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Sierra scrambles + long solos 2017

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kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Alastair and I got out on the NNW ridge of Little Lakes Peak today (Rock Creek canyon south of Mammoth).

Some fun climbing on narrow arete.
But lots of navigation on approach needed to get around big wet meadows I never saw like that before. Also got feet wet crossing the main creek.

And got eaten by mosquitoes while putting my shoes back on.

Alastair found a new easier scrambling way around the first big granite "gendarme" blocking the ridge (below its west side). After I had taken the exciting exposed climbing-traverse way (low across its east side, with notable loose rock after the traverse, climbing back up to regain the ridge crest). 

After we regrouped to share our stories, we decided we'd already gotten enough great arete climbing and views of snow (and other scrambles to try on future days) -- also enough extra work in navigation . . .
so headed back down, and found an easier way to get around the big wet meadow.


P.S. Nice start: I'm ready for more (with better planning around water, and more serious application of insect repellent.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Mt Starr, in Little Lakes Valley
. . East ridge of south side.

Not my kind of granite. Mostly slopy and lacking in positive holds.
 - (unlike the main N-S summit ridge, to which I was planning to link this E to make a loop).
 - (unlike on Little Lakes Peak on the other side of the valley).

Mt Starr is not one of the more dramatic peaks in the Rock Creek drainage, but it has the advantage of being close to the trailhead. And previously I enjoyed scrambling on its main N-S summit ridge.

Several East ridges come down off the main summit ridge. The one I chose looked very promising from a distance. Straightforward and quick to reach its bottom end (GPS lat long approx N37.4243 W118.7611) from Mosquito Flat parking. But then the climbing just wasn't fun. Sometimes the lack of positive holds was scary. So I turned around before I reached the first exciting-looking gendarme.

Instead of a new scrambling route, I just got a nice excuse for yet another wonderful morning wandering around the Little Lakes Valley.

. . . Mosquitoes not a big problem this time.


 P.S. Maybe next time try one of the more SE-NW trending ridges on Mt Starr to see if rock style is different. With E ridge of Ruby Peak as fallback.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Mt Starr, South Ridge
. . . in Rock Creek / Little Lakes Valley

This time found the type of rock that I enjoy. Headed up the Mono Pass trail until under the south side of Mt Starr. Looking for ridge lines, choose the one that came closest to the hiking trail.

lower SSW ridge of Mt Starr meets the trail around GPS latitude longitude (N37.4186 W118.7723). I scrambled N or NNE up the ridge, trying to stay on the crest, but weaving a bit -- to take the most interesting climbing, and avoid parts that were beyond my soloing ability. I guess I'd call it 4th class, though perhaps with more clever weaving could make it 3rd class -- and could find fun little 5th class sequences (like bouldering) if wanted that. The climbing ran out around (N37.4207 W118.7718). After about 750 ft length of climbing/scrambling, with 460 vertical feet uphill.

Then I walked up gentle to a nub (N37.4211 W118.7705) at the south end of the Mt Starr summit ridge, which had a great view
 -- and some interesting steep climbing below. So I tried down-climbing this other South ridge as the more logical southern extension of the N-S summit ridge of Mt Starr, more difficult than the first. But ran into a spot that I didn't want to try to pass. So traversed out to W, then down the scree slope between the two ridges, then E back onto the new ridge, seemed like a quarter of the way up from its bottom. Then climbed up to reach very steep buttress. Scrambled around and up a ledge along its E side. Just before this ledge went up to an even bigger steep wall, I scrambled up the last weakness in the buttress, diagonal left. Then traversed horizontal Left to the arete, and a move up this onto a platform, then a little more scrambling to reach the viewpoint nub I'd visited before.

lower South ridge of Mt Starr -- Bottom is around (N37.4201 W118.7705) above a scree slope higher than the Mono Pass hiking trail. Top is the viewpoint (N37.4211 W118.7705) at S end of the summit ridge, reached after 375 ft length of scrambling/climbing (briefly 5.4 required, with other options for 5th class sequences, and other 4th class required), with 330 vertical feet uphill (in addition to the approach up scree from hiking trail).

Above either of these ridges, the fun scrambling resumes at (N37.4221 W118.7694) on the N-S
summit ridge of Mt Starr, with an additional 2600 ft length of 3rd class (and say another 300 ft length continuing north beyond the summit), with 460 vertical feet of uphill.
. . . (which I had previously done a couple years ago, but
. . . . today I had a different further mission, to explore NE side of Ruby Peak).

Unfortunately there's no easy way off the summit, since both the east and west sides of the ridge are steep and slippery. One less difficult way is to continue north past the summit until everything gets gentler. If parked lower at the Rock Creek Pack station (the location of parking / road plowing / closure-gate for late-spring fishing + backcountry skiing), then could bushwhack out + down N then E. But that's a lot of extra distance if parked at the summer trailhead Mosquito Flat -- so after continuing north to gentleness, instead could go W + SW down to meet Mono Pass trail, and return S + E, then NE + N on that to Parking Mosquito Flat. Or could down-climb the southern section of the summit ridge then walk NW down scree to meet Mono Pass trail.

I felt the lower S ridge had more difficult climbing in more interesting rock situations than the lower SSW ridge.  Though the scrambling/climbing on the SSW ridge is longer. But anyway the length of the fun scrambling on the Mt Starr summit ridge is way more than either (and can be reached by a scree walk up from the Mono Pass trail without doing either of the lower ridges).


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Ruby Peak East ridge Fins + Towers
. . . Little Lakes Valley / Rock Creek - (GPS lat long N37.4088 W118.7822) . (elevation 13190 ft / 4020m)

I got out ahead of the rain today and climbed the ridge -- seeking out the most interesting climbing close to its crest. I've heard there's a 3rd class version of this which avoids the difficulties (likely to the left / south side), but that wasn't my goal for the day. 

I felt the climbing in the upper part on granite fins and towers was great, found lots of fun exciting 5th class sections -- tagged seven towers along the way. The lower part had lots of hiking/scrambling on talus or sand, but later the talus scrambling started feeling interesting enough.
. . . Also there's more climbing higher to be tried on the summit ridge, but I sampled only a small bit (due to darkening clouds).

To my surprise, I met another person near the summit, Ben from Mammoth Lakes, who had taken more of an off-ridge line -- which helped me feel good about trying an easier descent.

Only drawback is that this route has a longer approach to reach the interesting climbing than some other nice scrambles in Little Lakes Valley (but shorter than several others).

Descent of face along the south side of the ridge was not bad, but the line I took seemed more like 4th class -- perhaps because the central section was covered with snow, so I was along the south side. Then I tried the snow, but not so soft today (cooler + cloudy), so my climbing-rubber-sole approach shoes didn't work so well, and took a slide, so moved back to rock.

Next time (on a full day of stable weather), I might try traversing the north summit ridge (including "the gendarmes") from N to S, because then I could do more of the approach on the Mono Pass hiking trail.


P.S. some details . . .
. . base of the ridge GPS lat long approx (N37.4097 W118.7707)
. . length of (the more fun) talus scrambling : 500 ft
. . length of climbing : 1100 ft
. . uphill on East ridge : +1500 vertical ft . (some is hiking + easy scrambling).

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Little Lakes Peak - Mt Morgan traverse

One of the great days of climbing of my life. So many fun interesting moves in exciting rock situations, I think the most ever in one day.

Thanks to Fat Dad of MP for suggesting combining LLP with Mt Morgan, and to R.J.Secor for making one his rare editorial recommendations in his guidebook for NNW Ridge of LLP.

My style was to stay on or close to the crest of the ridge, trying to go up and over each "gendarme" obstructing the ridge -- seeking the most interesting fun climbing sequences, rather than the easiest or quickest way to the top.

Very efficient in terms of climbing versus non-climbing distance and vertical, because it's all within 3 miles of the highest trailhead parking in the Sierra (or in the United States?). And the ridge-crest granite on that side of the Little Lakes Valley is just so fun for low-5th-class climbing moves.

I parked at Mosquito Flat (N37.4352 W118.7471) . (10245ft / 3123m) - hiked south on the main valley trail to (N37.4127 W118.7564), then turned off and bushwhacked up to the start of the sustained climbing (N37.4017 W118.7463) on the NNW Ridge of Little Lakes Peak.

I was very enthusiastic about the quality the first time I tried this ridge, so I wondered how it would feel now after three years of so many other climbing and scrambling experiences. Answer: Better than ever. I think my eye for fun lines is better, and my confidence in outdoor techniques is better, and Little Lakes Peak has the "depth" to give me more now that I'm ready for it. The quality on the NNW Ridge ramps up slowly, but then it's remarkably sustained to the summit (N37.3961 W118.7418) . (12782ft / 3896m).

Next down the NE Ridge of Little Lakes Peak. I love down-climbing, and practice it lots on top-rope, so I continued to seek out the most interesting climbing staying on the crest of the ridge. It was rather interesting down-climbing, and lots of it low-5th-class. Arrived at the low break (N37.3985 W118.73895) . (12356ft / 3767m) between LLP and Mt Morgan . (This col could also be reached by a variation on my bushwhacking approach to the LLP NNW ridge).

Decided to try the SW Ridge of Mt Morgan, expecting it might be a (long) nice scramble to a higher summit. It did start that way, but then it delivered interesting 5th-class obstacles of its own (which I could have bypassed, by that's not my game). Was rather glad to reach the top (N37.4043 W118.7327) of the SW ridge -- but surprised to find that the summit of Mt Morgan was still a ways north, and not just a walk. The mountain had still more fun ridge-crest scrambling to offer, and then the improbable-looking south face of the summit block turned out to offer a way through, with an exciting finish that put me on the high point (N37.40525 W118.7329) .  (13754ft / 4192m).

The one thing I hated about the day was going down the unstable talus + scree (1250 vertical feet of it) on the steep NW slope (N37.41509 W118.73870) of the north ridge of Mt Morgan. My idea for next time would be to spot a bicycle near Rock Creek Lake ? (N37.4541 W118.7343) ? -- so I could instead go down roughly NNE less steep until hit the hiking trail around ? Francis Lake (N37.4334 W118.7175)?


C Brooks · · Fresno, CA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 551

Hey Kenr,

What are your top 5 Sierra scrambles to date? 

I'm looking for solo ideas, 3rd-4th class, easy 5th maybe

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832
C Brooks wrote:

What are your top 5 Sierra scrambles to date? 

I choose based on
. . fun interesting climbing sequences,
. . length of interesting fun climbing
. . spectacular setting (especially real aretes or edges with big views to both sides
. . . . during the climb, and exposure on at least one side)
. . shortness + non-difficulty of approach and descent.

Obvious favorite for 3rd/4th (with favorable ratio of long fun climbing versus approach labor) is the Crystal Crag in the heart of the spectacular Mammoth Lakes.

3rd class: Summit ridge of Mt Starr - (or can add some low 5th by first doing SSW Ridge low or S Ridge low). 

For low 5th, traverse of NNW and NE ridges of Little Lakes Peak. (or with bike shuttle to finish on hiking trail down to Rock Creek Lake, could add SW ridge of Mt Morgan South).

With less favorable fun-climbing-to-approach-labor ratio: 

3rd-4th class: selected portions of Cathedral Range Traverse 

low 5th class . . .

normal (descent) route on Cathedral Peak

entire Cathedral Range traverse

traverse N->S of North Peak and N ridge of Mt Conness
. . (requires rappel rope unless comfortable descending 5.6 on positive holds).

Very unfavorable ratio:

3rd-4th class: "Happy Cowboy" edge of Mt Whitney
. . The very best for lots + lots of fun climbing without needing to consider 5th class.
. . . . (provided that obtaining Permit, and long approach, are OK for you).

low 5th: Mt Carillon - two or three different ridges
. . (next to Mt Russell -  useful for after discover the low quality of the Mt R East ridge). 

apoet · · AZ · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 193
kenr wrote:


3rd class: Summit ridge of Mt Starr - (or can add some low 5th by first doing SSW Ridge low or S Ridge low). 

I plan on doing this route soon. Would you recommend it as a good first High Sierra peak? I was planning on bringing a 30m rope and super small rack just in case. Will there be any ice/snow on this route within the month?

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

No snow issue for Mt Start now.
Could bring some Trad protection for the low section of the South Ridge.
. . (see descriptions of these routes on MP).

Not a dramatic summit. But top of the low S Ridge is intimidating. Fun scrambling. Great summit views.

And great views on the pleasant non-difficult Mono Pass trail for approach.

Nice way to add some scrambling/climbing to a visit to the wonderful Little Lakes Valley.


