OverviewNorman Clyde wrote in 1928's "Close Ups of Our High Sierra": "North from Mt. Goddard is a dark, picturesque, but somewhat forbidding peak--Mt. McGee, 12,966 feet in height; a rather difficult climb commanding an excellent view, especially down into Goddard Canyon, a beautiful tributary to the south fork of the San Joaquin River. Probably it has been climbed but twice."
The peak has been climbed many more times than just twice over the intervening years, but the rest of Clyde's words are as fitting now as they were when he first wrote them. Mt. McGee is the striking peak seen to the northwest from Muir Pass, dominating views in that direction. Although it stands less than 13,000ft in height, the summit vistas are impressive, taking in Mt. Goddard to the southeast, the dramatic peaks of the Evolution Basin to the east, and the Hermit to the northeast.
The peak has three summits, running west to east; the central summit is the high point. The easiest (and usual) route ascends the chute that leads up to the notch between the west and central summits from the vicinity of the west end of Davis Lake; the summit is a short boulder hop east from the notch. The chute itself consists of much loose scree and talus (class 2); this is best avoided on the ascent by keeping to the solid rock found on the right wall of the chute (easy class 3). This is a straightforward scramble.
The peak has also been climbed from the north (class 4, first ascent by Dawson, Eichorn, Olmstead, and Dodge in 1930), and from the west (class 2 to the west summit, with a short class 4 traverse to descend to the west-central notch, first ascent by Dawson and co. in 1933).
Getting ThereMt. McGee can be most easily approached from the west out of Florence Lake, or from the east via one of several cross-country passes that cross the Sierra Crest (Lamarck Col, Haeckel Col, or Wallace Col). An approach out of Florence Lake is slightly longer than an approach from the east (approximately 20 miles one way if you take the Florence Lake ferry, vs. 18½ miles one-way over Lamarck Col), but involves substantially less elevation gain and easier cross-country travel to approach the base of the peak. Lamarck Col is likely the quickest approach from the east side, and probably the easiest option overall for a dayhike.
Driving directions to the trailheads can be found on climber.org.
Florence Lake: From Florence Lake, follow the Blayney Meadows trail to its intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and take the PCT south to the trail junction at the confluence of Evolution Creek with the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. Follow the trail south through Goddard Canyon, and hike up grassy slopes alongside North Goddard Creek to the south side of the peak. The west face can also be easily approached from this direction.
Lamarck Col: From North Lake, follow the Lamarck Lakes trail to where it crosses Lamarck Creek just below Upper Lamarck Lake. A good use trail leads first south and then southwest over Lamarck Col (12,880'+), and then down along the north side of the lakes in Darwin Canyon. The use trail descends through Darwin Bench, keeping to the east of the stream that drains into Evolution Creek. Follow the PCT south to Wanda Lake, and leave the trail to hike southwest over the saddle (11,640'+) immediately west of the lake. A good deal of talus leads around the north side of Davis Lake to the base of the chute on the peak's south side.
Red Tape, Conditions, etc.For an approach from the east side, see the Eastern Sierra Logistical Center for details on red tape and current conditions.
If backpacking to the peak, an approach from the west via Florence Lake requires obtaining a wilderness permit from Sierra National Forest. (During summer months, the permit can be picked up from the High Sierra Ranger Station along Kaiser Pass Road).
When To ClimbThe roads to Florence Lake and North Lake close after the first significant snow, and are generally only plowed in late spring. As a result, the peak is typically climbed in the summer months between July and October.
CampingPopular campsites are found at the confluence of Evolution Creek and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River (western approach), or at Wanda Lake (eastern approach).
Etymology"William John McGee (1853-1912), geologist, anthropologist, and hydrologist. He joined the USGS in 1883, and was with the Bureau of American Ethnology from 1893 to 1903. The mountain probably was named by the USGS during the 1907-09 survey for the Mt. Goddard 30' map; it is on the first edition, 1912. The lakes and canyon are named on the third edition, 1923."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada