The Monarch and Cirque Divides

While the Sierra High Route has become the most popular of all trans-Sierra tours there are numerous other tours that are just as good but are unknown, except to locals and Sierra experts. The Monarch Divide is one of these. This has easily become our favorite Sierra ski tour so if you have already skied the High Route or want a challenging remote tour where few others venture this is a your perfect option. The route stays high, rarely dropping below 11,000 feet as it follows the entire crest of the Cirque Divide and even passes directly over the summit of 12,241 foot Dougherty Peak before joining the Monarch Divide to the west. Along the way dropping packs and skiing Marion Peak’s perfect south facing corn slopes is one highlight not to be missed.

Here is our video from a past Monarch ski trip:


This is a long tour and pack weight needs to be kept as low as possible. We will be carefully selecting equipment to reduce weight and we will work with you to ensure that packs do not weigh more then about 45 pound plus the weight of your skis when we start out. For those coming from the Bay area, or nearby, we will try to arrange a flight prior to the trip. If there are enough people to warrant this you will drive to and meet the plane the evening before the trip starts.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000 feet) just prior to the trip. Spending a night or two in Mammoth or camped at the trailhead campground would do the trick.

SMC does not rent ski equipment, but we work with Mammoth Mountaineering (760-934-4191) to get you set up on the correct equipment. MMS has a very wide range of rental equipment that is probably the best you will find anywhere in California. All gear is current state of the art, well tuned and rental fees are deductible if you buy a set up from them. (We highly recommend renting before you buy so as to find what suits you best, since a full setup is pretty pricey). We can coordinate the rental and suggest that if you can you arrive Mammoth the night before and get fully set up since boot fitting can take some time.

Return to Backcountry Spring Tours

We ski this route from east to west starting from Glacier Lodge in Big Pine Creek canyon, ascending the south fork of Big Pine Creek and crossing Southfork Pass at 12,600 before descending to Palisades Lakes. Briefly following the route of the John Muir Trail, we cross Mather Pass leaving the Muir Trail in Upper Basin as we pass Vennacher Needle and head onto the Cirque Divide. Here we descend to camp alongside lovely Marion Lake (named after Marion Le Conte, wife of redoubtable Sierra climber and explorer, Joseph Le Conte).

We continue south, crossing back and forth from the north and south sides of the Divide as it links together small passes and high traverses.Below to the south, as we traverse high isolated alpine cirques and hanging valleys, are expansive views over the south fork of the Kings River and the well named “Muro Blanco”. If time and energy allows we can make a side trip to ski from the summit of 12,719 foot Marion Peak. Superb 35 degree snow right from the summit before moving on and traverse Dougherty Peak with yet another run directly from the summit.

At the end of the Cirque Divide we cross the Goat Crest and drop down into Granite Basin via wonderful easy runs before descending Copper Creek to the road’s end at Zumwalt Meadows in the Kings Canyon. Here we are picked up by our shuttle van and head to home.

Program Prerequisites:

You need SMC Advanced Ski Skills or better for this tour.

You should be able to ski advanced ski area runs confidently and be proficient at kick turns, traversing on 40 degree slopes, side slipping and parallel or telemark turns all while carrying a pack of about 40 pounds. Prior winter camping and mountaineering skills are required. You will be traveling up to eight miles a day and gaining up to 3500 feet a day so an excellent level of aerobic fitness is required.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, van shuttle, permits, all necessary group gear, avalanche beacons, tents, kitchen gear and dinners, lunches and breakfasts (you bring snack items).

We do not include accommodation in the pricing but can make local suggestions for you.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details and itinerary
    Equipment list
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Monarch and Cirque Divides map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.