Iron Mountain
August 28, 2020
17.2 miles, +5,200’
After finishing the Southern Sierra High Route a few days earlier, Shannon and I spent the remainder of the week in Mammoth. I took Friday off to go enjoy the scenery, so Thursday night was spent researching SPS peaks that were both nearby and not too terribly affected by smoke. I settled on Iron Mountain, an 11,000’ peak at the southern end of the Ritter Range. I planned to approach from the Devil’s Postpile trailhead and climb the East Slope from Secor. I found this mountain to be much more of a maze than is described in Secor, with the details below.
The approach trail was sandy, but pleasant enough. I enjoyed the cool morning air and the relative lack of crowds. Most hikers head north or south from this trailhead, not west. Before long, I could see the Minarets poking out to the north.
Past Fern Lake, where I saw a group camping, the trail faded to a social route occasionally marked by cairns.
I reached Anona Lake, jumped across the stream, and started up what I figured to be the East Slope, a series of ledges and bumps climbing the large northeast-southwest rib that divides Ashley Lake and Anona Lake.
After about 800’ of climbing, I encountered terrain more complex than Secor’s description implied. It forced me to the north where the only visible gap across the ridge was at the top of the very steep Northeast Couloir. Then, I traversed back south and was faced with an even steeper headwall. The only obvious gap was at the top of the East Chute, which I somewhat reluctantly dropped into and began climbing.
Looking down the loose East Chute. I managed to get up without dislodging anything too big. The last 100’ or so were a little bit trickier with some interesting boulders to climb over.
After crossing through the notch, there was another half mile or so of unexpectedly loose talus to get to the summit. It was slow, but manageable.
The Minarets, and Mount Ritter and Banner Peak from the summit of Iron Mountain.
Looking down at Ashley Lake and Mammoth Crest from Iron Mountain. It was fairly smoky, but tolerable.
A wider shot looking north at the Ritter Range, including Mount Lyell. It was interesting to see a slightly different view of the Minarets. The view south was quite smoky, but I had an alright view of Balloon Dome and the Silver Divide.
On the way down, I had the idea to descend to Iron Lake and then cross the saddle just below 10,400’ before descending to Ashley Lake. It looked doable from the summit, but I found the gully descending to the south shore of Iron Lake a bit too loose and steep for my comfort. So, I climbed back up and traversed back to the north to descend the East Chute, which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to.
The view down the East Chute from the large boulders at the top of the chute.
On the way down the chute, I rained large rocks down the chute with most steps. A few hundred feet below the crest, while climbing around a chockstone I knocked loose a refrigerator-sized block that fell several hundred feet. Fortunately I could tell there was no one else climbing this route today, but the block definitely could have killed someone. Yikes.
Fortunately, I was able to get down the chute without incident and climbed back to the slopes north of the chute. From here, I descended cross country to Gertrude Lake where I had a nice view of Iron Mountain. After that, I crossed the creek and rejoined the trail towards Devil’s Postpile.
Just before rejoining the JMT I found these two deer enjoying a snack. The hike back to the trailhead was uneventful, I passed a couple of groups on the Beck Lakes Trail and then many dozens more once on the JMT and back in Devil’s Postpile.