P.S. If need an excuse to use more Trad gear to visit a higher and more dramatic-looking summit (with more approach labor) could try the nearby East Ridge of Ruby Peak.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Pinnacle Ridge traverse
by Mt Whitney: divides North Fork Lone Pine Creek from South Fork LP drainage.
GPS lat long approx (N36.5737 W118.2797) - elevation 12900-13000 ft

Not an arete climb. It's an adventure.

Yesterday I tried this from its West end (N36.5743 W118.2851). I reached that from the south side, after hauling my sleeping gear up to Trail Camp.
. . (this W end is very difficult to reach from North Fork LPCrk. I tried last year).

Not my style. I found it intimidating and not fun. Made it past the high point, but was glad to find an escape down the S side around (N36.5737 W118.2760), before the end.

The challenge was more of navigation than of climbing. Rather than finding the most fun interesting way to get up and over each gendarme, it was mostly about deciding whether to go around the next obstructing tower on its left or its right, or how low to go around it.
Most of the rock came in much bigger chunks, with fewer positive holds, than what I've enjoyed on Little Lakes Peak or along the ridge S from Mt Whitney, or on Mt Carillon.

The older guidebook info says this traverse is 4th class.

Last evening after I got back to camp from there, I slept almost twelve hours, interrupted by pain in my shoulders. Took one acetaminophine (extra strength Tylenol), did some massage of the hurt spots. Woke up seemed like hourly with pain, so more rubbing. A second acetaminophine tablet. More wake-ups with pain and massage. Next morning forced myself to get out climbing again with a sore back and a notable spot on back of my right shoulder.

Not my usual result from an afternoon on a supposed "4th class" route.

I could not find any reports on the Web. I don't know if anyone has done this traverse in the last thirty years. Since it's pretty difficult to do the Pinnacle Ridge traverse with access to / from both its E and W ends from North Fork LPCrk, I'll guess it gets little attention from climbers nowadays. Maybe the guidebooks just keep repeating the old ratings without checking. I'm guessing climbers back then weren't much concerned to find "fun" sequences on a high-mountain route, just get through it somehow and declare victory.

I'd say I made several 5.4 moves (some in the course of avoiding an obstructing tower), and one 5.7-8 sequence which turned out to be longer than I expected (let's assume that I was off-route).


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Happy Cowboy - Whitney edge

Yes the ridge south from Mt Whitney really is the king of Sierra scrambles (of also USA? or the world?).
Really fun moves on great ridge-crest granite with really interesting features, with
big (one-sided) exposure from climbing right at the edge. With
controllable commitment, because can reduce the exposure or difficulty by moving away from the edge -- or escape to the hiking trail.

. . Drawbacks are need for (the most difficult to obtain) wilderness permit, the high altitude, and the long (tho easy) approach hike.

Today I finished the northern part -- across the "named needles" of Third, Crooks / Days, Keeler, and the worthy finale of the SW Edge of Mt Whitney itself.

New for me was finding interesting climbing below the edge. First on the N side of the summit of Crooks Needle, then on the "edge" of the Mt Whitney summit mass.

Last year I had climbed the southern part of the Happy Cowboy, from a bit north of Trail Crest up to well north of Mt Muir. But then I "ran out of gas" so I stopped and escaped to the hiking trail. I thought maybe it was because I tried to do it car-to-car in a single day.
So this year I succeeded in getting an overnight permit in the lottery, and hiked up the day before with my sleeping gear up to Trail Camp. But then I tried to do the Pinnacle Ridge traverse in the afternoon, which turned out to be much more demanding (for me) than expected.

Today I started from Trail Camp (with sore back and right shoulder), hiked the switchbacks up to Trail Crest, then north on the trail toward the summit. Aroung GPS latitude longitude approx (N36.5714 W118.2920) I left the trail and started scrambling up the "edge" of the top of the big steep face to each high point, then down the "edge" to the notch/gully between that and the next high point.

I wasn't sure I'd go all the way to the summit, but then the final SW Edge of Mt Whitney itself proved to be especially interesting, so I was inspired to keep going (and my back and shoulder pain vanished). Found myself making fun 5th class moves with big exposure less than a hundred feet from the summit shed.


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Pinnacle Ridge Traverse - East part
by Mt Whitney: divides North Fork Lone Pine Creek from South Fork LP drainage.
GPS lat long approx (N36.5737 W118.2797) - elevation 12900-13000 ft

Got out on it again yesterday, connected with what I had done from the other W end a few days ago.

