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Next: Mono Pass to Pine Creek PassContentsPrevious: Mammoth Pass to Piute Pass

A Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (1954), edited by Hervey H. Voge

Mammoth Pass to Piute Pass

Mammoth Pass to Mono Pass

George Bloom and John D. Mendenhall

THIS COLORFUL AREA may be approached from the north by the John Muir Trail or Duck Pass, from the south by way of Mono Creek, and from the east along Convict Creek, McGee Creek, Hilton Creek, or Rock Creek. The Muir Trail traverses the area from north to south, crossing Silver Pass before dropping down to Mono Creek. (Photograph: Peaks near Purple Lake: SCB, 1948, 30-31).

Much of the climbing in this area has been centered around Convict Lake, which is dominated by Mount Morrison, and is notable for the maroon, black, cardinal, buff, and grey colors of the surrounding peaks. Here the north face of Mount Morrison and the east cliffs of Laurel Mountain provide imposing routes that are only a few miles from the end of the Convict Lake road. Some of the history of this region is of interest, since it includes an appealing Indian legend, blazing guns, and bodies swinging from gallows.

According to tales of the Indians, once there was no Convict Lake. Little Pot-sa-wa-gees—spirits with the faces of Indian babies and fish-like bodies—lived in the stream. Hi-na-nu, roughly the Indian version of our Adam, strove to net them as they fled upstream. Desperate, they appealed to the Great Spirit to save them. He created the lake known to the Indians as Wit-sa-nap, our Convict Lake, and the little spirits were saved.

In 1871, convicts escaped from Carson City and headed south, murdering and looting. A posse led by Robert Morrison closed with them at Monte Diablo (now Convict) Creek, and both Morrison and an Indian aide, Mono Jim, were slain. Western justice was swift; the convicts were captured a few days later, and several were lynched.

Principal Passes

Trails cross Duck, Silver, and Goodale passes, as well as a pass between Bloody and Laurel mountains connecting Convict and Laurel creeks. A rudimentary trail crosses the crest at McGee Creek Pass, just south of Red Slate Mountain.

Climbers or knapsackers may cross from Lake Dorothy on Convict Creek over the crest to Purple Lake or Lake Virginia by passing just north of Peak 12,292 (12,277n). Another knapsack pass lies just west of Peak 12,309 (12,380n) and leads from the head of McGee Creek to Lake Dorothy. A scenic route from Mono Creek to the headwaters of Fish Creek passes just west of Red and White Mountain; it is best reached by a trail that starts up Laurel Canyon (opposite Second Recess of Mono Creek) on the west side, crosses to the east of the stream in the basin, and leads to lakes around which a way is picked to the saddle between Red and White Mountain and Peak 12,225 (12,238n). These knapsack routes are class 2.

Pioneer Basin is reached by a trail which leaves the Mono Pass trail east of the stream from the basin. Walking through the basin is quite easy, and the saddle west of Mount Stanford can be crossed by a knapsack route leading to McGee Creek.

Peaks of the Main Crest

Peak 11,300+ (11,348n; 1 NW of Duck Lake)

Peak 11,200+ (11,040n; 0.3 N of Duck Lake)

This peak was traversed from south to east August 17, 1937, by Owen Williams.

Peak 11,765 (11,772n; 1 NE of Duck Lake)

Peak 12,059 (12,052n; 1.7 W of Bloody Mountain)

First ascent prior to 1932. Class 1 from the west.

Peak 12,003 (11,975n; 1 SW of Bloody Mountain)

Peak 12,292 (12,277n; 1 SW of Lake Dorothy)

Ascended July 17, 1934, by David Brower. Class 2 from the north.

Red Slate Mountain (13,152; 13,163n)

First ascent possibly by J. T. Gardiner in 1864, although he may not have reached the summit. The peak is class 1 or 2 from any direction but northwest. The McGee Creek trail is a good approach; so is Convict Creek. The southwest ridge, from upper Fish Creek, is another good route. The upper portions are quite steep, and care should be taken if snow is present.

