Stanford Team climbs Mt Stanford (N)
(A Mt Stanford (N) W-E Traverse)

7-8 Aug 2010 - by Sonja Dieterich

My climbing partner LJ and I did a Sierra West-East traverse across Mono Pass to Mosquito Flats, with friends of ours running the opposite way. The first day was hiking only. From our campsite near the trail junction of Mono Creek Trail and Pioneer Basin Trail, we headed up to the Pioneer Basin on early Sunday morning. The plan was to ascend the West ridge of Stanford, then descend on the east flank toward Lake 10353 and down to Mosquito Flat. Reaching the highest Lake in the basin, it was time for a decision. I was a bit nervous, because even though I am an experienced backpacker, I am relatively new to peak climbing. On this trip, I was the leader and also the more experienced peak climber. I took one last look at the sky - 20% chance of thunderstorms in the forecast - gave myself a mental push, and decided to do it.

The easiest way onto the West ridge is to head toward the pass, right at the intersection where the green shrubs from the west meet the sand and rocks on the east. We found an easy to ascend use trail there. On the pass, the views onto Red&White are stunning. Little McGee Lake, where I had been the year before, was visible. We headed up along the ridge, which is class 2. From this angle, one cannot see the rock outcropping and notch Dee describes in a report from 2004. I had memorized the approximate elevation, remembered to stay below and traverse over to the summit chute. The altitude at which to traverse was not mentioned in the report, though.

I started traversing at about 12,400 feet toward the first rib, which has a series of vertical slabs like a staircase. The traverse was ok. The chute just south of "Staircase rib" is obviously not the summit chute. A bit below us was a small scrub near a sandy ledge which marked the traverse over the second rib into the next chute. This chute almost leads to the summit, but meets cliffs about 200 feet below the summit. However, just before a pronounced rock fin 300 feet below summit, there is a duck marking the traverse over to the next chute, the summit chute. We spend a lot of time looking for traverses across the ribs. Most of these traverses were hard class 2/easy class 3. Looking back, we should have started traversing just below the ribs separating the three chutes; I guess this would be around 12,300 feet.

The scramble up the summit chute was class 2 again. Sky pilots marked the way. On the summit, we had stunning views on the Recess Peaks, Red and White mountain, and Red Slate dominating over McGee Canyon. We could see White Mountain in the distance. We also could clearly see storms building over the mountains to our east and south. We decided not to spend time hunting around for the register (was it on "named" Mt Stanford, or one of the two higher rocks which our GPS marked as "Stanford"?). Never mind. We knew we were up there.

Heading down the east slope toward Lake Stanford, we had originally planned to angle south toward Lake 10353 as all other trip reports describe. However, within 30 minutes two smaller cumulonimbi had combined into a massive storm just to our south. We were right at the edge of the storm. The day before, the storm had stalled in this exact place until 7 pm. We had friends waiting for us in Yosemite to exchange cars; therefore, I took a good look at the map, and decided to stay safely north of the storm by heading down the Lake Stanford drainage to the Hilton Lakes. BIG MISTAKE. It was hard.

First, the easiest way down from Lake Stanford is a steep, loose hill on the very west side of the drainage. This is followed by a mile of talus hopping, first due east and then toward the north to meet the creek. Travel along the creek to the left of it until the contours steepen again and Hilton Lake becomes visible. Cross the creek and descent to the south of the creek until about halfway down, where the south sides becomes very steep and cliffs out. At that point, traverse to the north side of the creek and bushwhack down. From Hilton Lakes, it is about 5.5 miles on trail to Rock Creek Lodge. We walked into a campground there and convinced a good-hearted soul to drive us up to Mosquito Flat, 3.5 hours later than planned.

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