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.      

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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

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

Red Mountain Basin Loop

I visited Red Mountain and Hell for Sure Lake around the same time of year in 2012 and had an awesome time so I was looking forward to returning. This time I would ascend Mount Henry at the northern end of the Le Conte Divide with a striking vantage into Piute Canyon and the rugged section of the Sierra Crest in the John Muir Wilderness. As I wrote in 2012, the Le Conte Divide is an often overlooked area west of the Sierra Crest that features spectacular scenery and numerous opportunities for off-trail exploration making this region particularly suitable to adventure running. The divide forms the boundary between the John Muir Wilderness to the west and Kings Canyon National Park to the east. Geographically, to the east is the impressive Goddard Canyon and to the west is a series of spectacular granitic basins with dozens of pristine alpine lakes including Red Mountain Basin, Bench Valley and Blackcap Basin. The peaks on the divide are quite rugged, especially on their north and east sides, which belies the fact that these summits are only around 12,000 feet in elevation and higher neighbors to the east are well over 13,000 feet. Once again, elevation is not everything. The Le Conte Divide also one of the more remote sections of the range and therefore solitude can easily be achieved. The region is guarded by a long approach most often reached from Courtright Reservoir with a minimum of 15 miles on trail just to reach the basins. The long approach is ideal for adventure running as they are fairly moderate (runnable) and are within the pleasant montane forest zone for a large portion. Since the LeConte Divide is so remote, only a handful of peaks have names and the remainder are simply identified by their altitude. The basins to the west of the divide are quintessential Sierra scenery with dozens of gorgeous alpine lakes, tarns and meadows. GPS route here.

On this trip I covered familiar ground for the first 12 miles to the junction with the Hell for Sure Pass Trail. Instead of turning right I continued straight covering new trail to Indian Lakes. From Indian Lakes I headed off cross country through forest that transitioned to grassy benches and granite slopes that led to the West Ridge of Mount Henry. Staying on the crest of the ridge yields some class 3 scrambling. An easier route that I took on the descent is to utilize a chute to access the West Ridge further up. Either way, all of the scrambling is on the lower part of the West Ridge as the upper part transitions to easy talus hopping. Mount Henry’s position at the northern end of the Le Conte Divide provides a stellar view of surrounding mountains, especially looking west into Piute Canyon and the range of peaks from Seven Gables to Bear Creek Spire to Mount Darwin.  I would put htis view up among the classics, with incredible relief from canyon to peak and lots of intricate layers in the terrain. Moreover, remote Lake 10,223 provides makes for a beautiful subject in the foreground. I spent a lot of time photographing and enjoying the marvelous vantage. On the descent I veered off the west ridge at its low point via a loose chute and then easy grass terrain down to aptly-named Turf Lakes with an expansive chunk of tundra between the lakes. From Turf Lakes, I embarked on an easy cross country traverse to Davis Lake and up Red Mountain. On Red Mountain I took the north ridge which had some fun solid scrambling instead of the loose west slopes which looked like a real slog. Red Mountain had the same great views I remembered from 2012, especially looking up Goddard Canyon to Mount Goddard and the Hell for Sure Lake Basin. A use path exists from Red Mountain down to Hell for Sure Pass and from there it was all trail back to Courtright Reservoir. In the future I hope to revisit the Le Conte Divdie for explorations of Bench Valley and Blackcap Basin. I would also like to revisit Red Mountain basin for further exploration including an ascent of Mount Hutton and stops at Devils Punchbowl, Little Shot Lake and Big Shot Lake. GPS route here

Ericsson & Genevra

Mount Ericsson and Mount Genevra are two points along the rugged and immensely scenic Kings-Kern Divide which is a high barrier between the Kern River watershed and the Kings River watershed, two of the three important watersheds in the Southern High Sierra (the other being the Kaweah River). The point separating these three watersheds is aptly-named Triple Divide Peak along the Great Western Divide, which I visited last year. The Kings-Kern divide also serves to connect the Sierra Crest with the Great Western Divide and marks the border between Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. Foerster Pass, the highest point along the Pacific Crest Trail at over 13,000 feet, is the only trail that crosses the Kings-Kern Divide, although there are a number of other cross country passes of varying difficulty. I have spent quite a bit of time in this area. In 2009 I did an aesthetic loop crossing through Milly’s Foot Pass to visit Upper Kern Basin and Lake Reflection for the first time. Last year, I climbed Mount Stanford, the highest point on the Kings-Kern Divide via Harrison Pass. On this trip I gained the divide via a little known route from Lake Reflection and then climbed Mount Ericsson. I then traversed the upper reaches of Kern Basin to Mount Genevra and descended Milly’s Foot Pass back to Lake Reflection, a jewel of the High Sierra. The route also included passage by lovely East Lake. GPS route here.While numerous cross country passes cross the Kings-Kern Divide, perhaps the second easiest route over the divide (after the Foerster Pass trail) is not a pass at all but a little known route over a high shoulder east of Lake Reflection, an unnamed point I like to call “Reflection Point”. This route takes an efficient class 2 avalanche chute all the way up and over the divide, lacking the unstable talus, scree and sand of the nearby passes, including Harrison Pass, Lucy’s Foot Pass, and Milly’s Foot Pass. More importantly, the Reflection Point route affords astounding views of Lake Reflection the Great Western Divide for its entire length. Mount Brewer and the Guards rise sharply above Lake Reflection with granite virtually everything in sight. A high shoulder marks the top of the chute where the climber is steps away from Reflection Point and a marvelous view that is better than most named summits. The south side of the pass is an easy descent into Kern Basin on gravel and meadows. The key to the Reflection Point route is finding the correct chute since more difficult terrain lies nearby and technical terrain is not much further.  Once in the chute, the terrain is mostly slabs all the way up (make sure to stay in the central wide chute) and goes as class 2 the entire way. On this day I used this route to access Mount Ericsson, centrally located on the Kings-Kern Divide with an excellent 360 degree view including the entire Sierra crest from the Palisades to Mount Whitney and the Great Western Divide from North Guard to Milestone Mountain. Once at the top of the route, it’s an easy stroll down to the top of Lucy’s Foot Pass with stunning views of the jagged Ericsson Crags.

