The SE Slopes route begins at the little isthmus between Lakes 11,540’ and 11,546’ above Darwin Bench. The approach to these lakes is either via Paiute Pass/Alpine Col, via Lamarck Col or by hiking up Evolution Valley.
The Paiute/Alpine route is the most straightforward: first, take the Paiute Pass trail from the North Lake trailhead to the pass. At the pass, head SW past beautiful Muriel Peak into the Goethe Cirque. This is where the fun talus hopping begins. Although the east shore of Goethe Lake provides a shorter route to Alpine Col, the west shore provides easier cross-country travel. At the end of the lake, keep hopping boulders upward towards Alpine Col, the obvious notch in between the Goethe massif and Mt. Muriel. At the top, enjoy the views of Darwin and Mendel to the south, and peaks as far as Ritter and Banner to the north. Descend the south side of the col to Lake 11,910’ and continue down from the outlet to the isthmus between the lower two lakes. If coming from this direction, it is also possible to traverse up to the west from near the outlet of Lake 11,910’. This saves a few hundred feet of descending and reascending.
If coming over Lamarck Col, follow the route over the col from North Lake and descend Darwin Canyon. At around the 11,400’ level near Darwin Bench, turn north up the side canyon and ascend to Lake 11,540.
If hiking up Evolution Valley, follow the John Muir Trail up towards Evolution Basin, but diverge NE up to Darwin Bench at around the 10,600’ level. Don’t hike into Darwin Canyon. Instead, head north up the side canyon and ascend to Lake 11,540.
From Lake 11,540’, simply head up the broad SE slopes to the summit. Pretty straightforward hiking here.
Crampons/Ice Axe may be handy if going in the early season to negotiate Alpine Col. Skis are “essential” in my opinion for early spring trips. The heart-shaped portion of the SE slopes in between the two semi-prominent ribs seems to hold decent snow late in the year despite the southerly aspect. This would make a fine ski descent.
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