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Next: Mount HumphreysContentsPrevious: Mammoth Pass to Mono Pass

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

Mammoth Pass to Piute Pass

Mono Pass to Pine Creek Pass

Hervey Voge, James W. Koontz, II, and George Bloom

THE AREA FROM Mono Pass to Pine Creek Pass, including Wheeler Crest and Mount Morgan east of Rock Creek, lies almost entirely within the High Sierra Wilderness Area, and is one of the finest mountain regions to be found in California. The rock is largely granite. A few small glaciers lie under the north or east faces of some of the peaks, among them being Mills, Abbot, and Gabb.

Trails follow the northern and southern boundaries of this area, but the only trails that cross it are the Muir Trail in the western part, the rough road (closed to autos) from Little Lakes Valley to Morgan Creek and Pine Creek, and a rudimentary trail from Bear Creek past Lake Italy to Granite Park.

Footpaths enter the Mono Recesses from Mono Creek, and also will be found in some other canyons. To enter First and Second recesses, proceed up the east sides of the streams that drain them. To enter Third Recess, start up the east side, but after a short while cross to the west. To enter Fourth Recess, leave Mono Creek east of the Fourth Recess stream and proceed up that side to the large lake in the recess, where the stream may be crossed to the west side; then follow a ducked trail that climbs high on the west wall to avoid the cliffs.

In the region east and south of Rock Creek, Wheeler Crest runs north from massive Mount Morgan (13,748n; not to be confused with the Mount Morgan, elevation 13,005n, eight miles to the northwest). The peaks east of Rock Creek are easily accessible and can be climbed in a single day from the roads along Rock Creek or Morgan Creek. Six summits over 13,000 feet are listed in this small region. The climbing is not especially difficult, but the views of the main crest are excellent, and the colorful metamorphic rocks composing this ridge add a degree of charm.

Principal Passes

Mono Divide may be crossed at several places. First Recess provides a very scenic cross-country route to Bear Creek; follow First Recess Creek and cross a notch between Recess Peak and Peak 12,135 (12,205n). This class 2 pass may have snow on the northeast, but offers meadow-covered table lands on the southwest. Second Recess may be traversed on routes leading from Mono Creek to Lake Italy. The best of these leaves the meadows of Second Recess to climb the slope on the north side of the Mills Creek cascade, follows the left side of Mills Creek to its head, and crosses Gabbot Pass, between Mount Gabb and Mount Abbot. On the Lake Italy side the walking is quite easy; follow the north shore of Lake Italy to the outlet and cross to the trail on the south side. Another route from Second Recess proceeds directly up the recess, ascends a steep headwall at timberline by sloping ledges on the right (W) side, and crosses the Mono Divide at a broad pass about 0.6 mile northeast of Mount Hilgard. This route is rougher than the Gabbot Pass route. Neither is suitable for stock.

Bear Creek headwaters are splendid terrain for those who like cross-country walking, and many lovely lakes hidden away in granite bowls will be met. A shortcut from the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek to the East Fork may be taken on either side of Peak 12,536 (12,550n). From the upper basin of the East Fork of Bear Creek a route proceeds southeast to a pass between Peaks 13,234 and 12,817 (13,242n and 12,831n) and follows the stream to the south down to French Canyon. Other cross-country routes may be made from the region of Sally Keyes Lake to French Canyon, crossing north of the Pinnacles and of Peak 12,363 (12,427n)

Photographs: View west and south from Bear Creek Spire, SCB, 1942, 30-31; First Recess, SCB, 1930, 11; Fourth Recess, SCB, 1918, 293; 1947, 30-31.

Peaks of the Main Crest

Peak 13,202 (13,198n; 1 SW of Mono Pass)

Route 1. West couloir. Class 3. Ascended July 25, 1946, by Fritz Gerstacher and Virginia Whitacre from the Fourth Recess by a couloir that comes down just under the highest pinnacle.

Route 2. East buttress. Ascended August 1, 1946, by Lester Lavelle and Malcolm Smith.

Route 3. West wall and north ridge. Class 5. First ascent August 17, 1953, by Jim Koontz, Ralph Perry, and Fred Peters. From between the third and fourth lakes in the Fourth Recess a large col is seen in the ridge north of Peak 13,202, with a chockstone below it, and a chimney containing chockstones at the base. Ascend the chockstone chimney and then up the face to the col. Traverse south along the ridge, mostly on the west face, to the western couloir, and climb this to the top.

Mount Mills (13,352; 13,468n)

First ascent July 10, 1908, by J. S. Hutchinson, J. N. LeConte, and Duncan McDuffie (SCB, 1909, 9) by Route 1.

Route 1. North face. Class 3 (ice axe advisable). From the Fourth Recess ascend the glacier, cross the bergschrund, and climb the broken face on a tongue or rib of rock which comes down almost to the bergschrund.

Route 2. West face. Class 4. Ascended July 23, 1953, by Jim Koontz, Marian Steineke, Louis Christian, and Jim Carl. Ascend avalanche chutes near the southern end of the face. The top 200 feet require class 4 climbing.

Mount Abbot (13,736; 13,715n)

See Sketches 10 and 11; photographs: SCB, 1909, 7, 14; 1930, 15, 18.

Route 1. Southwest chute. Class 3. First ascent July 13, 1908, by J. S. Hutchinson, J. N. LeConte, and Duncan McDuffie. From Lake Italy or the Second Recess of Mono Creek proceed to the base of Mount Abbot. A fan of talus leads just to the south (right) of the bare granite face of the summit peak. From the apex of the fan three chutes lead toward the crest. The northern one becomes a chimney with a prominent chock-stone, the central one is quite broad, and the southern one leads to the crest quite a way south of the summit. Ascend the central chute, which is most easily entered from the rocks to the right (S) of the bottom. At the top of the chute the cliffs are not nearly so difficult as they appear to be from a distance, and they can be ascended by several ways to the broad summit plateau a short distance south of the summit proper.

Route 2. West ridge. Class 4. First ascent August 30, 1927, by M. Yeatman and M. L. Huggins. Follow the ridge from the Abbot-Gabb saddle (Gabbot Pass), with some minor deviations.

Route 3. Southeast buttress. Class 3. First ascent August 19, 1932, by S. W. French. From Little Lakes Valley climb to the glacier between Dade and Abbot and ascend on the south side of the buttress or spur

Sketch 10. Mounts Dade and Abbot from the east. From left to right: Mount Dade, Route 1 and variation; Mount Abbot, Routes 3 and 4.
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 10. Mounts Dade and Abbot from the east. From left to right: Mount Dade, Route 1 and variation; Mount Abbot, Routes 3 and 4.
at the southern end of the east wall of Abbot, occasionally crossing to the north side of the buttress.

Route 4. Northeast buttress. Class 3. This route was descended by S. W. French on August 19, 1932. The buttress leads more or less northeast of the summit of Abbot, and is south of a prominent snow gully. The rock is fairly broken and may be ascended or descended by a variety of routes from ledge to ledge.

Sketch 11. Mount Abbot from the west. From left to right: Routes 2, 5, and 1. S—summit.
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 11. Mount Abbot from the west. From left to right: Routes 2, 5, and 1. S—summit.

Route 5. West chimney. Class 4. First ascent July 22, 1953, by C. N. La Vene and Hervey Voge. Ascend the northern chute above the talus fan described under Route 1. The chockstone may be passed on the left (N) side. The chimney reaches the west ridge just southeast of a prominent, overhanging spire. From here cross the north face to the summit plateau, or go up the face.

Mount Dade (13,635; 13,600+n)

First ascent August 19, 1911, by Liston and McKeen of Fresno.

Route 1. South Slope. Class 2. The south slope of Mount Dade is easily climbed and may be reached from the west or east sides of the crest.

Route 2. West chute. Class 2. From the slopes northeast of Lake Italy a chute leads almost directly to the summit of Mount Dade. The rock rib just south of the chute may also be climbed (class 3).

Route 3. On August 24, 1951, Lloyd Chorley and Don Chorley climbed by a western chute and the north ridge.

Bear Creek Spire (13,706; 13,713n)

Route 1. Northwest slopes. Class 3. First ascent August 16, 1923, by H. F. Ulrichs. From Lake Italy easy benches lead around the north side of the subsidiary peak west of the Bear Creek Spire and onto the easy northwest slopes of the peak. The last few hundred feet are moderately difficult and may require use of a rope. Usually the north arÍte is followed on the final approach to the summit.

Route 2. Northeast face. Class 3. First ascent by Norman Clyde, October 6, 1931. A rather devious route may be worked out up this face, with good climbing most of the way.

Route 3. Northeast arÍte. Class 3 to 4. Ascended by Norman Clyde, May 27, 1932.

Route 4. North ridge. Class 3. From the east side the broken face may be climbed to the ridge north of the Spire. Then the north ridge can be followed to the summit or the sloping plateau can be crossed westward to join Route 1.

Route 5. From Pine Creek. Class 4. Climb to the crest about 400 yards to the southwest of the summit and traverse along the crest or on ledges on the sides to the summit (Norman Clyde).

Photographs: SCB, 1931, 6; 1942, 30-31 (winter), 1947, 30-31.

Peak 13,173 (13,196n; 1 SW of Bear Creek Spire)

The name Mount Julius Caesar has been proposed because of the proximity to Lake Italy. First ascent August 12, 1928, by A. H. and Myrtle Prater. The south ridge, west ridge, and southwest slopes are class 2. An ascent by the north face and east arÍte, from the lake in the cirque to the northeast was made August 9, 1953, by Jim Koontz, Pete Murphy, Al Wolf, and Ed Toby.

Peak 12,736 (12,720+n; head of Granite Park)

First ascent July 21, 1953, by C. N. La Vene and Hervey Voge. Class 2 by west or north ridges.

Peak 12,542 (12,563n; 1.2 NW of Pine Creek Pass)

Ascended by Norman Clyde in 1938 via the west slope. An easy ascent except for class 3 on the summit monolith.

Peaks West of the Crest

Volcanic Knob (11,153; 11,168n)

The east slope was climbed August 14, 1937, by Owen Williams.

Peak 12,135 (12,205n; 1 NW of Recess Peak)

Ascended by members of the 1953 Sierra Club Base Camp. Class 2 by the west slope, which may be reached from First Recess by the saddle south of the peak.

Peak 12,100+ (12,241n; 1 NE of Recess Peak)

Ascended by members of the 1953 Sierra Club Base Camp. Class 3 by the northwest face.

Recess Peak (12,841; 12,836n)

First ascent prior to 1937.

Route 1. Northeast arÍte. Class 3. Walk up the Second Recess to timberline, climb the west wall beyond the sharp cliffs, and follow the canyon leading toward Recess Peak; this canyon holds two lakes. From the head of the canyon cross a snowfield to a large col in the arÍte and follow the arÍte to the summit.

Route 2. East arÍte. Class 3. Climb to the arÍte from the snow slope below.

Route 3. Southwest arÍte. Approach from Bear Creek.

Peak 12,751 (12,720+n; 1 NW of Mount Hilgard)

First ascent August 11, 1953, by Jim Koontz, Al Schmitz, G. Wallerstein, and Fred Peters, by the east arÍte (class 4). The descent by the south arÍte into the cirque at the head of the Second Recess was class 2.

Mount Hilgard (13,351; 13,361n)

First ascent July to, 1905, by Charles F. Urquhart. Class 2 from Lake Italy by the south slopes, or class 3 by the southeast face. Photograph: SCB, 1942, 30-31.

