Mountain Project Logo
To save paper & ink, use the [Hide] controls next to photos and comments so you only print what you need.

NNW Ridge direct

5.6, Trad, Alpine, 3300 ft,  Avg: 2.3 from 3 votes
FA: unknown
California > High Sierra > 06 - Little Lak… > Little Lakes Peak


Lots of interesting fun class 5 moves (even more class 3 + 4) on a ridge often narrow in the midst of pretty mountains and lakes, not far from high parking. Ridge has several gendarmes and at least one knife-edge section. Rock is mostly featured fractured granite often turned in unusual angles. Length of climbing more than Mt Conness North Ridge, but different style of granite and less dramatic large-scale situation (though the section-by-section exposure is enough real).

warning: Ridge crest is exposed to weather erosion and not climbed much (yet), so be very careful of loose or breaking rock. Some intrusions of more breakable black rock, so be even more careful with that.

difficulty: The idea of this route is to seek out more difficult moves which offer more fun interesting climbing, by trying to stay on the crest of the ridge and by going over the top of gendarmes fairly directly (rather than avoiding difficulties and bypassing gendarmes). Seems like there are several 5.6 moves along the obvious line of the route.

Since some of those difficult sections could be avoided, this route likely is do-able at a lower grade - - > See this Route description.
. . (An older print guidebook rated it class 4, but even if taking an "indirect" approach, best to expect to need to do a couple of class 5 moves).

approach: From the Mosquito Flats trailhead parking (GPS lat long ~ N37.4352 W118.7470) - (altitude 10240ft / 3122m) take the Morgan Lakes hiking trail -[ map ]- SSW about 1.5 miles / 2.5km. Just S of Box Lake turn Left (E) off the trail (at GPS lat long N37.4127 W118.7563).
- - . . See off-trail bushwhacking route on Map . . - -
Cross the creek and hike around the end of Box Lake, then SE up (no trail) through open forest about 0.5 mile / 0.8km from the maintained trail (to around GPS lat long N37.4093 W118.7500) - (altitude 10775ft / 3285m).

Next start aiming more SSE - (trend more left for more meadow + creek, more right for warmup rock-scrambling sections) - for about 0.35 mile / 0.6km (to GPS lat long N37.4054 W118.7468). See the ridge rising up ahead, and head S to start some scrambling on granite in 100 yards. The more sustained climbing starts around GPS lat long (N37.4025 W118.7467) - (altitude 11450ft/3490m).

climb: Overall navigation is simple: keep following the ridge going SSE until it meets the SW ridge about 150 yards from the summit, then E up to the top.
- - . . See route on Map . . - -

There are about eight "gendarmes" -- local high points that stick up from the ridge which can either be climbed up-over-and-down or bypassed around one side.
Most of them can be climbed directly up their S end and descended on their N end. Some of them required class 4 down-climbing to get down off their N end. Generally not convenient to set up a rappel to get down.

But one of the earlier big granite gendarme or tower (around N37.3985 W118.7454) seems like it's more difficult than 5.6 directly up its South end for a couple of exposed moves or perhaps a longer sequence of 20-25 ft.
However, in 2018 discovered there is a fixed rope with knot loops hanging down over this sequence (not present in 2017). Perhaps this could be used for protection (or aid).
. . This South end could be bypassed by a descending traverse on its East (left) side (dramatic exposure, with possible loose rock) then up a narrow gully (loose rock for sure, with exposure) to regain the crest of the ridge -- and optionally "tag" the top of the gendarme by returning north along the ridge.
. . Or if this seems too dangerous or difficult, could try instead scrambling around below the right (west) side of this gendarme and around the next ridge crest section - (but these sections are some of the most dramatic and interesting of the route).

escape: Higher up on the ridge (around N37.3965 W118.7445, alt 12330ft/3760m) two steep talus gullies meet the ridge, so it might be possible to quit early and descend NE from there. But the fun interesting climbing continues to the summit.

descent: The "normal" descent would be down the South face to reach the trail a bit E of Morgan Pass (about 1670 vertical ft / 500m of talus+scree over a distance of 0.6 mile/1km), then NW + N on the maintained Morgan Pass trail about 3.5mile/6km to parking.

For additional fun interesting climbing (like 850-1000ft/260-300m length) - but mostly down-ward: From the summit descend the NE Ridge climbing route to the col / notch (N37.3985 W118.7389, alt 12415ft/3785m) between this peak and the Mt Morgan SW ridge.
- - . . See route on Map . . - -
Then NW down a steep talus gully (vertical 750ft/230m over 0.2mi/300m distance), then gentler about 0.4mi/.65km to meet approach route, roughly NW down through open forest to the maintained trail. Total about 3mi/5km from col back to parking.
- - . . See off-trail bushwhacking route on Map . . - -

For even more climbing and a bigger view: After descending the NE ridge, climb to the summit of Mt Morgan by its SW Ridge climbing route (additional 1375 vertical ft/420m up from the col), and choose a descent route from there starting NW then various options.

Or go back down the NNW Ridge climbing route. Likely the moves will feel rather different in the opposite direction. But that's a real lot of climbing for one day.

* vertical difference (betw parking + summit: +2545ft / 775m
* hiking approach vertical (including downs+ups): +1300 ft / 390m
* hiking approach distance: 2.4 mile / 4.0km
* total distance approach+climb ascent route: 3.2 mile / 5.2km

with descent of S face:
* climbing sections length: 3000-3900ft / 900-1200m
. . . (inclu down-climb sections)
* total vertical (round-trip): +2800ft / 850m
. . . (including downs+ups hiking but not going over gendarmes)
* total distance horizontal (round-trip): 7.5 mile / 12.2km

with descent of NE ridge:
* climbing sections length: 3900-5000ft / 1200-1500m
. . . (inclu down-climb sections)
* total vertical (round-trip): +2800ft / 850m
. . . (including downs+ups hiking but not going over gendarmes)
* total distance horizontal (round-trip): 7.4 mile / 12km


Little Lakes Peak (GPS lat long ~ N37.3959 W118.7417) - (altitude 12785ft / 3897m) - [ see on map ]
in the midst of the Rock Creek valley, between Box Lake, Chickenfoot Lake, Morgan Pass, and Mt Morgan.

