Have you seen my tooth?
(NW ridge to S ridge, Monarch Lake Loop)

29-30 Aug 2002 - by Peter Orth

I've been looking for a quick trip that a semi competent (at best) alpine climber like myself could do quickly, and solo. Something in Sequoia so I could tie the trip in to a visit to my friend who is a guest of the state at Corcoran.

From Mineral King I arrived at lower Monarch in about 2.5 hours via the official trail, set up camp and set off for Sawtooth Pass. I took a route through a grassy gap between two Granite ribs, and soon reached the Pass. It took me a few oxygen starved minutes to realize that I was at Glacier Pass. Oh well, I followed the ridge S, easily arriving at Sawtooth Pass. A hazy day, but an impressive view to E. Columbine Lake, totally free of snow and ice.(see panorama) From there it was a simple matter to find a sandy, circuitous path along the NW ridge, to where it intersects with the S ridge. A 400 ft scramble over large blocks with no exposure and plenty of holds leads to the summit. The register is still MIA, I think. The weather by this time was a little threatening, and it was already 5pm, so I headed down almost immediately.

I had spied the S ridge description in the new Secor Edition, and decided to descend that way to Monarch Basin. The S ridge itself presented no difficulties at all, though it would make a steeper and sandier climb than the NW ridge. It made for some excellent plunge stepping / screeing on the way down.

The view of Amphitheater Lake and Needham from the S ridge is great.

I got a little bamboozled in the cliff bands above Upper Monarch, and I THINK I could have avoided confusion by staying on sand to the (descending) right past the upper cliffs, then traversing left. The South end of Upper Monarch Lake's shore has an excellent flat sand campsite like something out of a Club Med brochure. From there down to a hot meal at lower Monarch, and nightfall. Round trip from camp was about 4 hours.

At 2 AM I was sitting up in the bivvy sack for no reason when a crunchcrunchcrunch sound in the gravel got my attention. A big doe came cruising by , noticed me turning my head, and came around the other side of a big rock to check me out. We had a moonlit staring contest for several seconds. After my heart stopped pounding,I went back to sleep with a big smile.

The climbing was technically unremarkable, with the only real class 2-3 moves made out of exediency rather than neccessity. Perfect for my solo trip. Plus I managed a loop, which I vastly prefer. Except for acclimation, it would be a day trip.

In the same spirit of loopiness, I descended via the unofficial trail to Groundhog Meadow. This trail is too rough to present much advantage on descent, and I could have arrived more quickly by descending on the Chihuahua bowl / Crystal lake trail. It is probably quicker on the way up to take the direct route, though it is in full sun all AM.

A good variation might be to descend after first going over the col from upper Monarch over to Crystal, then taking the trail down from there.

Thanks for the opportunity to share the info, Peter Orth


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