ApproachSecor describes this as a class 3 route, but if that is true it is possibly the hardest class 3 route in the Sierra. The rating was probably translated from Roper's guide who previously had gotten it from Smatko and Voge before him. The route was first climbed in 1956, which explains why it is absent from Voge's first guide published in 1954. The vague route description is found in the revised 1965 edition, which is copied almost exactly into Smatko's, then Roper's guide. Secor revised the description of the route's start to something one can actually follow, but it seems neither Smatko, Roper, nor Secor questioned the rating of the route. While I have given it a class 4 rating which I think fair in relation to many other class 4 climbs in the Sierra, others have suggested the rating ought to be as high as 5.3. This might be true, but I haven't found much difference between class 4 routes and those in the 5.0-5.4. As you will find, the route is fairly steep, and it might be more proper to call it the NE Arete.
The shortest approach starts from the North Lake TH, heading over Lamarck Col as described in the Getting There section on the main page. From Lamarck Col, head down to the highest of the Darwin Lakes, crossing to the south side at its outlet. Climb southwest into the large cirque north of Mt. Mendel, clinging to the west side of the NE Ridge. Cross glacial morraine or snow, depending on season and preference. Secor describes the start of the route as marked by a deep chute. This is more than a chute - it is a giant cleft that splits the west side of the ridge quite sharply, about 75 yards south of the ridge's toe.
Donno describes finding the start as: Move along the NW side of the base of the NE Ridge until you see an enormous, boulder-filled, chimney at the top of a loose, low angle chute. I counted this as the 3rd in a series of recesses from the toe of the buttress. The left edge of this chute is the good looking, 3rd class ridge that you want to climb.
This map shows the approach to the NE Ridge and a descent off the East Face which some may find helpful.
Route DescriptionThe route does not start by heading up the cleft, or chimney, or chute, or whatever you want to call that death trap. Stay out unless you want something class 5 and scary. The route starts by climbing the left (north) shoulder of this cleft, without ever entering it. Right away you will find yourself on the crux, a very steep and exposed 150-foot section that is stiff class 4. The rock here is very good with decent holds, but a bit unnerving. After this first section, the angle eases some and the options increase, as you climb about 350 feet of class 3. Above this, move right into a shallow class 2-3 chute (this chute lies directly above the large cleft in the ridge) and follow it to a notch in the NE Ridge.
Once on the ridge, follow the crest as it zigzags up 700ft, past several false summits, to the true summit. The climbing is sustained, mostly class 3 with considerable class 4, negotiating all sorts of gendarmes and tricky little passages as the climb unfolds. Technically the climbing is harder than the crux at the start of the route, but the exposure is far less, making the scrambling consequently more enjoyable.
Not surprisingly, a descent of the NE Ridge has been described as spicier than the ascent. An easier descent to Darwin Canyon is down the East Face.
This photo shows the NE Ridge in profile on the left, with the two false summits prominently visible left of the summit.