Red and White Mountain (12,840; 12,850n)

First ascent in 1902 by J. S. Hutchinson, Lincoln Hutchinson, C. A. Noble (SCB, 1903, 197, 201, 242).

Route 1. Southwest face. Class 2. From Mono Creek ascend Laurel Canyon (opposite Second Recess) passing to the west of the large lake near the head. Ascend the large chute at the southwest side of the peak; then follow the ridge a short distance to the summit.

Route 2. West ridge. Class 3. Climb the west ridge from the saddle between Red and White Mountain and Peak 12,225 (12,238n).

Route 3. Northeast ridge. The McGee Creek trail is a good approach to the mountain according to Norman Clyde who climbed it by the northeast face and ridge in 1928.

Mount Crocker (12,448; 12,457n)

First known ascent August 25, 1929, by Nazario Sparrea, a Basque shepherd. Class 1 by south or east ridges.

Mount Stanford (12,826; 12,851n)

First ascent 1907-1909 by George R. Davis, C. F. Urquhart, R. B. Marshall, and L. F. Biggs, surveyors of the Goddard Quadrangle. Class 2. A good approach is from the McGee Creek Trail. It may also be ascended readily from Pioneer Basin via the west ridge or southern gullies.

Peak 12,333 (12,309n; 1 NW of Mount Huntington)

Ascended July 14, 1934, by David Brower, Norman Clyde, and Hervey Voge en route from Mount Huntington to Mount Stanford. Class 2.

Mount Huntington (12,393; 12,405n)

First ascent July 14, 1934, by David Brower, Norman Clyde, and Hervey Voge. Class 2 by the southwest ridge, from Pioneer Basin. Class 3 by the south ridge.

Mount Starr (12,900; 12,874n; 0.5 E of Mono Pass)

First ascent July 16, 1896, by W. A. Starr and Allen L. Chickering.

Route 1. West slope. Class 2. From Mono Pass climb tedious unstable talus to the east of the pass to a broad, sandy false summit. Two hundred yards south of the false summit is a pinnacle which is higher than the sandy summit and which requires a shoulder stand.

Route 2. East slope. Class 2. From Mosquito Flat Campground on Rock Creek ascend the chute under the permanent snowfield visible on the northeast face of the north ridge.

Peaks West of the Crest

Peak 11,783 (11,787n; 1 SE of Duck Lake)

Peak 11,155 (11,083n; 1 S of Purple Lake)

Peak 12,375 (12,354n; 1.3 NE of Lake Virginia)

Peak 11,920 (11,915n; 0.7 E of Lake Virginia)

Balloon Dome (6,900; 6,881n)

Double Peak (10,637; 10,644n)

Pincushion Peak (9,817; 9,819n)

Saddle Mountain (11,200; 11,192n)

First ascent prior to 1922 by François Matthes.

Peak 11,500 (11,483n; 1 NE of Sharktooth Peak)

First ascent July 1, 1951, by A. J. Reyman. A class 2 traverse up the southwest ridge from Sharktooth Peak.

Sharktooth Peak (11,630; 11,639n)

First ascent prior to 1951. The southeast ridge from Silver Peak, and the south slope are class 2.

Silver Peak (11,883; 11,878n)

First ascent prior to 1937. The ascent from Margaret Lakes is class 2.

Peak 11,500+ (11,476n; 1 SE of Silver Peak)

Ascended July 2, 1951, by A. J. Reyman. Class 2 by the northwest ridge.

Peak 11,551 (11,554n; 1.5 S of Silver Peak)

Ascended August 8, 1937, by Ed and Jed Garthwaite and Malcolm Smith.

Graveyard Peak (11,584; 11,520+n)

Peak 11,334 (11,336n; 1.5 E of Graveyard Peak)

Peak 11,365 (11,365n; 1.2 SW of Silver Pass)

Peak 11,469 (11,428n; 0.3 W of Silver Pass)

First ascent unknown. There are three summits, the middle being highest. They were traversed by Owen Williams, August 17, 1937.

