Isolated and blending in to the scenery of the twelve mile long Silver Divide in the John Muir Wilderness, Mount Izaak Walton is not especially prominent (having only 497 feet of mean prominence) but offers great class 3 scrambling opportunities and spectacular scenery from the summit and the surrounding lakes, streams, and mountain passes. The divide stretches from Red and White Mountain in the east to Sharktooth Peak in the west separating the Fish Creek and Mono Creek drainages to the north and south. The north slopes lead to many lakes and the immense seemingly manicured lawns of the Fish Creek headwaters sitting below massive Red Slate Mountain. They are just a few of many potential highlights of a visit to the area.
Despite the excellent scrambling on most of its routes, Mount Izaak Walton is relatively unnoticed compared to the larger and more prominent peaks to the northeast of Red Slate Mountain
and Red and White Mountain
. All three of these peaks are members of the Sierra Club’s popular SPS Peaks List
and visiting one or both of these as part of an itinerary is possible for visitors especially if approaching from the east on a multiday outing.
Mount Izaak Walton Vista towards Red Slate Mountain (click to view labeled peaks)
Route Map Fish Creek Basin
Mount Izaak Walton is centrally located between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks and as a result there are several options for an approach, including (but uncommonly) as a side trip from the popular John Muir Trail. The closest and most frequently used trailheads are Lake Edison to the west or McGee Creek to the east.
Note that the final 18 miles of the drive to Lake Edison are on a bumpy, winding (but paved) road that is often only one lane wide as you approach the trailhead. Allow 45-60 minutes for this portion of the drive.
(37.36735° N, 118.98340° W)
From the Central Valley make your way towards Prather and continue east on Highway 168 towards Shaver Lake and then Huntington Lake, following the obvious road signs. At Huntington Lake, turn right onto well designated Kaiser Pass Road and follow it another 17 miles to an intersection where the road splits to Lake Edison. Turn left at the intersection and follow the road another 6 miles to Lake Edison.
(37.55131° N, 118.80191° W)
Turn west onto McGee Creek Road off Highway 395 approximately 8.6 miles southeast of the Highway 203 towards Mammoth Lakes (approximately 30 miles north of Bishop). Follow McGee Creek Road 3.3 miles west to the trailhead parking area at the end of the road.
Beaver Lodge on McGee Creek
As noted above there are two obvious approaches to Mount Izaak Walton, one from the east and another from the west. Both pass great scenery, campsites, and have plenty of water available throughout the route. If seeking to combine a visit with nearby Red Slate Mountain or Red and White Mountain then McGee Creek is the better starting point, though both choices would make for worthwhile endeavors. If flexible I would still recommend the route from McGee Creek as it spends much more time above treeline, has an abundance of wildflowers in season, and visits the beautiful headwaters of Fish Creek. It simply makes for better scenery on average.
Trip statistics from Lake Edison Trailhead:
12.7 miles one-way, 5100 feet elevation gain out plus another 800 feet on the return
From the northwestern shore of Lake Edison (near the Vermilion Campground) follow the trail for 5 miles as it wraps around the north shore of the lake to its inlet at Mono Creek. If the timing works out for your group or you can’t handle the walk around the lake note that the Vermilion Valley Resort also offers a ferry service which will shave the initial five miles off the approach. The ferry operates twice a day. See the Vermilion water taxi website
East of Lake Edison keep left at 5.8 miles from the trailhead where the route joins the John Muir Trail and continue north as the route climbs towards Silver Pass. Bear right after 2.5 miles on the John Muir Trail towards Mott Lake where maintained trail travel ends. Continue with easy cross-country travel around the shore of Mott Lake and follow its inlet up to Bighorn Lake, keeping left where the outlet of Rosy Finch Lake joins the stream. From Bighorn Lake there are several route options to gain the summit, the most recommended being the steep class 3 northeast ridge. The east face is another possible option.
Trip statistics from McGee Creek Trailhead:
12.7 miles one-way, 5900 feet elevation gain out plus another 1700 feet on the return
Follow the McGee Creek trail west and then south as it travels through an open valley beneath Mount Aggie and Mount Baldwin and passes colorful rock formations en route to Big and Little McGee Lakes. The first of two stream crossings is reached 2.5 miles in, note that the broken log bridge is at the upper crossing and the better choice when stream levels are high if you are trying to keep dry… horses use the lower crossing.
