike Red Slate Mountain which is mostly red, Red & White Mountain has district white striations across its red face along with gray rock on the top few hundred feet of its summit. The ascent of Red & White Mountain is more involved than Red Slate with some class 3 climbing by any route.
The two primary routes to climb Red & White Mountain are the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Face. This post will describe the Southeast Face route, which is the most direct and fastest route but the trade-off is that it has more objective hazard in the form of loose rock. Thus, I would recommend the southeast face for smaller parties that are adept at recognizing rock hazards, particularly with respect to members of the party below. The northeast ridge route is longer, but does not have as much loose, steep rock. Both routes converge below the final scramble to the summit.
For the southeast face, take the McGee Creek Trail to Big McGee Lake. This is a wonderful trail that starts in an environment of high desert scrub and transitions to an alpine forest of whitebark pine. In the lower elevations are expansive groves of aspen and black cottonwood that become one of the best fall color displays in the eastern Sierra in early October. In the mile preceding Big McGee Lake the trail meanders through lovely grassy meadows with the objective, Red & White Mountain, overhead.
At Big McGee Lake continue along the trail for a short distance with great vistas of the lake. At a flat meadow on a bench above Big McGee Lake look for a use path that departs on the left. Take this use trail down lovely alp meadows to a small lake. In this area the use paths braid and become faint in spots, but the general idea is to head south on easy terrain aiming for a distinct drainage that heads up toward Hopkins Pass. At the base of this drainage at ~10,600 feet the use path (which was once an old trail to Hopkins Pass) becomes more defined as it begins to switchback up the slope. The trail always stays on the climber’s right side of the stream and avoids the talus fields providing quick access to small tarn at 11,100 feet at the base of Hopkins Pass and Red & White Mountain’s southeast face.
At this small tarn, the route to Red & White Mountain diverges. Climb up a small rock slope to grassy meadows and clumps of stunted Whitebark Pines. Travel diagonally to the highest point of the grass and trees and then turn up slope and climb a talus fan to the base of the southeast face and a prominent gully. Climb in the gully or near it to ascend through the lower cliff band. As one ascends options open up but it is generally best to climb the ribs alongside the gully. The gully itself is steep and very loose (and often holds snow late in the season) and while technically easier, it is certainly more tedious and hazardous than climbing the class 3 rocks alongside the gully. To be sure, the ribs alongside the gully still have plenty of loose rocks so proceed with caution. Near the top of the ridge, which is the Sierra Crest, the gully becomes less pronounced and the entire slope becomes loose and steep. The good news is this is a fairly short slog. At the crest, the final push to the summit is visible as the rock transitions to gray. Stay to the left of the northeast ridge and ascend some fun class 3 rocks up the final 300 feet to the summit.
The view from Red & White is outstanding owing to its prominence and central location. To the south are the peaks of the Mono Divide and Bear Creek Spire with Grinnell Lake and Upper Hopkins Lake below. To the west is the Silver Divide and the many lakes of the Fish Creek watershed. To the north Mount Ritter and Banner Peak are prominent along with the high peaks of Yosemite. To the northeast is a spectacular palette of colors taking in the amazing display of geology from Red Slate Mountain to Mount Baldwin. To the east one can look down McGree Creek canyon to Big McGee Lake, Mount Crocker, Mount Stanford and Mount Morgan. Full photo album here.