Mt Stanford

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | Other California destinations | Other California trails
Pictures of the hikes

Mt Stanford (4259m) can be reached from either Onion Valley (2800m), near Bishop, or Roads End (1534m), near Fresno. Personally, i think the faster and better way is from Onion Valley (east face) via University Pass, and i don't quite understand why anyone would prefer the way from Roads End. Whichever way you climb Mt Stanford from that direction (Harrison Pass, Northern Ridge or West Chute), it is sheer hell.

Eastern Route (via University Pass)

From Onion Valley take the trail that goes to Robinson Lake. This trailhead is hidden inside the campground (in 2010 it was between campsite #7 and #8). From Robinson Lake (3200m) follow the drainage southwest to the end. After scrambling over a couple of moraines, you will reach the point where University Pass is very visible. (There are descriptions of another way to cross this ridge, variously called University Pass or "the shortcut" but that's a class-3 chute on both sides that peaks at almost 4000m of elevation and has snow year-round and actually takes a lot longer than the obvious pass).

If you took the regular pass, there is a natural chute that takes you straight down to the east of a lake. The bad news is that you lose about 600 meter of elevation. Once at the lake head straight northwest to the right of Center Peak (the huge pyramidal mountain right in front of you) trying to lose as little elevation as you can (but eventually you'll give up). To the left of Center Peak is the Center Basin with more lakes and a great view of Mt Keith. Beware that the first trail you hit is the trail that goes to Center Basin, NOT the John Muir Trail. If you follow it (if you turn right into it), you will hit the John Muir trail way downhill and way south from where you want to be. If you turn left into it, you end up in Center Basin.

If you ignore the Center Basin trail and cross it, aim to the right of Center Peak and try to lose as little elevation as you can while you circle it to the right (this almost certainly involves some bouldering). Eventually you'll see the John Muir trail below you. Walk south on the JMT till the trail makes a sharp left (eastward) turn. This happens right after a group of nice campsites. In front of you is a tower-like peak and to its right is a massive wall.

Leave the trail here and climb up as you can but don't overdo as you want to hit the lake as low as possible (to save energies). When you reach the lake at 3560 meters, coast it to the other (western) side and ascend the wall of talus rock. This time you may want to go as high (left) as possible because the east face of Mt Stanford can only be reached safely from a chute that faces south, i.e. all the way to the left of the mountain as you see it when you get to the top of this ridge. If you were completely to the left, you simply follow the ridge to the mouth of this southeast chute. If you were not, then you will have to cross one deep moraine canyon and head for lower ledges that take you gently into the chute

Two ways to get inside the southeastern chute:

The right side of this southeastern chute is easier because it is rockier but at some point resist the temptation to climb the (false) summits above you and start moving all the way to the left. Class-3 ledges (with some exposure) lead you to the point where the route from Gregory's Monument (a class-2 chute coming from the south) and Mt Stanford proper meet. You are right below the summit block. This summit block is probably easier to climb from the right.

The route up the face:

A picture of the route from Forester Pass:

If on the way back you are too tired to do the very steep University Pass, you can follow the JMT to Vidette Meadow and then up to the Kearsarge Lakes and on to Kearsarge Pass. This is all on well-maintained trail. The trail ends at Onion Valley again. However, keep in mind this is a lot longer route.

This is a summary of the route:

  • Onion Valley (2800m)
  • Robinson Lake (3200m, 2km) 1h
  • First view of University Pass 2h
  • Bottom of the pass 3h
  • University Pass (3840m, 4km) 4.5 hours
  • Basin lake 5.5 hours
  • John Muir trail (3200m, 2km) 6.5 hours
  • Leaving the John Muir trail (3400m, 2km) 7 hours
  • Lake 3560 (3560m, 1km) 8 hours
  • Base of the chute 10h
  • Mt Stanford (4259m, 5km) 12 hours
If you return via Kearsarge Pass:
  • Back to John Muir trail 15 hours
  • Vidette Meadow (2950m) 17 hours
  • Bullfrog Lake (3200m) 18 hours
  • Kearsarge Pass 19.5 hours
  • Onion Valley 21.5 hours

Western Route (via Harrison Pass)

See this page for the trail from Roads End to East Lake. The trail is well-maintained to East Lake and marked with cairns beyond that. The old trail to Harrison Pass has all but disappeared. In fact, there is no sign marking the left turn for it (and in 2009 there were no cairns either). Basically, continue south from East Lake towards Lake Reflection and leave the trail before the tributary that comes down from the eastern peaks. This tributary causes a number of small crossings on the trail between East Lake and Reflection Lake. Shortly before this watery part, the trail requires 50 meters of bouldering. You are best off leaving the trail exactly before the bouldering part. Leaving the trail just before this bouldering/watery part (about 2 kms before Reflection Lake), one climbs up a steep slope to the left. If you are lucky, you will hit a use trail (presumably the old trail) that makes your life easier. If not, just coast the creek to the north and you'll get to the oblong lake from which it flows, Lake Jimi Hendrix.