Peak 11,527 (11,516n; 1 S of Silver Pass)

Climbed by Owen Williams via north arête, August 17, 1937.

Peak 12,211 (12,221n; 0.7 E of Silver Pass)

The southeast and southwest sides are class 2 scree and boulders.

Mount Izaak Walton (11,900+; 11,840+n)

Route 1. Class 3. Follow the northwest ridge to the summit. One of two touchy points may be encountered near the top. Other, more difficult routes have been made, including one from the south involving a short class 4 overhanging pitch (photographs: SCB, 1930, 30, 74; 1939, 1).

Peak 11,678 (11,680+n; 1.7 W of Red and White Mountain)

Peak 12,225 (12,238n; 0.7 SW of Red and White Mountain)

Ascended August 14, 1952, by G. A. Daum, G. F. Hurley, and J. M. Schnitzler. Class 2 by a choice of routes from upper Fish Creek or from the saddle to the east.

Peak 11,915 (11,919n; 2 W of Mount Hopkins)

Peak 12,040 (12,067n; 2 SW of Mount Hopkins)

Peak 11,660 (11,669n; 1.5 SE of Mott Lake)

Climbed July 11, 1947, by Wallace Hayes. The summit is readily reached from the east by way of Laurel Canyon.

Mount Hopkins (12,300; 12,302n)

First ascent July 16, 1934, by David Brower, Norman Clyde, and Hervey Voge.

Route 1. From the east. Class 2. A good sand climb from Pioneer Basin.

Route 2. From the west. Class 2. From Hopkins Creek the route is similar to the eastern route, except for a rock cliff which can be avoided. Mount Hopkins may also be climbed by the south slope from the base of the Third Recess.

Peaks East of the Crest

Mammoth Rock (9,200+)

Probably climbed very early by miners from the mining camp just below.

Crystal Crag (10,100+; 10,364n; 1 SW of Mammoth Lakes)

Climbed August 11, 1936, by Owen Williams via the northeast face.

Peak 10,730 (10,717n; 1.5 SE of Mammoth Lakes)

Peak 11,641 (11,721n; 2 N of Duck Lake)

Peak 11,389 (11,382n; 1.7 W of Laurel Mountain)

Peak 12,400+ (12,465n; 0.8 E of Red Slate Mountain)

First ascent August 29, 1952, by A. J. Reyman. A class 3 ascent by the northwest ridge from the saddle east of Red Slate Mountain. This is a shaly and loose rock knife-edge and care must be taken in making the ascent.

Peak 12,309 (12,380n; 1.2 E of Red Slate Mountain)

Ascended July 17, 1934, by David Brower and Hervey Voge. Class 2 via western saddle.

Bloody Mountain (12,592; 12,544n)

First known ascent July 3, 1928, by Norman Clyde. From the south or southwest the climb is tedious, on rubbly slate. Class 2.

Laurel Mountain (11,800; 11,812n)

First recorded ascent September 25, 1926, by Norman Clyde. The east wall of Laurel offers a variety of unexplored routes starting only 500 feet above the end of the road.

Route 1. North ridge. Class 1. First ascent unknown. From the upper end of Convict Lake ascend brushy slopes to the ridge crest. Turn south and proceed across a small cirque to the summit.

Route 2. Northeast trough. Class 2. First ascent in 1925 by John D. Mendenhall. From the upper end of Convict Lake climb directly to the summit.

Route 3. Northeast gully. Class 4. First ascent September 7, 1930, by James M. Van Patten and John D. Mendenhall (SCB, 1931, 106). Midway between the northeast trough and the bight that splits the east cliffs rises a steep gully. The base is easily reached from the Convict Gorge trail. The lower thousand feet are enjoyable climbing, with firm belays occurring where needed. The steeper pitches approximate 60°. When the airy arête is reached, turn right and proceed directly to the summit.

Mount Morrison (12,245; 12,268n)

First ascent by Norman Clyde, June 22, 1928, by Route 1. The north face of Morrison is quite impressive, and it is easily reached from the road at Convict Lake. The woods beyond the upper end of the lake provide good camping. There is an interesting hanging valley below the north face of Morrison.

