Ritter Loop

Mount Ritter is the centerpiece peak of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and at 13,150 ft, it’s also the highest peak in the region with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. Together with its close neighbor Mount Banner, the two peaks are visible from virtually anywhere in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and are a familiar sight when looking north from high points as far south as Sequoia National Park. I’m a frequent visitor to the Ansel Adams Wilderness, but one of my favorite spots in the region is the seldom visited north side of Mount Ritter which contains a chain of spectacular glacial lakes set in a wild setting of dark rocks and spires.  The following description details a loop up and over Mount Ritter into the Ritter Lakes basin.  Along the way you get some spectacular scenery at iconic spots like Shadow Lake, Lake Ediza and Thousand Island Lake. Photo Album here.

 

The standard route up Mount Ritter is known as the southeast glacier route. Unfortunately, “glacier” may not longer be an appropriate name for the route as climate change has caused the glacial ice to retreat into the shadiest, steepest part of the cirque such that on a dry year one can likely avoid snow and ice entirely.  If earlier in the season or during a wet year where firm neve forms later in the season consider bringing crampons and ice axe. Starting at Agnew Meadows, descend to the River Trail and then turn right on the Shadow Lake Trail. Beyond Shadow Lake, continue to gorgeous Lake Ediza with its magnificent views of the Minarets.  If heading for Ritter, the quickest way around Lake Ediza is on its north side. After crossing a small talus field that reaches the water, a use path becomes more defined and heads up to the beautiful alpland meadows beneath Ritter and Banner. Mountain hemlock forest transitions to open meadows with streams cascading down the slope.  Mount Ritter and Banner Peak tower over the landscape.  At a large tarn, the route for the SE Glacier turns left and utilizes ledges and gullies to climb through a broken cliff band to access convenient granite slabs above. Climb the slabs to the start of the snow fields and ascend into the cirque containing the remnants of the glacier.  Once in the cirque, one can climb a steep and somewhat loose chute known as the Secor chute which provides a direct route to slopes above or take a more circuitous but less steep route by continuing up the snow in the cirque and then circling back on talus.  The final few hundred feet of climbing to the summit is a straightforward talus hop. The summit of Mount Ritter has a fantastic view including the Ritter Lakes and Mount Catherine immediately below, Mount Lyell and Rodgers Peak to the north, and the Minarets to the south. Immediately to the northeast is Banner Peak and Garnet Lake. Farther afield, Mammoth Mountain, the Silver Divide, Mono Divide and Red Slate Mountain are visible.

To access the Ritter Lakes from Mount Ritter descend the NW slope route by descending talus and scree from the summit to a broad saddle south of the summit. Cross over the saddle and traverse south to a broad gully descending the northwest slope of the mountain.  Descend this gully until the the terrain starts to transition from loose scree to solid rock and cliffs. At this point, traverse skiers right to a broad slope. Steep snow patches may remain on this slope until late in the season. Descend this slope and then angle down to the highest of the Ritter Lakes.  Upstream of this lake, a larger glacier occupies the northern slopes of “Neglected Peak,” a prominent point along the South and SW ridges of Mount Ritter.  This glacier supplies minerals to snow and ice melt creating a wonderful emerald color in the highest Ritter Lake. At least three other large lakes can be found lower down, each nestled among cliffs and slabs.  The high lakes often hold onto ice late in the season and ice bergs were observed in September this year.  After traversing the lakes a pass leads to the south side of Lake Catherine. Round Lake Catherine on its west side to reach North Glacier Pass and the straightforward descent to Thousand Island Lake. Complete the loop by taking the River Trail or PCT back to Agnew Meadows.

