Michael Minaret is the second highest Minaret in the range - a few feet shorter than its neighbor Clyde Minaret. All its sides are sheer, and there are no routes on Michael Minaret rated less than Class 4. Most routes involve 5th class climbing of one form or another.
Michael Minaret is off the main crest of the Minarets - it lies slightly to the West of the crest. Hence, approaching climbs on Michael involves more work than, say, for Clyde Minaret. There are two possibilities - hiking over South Notch (from Cecile Lake) to reach Amphitheater Chute and gain access to the Southeastern Aspect of Michael Minaret. Or hiking over North Notch (from Iceberg Lake) or the Gap (from Lake Ediza) to gain the Nortwestern aspect of Michael Minaret. There are three chutes on this side - Starr's Chute, Eichorn's Chute, and Michael's Chute, and the latter two involve 5th class climbing. All the chutes converge to "The Portal", a pile of blocks marking the final stretch to the summit.
Michael Minaret is known for the historic events that took place there in 1933. On August 25th, 1933, legendary climber Norman Clyde found Walter A. Starr, Jr.'s body on a ledge high on the Northwest face. "Pete" Starr had fallen to his death on a solitary attempt of a new line on this Minaret some three weeks earlier, on August 3rd. A search party composed of the best climbers of the time, including Norman Clyde, Jules Eichorn, Dick Jones, Francis Farquhar and Glenn Dawson had failed to locate Starr's whereabouts over the previous ten days. The search had been called off, after the rescue party had climbed a number of new and difficult routes in the Ritter Range, including Eichorn's Chute on Michael Minaret.
Undeterred, Clyde had stayed alone to try to locate Starr's body. Climbing along the west side of Michael Minaret, he finally located Starr's remains. On August 30th, 1933, he and Jules Eichorn climbed back to Pete Starr's resting place on a ledge below the summit of Michael Minaret, and buried his body under some rocks.
A Stanford alumnus (Class of 1924 and graduate of the Law School in 1926), Walter A. Starr, Jr. (nicknamed "Pete") became a legend of Sierra climbing history. He had ascended numerous new and difficult routes in the Sierra, often alone. He had started writing a guide to the John Muir Trail, which is still in print. The story of his death and the subsequent search is told in William Alsup's book, Missing in the Minarets. A San Francisco federal district judge, Alsup has thoroughly researched Starr's life and death, and provided a detailed account of the events of August 1933, including original photographs of Starr's whereabouts found in the family attic. Steve Roper, the author of a famous mountaineering guide to the Sierra Nevada, returned to Pete's ledge on September 17, 1999, and found his gravesite and some of his remains. An account of Roper's trip can be found in Alsup's book.
From US395, take SR203 into Mammoth Lakes. Follow the highway (turn right at the second light) to the main lodge of Mammoth Mountain. If you are there before 7a or after 7:30p, you can continue past the ski resort, driving over Minaret Summit and down towards Devils Postpile. During the daylight hours above, all visitors must pay a $7/person fee, and use the mandatory shuttle bus. Hikers and cyclists can enter on their own, but must still pay the fee. See the Red Tape section below.
There are two trailheads used to access Clyde Minaret. Minaret Lake Trail, branching off the John Muir Trail from the Devils Postpile ranger station is the shortest approach, about 7 miles. A slightly longer route (about 8 miles) but with less elevation gain uses the Shadow Lake Trail out of Agnew Meadows. The Shadow Lake Trail is easily the more scenic of the two approaches and highly recommended.
Lots of Red Tape. SR203 west of the Minaret Summit(designated "Reds Meadow Valley") has travel restrictions due to the narrow one-lane road (in many sections) and the limited parking available at the popular national monument. Travel by car into the area is unrestricted before 7a and after 7:30p, so try to plan your trip accordingly. Between these hours it is required that you take the shuttle bus which leaves every 30 minutes, and more frequently during periods of high use (buses will accomodate backpacks). If you want to do a loop starting at Agnew and returning to Devils Postpile, you can ride the shuttle for free back to Agnew Meadows. Once your vehicle is in the area, you are free to exit anytime of day, but you will be subject to the $7 per-person charge if you haven't previously paid the fee and the entrance station is manned. Backpackers with permits do not have an exemption from using the shuttle during normal daytime hours.
Entry fee into Reds Meadow Valley is $7 per person, which allows free use of the shuttle. National Parks Pass and USFS Adventure Passes are not valid here. The fee is used to pay for and encourage the use of the shuttle bus.
Overnite stays in the Ansel Adam Wilderness require free backcountry permits. These can be obtained from the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center & Ranger Station, located on the north side of SR203 just before reaching Mammoth Lakes.
On the more popular trails (Thousand Island Lake, Shadow Lake, Minaret Lake, etc.) camp fires are not permitted and camping is restricted to designated areas. On popular summer weekends the quota for permits may run out, so advance reservation is advised (fee apply).
When To Climb
Michael Minaret can be climbed generally only as long as Highway 203 remains open west of the Sierra Crest. The road is closed during winter months due to the high danger of avalanche on the upper section of the highway. The road usually opens around Memorial Day, and closes sometime in mid-October. Call the Ranger Station for closure information if you plan a trip near either of these times.
Climbing during other times in the year can still be done, but will require a longer trek starting near the Mammoth Mtn main ski lodge. With a bit more of a time allowance winter mountaineering in the Minarets is an unforgetable experience!
Camping is allowed in most places in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. There are special restrictions in the area between Shadow Lake and Ediza Lake, designed to reduce impact in these highly used areas. You can get information on these restrictions at the Ranger Station when you pick up your permit, and there are maps posted along the trail showing the restricted areas.
The Minaret Lakes Trail is not so restricted and generally less crowded. There are some fine campsites to be found at Minaret and Iceberg Lakes. The latter has one of the most stunning settings in the Minaret area.
There are also campsites at Cecile Lake on the east and southeast sides which offer a closer approach when heading to South Notch. If camping at Iceberg Lake, it is best to come up the Shadow Lake trail (faster and more scenic).
The Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center & Ranger Station
can provide the latest information on trail and climbing conditions.