Little McGee Lake makes for an excellent rest stop before climbing the last 1000 feet from the trailhead to McGee Pass (8.7 miles beyond and 4300 feet above the trailhead). The trail continues east from McGee Pass to Fish Creek in an incredibly scenic and open grassy valley. Cross Fish Creek wherever your heart desires and work your way south across rolling cross-country terrain to the saddle on the Silver Divide north of Bighorn Lake. From the saddle contour around the surprisingly easy slope below Point 11688 to the base of Mount Izaak Walton’s northeast ridge and follow 600 feet of solid, enjoyable, and steep class 3 terrain to the summit.
There are a few established route possibilities to gain the summit of Mount Izaak Walton, a few of which are noted below. All are fairly straightforward in terms of route-finding and probably don’t need too much description.
|Northeast Ridge||Class 3||Quality, sustained climb from the saddle with Point 11688|
|East Face||Class 3||There are several lines using various ledges and shelves up the east face|
|Southwest Slope||Class 2||Talus and scree slope up to the peak. If not approached from the southwest the top of this route can also be done from the east using the 11720 foot saddle with Point 11871|
Flowers on the Approach to Little McGee Lake
Mount Izaak Walton is in the John Muir Wilderness within the Sierra National Forest. No permits are required for day trips but overnight trips require one throughout the year. Quotas are in place year round and if approaching from the west are most conveniently picked up at the High Sierra Visitor Information Station on Kaiser Pass Road (one mile before the split between Lake Edison and Florence Lake, open seasonally) or the High Sierra Ranger District office in Prather. Check the Sierra National Forest permit website
for the most current information. If approaching from McGee Creek or anywhere else to the east you will begin in Inyo National Forest and permits can be picked up at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop or the Mammoth Ranger Station in Mammoth Lakes. Quotas here are in place from May 1 through November 1. Check the Inyo National Forest wilderness permit website
for the most current information and reservation availability.
No bear canisters are required, but proper food storage is a must.
Fires are prohibited above 10,000 feet.
|High Sierra Ranger District Office|
29688 Auberry Rd
Prather, CA 93651
|Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office|
351 Pacu Lane, Suite 200
Bishop, CA 93514
Wilderness Information Line: (760) 873-2485
Permit Reservation Line: (760) 873-2483
Current ConditionsCurrent NOAA / National Weather Service Forecast
When to Climb
Highway 168 is not plowed past Huntington Lake in winter (adding 22 miles to the journey each way), so a winter approach is most realistic from the east but would still likely require multiday travel. In early season snow is present at higher elevations, but those familiar with snow conditions should not have any difficulties.
Camp in Fish Creek Basin
Mount Izaak Walton is literally surrounded by fantastic backcountry camping opportunities, and approaches will generally follow creeks, streams, and lakes throughout your trip. There is no shortage of great and secluded locations. Obvious possibilities include Mott and Bighorn Lakes to the south and east of the summit, as well as the many lakes and streams in the grassy basin northeast of Izaak Walton below impressive Red Slate Mountain.
There are also many options for staying in established campgrounds, both at nearby Lake Edison as well as on the drive in from Kaiser Pass. Most campgrounds are first-come, first-serve though a few can be reserved. Check the Sierra National Forest camping page
for the most current information. If approaching from the east then McGee Creek Campground
is the clear choice, and there are other options available as well. See the Inyo National Forest camping site
for the most current information.
Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of Sierra or Inyo National Forests, and is a good alternative to staying in an established campground.
“Izaak Walton (1593-1683), to whom all fishermen and lovers of good literature are indebted for The Compleat Angler
, first published in 1653.
Name proposed in 1919 by Francis P. Farquhar for the peak that stands at the head of Fish Creek Cañon. (S.C.B., 1920, XI:1, p. 46; see illustration in Appalachia
, November, 1920, XV:1, plate XIV.)” – Francis P. Farquhar, Place Names of the High Sierra (1926)
A Deer Munches on Wildflowers near Fish Creek