Coast this Lake Jimi Hendrix to the left/north (you may find a sort of natural "road", a wide flat path) heading southeast. There is a tiny lake above to the left. Ideally you want to head for the land between the two lakes. To your right (south) you will see Lucy's Pass:

Head east and you'll be facing the massive western face of Mt Deerhorn:

After passing between two large lakes, Deerhorn 1 and Deerhorn 2, the route turns south towards Harrison Pass. You still don't see the pass because there is a colossal wall in front of you with a waterfall in the middle.

Once you reach the top of this wall, you are at the twin lakes, the glacier of Mt Stanford. As you look south Stanford is the mountain to your left, Ericsson to your right. Harrison Pass is the 800-meter barrier that separates the two.

That's a steep climb, and often involves going around snow/ice even in summertime because it faces north. This might be the most difficult part of the hike. If it looks passable, climb and then turn left on the ramp to Gregory's Monument from which you can reach the summit of Mt Stanford. Once on Harrison Pass, ascend the slope to the left until you reach Gregory's Monument. This easily takes more than one hour. The traverse from Gregory's Monument to Mt Stanford is scary to say the least. First you have to lose elevation on the north side of Gregory's Monument whichever way you can to reach the point where the two ridges join. This involves jumping on a chockstone with incredible exposure on both sides. Then drop down quite a bit on the eastern side until you can walk safely.

To regain the ridge, you need to climb a class-3 chute. Once you have bypassed this obstacle, the climb continues slightly to the east of the south-to-north ridge with some exposure but no major difficulty.

This seems to be the favorite way to summit Mt Stanford from Roads End, but to me it is both the longest and the most dangerous, so here are two alternatives.

Northern Route (from Roads End)

If Harrison Pass looks impassable, or you don't feel like dying on Gregory's Monument, there are two alternatives, but i am not sure that you gain much in terms of safety. From the second of the twin lakes, look northeast. You will notice the gentle slope of Stanford's north ridge. First you head for the saddle between Mt Deerhorn and Mt Stanford, and then you head right.

That's easy to ascend. Alas, you reach the north summit, not the real summit. Just below the north summit there is a way to descend to a chute and climb to the summit block.
However, this 200-meter climb is class 3-4 (and no, you cannot traverse to the east face as Secor suggests in his book: there is a huge vertical chasm between the north summit and the east face). Then you still need a few acrobatic moves to reach the actual summit.

West Face (from Roads End)

There are also several chutes that rise from the twin-lake glacier, but only one has been publicized as passable:

Beware that it has at least two class-4 sections: at the very beginning and shortly afterwards.
  • See this page for the estimated time to East Lake
  • East Lake (2886m) to creek before Lake Reflection (3059 m): 2kms, 30'
  • Creek before Lake Reflection (3059 m) to Deerhorn lakes (3600 m): 6kms, 2h 15'
  • Deerhorn lakes (3600 m) to North summit of Mt Stanford: 3 kms, 3h
  • East Lake to Lake Ksenya: 1h
  • Meadow: 30'
  • Glacier: 1h
  • Saddle: 30'
  • Gendarme 30'
  • Plateau 30'
  • North summit 30'
  • Real summit: 1h
  • Deerhorn Lakes to Harrison Pass: 4 kms, 2h
  • Harrison Pass to Gregory's Monument: 0.5 km, 1.5h
  • Gregory's Monument to real summit: 0.3 km, 1h
  • Pictures of this hike
  • Weather forecast (but keep in mind that the weather forecast is never accurate for Mt Stanford: it lies at the junction of 3 different weather systems - check the weather forecast also for University Peak and Mt Brewer)

Mt Ericsson and Harrison Pass from Caltech Peak:

Mt Stanford from Caltech Peak:

Camping at Onion Valley is difficult. The caretaker of the local concentration camp (in 2010) does not let people camp in the parking lot (the environmentally friendliest way of camping). Unlawfully, you can head for campsites 7-8. Look for the sign "trailhead". Hike 50 meters and you should find flat spots to camp. If you want to be 100% legal, get a (free) permit for overnight camping on the Robinson Lake trail and you can camp anywhere along that trail (e.g., 50 meters from the campground).