Mount Gabb (13,701; 13,711n)

First ascent June 17, 1917, by H. H. Bliss and A. L. Jordan. Route 1. Glacier and northwest ridge. Class 2. From the head of Mills Creek ascend the glacier and the scree headwall to the northwest ridge. Follow the ridge over large blocks to the summit. This is a fine route for descent if the snow is in condition to glissade.

Route 2. East spur of the northwest ridge. Class 3. From the largest lake near the head of Mills Creek, follow talus to the notch right (W) of the prominent gendarme on the east spur of the northwest ridge. In places the talus is quite steep and loose and could be dangerous for large parties. From the notch follow the ridges over more sound rock to the summit.

Route 3. South slope or west ridge. Class 2. From Lake Italy ascend over broken rock and scree to a 100-foot cliff at about 12,000 feet. This can be climbed via several broad chutes or directly over the rock. Work to the west to avoid further cliffs, or head directly for the summit by means of broad sandy chutes and a series of chimneys.

Route 4. Northeast ridge. Class 3 to 4. Ascend directly from Gabbot Pass.

Route 5. North face. Class 4. Ascended August 13, 1953, by Jim Koontz, Ralph Perry, Fred Peters, George Wallerstein, and Al Schmitz. From upper Mills Creek climb the glacier to a point just west of the prominent split in the middle of the north face. This split diagonals upward (E to W) and ends about 300 feet directly below the summit. climb the slabs to the split and ascend the west side of the split until a large chockstone is reached. Pass this by exposed ledges, a 25-foot crack, and a 20-foot chimney which leads to the top of the west wall of the split. Then proceed to and up the northwest ridge.

Peak 12,367 (12,320+n; 1.2 NW of Mount Gabb)

First known ascent September 8, 1927, by James Wright. From the largest Mills Creek lake ascend talus to a couloir, ascend the (snow-filled) couloir to the ridge, and thence go to the left to the summit. Class 3.

Peak 12,124 (12,145n; 2.5 NW of Mount Mills)

First ascent record illegible. Class 3 to 4 from the Second Recess by way of northwest ridge and west face. The next peaklet to the south, 12,200+ (12,160+n), was climbed for the first time by Hervey Voge, Jane Collard, and Mary Crothers on July 23, 1953. They approached over Peak 12,124 and descended the west face. Class 3 to 4.

Peak 12,701 (12,691n; 1.7 NW of Mount Mills)

First ascent August 3, 1864, by W. H. Brewer.

Peak 12,301 (close to 12,406n; 2.3 NW of Mount Mills)

Mono Rock (11,500+; 11,555n)

First ascent by Norman Clyde and companion, July 18, 1934.

Route 1. East slope and south ridge. Class 2. From the lowest lake of the Fourth Recess climb via the ducked trail and slopes below the buttress to the lowest point of the ridge south of Mono Rock and proceed north along the crest to the top.

Route 2. East wall. Class 4. From the top of the headwall above the lowest lake in Fourth Recess angle across the face on ledges to a small bowl from which the summit can be gained. Ascent by Bill Wallace, August 17, 1953.

Route 3. North face. Class 5. First ascent by Lester LaVelle, Paul Hunter, Joe Sharp, Willard Dean, Dan Sharp, and Homer Wellman, August 6, 1946.

Peak 12,351 (12,356n; 1.5 NW of Mount Mills)

Ascended July 18, 1934, by James Wright and Norman Clyde.

Peak 12,934 (12,880+n; 0.5 NW of Mount Mills)

Climbed July 18, 1934, by James Wright and Norman Clyde.

Bear Dome (9,930; 9,947n)

The Tombstone (10,003; 10,059n)

Ascended in 1929 by Walter L. Huber.

Mount Hooper (12,322; 12,349n)

First known ascent in 1929 by Glen Dawson, William D. Horsfall, and John Nixon.

Peak 12,000 (12,01412; 1 SE of Mount Hooper)

Ascended prior to 1947. Crossing from Hooper is difficult. Class 1 from Upper Sally Keyes Lake.