 

 

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Mount Gardiner

Centrally located in Kings Canyon National Park, 12,907 ft Mount Gardiner has one of the most beautiful northern aspects in the High Sierra.  The many buttresses and cliffs of this north side tower above Gardiner Basin which contains over a dozen pristine alpine lakes ranging from treeline elevations up to desolate rockbound bodies of water. While unmistakable from many vantage points to the north, the south side is fairly nondescript as a high point along a long ridgeline composed mainly a talus. This ridge extends from the confluence of Bubbs Creek and the South Fork of the Kings River all the way to the Sierra Crest at Mount Gould.  Mount Gardiner is the highest point along this long ridgeline with the exception of the endpoint at the Mount Gould plateau.  The view from Mount Gardiner is equally impressive to its important stature and prominence in the region. Standing atop the summit one gazes over a vast sea of peaks in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. To the north one looks down on the many lakes of Gardiner Basin with Mount Clarence King, Mount Cotter and the Palisades prominent in the background. To the south lies the rugged and remote Great Western Divide and Kings Kern Divide. While the slightly-lower south summit has a phenomenal view and is only a class 2 scramble, the higher north summit begs one to proceed further and entails a fantastically exposed scramble along a knife edge ridge. GPS route here.

Mount Gardiner can be reached from Road’s End in Kings Canyon via a scenic route up Charlotte Creek or Onion Valley.  The Road’s End route will be described here.  The approach begins with about 7 miles of trail from Road’s End to Charlotte Creek.  Before reaching the Charlotte Creek crossing, turn left leaving the Bubbs Creeek Trail and head up along the west side of the creek. There are several use paths in the beginning that converge a few hundred feet up into a single climbers path. This route is almost entirely used by climbers seeking to reach Charlotte Dome so in true climbers path form, this is a very steep ascent.  Instead of switchbacking around obstacles it climbs through them. To be fair, the Charlotte Creek drainage is steep and rugged so there’s good reason a designated trail was never constructed through here.  While most of the climbers path is easy to follow, there are some non-obvious sections so be on the lookout for cairns to guide the way.  Eventually, the climbers path ends at slabs beneath Charlotte Dome. While climbers would continue up the slabs to steeper rock walls, the route for Mount Gardiner skirts Charlotte Dome on its eastern periphery via some slab traverses and shallow gullies. Sticking to the slabs is effective at avoiding brush but there are some steeper sections where friction is needed (would not be fun in wet conditions).  Charlotte Dome is captivating along this traverse as a magnificent sculpted rock feature. After climbs up talus and slabs, one ultimately reaches a forested hanging valley to the northeast of Charlotte Dome. There is evidence of old campsites through here as the now unmaintained Gardiner Pass Trail passes through although the route does not utilize any portion of this trail (which was not located on my visit although I must have stepped across it).  Continue up into the basin southwest of Mount Gardiner utilizing friendly slabs and pleasant meadows filled with shooting stars in mid summer.  This is beautiful and relatively easy off-trail terrain with excellent views south to Charlotte Dome, Mount Farquhar, North Guard and Mount Brewer. At the head of this basin the terrain becomes steeper but nothing more than second class rock hopping. Much has been made of climb portraying it as an endless slog, but it’s not as bad as one might guess provided one finds and stays on the more solid rocks.  This second class rock hopping leads all the way up to the south summit of Gardiner and is quite efficient, but the same cannot be said for the last couple hundred feet to the higher north summit! From the south summit the technical scrambling begins with a class 3 descent to a narrow col separating the south summit and the north summit knife edge ridge.  The easiest route climbs from this col on the left (south) side of the ridge and then cross over to the right (north) side.  Stay on the right (north) side below the knife edge arete until just before the summit rock where perhaps the most exposed moves are encountered. The holds are good but the exposure is wild on these last few moves.  While it looks intimidating when viewed from the south summit, the actual climbing is mostly class 3 with perhaps a few class 4 moves depending on the exact route taken, but the exposure may cause one to take pause depending on comfort and familiarity with this type of terrain.  Staying on the knife edge proper for the entire ridge will take the climbing into fifth class territory and a lot more sustained exposure on both sides. From the south summit, one could either retrace steps back down Charlotte Creek to road’s end or descend the east couloir down to the upper reaches of Gardiner Basin.  The east couloir route would enable one to explore Gardiner Basin and climb other peaks in the region including Mount Cotter and Mount Clarence King, followed by a carry-over into Sixty Lakes Basin and the beautiful Rae Lakes.      

Mount Harrington

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. 