Didn't change my opinion of the difficulty of the route -- still think it's like 5.4
I recognized the exact down-climb sequence I had backed off from. I felt more confident doing it upward, but no way it was as easy as 4th class like the older guidebooks said.

Lowered further my opinion of the quality, since so much of the E part was way below the crest of the ridge -- way below a couple of interesting fins, which I couldn't figure out how to get on and off of. Perhaps some future party will climb up and over those (and that would change my opinion of the quality).

The scramble up to (and down from) the E end at Pinnacle Pass from North Fork was some of the best climbing of the day.


P.S. Saw a fresh white rappel sling on S side -- not sure what for.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

"infinite ridge" - SE from Mt Carillon
. . not so far from Mt Russell in North Fork Lone Pine Creek
. . today section low (N36.5869 W118.2677) . . high (N36.5884 W118.2707)

Wow -- everything I wished the Pinnacle Ridge would have been.

Climbing line closely follows the crest of the ridge.

Gendarmes with interesting sequences up and over. I counted 12 towers in the part I did.

Top-quality Sierra ridge-crest granite with fun climbing features -- plus lots of knobs.

My goal for today was to find a way to eliminate some percentage of the long (daunting) sand/scree approach to reach the fun ridge-climbing on Mt Carillon. Then what I found was so much better.

infinite ridge Project:
I'm imagining starting near Lower Boy Scout Lake, then near (or over?) the Springbok, likely include the N peak of the Impala, then up toward SE ridge of Mt Carillon. Next down W ridge (direct) of Mt Carillon, finally up the East Ridge (direct, not 3rd class) of Mt Russell.
Something like 9000 ft length of climbing, with uphill +5000 vertical ft.
So far I've done the parts near the summits of Carillon and Russell.
Lots of this ridge remaining to be explored - (notably the start).

My part today:
I started near the "north peak" of the Impala (whose dramatic South peak is the main climber's objective with three 5.7 trad routes). Found out the N peak has a an interesting 5.4 (or more?) line on its SE face -- (which I did not feel up to starting from the bottom today solo). Getting from N to S peak (about same height) looked pretty challenging, so I didn't try today. There's also a lower W peak, which looked more connect-able, but not sure what would be the point.

Next traversed from N peak to "infinite ridge" and had great fun climbing up that until I got tired (after lots of approach and scrambling yesterday). When the crest seemed to be "spreading out" a couple of times, I traversed right a bit to get on a more "arete"-like ridge. Didn't find any unclimbable towers or gendarmes in that whole part today.  Descending the sand/scree was so much better than slogging up it

Length of climbing 2200 ft, with net uphill +450 vertical ft.
Difficulty: several 5.6 sequences.


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Got out yesterday on the Long ridge SE from Mt Carillon. (near Mt Whitney).

This time started at the low end by Lower Boy Scout Lake.

Not much climbing in the first section -- until it gets impossilble (for me) on the serious rock higher on the SE ridge of the Springbok.

Instead I found a new approach to section 3 (well above the Impala) -- from the E (instead of previously from the S). Seemed like this approach was easier (less scree) but missed out on a significant amount of the ridge-crest climbing.
. . . (of course since the Long Ridge has more ridge-crest climbing than I can do in one day, this is perhaps an advantage).
Bottom around (N36.5876 W118.2686), perhaps a couple of low-5th-class sequences. I exited the gully to R just below its top. Then non-difficult scrambling to reach the crest of the Long Ridge of Mt Carillon SE at (N36.5876 W118.2702).
. . . (then I descended the scree to the S and hit the North Fork trail between Lower + Upper lakes).

I also tried a couple of low class 5 approaches from the E to points lower on the long ridge. 

The first was along the E side of the SE ridge of the Springbok -- base around (N36.5868 W118.26415). Rock in gully seemed a bit slopy, but what really made me turn back was that I had no idea if the route was climbable higher up, or the ridge above from Springbok -- seemed like way too much to down-climb.
. . . (? maybe try again after I explore the other higher end first).

The second was a gully with interesting reddish rock around (N36.5874 W118.2677). But then some of the rock seemed a bit loose (and I did not know if I might have to down-climb it it blocked higher up), so I retreated.

My next idea for how to hit the Long Ridge lower is to aim for the notch among the Impala peaks, with what looks like a featured gully leading SE up to it (to left of main Long Ridge) readily visible from Lower Boy Scout Lake.


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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