Peak 11,845 (11,851n; 2 N of Mount Hooper)

Peak 11,583 (11,615n; 1.2 SW of Mount Hooper)

Mount Senger (12,253; 12,271n)

First ascent 1907-9 by George R. Davis, T. G. Gerdine, C. F. Urquhart, and L. F. Biggs of the USGS. The peak is class 1 from the south or west, and class 2 from the east.

Turret Peak (12,060; 12,000+n)

Climbed prior to 1930. A south to north traverse was reported to be easy.

Peak 11,700+ (11,760+n; 2 SW of Mount Hilgard)

First ascent in July 1947 by W. J. Losh via the east ridge. Class 2.

Peak 12,200+ (12,287n; 1.7 S of Mount Hilgard)

First ascent in July 1947 by W. J. Losh, by the west ridge. Class 2 to 3.

Peak 12,536 (12,550n; 1.2 S of Lake Italy)

On July 11, 1934, James Wright found ducks on the west slope but no cairn on top.

Peak 12,777 (12,756n; 1 SE of Lake Italy)

First known ascent July 13, 1933, by George Rockwood and David Brower, who described it as one of the better sand climbs of the Sierra.

Seven Gables (13,066; 13,075n)

First ascent June 29, 1898, by J. N. LeConte and C. L. Cory. Photographs: SCB, 1916, 104; 1930, 22; 1939, 30-31.

Route 1. West slope. Class 2. Ascend from the South Fork of Bear Creek, climbing up to the central valley of Seven Gables on the south side of the creek running from it. The creek is then followed through a small meadow, thence up to the saddle on the east rim. The highest point is reached by clambering southward over large broken rock and a simple system of ledges and chimneys. If snow-filled chutes are encountered, they may be circumvented on the rock ridge above.

Route 2. East slope to saddle. Class 2. From the oblong lake northeast of Seven Gables climb slabs and snow to the chute running east from the main saddle north of the summit. Climb the north side of the chute and proceed to the summit as in Route 1.

Peak 12,800+ (12,866n; 1.4 SE of Seven Gables)

This is a prominent twin peak. The first ascent was made July 30, 1953, by Jim Koontz and Rosemarie Lenel by the north ridge from the little lake in the saddle to the northwest. Class 2. The saddle may be reached from the east or west.

The Pinnacles (12,264; 12,240+)

The highest point of the Pinnacles was reached, apparently for the first time, by Glen Dawson, Neil Ruge, and Alfred Weiler on July 14, 1933. There is good climbing on the east side of the ridge but not on the west. Some of the pinnacles appear very difficult. They extend for about one mile, the southern end being a little lower (12,106; 12,122n). Two southern pinnacles were climbed July 5, 1939, by Bruce Meyer and Jim Harkins. Another pinnacle was climbed in June 1931 by Nathan Clark.

Peak 12,395 (12,421n; 2 SE of Seven Gables)

First ascent July 12, 1933, by David Brower. Class 2.

Peak 12,363 (12,427n; 1.5 NW of Hutchinson Meadow)

Ascended July 7, 1940, by members of Sierra Club Burro Trip.

Peak 12,530 (12,530n; 2 E of Seven Gables)

Peak 12,817 (12,831n; 1 W of Royce Peak)

First ascent July 13, 1933, by George Rockwood. Class 2.

Peak 13,234 (13,24212; 1 NW of Royce Peak)

First ascent July 13, 1933, by David Brower. Class 3 by the southwest ridge.

Royce Peak (13,238; 13,253n)

First ascent June 23, 1931, by Nathan Clark and Roy Crites. A class 2 ascent over talus. From the pass between Royce and Merriam climb the southeast ridge. The southwest ridge is also easy, as is the west slope. The east face was climbed in 1936 by Ellis Porter, Herbert Welch, and Frank Richardson.