State Peak

State Peak is a very remote and fairly obscure peak in Kings Canyon National Park located between the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River along the Cirque Crest.  While only rising 12,620 feet, the mountain’s position west of the crest between such deep canyons affords tremendous views of the surrounding region. I had previously passed on State Peak during a large 50+ mile loop out of Road’s End including Marion Peak and Windy Point in 2014, but made a point to come back since I knew the summit would have a prime vantage of the South Fork Kings River and the Muro Blanco. It appears the long distance and substantial elevation gain from the nearest trailhead has mostly relegated this wonderful summit to the “peak bagging” crowd for which checking off a list is the top priority. I couldn’t care less about any lists, bagging or bragging about anything in the wilderness but I was still drawn to this mountain which promised a superb view (it did not disappoint). Along the way I was excited to revisit the beautiful Glacier Lakes region which I had seen previously along the Sierra High Route. Full photo album here.

The quickest routes to reach the peak start at the floor of Kings Canyon at Road’s End and commence with a 5,000+ ft climb up the Copper Creek Trail. The Copper Creek Trail is a well-graded and relatively smooth trail allowing for efficient elevation gain into the high country, but the lower part is exposed to morning sun and can get VERY hot quickly. My recommendation for mid-summer trips up Copper Creek is to start early (before sunrise ideally). After the initial climb out of Kings Canyon the trail traverses into a more alpine environment and the temperature steadily drops as one passes through the Tent Meadows and higher up into a beautiful red fir forest. Near the saddle before dropping into Granite Basin there are two options. The first option utilizes trails the entire distance to State Lakes leaving only a short off-trail journey from the State Lakes to the summit of State Peak, including the final third class scramble.  For this option continue into Granite Basin and then up to Granite Pass. Granite Basin is very pretty and Granite Lake is a worthwhile detour if time allows.  After descending the north side of Granite Pass take the trail to State Lakes.  The second option leaves the designated trail near the Granite Basin saddle and takes the Sierra High Route to Grouse Lake and then up and over Glacier Lakes Pass to the Glacier Lakes before reconnecting with the trail a little over a mile before State Lakes.  This second cross country option shaves off around 3-4 miles each way and is much more scenic passing through the lovely Glacier Lakes basin.  The cross country terrain is also relatively easy with large sections of grassy meadows and friendly granite slabs. However, the trail option is likely preferred for night travel, especially if one has not seen this Sierra High Route section previously.  In addition, Glacier Lakes Pass can hold snow into mid summer.  While the cross country route is shorter, they are both long.  The off-trail route through Glacier Lakes is around 17 miles each way while the trail route through Granite Pass is around 20-21 miles each way.  With prior knowledge of the Sierra High Route, I opted for the Glacier Lakes route, which can be seen here.

At the first State Lake, continue on the trail through pine forest and leave the trail just before the second State Lake. Cross country travel is easy through open forest before a short climb commences leading to the highest State Lake set at the foot of State Peak. This is a beautiful lake surrounded by scraggly pines and meadows. From this lake one can appreciate the large size of State Peak with it’s numerous chutes that lead up to a long ridgeline. It’s somewhat confusing which of the chutes is the easiest to reach the summit ridge, but it appears all are mostly in the class 2 to class 3 range with the most difficult climbing at the bottom of the chutes, which terminate in a broken cliff band that spans the entire northern face of the mountain. Getting through this broken cliff band can result in more difficult climbing if one is not aware so it’s worth spending time to scope out the easier class 3 routes through these cliffs before standing immediately underneath them. Once above the lower cliff band, the climb transitions into a steep talus slog that goes at class 2 or class 3 depending on the exact line taken.  The chute I chose ended up right underneath the summit but surrounding terrain all looked similar so there is definitely more than one way to do this scramble. State Peak sees only a few parties per year and the summit register is an original making it interesting to peruse. 