At Lucy’s Foot Pass, you’re at the base of Mount Ericsson which goes as a class 2 talus slog with a little bit of class 3 at the top.  Mount Ericsson’s central location affords an amazing view of the entire southern Sierra. Ericsson’s most distinctive feature is its serpentine south ridge with numerous rocky ribs extending deep into Kern Basin. Of the sea of peaks surrounding Mount Ericsson, the closest and easiest is Mount Genevra across the upper reaches of Kern Basin. Mount Genevra also happens to be above Milly’s Foot Pass which provides passage through the Kings-Kern Divide back to Lake Reflection. Milly’s Foot Pass includes a sketchy 3rd class chute at the top where one must be cautious of kitty litter over the rocks, especially while descending. The remainder of the descent from Milly’s to Lake Reflection involves plenty of arduous talus, but there are some pretty alpine tarns midway down the descent. While Mount Genevra is much lower than Ericsson, its position provides very nice views to the Mount Whitney region and the Great Western Divide. My favorite angle was down the East Creek drainage including Mount Bago towering above East Lake. Perhaps the most endearing location on this route is Lake Reflection, one of the greatest gems in the Sierra. While I have visited Lake Reflection twice before, this was my first time for early morning light to see the exquisite reflections for which this lake is named. The early morning reflections did not disappoint and some new snow lining the cliffs of Mount Genevra and Mount Jordan only added to the tremendous setting. East Lake, located a couple miles before Lake Reflection, is also an excellent destination with beautiful views and reflections. It’s about 11 miles to Junction Meadow along the Bubbs Creek Trail. At the meadows, turn right onto the East Lake Trail which shortly crosses Bubbs Creek (can be hazardous in early season) and then begins and ascent to East Lake, reaching East Lake about 13.5 miles from Road’s End. After East Lake the trail becomes faint in spots manifesting the lack of visitation to this region, but the idea is to generally follow the watercourse upstream and in a couple miles the outlet of Lake Reflection is reached. At first glance, Lake Reflection might seem small, but this is only the outlet bay. A few meters away lies a log jam and views of the expansive alpine lake. GPS route here.

Pyramid Peak & Window Peak Lake

“Window Peak Lake” is a spectacular granite-encased lake tucked in underneath rugged Window Peak. While only a couple miles off the John Muir Trail, there is no trail or use paths to negotiate the 1,800 foot vertical ascent to the lake which is steep and rocky. The lake is also situated in one of the more remote spots in the range with all access options entailing many trail miles and lots of elevation gain. The lake is not officially named on any maps, but its proximity directly underneath Window Peak makes Window Peak Lake an appropriate unofficial name. The difficult accessibility combined with very little information on this region makes this a pristine and unfettered setting with virtually no human impact. I hope places like this stay that way and in future years I hope to find the same unspoiled setting!

Erica and I accessed the area via Road’s End passing by Mist Falls and then running up Paradise Valley and the Castle Domes to the John Muir Trail at the Woods Creek junction. After some photographs on the suspension bridge we continued northbound up the JMT for one mile before turning off and heading up the rocky and steep slopes. The general idea is to stay on the north side of the stream draining Window Peak Lake ascending talus, steep meadows and the occasional patch of pine trees. Virtually all brush can be avoided with careful navigation. A headwall is passed about halfway up where the outflow water from Window Peak Lake tumbles over a cliff producing a waterfall that is surely impressive in the early summer when snows from above are melting. Prior to reaching Window Peak Lake there is a smaller lake, aka mini-Window Peak Lake, but be sure to continue up to the much larger and scenic main lake. After a short break at Window Peak Lake, I continued up along granite slabs to Pyramid Peak. Most of the route is on friendly slabs with only a little bit of talus to negotiate. A small col must be gained to ascend the south ridge of Pyramid Peak that includes some class 3 scrambling. The summit of Pyramid Peak features an outstanding view looking south to the King Spur, Window Peak, Rae Lakes and a sea of peaks all around. Mount Whitney, Mount Williamson and Mount Tyndall are clearly visible to the south along with the Palisades to the north. The descent from Pyramid Peak was just as spectacular as the afternoon sun angle produced a beautiful blue color on Window Peak Lake. This view was one of my favorites in all of my adventures in the High Sierra. I met up with Erica at mini-Window Peak Lake and we continued down together to the JMT enjoying the stupendous views of the Woods Creek drainage up to the peaks surrounding the Rae Lakes including Painted Lady, Mount Rixford and Dragon Peak. Once on the JMT, we continued on to the Castle Domes valley where beautiful afternoon light illuminated the impressive granite towers. GPS route here