The sustained climbing on this ridge starts around GPS lat long (N37.4025 W118.7467). Instructions for approach hike, see above.

driving: Rt 395 to Toms Place (GPS lat long ~ N37.5618 W118.6773) - (north of Bishop + Mt Whitney, south of Mammoth Lakes + Yosemite). Turn SW onto the Rock Creek road and continue SSW about 10.5 miles / 17km to its end at the
Mosquito Flats trailhead parking (GPS lat long ~ N37.4352 W118.7470) - (altitude 10240ft / 3122m).
Snow is not plowed to the end in winter.


No fixed protection.
Suggest light trad rack, since any belayed pitches are fairly short.
Additional long slings for wrapping around horns.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Little Lakes Peak seen from NW, with some ascent and descent routes marked
[Hide Photo] Little Lakes Peak seen from NW, with some ascent and descent routes marked
Little Lakes Peak between Mt Morgan and Rosy Finch, as seen from NW
[Hide Photo] Little Lakes Peak between Mt Morgan and Rosy Finch, as seen from NW
Little Lakes Peak with ascent route NNW Ridge marked
[Hide Photo] Little Lakes Peak with ascent route NNW Ridge marked

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] I tried this as a solo climb on a day when the weather did not invite anything harder or longer. I'd seen a report that the traverse over Little Lakes Peak to Mt Morgan had pretty views. I assumed that meant starting with the SW ridge of LLPk, which is also mentioned in the Moynier+Fiddler book. I check in the Secor book and it mentioned that the NW ridge was enjoyable. That would make it a shorter loop to fit the weather forecast, so that's that I chose.

The trail and off-trail hiking approach was mostly pleasant and pretty, as I expected for Rock Creek. I got onto the ridge at its low north end, imagining that the hiking would continue until I reached the steep section closer to the summit. Surprise was that the interesting climbing on a narrow rock ridge with gendarme challenges started much lower while the uphill angle was still gentle.

I kept thinking I must soon be reaching an easy section, but the interesting moves were pretty sustained. Except one gendarme in the lower section, I didn't look for easier moves off to the side, because I enjoy working out fun move on a narrow ridge. Still I felt like I'd had plenty when I reached the summit. I went down the NE ridge toward Mt Morgan, and the difficulty continued sustained (including a remarkable little tower near the LLPk-MtMorgan col.

Here I decided I was getting tired from too many climbing moves, so I abandoned my plan to climb Mt Morgan, and instead descended a talus gully to the NW. Felt some sprinkles while finding my way back to the trail and soon to the parking.

I will do it again - (maybe next time I'll have the time and endurance to add Mt Morgan).

Ken Jul 31, 2014
Tyler Wick
Bishop, CA
  Easy 5th
[Hide Comment] This route isn't worthy of comparisons to N Ridge of Conness. Not even close in terms of rock quality or position. Very few sections of solid rock, mostly stacked blocks and talus. Many of the notches between the gendarmes were just scary, loose talus piles. The best rock and climbing came after the NW ridge merged with the SW ridge close to the summit.

I planned on traversing to Morgan from the summit, but the ridge and scramble to the summit just looked like more loose talus. I dropped down the south face of LLP instead, and... surprise! More unconsolidated, loose baseball/basketball sized talus. It's probably better to just go on over to Morgan.

The route is an adventure for sure, just don't expect quality rock or much quality climbing.

FWIW, I walked past the SW ridge on the way out and the rock looked much better on that side of the peak. Jun 22, 2015
[Hide Comment] Thanks to Tyler's commeents, I made some changes to the main route description abovs.
Thanks to Tyler also for the suggestion of trying the SW ridge. I went back in July 2015 and tried the upper parts (but not the lower section which had the more compact rock visible from the hiking trail.

And thanks for a different perspective on the NNW Ridge (especially in comparison with Mt Conness North ridge, which used to be mentioned more in the older version of the route description above). Likely it does have more loose rock than the N ridge of Mt Conness. And does not have such a dramatic "position" on a macro scale.
Quality of climbing I see as a matter of taste: I really enjoy scrambling on Sierra ridgetop fractured granite. Of course some of that is going to be loose - (maybe lots of it) - so part of the "game" is being experienced at judging what's not loose, and knowing how to move carefully on different degrees of looseness. If you don't like that game, then be grateful for getting Tyler's perspective in advance - (and he's correct to warn that the SW ridge of Mt Morgan above looks like more of the same).

I guess part of enjoying a fractured ridgetop is focusing on the good stuff and ignoring/forgetting the non-good. If the interruptions of continuity just bother you, then again be grateful for Tyler's perspective in advance.

My perspective is that while Little Lakes NNW Ridge may indeed have more bad rock than Conness N ridge -- but by seeking out the good stuff, I get to enjoy more good fun moves in total -- and for less work than Conness. (My view is that the way lots of parties climb many of the sections of Conness N ridge is somewhat boring.)

From a micro perspective the "position" of many sections of Little Lakes NNW is plenty exciting: narrow arete with serious exposure on one or both sides. The way many parties climb Conness N ridge, in many sections they avoid the exciting crest, and so miss out on really appreciating its macro "position" - (but I really do enjoy Conness N ridge the way I choose to climb it). Jul 4, 2015