The scramble up State Peak isn’t particularly memorable, but the summit view is superb with an excellent view of the Kings Canyon region.  In particular, the vantage into the Murro Blanco of the South Fork Kings River is amazing and extends all the way from the Kings Canyon floor to Taboose Pass. Arrow Peak and Arrow Ridge form a large massif across the canyon and to the northeast is the impressive serrated ridgeline of the Palisades. To the north are the Goddard and Evolution region peaks with an excellent view into the Middle Fork Kings River Canyon.  To the west are the peaks of the Goat and Monarch Divides. While these western peaks are lower in elevation, they take on a rugged characteristic from this angle.  To the south is a sea of peaks of the Southern Sierra Nevada including the Great Western Divide, Kings Kern Divide, Kings Spur, and Sierra Crest. Immediately below is a bird’s eye view of the State Lakes.  It’s an awesome view and I spent over an hour soaking it in.  Full photo album here

Adams Minaret & Starr Minaret

The Minarets are a jagged collection of peaks in the Ansel Adams Wilderness north of Mammoth Lakes. The name is derived from their resemblance to the minarets of Islamic mosques. The scenery surrounding the Minarets, including the trio of lakes beneath them – Iceberg Lake, Cecile lake and Minaret Lake – is incredibly dramatic and inspiring. Most of the Minarets reside along a single ridgeline collectively forming a tremendously narrow and exposed arête.  There are 17 named summits, each honoring one of the first ascentionists. Clyde Minaret, named after sierra legend Norman Clyde who climbed it in 1928, is the highest minaret and most often climbed. There is much mystique surrounding the Minarets, partially due to their striking beauty and precipitous relief, and partially due to their notorious looseness as the rock is of volcanic origin.  Complete photo album here (images taken in mid-August, 2017).

Despite topping out at 12,000 feet, Adams Minaret is perhaps the shyest of the 17 named minarets owing to the fact that it lies behind the primary arête and is not easily identifiable from the east. Adams Minaret was named in honor of the famous photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams, who first climbed the peak with Rondal Partridge on July 15, 1937.  Due its location off the main arête, Adams Minaret sees few visitors (including most of the climbers who traverse the Minarets), as evidenced by the register which contains only one to two parties per year on average.  The most efficient route to Adams Minaret crosses over South Notch from Cecile Lake and traverses toward Amphitheater Lake before ascending a broad class 2 chute topped off with a few class 3 moves to gain the summit ridge. The chute has copious loose rocks so any parties with multiple climbers should be extra careful.  After traversing the summit ridge a few class 3 moves are required to reach the highest rocks where an old register commemorates the naming of the peak after Ansel Adams. The route up and over South Notch is fairly straightforward, but the angle of the slope becomes quite steep near the top and crampons and ice axe are likely required.  At South Notch, enjoy the impressive view of Ken Minaret and Clyde Minaret immediately above.  Adams Minaret has a commanding angle of the backside of the Minarets, particularly Michael Minaret and Clyde Minaret, and a nearly vertical view down to Amphitheater Lake. Any trip too Adams Minaret should also include a slight detour to see the aptly named Amphitheater Lake, which is surrounded by the Minaret towers with Michael Minaret the most striking feature at the head of the cirque. Amphitheater Lake is a desolate spot with nothing but boulders and cliffs surrounding it and often remains covered in ice well into summer. For photogenic qualities I prefer the three lakes on the east side of the Minarets which hold at least some vegetation, but Amphitheater Lake is well worth a visit to see in person as the enormity of the surrounding towers is difficult to capture in photos.

Starr Minaret was named after Walter “Pete” Starr who was an attorney and famous for his adventures into the Sierra Nevada during a time when large parts of the range were still relatively unknown.  Starr went missing while climbing in the Minarets and the story of the search to find him is a riveting story. He was ultimately found by climbing legend Norman Clyde on nearby Michael Minaret. After his passing, Starr’s Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region was published and it was the de facto guide to the John Muir Trail for decades and is still in circulation.  Starr Minaret is a 11,512 ft summit that is a class 2/3 scramble from Kehrlein-Starr notch – one of the easier Minarets to ascend. The most efficient access to Starr Minaret is likely still South Notch unless snow conditions on the east side of the Kehrlein-Starr notch allow for easier access down toward Deadhorse Lake. When the snow melts accessing this notch could become a more technical climb. Starr Minaret also has a lovely view of the surrounding region including Iron Mountain to the south, Deadhorse Lake below, and Mammoth Mountain in the distance.  The higher Minarets are not as dramatic from this angle owing to the southerly view which is not ideal for viewing a south-north oriented arête.

