Mt. Gardiner, located in the center of the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, is one of the 33 designated "Mountaineer Peaks" in the Sierra Nevada. It is the highest peak within the area bounded by the 50-mile Rae Lakes Loop, one of the most popular backpacking routes in SEKI. Mt. Gardiner is overshadowed by the more popular and technically more difficult Mt. Clarence King that lies two miles to the northeast. But the class 4 knife edge traverse between Mt. Gardiner's south and north summits is a classic route far more thrilling than the short 5.4 summit block of Mt. Clarence King.
As Secor says, "This would be one of the classic peaks of the High Sierra, except for all that darned climbing!" There is an interminable scree and talus slog up the south slope from Charlotte Creek to reach the knife edge.
Mt. Gardiner can be reached from the west via Highway 180. Drive past Cedar Grove and park in the large lot at Roads End (literally).
From the east, the peak is most easily approached via Kearsarge Pass from the end of Onion Valley Rd.
There is a $20 fee to enter Sequoia NP from the west. Permits are required for overnight stays in the wilderness whether entering from the west or east side. Permits are obtained from the Park Service for west-side entry, and from the Forest Service for east-side entry. See below for links and notes on bear canister requirements.
For east side entries, everything you need to know about permits and regulations can be found on the Eastern Sierra - Logisitcal Center page.
When To Climb
Climbing is usually done May-Oct. Highway 180 on the west side is closed during the winter, as is the Onion Valley Road on the east side.
Camping is allowed in most places in the SEKI Wilderness that surrounds Mt. Gardiner. Both entry points are home to habituated bears, and bear canisters are currently required when entering from either point if you are planning an overnight visit. They will be happy to rent them to you at the ranger hut at Road's End on the west side where you can also get a Wilderness permit (they close at 5p, so don't arrive too late).
"named after James T. Gardiner (1842-1912) in 1865 by the Whitney Survey, of which he was a member from 1864 to 1867. The Whitney Survey spelled the name Gardner in accordance with Gardiner's own spelling of the name at that time. At the instigation of the Sierra Club, and with the approval of the BGN, the spelling was changed to conform to the original form of the family name as later adopted by Gardiner himself."
- Erwin Gudde, California Place Names
"'Two peaks lying just in front of it [the crest] are especially fine ... the northern being a little the highest [actually shorter by two feet]. This we named Mount King, and the southern one Mount Gardner.' (Whitney, Geology, 392.)
James Terry Gardiner (1842-1912), a member of the Whitney Survey , 1864-67; member of the Geological Survey of the 40th Parallel (King Survey), 1867-72; member of the Geological Survey of the Territories (Hayden Survey), 1872-75. James's father spelled the name without the 'i' and so did James until his second marraige, 1881, when he restored the 'i', which had been in the old family name. (Farquhar files.)
The mountain and the creek were spelled 'Gardner' on maps until the sixth edition of the Mt. Whitney 30' sheet, 1927. The other 'Gardiner' features were added to the 15-minute maps, 1953.
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada
August 31, 1863:
"It was a delight to travel by rail again, the first time since I left the states. At Sacramento I took steamer, and meeting an old friend, had a pleasant trip. On the way down two young men came up to me, asked if my name was Brewer, and introduced themselves as two young fellows just graduated last year in the Scientific School at Yale College, who this summer have crossed the plains. Their names are Gardner and King. Of course I was glad to see them; King I have taken with me on this trip."
- William H. Brewer, Up and Down California
"James Terry Gardner, or Gardiner, was at Sheffield Scientific School for only a brief period in 1862, but was awarded an honorary Ph.B. many years later. Largely for the benefit of his health he accompanied his boyhood friend, Clarence King, across the plains in 1863. Upon his arrival at San Francisco he entered the service of the Unites States Engineer Corps as a civilian assistant and was assigned to construction of fortifications at Black Point and Angel Island. In the spring of 1864 he joined the Whitney Survey and was a member of Brewer's party that summer. During the next few years he was with King in Arizona, in the Sierra, and on the Survey of the Fortieth Parallel. From 1873 to 1875 he was a member of the Hayden Survey (U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories). He then returned to New York state, where he became director of the State Survey, 1876-86. Thereafter he practiced as a civil engineer and engaged in coal mining activities. He had a summer home at Northeast Harbor, Maine. In 1868 he married Josephine Rogers, of Oakland, California, who died in 1872. In 1881 he married Eliza Greene Doane, of Albany, New York. The family name had been spelled Gardiner until James Terry's father dropped the 'i'. James Terry used the form 'Gardner' until mid-life, when he resumed the earlier form.
The meeting with Brewer is described in a letter that James wrote to his mother a few months later. 'By stage and cars,' he says, 'we came to Sacramento and there took the steamboat. It was crowded with people from the mines. Many rough, sunburned men in flannel shirts, high boots, belts, and revolvers were around me, but among them one man attracted my attention. There was nothing peculiar about him, yet his face impressed me. Again and again I walked past him, and at last, seating myself in a chair opposite and pretending to read a paper, I deliberately studied this fascinating individual. An old felt hat, a quick eye, a sunburned face with different lines from the other mountaineers, a long weather-beaten neck protruding from a coarse grey flannel shirt and a rough coat, a heavy revolver belt, and long legs, made up the man; and yet he is an intellectual man -- I know it... I went to Clare, told him the case, and showed him the man. He looked at him, and, without any previous knowledge to guide him in the identification, said, from instinct: 'That man must be Professor Brewer, the leader of Professor Whitney's geological field-party.' Clare had never seen a description of Brewer, but had once read a letter written by him [Brewer's letter to Brush about Mount Shasta]. After dinner Clare walked up to this man, the roughest dressed man on the boat, and deliberately asked him if he was Professor Brewer. He was; and Clare introduced himself as a student from Yale Scientific School and was warmly received. He then introduced me and we all spent the evening together. On arriving in this city [San Francisco] Brewer took us to his hotel. The next morning we spent our last money for some decent clothes. Brewer immediately took us around to the State Geological rooms and introduced us to Professor Whitney and the gentlemen connected with the Survey... Through Brewer I was introduced to some civil engineers, who have been valuable acquaintances. In three days Clare was made Assistant Geologist.'"
- Francis P. Farquhar, Editor's footnote in Up and Down California