There are plenty of options for getting to the summit of Split Mountain, from the walk-up to the technical. Split could be considered the easiest 14k peak in California when looking only at the route from Lake 3535. Secor calls it the second easiest 14er (after Whitney). Our climb took us on this ‘easy’ walk-up approach, however, you have to get to the Lake first. That requires a hike of nearly 8000 feet of gain in 14 miles, so the summit of Split doesn’t see as many people as, say, White Mountain or Mt Langley. I’m not sure how Secor rationalizes that. Split has two summits (presumably the reason for the name) and fortunately the northernmost and more accessible of the two is the higher one. The ‘split’ in the summit was clear from Arrow Peak and I remember saying something along the lines of “oh now I get it” while enjoying the view from there. It dominated the view and at that time I didn’t realize I’d be standing on it within a few days. I had made a mental note to myself: Get up that thing someday.
‘Someday’ ended up being Thursday. It was a perfect morning at Lake 3535 (despite the mosquitoes) and rather than get an alpine start we took our time getting ready to head to the peak. I enjoyed the last of my Packit Gourmet breakfast smoothies (the 400 calorie punch gets me going better than anything else in the morning) and we finally headed out, leaving David behind to fish for a while before catching up to us.
From our campsite on the northwest end of the lake we hopped boulders and hiked around the shore until we were at the base of several possible routes heading up to the low saddle between Split and Prater. The route from the east, via Red Lake, meets our route at this saddle. Sooz and I zigzagged up the nice green ramps while David took a more direct approach through a steeper talus field. Of course he beat us, because he is fast.
From the saddle the route is perfectly clear – just head on up. The terrain varies from sandy to moderate sized rock, but rarely steep enough to need hands (though I went into “four wheel drive” a few times). I still wasn’t sure what we’d encounter when getting closer to that snow near the top but it looked like we’d be able to get around it – I decided there was no reason to worry about it yet and kept going.
We found that it was easier to stick to the sandier use trails instead of hopping over the more unstable rock. One wonderful consequence of this decision was that polemonium, my favorite flower, was abundant in the sandy areas and it practically guided us to the top like the lights of an airport runway. I could have closed my eyes and navigated by smell alone.
We were unbelievably lucky to have a perfect day. The weather was perfect for a climb – not too hot, not too cold, and the mosquitoes weren’t bothering us. There were no clouds building and we had plenty of daylight to make the climb. We took our time enjoying the polemonium and the views as we climbed – it was just perfect.
The higher we got, the more things fell away below us. Mather Pass looked puny. Mountains that had towered above us that morning looked like quick little run-ups. Scale and perspective is so weird up here, but the more time you spend in these mountains the more you learn to read them. That puny Mather Pass? Really isn’t that puny. That nice looking peak over there? That chute is gnarly up close.
The summit is a nice area with some good lounging rocks where one can sit back and enjoy the view. I settled right on in – we were in no hurry. It wasn’t even 1 pm and the weather was perfect. With hours of daylight left there was nothing to rush us off the peak.
We spent over an hour on the summit. Reading the summit register, staring at the big Tom Harrison map while trying to identify distant peaks, taking tons of photos, getting dive-bombed by a kestrel, and simply sitting back and taking it all in. That’s how you spend over an hour on a summit. It was probably my most perfect summit experience. And the only 14er summit we haven’t had to share with anyone other than us.
To the north we saw the only peaks that were higher than us, the summits of the Palisade crest. I believe Split used to be called South Palisade, but don’t quote me on that.
After over an hour we decided that it was finally time to descend, but we took our time, stopping at the saddle for some fun photos.
And the best part was getting back to camp only to discover that Mr Speedy, a.k.a. David, had already caught limits and was ready to cook us some dinner of this extraordinarily colored rainbow hybrid trout.
Top it off with some bourbon and hot apple cider, sipped while watching acrobatic fish jump and the moonrise over Split, and you have what I call a perfect day in the mountains. Oh! And a spectacular shooting star – one of those that lasts long enough for everyone to see.
After this there was only one day remaining on our Sierra summer trip. The next day we hiked all the way from our campsite at Lake 3535 to the Taboose pass trailhead. We took the old trail that cuts over just north of the JMT South Fork crossing, and made it back to the cars by 6:30 pm after a 14 mile, 8000 ft descent day (with a 1500 climb thrown in the middle for good measure). We covered terrain we had mostly done earlier in the week so I’m not going to write about it in detail, but I’ll share some photos from the last day below, or just use the Photos tab at the top of this trip report for links to more.