Of course, the best part of any visit to the Minarets is the spectacular lakes. All three  lakes on the east side of the Minarets are gems of the Sierra and I couldn’t really say which one would be my favorite! Each possesses unique qualities and a different angle of the Minaret spires. Minaret Lake has the most meadows and vegetation while Cecile Lake is most desolate. Cecile Lake has the most complete view of the Minarets and also a great view too Mts. Ritter and Banner, while Minaret Lake has the most dramatic view of Clyde Minaret, the highest and most famous of the Minarets.  Iceberg Lake is cradled in a deep granite bowl with the Minarets towering above and often contains icebergs late into summer, hence the apt name.  An official trail does not connect the lakes; instead use trail leads from Minaret Lake north to Cecile Lake and another use trail leads from Iceberg Lake south to Cecile Lake. Getting around Cecile Lake requires some talus hopping. In early season or a heavy snow year like this year, the route from Iceberg Lake to Cecile Lake may be covered in snow and require ice axe and/or crampons.  Complete photo album here.

Matthes Peak

Matthes Peak lies along Glacier Divide which separates the Piute Creek watershed from the Evolution Creek drainage, and at its western terminus, Piute Creek from the South Fork San Joaquin River. The long ridge also serves as the border between Kings Canyon National Park and the John Muir Wilderness. The mountainous terrain surrounding Matthes Peak encompasses some of the most spectacular scenery in the High Sierra and that scenery is pretty much all visible from this lofty perch. You won’t find Matthes Peak on a map as it’s an unofficially named peak, but as the second highest summit along Glacier Divide (just shy of 13,000 feet; 12,980 ft to be exact) with quite a bit of prominence and a stellar view, it’s certainly worthy of a name. From the south Matthes Peak and much of Glacier Divide looks mostly benign as large mounds of talus, but from the north Glacier Divide has an exceptionally rugged character as glaciers carved up the terrain resulting in towering cliffs and beautiful lakes nestled in deep polished granite basins. A collection of pocket remnants of once proud glaciers remain today and are known as the Matthes Glaciers, hence the adoption of the name Matthes to this summit. Unfortunately, the Matthes Glaciers appear largely stagnant and during the drought melted all the way back to the shadiest locales immediately below the north facing cliff faces. In the current regime of our warming climate, it won’t be long (i.e. the next drought) before these glaciers disappear entirely 😦  The Matthes Glaciers and the Matthes Crest in Yosemite National Park received their names in honor of Francois Emile Matthes, a USGS geologist for 51 years who made extensive studies in the Sierra Nevada. Mr. Matthes now has an additional unofficial name in his honor too!  Full photo album here (note photos are from mid July on a snowy year).  

Matthes Peak can be climbed from the southwest via a class 2 talus hop, but the more scenic routes climb from lovely Packsaddle Lake on the north side of Glacier Ridge. In order to access Packsaddle Lake, the easiest access is via North Lake and Piute Pass, which features lovely scenery along the entire route.  From Piute Pass, continue along the trail past Summit Lake. At an unsigned junction, one may either take a usepath left toward Golden Trout Lake or stay on the main trail as it passes through the lower part of Desolation Basin and then descends into the Whitebark pine forest. Either route works, but note that in early season Piute Creek is functionally more like a river so care must be taken to find a safe crossing. In very high snowmelt flows, I found an easy crossing near the outlet of Golden Trout Lake where the stream braids resulting in low depth. In addition, taking the usepath provides an upclose view of the Golden Trout Lakes which are pretty.  By either route, once across Piute Creek it’s a pleasant off trail walk through the pines and then meadows to the shores of Packsaddle Lake. Nestled beneath the cliffs of Glacier Divide with the Matthes Glaciers gleaming, it’s a wonderful spot!