Route 1. Northwest ridge. Class 2. From the upper end of Convict Lake ascend a talus slope to the base of the northwest ridge, which is followed to the summit.

Route 2. Northwest chute. Class 3 (ice axe seasonal). First ascent in 1931 by John D. Mendenhall. From the upper end of Convict Lake climb into the hanging valley below Morrison’s impressive north wall. Just past the prominent buttress at the valley’s entrance, turn right and ascend a steep chute. Snow may be somewhat treacherous. Follow to the crest of the ridge, joining Route 1.

Route 3. Northeast wall. Class 5. First ascent September 1946 by Charles L. Wilts and Harry Sutherland (SCB, 1947, 130). Follow the hanging valley of Route 2 until directly beneath the summit of Morrison. Ascend the northeast face just left of the northeast buttress, working diagonally right for nearly 1,000 feet over high-angle rock, and then follow the buttress and a couloir to the top. About 18 pitons.

Route 4. East ridge. Class 2. First ascent in 1928 by John D. Mendenhall. Follow the hanging valley of Route 2, and from its head work up the east ridge to the. summit. An easier but less scenic approach is from Convict Lake via the canyon that drains the north slopes of Mount Gillett.

Route 5. South summit (12,100+; 12,334n). From the east. Class 2. First ascent September 9, 1930, by James Van Patten and John D. Mendenhall (SCB, 1931, 106). From Convict Lake follow the canyon north of Gillett to the east base of South Peak. Follow a steep, loose chute to the summit. The unsound rock demands care. A safer and more interesting climb could be made up the rocks south of the gully.

Route 6. South summit from the west. Class 2. First recorded ascent in 1928 by John D. Mendenhall. Ascend the Convict Creek trail above Convict Lake until past the west face of Morrison. Turn left and ascend a long talus slope and rocks to the summit.

Mount Baldwin (12,595; 12,614n)

First known ascent July 2, 1928, by Norman Clyde.

Route 1. North side. Class 1. Ascend the trail up beautiful Convict Gorge until approximately northwest of Mount Baldwin. Breaks in the cliffs east of Convict Creek allow one to easily reach the plateau below Baldwin. By skirting a few patches of steep rocks on the final peak, one may gain the summit without difficulty.

Route 2. North ridge. Class 2. Follow Route 1 onto the plateau, then ascend the north ridge (ice axe seasonal).

Mount Gillett (10,880n; 0.8 N of Morrison)

(Name used by Mr. and Mrs. Raymer, proprietors through the 1920’s of Convict Camp.) From the southeast shore of Convict Lake climb talus and easy ledges to the crest of the ridge and on to the summit. Class 1. The view of the north wall of Mount Morrison is singularly impressive.

McGee Mountain (10,859; 10,871n)

First ascent unknown. Class one from any direction. Has been reached by jeep.

Peak 11,536 (11,561n; 1.3 SE of Mount Morrison)

Locally called Mount Aggie. First ascent September 1, 1952, by A. J. Reyman. From a camp on McGee Creek south of McGee Mountain, follow up the small stream (usually dry in summer) southwest of McGee Mountain and ascend to the ridge at any point west of the creek bed. Go south on the ridge to the summit, the point farthest south on the knife-edge. Class 2.

Peak 11,846 (11,899n; 0.8 SE of Mount Baldwin)

Mount Morgan (12,984; 13,005n)

First ascent July 9, 1934, by David Brower and Norman Clyde via the ridge from Mount Stanford.

Peak 12,268 (12,268n; 1.5 NW of Mount Morgan)

Red Mountain (11,461; 11,472n)

First recorded ascent about 1938 by John Burns. Class 1 from the south Above Rock Creek watershed.

Peak 12,506 (12,522n; 1 E of Mount Stanford)

Peak 12,240 (12,252n; 1.5 SE of Mount Huntington)

This peak was ascended in 1930. It has been called Mono Mesa. It is class 1 by the southeast slope from Rock Creek Lake, and may also be climbed from the head of Mono Creek.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management