Merriam Peak (13,067; 13,077n)

Ascended July 14, 1933, by Lewis Clark, Julie Mortimer, and Ted Waller. Class 2 by the northwest ridge. The east face was climbed July 3, 1939, by Alden Bryant and Bob Helliwell. The southwest side has also been climbed. Photograph: SCB, 1934, 94-95.

Peaks East of the Crest

Peak 11,757 (11,742n; 3 SE of Red Mountain)

This peak, on the northern end of Wheeler Crest, is class 1 up the northwest slope from Rock Creek. It was climbed in 1933 by the USGS, and in 1946 there was a mining claim on the summit.

Peak 11,500 (11,498n; 2.2 N of Round Valley Peak)

Ascended August 7, 1945, by Chester Versteeg. Class 2 by the north ridge from Rock Creek.

Peak 10,663 (10,601n; 2 NW of Round Valley Peak)

First ascent by Chester Versteeg, September 29, 1944. Class 2 from the north except for a short class 3 summit pitch.

Peak 11,888 (11,791n; 1.3 N of Round Valley Peak)

First ascent by Chester Versteeg, September 26, 1944. Class 2 from the north, or along the south ridge from near Round Valley Peak.

Round Valley Peak (11,932; 11,943n)

First ascent prior to 1944. This peak may be approached from the west via a breach in Wheeler Crest just west of the peak. Class 1. Trees grow almost to the summit, and it is easy from almost any direction.

Peak 12,531 (12,541n; 1.5 S of Round Valley Peak)

Ascended September 24, 1944, by Chester Versteeg and Niles Werner. Class 1 to 2 by north slopes.

Peak 12,970 (12,966n; 2.5 S of Round Valley Peak)

The highest point of Wheeler Crest was ascended August 14, 1945, by Don McGeein and Virgil Sisson. The west slope of Wheeler Crest can be ascended in many places, although the footing is poor, consisting mostly of rubbly slate or limestone. One can walk along the top of the crest easily. Peak 12,970 is class 2 from the northeast or southwest.

Peak 13,200+ (13,265n; 1 NE of Mount Morgan)

First ascent by Chester Versteeg, September 25, 1944. Class 1 from the East Fork of Rock Creek by the eastern slope of the north ridge and the north ridge.

Peak 13,450 (13440+n; 0.6 NE of Mount Morgan)

First ascent prior to 1942. Class 2 to 3 by the southwest ridge from Mount Morgan or from the north.

Mount Morgan (13,739; 13,748n)

First ascent by the Wheeler Survey, about 1870. Class 1 to 2. Mount Morgan can readily be climbed by several routes from the mines on Morgan Creek. It is probably best to go well up toward the head of the northwest fork, from which place a route can easily be picked out by inspection. In spring and early summer the mountaineer can usually avail himself of a snow-filled chute running up to the summit above. The northwest ridge from Francis Lake on the East Fork of Rock Creek is class 1. Mount Morgan is not a mountain having any very real appeal to the mountaineer, but its summit affords a spectacular view.

Peak 13,200+ (13,160+n; 0.8 E of Mount Morgan)

Peak 13,206 (13,200+n; 1.2 SE of Mount Morgan)

Peak 13,201 (12,920+n; 1.7 SE of Mount Morgan)

Peak 12,887 (12,866n; 1 NE of Bear Creek Spire)

First known ascent in 1927 by Norman Clyde. This peak is class 2 from the col immediately northeast of Bear Creek Spire.

Peak 12,750 (12,640+n; 1.8 NE of Bear Creek Spire)

Class 2 to 3 from saddle to west of summit. Has been called Tempest Peak. Photograph: SCB, 1942, 30-31.

Peak 12,819 (12,808n; 1 SW of Mount Morgan)

First ascent by A. J. Reyman, October 2, 1947. Class 2 by the south slope from the upper Morgan Lake.

Peak 12,560 (12,571n; 1.3 SE of Bear Creek Spire)

First ascent September 29, 1931, by Norman Clyde. Class 2 to 3 from Morgan Creek or Pine Creek. A number of routes are possible up chutes or intervening ribs.

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