Packsaddle Lake is most easily rounded on its west side. From the south end of the lake continue up loose talus and scree (or snow in early season) or scramble up slabs to climbers left. The system of ledges and slabs can be preferable to the loose mess after the snow melts. After ascending the slabs or talus the easiest route traverses across the glacial moraines toward a small bowl which holds snow late into summer. An alternative steeper route, only recommend when adequately snow-covered, ascends an obvious chute directly above and deposits one along the Glacier Divide crest to the east of the Matthes Peak summit. If taking the easier route, after traversing the glacial moraine west a broad saddle comes into view, known as Packsaddle Pass. Most of the way to the pass is either straightforward snow or glacial boulders, but the final couple hundred feet up to the pass is quite steep and likely requires ice axe and crampons whenever it’s snow covered. From Packsaddle Pass, turn east and climb talus for several hundred vertical feet to the summit, which is situated on a plateau with gravel interspersed with rocks. This plateau contains lovely alpine flowers in season with Alpine Gold and Sky Pilot particularly prominent. The east end of the plateau contains the feature view above lake Frances Lake with Evolution Valley and the many peaks of the Evolution Basin area in the background. To the west is the Le Conte Divide and to the east is Mount Humphreys towering above Desolation Basin. Immediately below the summit is Packsaddle Lake and to the north are views to Lobe Lakes and Bear Creek Spire group of peaks. It’s an excellent view and worth spending some time on a local flat rock to admire the surroundings!  Numerous options exist from the summit besides simply retracing steps, including descending toward Frances Lake and out via Darwin Bench and Lamarck Col and further explorations into Evolution Basin. Full photo album here

Bear Creek Spire & Dade

Bear Creek Spire rises above one of the most scenic alpine valleys in the Sierra dotted with wonderful alpine lakes and meadows. Its chiseled profile and position above the valley make it one of the most photogenic peaks in the range of light.  The easiest route up Bear Creek Spire starts at the Mosquito Flat Trailhead and takes the trail through gorgeous Little Lakes Valley. Starting early avoids the crowds and also provides a better opportunity to catch a clear reflection of Bear Creek Spire in one of the many lakes in the valley.  After Long Lake the main idea is to reach the vicinity of Dade Lake and there are many possible routes through easy cross country terrain to accomplish this objective. At Dade Lake continue into the bowl below Bear Creek Spire and then angle west toward Cox Col. The angle steepens toward the high notch and when snow covered this slope could require crampons and ice axe, especially in the morning or later in the season when freeze thaw cycles have turned the slope into hard neve or ice.  From Cox Col, a short talus hop commence with a relatively short class 4 finish to reach the summit pinnacle. Bear Creek Spire has a commanding 360 degree view of everything from the Evolution Region to Ritter and Banner. The triumvirate of Merriam Peak, Royce Peak and Feather Peak are particularly stunning, as is Seven Gables to the southwest and Mount Goddard rising above the rugged Glacier Divide.  Little Lakes Valley is spread out at ones feet and to the west is an excellent view of Lake Italy.  Full photos album here.

After returning to Cox Col, one can traverse along the west side of the crest and take a class 2 ramp up to the low point between Mount Dade and Pipsqueak Spire. This ramp allows for efficient passage over the crest to climb Mount Dade in connection with an ascent of BCS.  From the notch, traverse snow slopes to the final talus climb up Mount Dade. In early season this final talus climb features a marvelous high alpine garden of sky pilot and alpine gold flowers. Between Mount Dade and Pipsqueak Spire also resides a landlocked bowl that contains ice and snow for most of the year but becomes an high tarn in middle to late summer depending on the prior winters’ snowpack. If timed correctly, one can witness a magical display of blue ice as the snow sinks into the water and turns into a giant ice cube. The easiest descent off Mount Dade is the hourglass couloir which holds snow well into summer on a normal snow year but the best coverage is obviously earlier in the season. Later in the season or on a dry year the hourglass turns into a steep climb of loose gravel and scree, which may still work as a descent but would be crappy to ascent.  The hourglass couloir deposits one at the beautiful Treasure Lakes, a collection of four lakes with tremendous views of the headwall of the Little Lakes Valley. A usetrail begins at the lowest Treasure Lake and leads all the way down to the south end of Long Lake. For grand High Sierra scenery that is quite accessible it’s tough to beat Rock Creek Canyon, Little Lakes Valley and surrounding peaks!  Full photos album here