Type: Trad, Alpine, 3000 ft, Grade V
FA: Will Crljenko, Claude Fiddler, Andy Selters Oct 1991
Page Views: 327 total · 26/month
Shared By: Richard Shore on Sep 7, 2018
Admins: Chris Owen, Lurker, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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I've long been intrigued by this route from the very simple description in the Secor guide - "Northwest Ridge. V Class 5. This traverse starts at Peak 12,542'.” Some internet sleuthing revealed very little, save for this photo-intensive trip report from some guys who made a valiant attempt in winter. We found one hex that those guys rappelled off, otherwise there were no signs of anyone having climbed the route since the FA in 1991. Vintage film canister summit registers with only 3 or 4 entries dating back to the 1970s can be found on a few of the towers along the way. One summit "register" consists of an old brown paper lunchbag from the 1960s wrapped in aluminum foil. Truly obscure! This climb traverses nearly 2.5 miles of ridgeline above 12,000' and gains ~3000' along the way with a lot of elevation loss, too. The rock quality is generally excellent with some more shattered/loose stuff in the weathered notches between towers. My partner and I both felt like this was a worthy objective, especially if you’ve already done some of the more classic Sierra traverses. It goes pretty quickly for the supposed Grade V rating, and ranks among some of the easiest technical Grade V's in the Sierra, along with the Direct South Face of Lone Pine Peak (5.7 A0), the Bardini Route (5.6) on Birch Mtn, the Whitney Basin Traverse (5.7), and maybe the Temple-Gayley-Sill traverse via Venusian Blind (5.7). The grade given here doesn’t really reflect the overall difficulty of the route (which is significantly easier), much like the 5.9 rating for the Evolution Traverse.

From the Gable Lakes Trail in Pine Creek, head up to the old mining cabin and lakes. Cross-country travel to the southwest leads up towards the flanks of Peak 12,542'. This peak has a low cliffband with brushy slopes above. A weakness breaks through the middle of the cliffband followed by a long sandy slog up the vegetated slope above. This is the worst part of the whole traverse - once you gain the summit and ridge things get better quickly. From Peak 12,542', head southeast along the ridge, passing 6 large towers/peaks along the way to the Four Gables plateau and finally hooking back around to Peak 12,808' aka Four Gables North. There is loads of interesting class 3 and 4 climbing right on the ridge. Route finding is relatively easy - the line never really ventures off the crest of the ridge except for a few cruxy 5.6 or 5.7 downclimbs to the west off of southern end of Towers 1 & 3. These downclimbs lead to some exposed catwalk ledge systems a hundred feet or so below the ridge which lead directly to the notch before the next tower. One could easily rig some rappels in lieu of downclimbing these more cruxy sections. Staying "true" to the ridge through these two dropoffs would certainly require rappels or Peter Croft caliber down-soloing. The final crux of the day is the long sandy slog to Peak 12,808’ from the Four Gables plateau. Ugh! Descend the cl.3 north ridge of Peak 12,808’/4GNorth and drop off the east side near a saddle to the upper Gable Lakes, finally regaining the trail near the old mine. Keep an eye out for Mountain Yellow Legged Frogs while here - they are hard to miss.

Confident soloists and acclimated parties familiar with this style of climbing and route-finding can do the whole shebang in a big day car-to-car. This was the style of both the FA and our repeat ascent. Expect ~16 miles round trip and 7000' elevation gain for the big push. One could also camp at the Gables Lakes to break things up a bit, or carry a lightweight overnight kit if you're into the on-route bivy experience. We opted to bring just approach shoes and no rope - this was also how the FA party did it. Choose for yourself - it’s quite exposed in places. It seemed like almost all the 5th class sections were downclimbs, so another good strategy might involve bringing just a skinny rap rope and some tat/bail gear.