Mount Stanford (N) and Mount Morgan (N)
May 28, 2021
18.4 miles, +5,600’
After the previous day’s somewhat difficult outing I wanted to do an easy hike today. I also wanted to summit an SPS peak and didn’t want to drive too far, so I could get back early to eat a cheeseburger and get packed up for our backpacking trip the next day. In my experience, these three goals are not generally that compatible. Fortunately, “easy” is a subjective term that is quite easy to stretch when one is studying topographic maps by a warm fireplace. That’s how I ended up with a plan to climb Mount Stanford (N) and (hopefully) traverse over to Mount Morgan (N) on this day. A 19 mile hike with more than a vertical mile of climbing. Easy!
These two SPS-listed peaks lie just north of the Little Lakes Valley and south of McGee Creek. They can be reached from either the Hilton Lakes trailhead, or the lower McGee Creek trailhead. This class 3 traverse is somewhat popular, at least for the popularity of these two peaks. The most common route is to climb Mount Stanford via the East Slope, traverse the crest to Mount Morgan, and descend to Davis Lake via Southeast Slope. Mount Morgan is also climbed with some frequency via the Nevahbe Ridge from McGee Creek.
I was off the next morning at 6 or so, headed for the beautiful Little Lakes Valley. I hit the trail around 6:30 and after a short climb enjoyed the flat trail through old growth Pines and Junipers.
A Sooty Grouse displaying.
A very large Juniper tree.
After a few miles the trail wraps around and Mount Morgan comes into view to the north.
I left the trail just as it started to drop into the Hilton Creek drainage. I headed cross country for Lake 10,280+. On my way back, I’d realize that there was actually a trail that headed to this lake if I had just been a bit more patient.
Beyond Lake 10,280+ I followed a decent trail to Lake 10,353. I stopped here for some water and a snack. The lake was absolutely teeming with fish. I saw several dozen swimming lazily along the shoreline.
Beyond Lake 10,353 I set out cross country. I climbed too high at first, cresting the small bump northeast of the lake and had to drop back down almost to the shore before climbing along the creek. I was initially worried that the creek would be choked with willows and brush, but it wasn’t too hard to stick just east of it.
Climbing towards the head of the creek running into Lake 10,353. The going was very easy and quite enjoyable through here, passing through meadows and benches en route to the saddle.
When I got close to the saddle, the western notch that Secor describes (first photo) looked a little bit worse to me than the eastern notch (second photo). So I opted to try the eastern notch, hoping I could pass the large snowfield. There was a gap in the snowfield at its edge that was easily wide enough to pass through.
Past the first challenge, I stuck east of the small tarn and climbed to the ridge where it didn’t look too difficult. Once I was on the summit slope, I aimed upwards and started climbing. Halfway up I took a bearing (just kidding, I’m a millennial, I checked the GPS on my phone) and realized I was headed for the slightly shorter summit just south of Mount Stanford. So I turned slightly right and headed up easier terrain to the summit of Mount Stanford.
Bear Creek Spire, Mount Dade, Mount Abbot, Mount Mills, and Mount Gabb from the summit of Mount Stanford.
Looking north to Red Slate Mountain and Red and White Mountain.
Red Slate Mountain and the Ritter Range farther north.
The Pioneer Basin and the Abbot Group behind.
As I was on the summit, I saw another climber making their way up along the traverse route. When he reached the summit, we chatted for a bit. He had camped at Steelhead Lake in the McGee Creek drainage and climbed up to the crest and then crossed southwest to Mount Stanford. After a bit more conversation and some snacks and water, I headed off for Mount Morgan.
A good view of the traverse from near Mount Stanford.
The first part was quite easy. In fact, the first intermediate peak one climbs on the traverse is higher than Mount Stanford, and only a quarter mile away or so. Who knows why the lower peak got the name but this one is unnamed.
View back over Mount Stanford from Peak 12,931.
Looking north over Steelhead Lake towards Red Slate Mountain.
Peak 12,920+ and (behind, obscured) the narrow stretch connecting to Peak 12,880+.
The view across the narrow section connecting Peaks 12,920+ (where this picture is taken) and Peak 12,880+. This was the crux of the traverse. From Mount Stanford to Peak 12,920+ everything is easily class 2.
Getting across this section, I decided to drop to the south a bit, hoping to intersect the saddle below Mount Morgan. I think this was a bad idea. About 80 feet below the crest there were many difficult friction slabs to cross, and the terrain to the notch looked much more difficult. I changed course and started climbing back directly up to the crest but encountered some difficulties here as well. I had to climb a few short sections of difficult class 3 (maybe 4) to regain the crest, but did so without incident. In retrospect, I think it would have been faster and more comfortable to stick to the crest as I ended up climbing up to the intermediate summit anyways.
The saddle was a broad, flat, sandy area. Much easier! From here I climbed up the the summit of Mount Morgan, though I hit the summit ridge a bit southwest of the summit. It was easy to traverse across to the true summit.
The view south from the summit of Mount Morgan. The other Mount Morgan is just a stone’s throw away, in front of Mount Humphreys.
Looking north at Mount Morrison, Bloody Mountain, and the Ritter Range.
The Abbot Group, and Seven Gables.
From the summit, I followed Secor’s description down the Southeast Slope. The upper reaches of the chute were talus, then it slowly turned to sand about 1000’ below. I crossed over to the next chute right as described, though I did so a bit higher than recommended.
View down the first chute, with the second chute clearly visible to the right with the long snowfield.
In the second chute, which was supposed to be the only way down without cliffs, there was an amazing sand slope. With no vegetation or large rocks to slow me down I plunge-stepped down 100’ every couple of minutes.
Like all good things, the sand slope came to an end. This end, at the top of a massive grove of aspens, was quite unpleasant. I followed use trails through the aspens for a bit but they eventually disappeared and I was left thrashing through the scratchy branches. While it helped to have gravity pulling me down the slope, it still wasn’t easy.
Nearing Davis Lake. Before long it became obvious that I was at the bottom of a massive avalanche chute. All of the trees were about 5 feet tall and there was a collection of huge pine trunks at the northwest corner of Davis Lake. After negotiating this mess, I found a little sandy beach and had a rest, the hardest part of the day now behind me.
In case my description wasn’t clear enough, this doesn’t seem like it’d be a particularly pleasant route to climb.
After resting a bit, I set off through the open forest for the trail. I passed a couple of backpackers setting up for the night and expected to see some more on my way back as it was now the Friday afternoon before a long weekend.
I was quite tired, but nevertheless enjoyed the walk through the forest in the Hilton Creek area. It was really pretty. I passed a couple more groups of backpackers, fielding questions about how much farther it was, and observing a group sweeping an obvious tentsite with a pine bough.
It warmed up as I left the forest and climbed back to cross over to Rock Creek. I had to take several breaks for water along this stretch.
As I passed the wilderness sign, a group of eight hikers pulled over to let me pass. They were carrying all kinds of things they didn’t need, including a glass milk jug full of water, and feeling the effects of altitudes (or maybe their packs, which I guessed to be pretty heavy). Oh, to be young! I’m sure they had a fun trip.
Near the trailhead, the trail drops down through an open area where the road lines up with the higher peaks to the west framing a nice photo. It probably would’ve been nicer in the morning if I had turned around.
When I reached the car, I hopped in and headed for the Rock Creek Resort which, thankfully, was still open. With a cold gatorade in hand, I headed back north for Mammoth.