Mt. McDuffie is one of several peaks on the Black Divide looming above LeConte Canyon and the John Muir trail. Given its remote location, it is not frequently climbed. As noted in Steve Roper’s The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra
, the peak is named after Duncan McDuffie, an early Sierra explorer and Sierra Club president from 1943-46.
If you enjoy getting away from the crowds, and don’t mind hours of toil on the approach, then this peak is for you. There are also many other cool peaks to bag in the immediate vicinity. It’s a good place to spend a few days enjoying the wilderness in relative solitude.
There is no good way to get this mountain. No matter which approach you use, you’re looking at at least one long day to get within shooting distance.
The shortest distance approach is from Lake Sabrina via Echo col. From Bishop, take highway 168 west until you reach the hiker parking lot about a quarter mile below the dam. The trail starts on the south side of the road just below the spillway. Follow the trail to Moonlight Lake, then travel cross country to Echo Lake. Skirt the lake on the east, contouring up toward the obvious cirque directly south of the lake. The correct crossing is to the west of the saddle, at the top of a chimney marked by black rock. Class 3. Approximately 8.5 miles and 3,500 feet gain from trailhead to the col. Crampons and ice axe may be needed depending on time of year.
From Echo Col descend by whatever way seems easiest to lake 11,428, which is passed on the west. A climbers trail may be found as one continues to descend towards the John Muir Trail, which is joined near a stream crossing at the 11,000’ level. Follow the JMT up to Helen Lake (2.5 miles, 600’/1,400’ gain/loss from the col). Ice axe and crampons may be needed depending on the season.
At this point you are still three miles (as the crow flies) from the peak. Depending on how well you’ve held up so far, and whatever other objectives you might have in the area it’s probably about time to think about finding a campsite. It would be a shame to come all this way just for McDuffie…Scylla, Charybdis, The Three Sirens, Black Giant, are just a few of the worthy peaks in the area. If you bag a few of them, the pain and suffering of getting over Echo Col is probably worth the effort.
At any rate, it is feasible to camp at any of several lakes between Helen Lake and McDuffie. Distances, elevation gains/losses, and route finding are given in reference to Helen Lake. If you camp somewhere else, adjust accordingly.
From Helen Lake head south cross country over easy terrain to a saddle. Contour southeast up to another saddle between Black Giant and peak 12,880+. Drop down into the basin below and find your way to whichever route suits you.
Alternatively, it is possible to descend from the first saddle past lake 11,826,and thence south-southeast past the south ridge of peak 12,928 to the aforementioned basin. Both this and the preceding approach from Helen Lake involve about 3.5 – 4 miles of cross country travel and good route finding skills. Expect to lose and gain back between 500 and 1,000 feet of elevation en route, depending on the exact path taken.
Bob Burd recommends an alternate approach that is longer than Echo Col, but in his opinion takes less time. You start from South Lake and head over Bishop Pass, down to the JMT, and then up to Ladder Lake.
The peak has been climbed from the Enchanted Gorge, and probably from LeConte Canyon. Consult R.J. Secor’s The High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails
, or a good therapist for these approaches. We have medications nowadays that can help with such urges.
Secor and Roper both describe routes on the north ridge (class 3) and southeast ridge (class 2). Secor reports three additional routes not included in Roper's guide. These are the southwest ridge (class 2), west chute (class 3), and northwest slope/west ridge (class 3). Consult these guidebooks for specific route information.
The approach from Lake Sabrina passes through the John Muir Wilderness. The peak itself is in Kings Canyon National Park. Wilderness permits are required. If entering from Sabrina, permits may obtained at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop. Check out their web site
. It’s got a lot of useful information.
White Mountain Ranger Station
798 N. Main Street
Bishop, CA 93514
The Park Service also has a web site
with all the necessary information on obtaining a wilderness permit.
When To Climb
Late spring through fall are the best. If you can handle Echo Col, this would be an awesome place for a spring ski trip. Considerable winter skills are needed once the first major snowfall occurs.
There is ample camping in the vicinity of the peak. The usual wilderness rules apply. No fires. Camp at least 100’ from water. Pack out all trash. Bear canisters may be required. The Muir hut above Helen Lake is strictly off limits to camping, but is worth a short hike for those interested in the history of the Sierra.