Southeast Face 5.4

  • Currently 4.0/5

Mt. Emerson

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
Mt Emerson (SE Face) Scramble with Extra Ridge Variations
Tuesday July 29, 2014 12:48pm
The crux of my solo variation. These twin jamcracks were pretty fun! A...
The crux of my solo variation. These twin jamcracks were pretty fun! Also exposed but very clean & solid.
Credit: PellucidWombat

2013-08-25 - Mt Emerson (SE Face) w Sean

As Sean Hermany and I were making due with being smoked out of the Hulk from the Rim Fire, for our second day on the east side we climbed the classic SE Face of Mt Emerson (5.4). I had backed off on soloing this during the 2005 Sierra Challenge, and so this time I brought a rope and light rack as backup. It turns out that for me at this point the solo was all right, so all that gear did was handicap me! After the headwall the route gets boring (not bad, but just scenic cardio terrain, reminiscent of a more solid Laurel Mountain SE Face), until near the top where it turns into a cl. 3-4 knife edge before the summit. Both Sean and I took other ridge variations to the side lower down to make the route more interesting.

Overall, the route is a nice scramble, but the descent is annoying enough that more traditional trad'sters might not consider the climb worth it. I'd rank it more as a 3/5 star route for the scrambler, 2/5 star for the trad'ster (about the same for Laurel Mtn). I felt it was a nice way to spend a half day, though. I'm not sure if I'd call it a good introductory alpine climb for a trad leader, though, as the crux really doesn't seem to protect well, and after the first rope length, the rope is barely needed, if at all, although the route can provide good opportunities to practice simul-climbing.

The SE Face of Mt Emerson coming into view as we hiked back down the trail. Paiute Crags are on the right.

The SE Face of Mt Emerson seen from the trail on the descent. Climb 5.4 (usually wet) up the left dark streak, and generally follow the slot to a broader gully above that eventually pinches down to a knife edge ridge before the summit. Above the first main step, it is easiest to traverse right on cl. 3-4 slabs and back left to avoid tougher chimneying.

The Southeast Face of Mt Emerson seen from lower down on the trail. The hike in is very short, barely an hour.

At the base of the SE Face route on Mt Emerson. The 5.4 crux climbs the dark groove on the left. Even today it had a few wet spots.

Above the 5.4 crux, on easiy cl. 3 slab terrain. The chimney looked tricky up ahead so I switchbacked around on the right. Sean stayed truer to the fall line.

Traversing back into the gully system.

More cl. 2-3 slab scrambling. Where is this ridge we had heard about?

Looking down the SE Face of Mt Emerson. It kind of reminds me of looking down the NE Face of Laurel Mtn, only not nearly as loose.

Sean wasn't getting enough scrambling fun, so he left the chute to climb along the left ridge crest. I later took this spirit by wandering over on to the opposite ridge crest.

Scrambling gets more interesting, in the cl. 3-4 range. I veered right more than necessary to intersect the ridge on my right, which I figured I could solo on well enough until it merged with the upper ridge.

The crux of my solo variation. These twin jamcracks were pretty fun! Also exposed, but solid and low enough angle that it felt pretty secure.

Looking along the knife edge ridge. The rock was mostly good, and the ups and downs not too bad, normally looking worse than they turned out to be. I eventually merged back with the proper route at the large tower ahead.

Looking down my ridge variation on the SE Face of Mt Emerson. One of the Paiute Crags is behind.

More interesting ridge scrambling. The rock here is a little crumbly, but not too bad.

Nearing the large gendarme where I would intersect the route proper again. It is passed via easy cl. 2 ledges on the right side. Sean is waiting for me about a third of the way across it.

Sean made better time on the easier terrain of the proper route, so he was already at the next tower.

Looking back down the ridge variation I took, which I actually thought was harder, more exposed, and longer than the ridge section of the 'proper' route. Some of the muddy red Paiute Crags are behind.

Mt Darwin behind, and Lamarck and its north couloir on the right. The couloir normally forms into a late season ice climb, but it is already melted out this year!

Sean jamming away on the SE Face of Mt Emerson.

Scrambling towards the summit of Mt Emerson. Fun and exposed class 3 on good rock.

Sean atop the summit block of Mt Emerson.

Looking back at the summit block as we continued scrambling west. The ridge stays at cl. 3-4 and exposed most of the way to the broad plateau. You can drop down any time to access the descent slopes. Accessing the descent slopes seems to be easier the farther west you go.

Scrambling west towards the easy plateau on Mt Emerson. About halfway there I dropped down onto the garbage slopes on the left.

Looking back up the descent route on Mt Emerson. Not that this slope was anything special, but it wasn't too fun either. Typical cl. 2 drudgery. The hike out from here is very fast and easy, about an hour.

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About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

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Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jul 29, 2014 - 12:52pm PT
If I just did the climbs in your trip reports, I'd have a worthwhile lifetime of Sierra climbing. Thanks for yet another excellent one.


in the land of the blind
  Jul 29, 2014 - 01:46pm PT
Thanks for the TR. I climbed the route 7/25/14, but didn't take many pictures.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jul 29, 2014 - 02:34pm PT
Me likey. Really nice and underappreciated route in my opinion.
nice photos of the route for future parties. Thanks!
Credit: micronut
this just in

Justin Ross from North Fork
  Jul 29, 2014 - 07:48pm PT
Thanks Pellucid. Hopefully you are healing up and get out there (Sierra) this year.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jul 29, 2014 - 08:49pm PT
Nice! Damn, not getting to the Sierra this year!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 30, 2014 - 04:56am PT
Mark, thank you!!!!
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Jul 30, 2014 - 05:14am PT
Interesting geology, thanks for posting!
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Mt. Emerson - Southeast Face 5.4 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Overview of Mount Emerson, Mount Humphreys and Basin Mountain.
Photo: Luke Lydiard