Bear Creek Spire is a true mountaineer’s peak – not easily accessible and providing one of the finest views in the central Sierra. The beginning of the hike travels through the beautiful Little Lakes Valley from one of the highest trailheads in the Eastern Sierra. The Northeast Ridge offers mainly fourth-class climbing, but with a spectacular ridge traverse to the summit. The shady North Buttress is best climbed in the summer and offers up 5.8 climbing before joining the Northeast Ridge.
The best guidebooks are Supertopo’s “High Sierra Climbing” by Chris McNamara. and Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”.
Get them from Maximus Press.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night in Mammoth or camped at the trailhead campground in Rock Creek Canyon would do the trick. You could also stay at Rock Creek Lodge. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
Return to Classic Alpine Rock Climbs
We choose to take three days to climb these routes, allowing us slow down and enjoy the beauty of the area. The additional time to acclimatize also helps a lot for the climb.
The approach is via Little Lakes Valley in Rock Creek Canyon. The trailhead elevation is just over 10,000 feet, offering a bit of a head start on the approach as compared with the other climbs in the Eastern Sierra that can start from the low desert. Our approach is a very good trail for the first two miles to Long Lake. Here we take a minor trail up Treasure Lakes Gully to stunningly beautiful Treasure Lakes. We then climb over a small dome and drop down to our camp at Dade Lake at 11,500’ and a little over four miles from the trailhead.
In the morning we climb a little less than a mile and just over 1000 feet, with the final short section over a small snowfield to reach the point where our routes diverge. Just before the snowfield there is a small moraine where we can leave extra equipment. The climbing options are as follows:
North Arete: 5.8, Intermediate
Most of the climbing on the initial part of the arete is 5.7. About half way up a short steep area is reached and is passed via a 5.8 chimney/crack pitch. An interesting pitch with a tunnel move follows and leads to easier terrain that is mostly fourth class. We move off the summit ridge onto the west side briefly before the final 40 feet to the top. The actual summit is typical of many a Sierra peak. A monolithic block with no cracks and plenty of exposure. Luckily the summit register is below this final obstacle and unless you’re really adventurous you might need to satisfy yourself with touching the true high point with a hand, rather than standing on the top. Descent begins with one long rappel and then a simple scramble back to the base. Usually there is quite a bit of easy snow on the return – plan on bringing gaiters and having damp boots by the time we reach the talus below.
Northeast Ridge: 5.4, Beginner
The climbing on this ridge is a lot easier than the North Arete, which it joins a few hundred feet below the summit. From the moraine we turn left and head over to Peppermint Col at just below 13,000’, overlooking beautiful Spire Lake in the Pine Creek drainage. We rope up here and move through increasingly difficult third and fourth class terrain as the ridge gradually steepens and becomes more and more narrow. Occasional belays and easy stretches make up most of the climb. The upper ridge is certainly exposed, but the views over the valleys and desert should be more than enough to distract you. We do the same maneuvers to gain the summit and descend the same way as the North Arete.
Once back at our gear after either climb, we descend the rest of the way to camp to enjoy our last evening in the mountains.
After a leisurely breakfast, we pack up and hike back to our cars. We plan to be at the trailhead around lunchtime.
Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to camp: 4.1 miles, 1750’ of gain, 420’ of descent
Camp to summit to camp: 2.4 miles, 2100’ of gain, 2100’ of descent
Camp to trailhead: 4.1 miles, 420’ of gain, 1750’ of descent
You should be in good physical condition, have some backpacking experience and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderate pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. More specifically:
North Arête: You need to be able to follow at the 5.8 level and have experience on multi pitch routes.
Northeast Ridge: Prior experience with roped climbing and ice axe and crampon use is helpful but not necessary.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.
Local accommodation is not included.
Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List:
Details, itinerary, and equipment list
Bear Creek Spire map