The Monarch Divide is SMC’s favorite ski tour. More difficult than the high route is takes one into little visited areas of Sequoia Kings National Park, has great down skiing and fantastic scenery. Over the last decade or so this has become our signature tour and we are the only guides to guide this trip.
John Miller has long wanted to do this trip but we were thwarted two years ago and went back out via Taboose Pass from upper Basin.
This year John recruited two co-workers,, Heather Hollister, Danielle Carlin with Serge Dubovitsky and Peter Caldwell rounding out the group. Also along as an assistant guide was Andrew Soleman.
This spring has been characterized by bad weather and strong winds. We were slated to leave on the 2nd but waited a day to avoid yet another storm. We left Glacier Lodge in Big Pine Creek in clear weather, but with strong winds. The winds increased all day and we had to dig in deep at the first night camp above Brainard Lake. It blew all night and toppled one of our snow walls, but day two dawned clear. The route goes up over Southfork Pass which is a steep little pass involving booting up and over.
Dropping off the Pass leads to two options; down to Palisade Creek and up over Mather Pass or a high line up almost over the summit of 13,000 foot Bolton Brown and down to Upper Basin. Mather Pass is always problematic for guides and no matter what one does you hit it late in the day after it has been baking in the sun and is more subject to wet avalanche danger. But then the Bolton Brown option takes more climbing to higher elevation and a short steep pitch of snow climbing. We went the Bolton Brown way. The day was getting on by the time we topped out and a long run down to Upper Basin would have been great if the snow had not frozen up.
But camp on a rocky bench was windless and perfect.
Day three goes up over Frozen Lakes Pass and then into the Lakes Basin and to Marion Lake. Once again the wind came back and the ascent was made more difficult by the added peril of being blown over.
But the skiing to Lake Marion is great with the views getting even better and better. Just before Marion Lake we encountered three other skiers from Heavenly Ski area going west to east; they had decided that they were going up the good snow and down the bad. This is the first time I have ever seen anyone else on this trip Marion Lake is one of the top ten lakes of the High Sierra. Serene and surrounded by high peaks and walls with shelter amongst lodgepole pines. Often there is bare ground here, but not this year with it’s deep and late snowpack.
Day four is up and over another pass below Marion Peak and then a couple more small crossing before camp at unnamed lakes below State Peak. We got to camp early enough to stomp in a trail up and over the steepest pass of the trip. Only a couple of hundred feet of steep climbing, but up to about 50 degrees.
Camp here is perfect with views to Arrow Peak and the South Fork of the Kings River. A great place to relax and watch the sun set.
The next morning it was easy to get up and over the pass and then down to the lakes below Dougherty Peak. Andrew set a long traverse around the basin and on up the Peak. It gets a little steep towards the top but you top right out on the summit – but the register was burred in snow and we could not sign in. The run down the other side is one of the best on the tour and was perfect corn snow for two thousand feet to lunch.
Then another pass and down to Goat Lakes and yet another pass, the third of the day over Goat Crest and camp at Glacier Lakes. Once again there was no dry ground, but camp was alongside a bubbling creek.
The second to last day is a two pass day over Granite Pass and then a small unnamed one that drops to Grouse Lake. Once again perfect snow amongst the trees as we say goodbye tot he high country and descend through firs and hemlocks in ever increasingly sticky snow to the last night at snow line at about 8000 feet. Careful navigation and use of the GPS kept us on track to pick up the Copper Creek trail.
Finally some dry dirt to sleep on and the forgotten smell of greenery and damp earth.
We were up early to hit the pavement at Roads End at 10.00 in time to meet our shuttle back to Fresno.
From here John, and Danielle flew back to the Bay area, Heather was picked up by her family and the remaining four of us flew back into Bishop in time to meet another storm and increasing winds that made landing in Bishop a little nerve testing.
All in all the trip went flawlessly. We managed to avoid the worst of the weather, had some great skiing and made an ideal strong and enthusiastic team.
I’ll do a ski tour with any of this crew again and hope to next year.

For more photos go to Serge’s photo site