OverviewThere are two granite features in the Sierra with the name Cockscomb. The more popular one is further north in Yosemite, about 4 miles south of the Tioga Road in Tuolumne Meadows. This lesser known one, located on the southwest side of the Silver Divide in a remote part of the John Muir Wilderness, is a far more impressive feature. Not only does it outdo the Yosemite feature in size, but it sports an fearsome summit block which at 5.5 makes for a significantly spicier climb.
Cockscomb rises sharply from between Coyote and Big Margaret Lakes. From the west and south, as seen from the Margaret Lakes Trail, it juts near vertically from the surrounding terrain. The East Face is fairly steep as well, but offers a class 3 route up the middle of it, the easiest approach to the more difficult summit block.
The peak appears to be rarely climbed. The Margaret Lakes Trail is not heavily used due to the distance from the nearest trailhead, and seems to be mostly utilized by visitors on horseback judging from the condition of the trail. There was no register found at the summit in the summer of 2005, though there was evidence of a small cairn that was subsequently dismantled.
The peak was given its present name by the BGN in 1969. Prior to that, it was named Sharktooth Peak on the Kaiser Peak 15' map. That name had been erroneously applied however, and was moved to the nearby peak which bears its name today, and was the one originally given by Theodore Solomons in 1892 for its shape.
Getting ThereThe nearest TH is from the south, at the end of the Onion Spring OHV route. This route, a dirt road starting from the end of the road past the Vermilion Resort near Lake Thomas Edison should only be attempted by 4WD vehicles. Most of the road is smoothly graded, but in several places there are significant boulders and slabs to negotiate. There is a creek crossing as well, though this is not difficult. The road winds for four miles to the Onion Spring TH. From here, take the Margaret Lakes TH north past Arch Rock and over the subsidiary ridge spur off the Silver Divide. It is just over 9 miles to Cockscomb and Big Margaret Lake. If you don't have a 4WD vehicle, this route is still the fastest way to get to cockscomb if you park at the Mono Creek TH - add 4mi to the one-way distance.
Alternatively, one can take the Devils Bathtub Trail starting from the Mono Creek TH just past the Vermilion Resort. Once at Devils Bathtub (4.4mi), head cross- country clockwise around the lake, climbing northwest up to the alpine meadows higher up. One can climb slabs in the vicinity of the creek or through the wooded section to the right of the creek. Once in the upper meadow, head northwest for the pass just right of Pt. 11,470ft. Drop down the other side, following the creek to Big Margaret Lake and Cockscomb behind it. This route is shorter than the one via Arch Rock, but will take longer due to the significant cross-country travel and greater elevation gain.
Cockscomb can also be approached from the north from Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow. This route is just over 22mi one-way, descending first to Fish Creek before climbing up and around the west side of the Silver Divide.
Red TapeAs within any Wilderness areas, permits are required for overnight visits. These can be obtained from the High Sierra Visitor Center located 14mi east of Huntington Lake along the Kaiser Pass Rd. Campfires are not allowed above 10,000ft, but nearby Big Margaret Lake is conveniently situated at the 9,968ft elevation level. Day visits require no permits.
When To ClimbRealistically, Cockcomb can only be climbed during the summer months when US168 to Lake Thomas Edison is open, usually May through October. A winter outing is certainly possible, but one would have a very long approach from the Mammoth Lakes area, over Duck Pass, down to Fish Creek, up and over the Silver Divide, about 20 miles and 8,000ft one way!
CampingCamping is allowed anywhere in the vicinity of Cockscomb, all part of the John Muir Wilderness. Regulations require you to camp 100ft from water sources. There are excellent sites available at Big Margaret, Fern, Rainbow, Frog, and Coyote Lakes.
Car camping is available at the Vermilion Campground at the road's end on the west side of Lake Thomas Edison. The Vermilion Valley Resort (559-259-4000) also has rustic lodgings (beds, hot showers, refridgerators, microwaves), though with only four rooms you'll need to make reservations well in advance for weekends. Note that the "Valley" portion of the name is the only place left bearing this moniker. The Vermilion Valley was inundated early in the last century to create Lake Thomas Edison, one of the largest reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada.