Cleaver Peak is on the Sawtooth Ridge, between Blacksmith Peak and The Sawblade, and is the terminus of a long ridge running along Horse Creek known as The Cleaver. The Cleaver was named by Oliver Kehrlein and Henry Beers when they made the first ascent of this feature. Since this ridge terminates at the summit, it was natural to name the summit Cleaver Peak.
The first ascent of Cleaver Peak was via the 3rd class Northwest Face from Glacier Col by Henry Beers and Oliver Kehrlein on July 3, 1933. When Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler made the first traverse of the Sawtooth Ridge in 2 days back in July 1984, they started at the toe of the North Ridge of Cleaver Peak, the feature now recognized as The Cleaver. This ridge is a serious undertaking in itself, as The Cleaver, as its name implies, is a serrated knife-edged ridge with serious exposure. They followed this to the top of Cleaver Peak, turned southeast, and traversed to Matterhorn Peak. An impressive bit of climbing.
Cleaver Peak offers numerous 3rd class routes, and a 5th class route from the notch between Cleaver Peak and The Sawblade.
The best access to the area is from US 395. From the north, as you arrive in the tiny town of Bridgeport, watch for the first right hand turn just after the Shell filling station (rip-off fuel prices--see below). This is Twin Lakes Road. From the south, enter Bridgeport and proceed to the end of town and take the last left-hand turn, right across from Buster's Market. This is the same Twin Lakes Road. At the end of the road is Mono Village. If you are staying overnight, enter the Village and bear left, along the shoreline to the boat trailer parking and a large dirt turnaround. The trailhead parking is along the edge of the turnaround. Dayhiker parking is along the shoreline of the lake prior to the turnaround.
The Horse Creek Trail offers the easiest access to the area, and from the overnight parking area, head up a dirt ramp into the campground at the west end of the parking area, and then bear left (south) and watch for a road that is blocked by a steel cable with yellow ribbon tied around it. Hop over this cable, cross a wood timber bridge, and look for a decrepit wood footbridge over Robinson Creek. At the far side of the footbridge, turn left and follow the trail until if flattens out to follow a nice easy section along Horse Creek. Watch for the junction with the Cattle Creek Trail, continue past this, and turn west and cross Horse Creek just before a large granite hump/dome on your right. Contour up along the base of The Cleaver over large granite talus, and aim for glacially-polished granite slabs
just to the left. Follow these to either the Cleaver Notch or the base of the Northeast Face.
If you intend to leave your vehicle overnight, you must buy a pass from Mono Village to park there, $7 per vehicle. The pass is purchased from the person in the building at the entrance to the campground. You may stay for as many nights as you wish for your $7, but if you leave and come back, you will be required to buy another overnight pass. They will not allow you to leave food or scented items in your car on overnighters, as bears are a problem here. They will store your items for you, but keep in mind that if you get back to the trailhead at an unusual hour, they may not be there to return your items. Their hours of operation are variable, depending upon the business, so I cannot accurately post them here.
If you are a dayhiker, Mono Village requests that you park alongside the shore of the lake rather than in the overnight parking area in the loop at the end of the road, and there is no cost.
When To Climb
Spring, summer, and fall are the main climbing seasons here, and the road is not always kept open in the winter, at least not to the end. The avalanche considerations are foremost in the decision to plow (or not plow) the road. Spring and summer mean lots and lots of hungry mosquitos in the area, and it gets better in the fall, even though the days are shorter. Mono Village and all of the local campgrounds are closed in the winter. There are a lot of desirable backcountry descents to be had in the area in the winter time, plus there are fewer people (by far) in the area.
There are pay campgrounds
at Mono Village
at the end of Twin Lakes Road, as well as the Paha Campground
, Robinson Creek Campground
, and numerous other pay campgrounds along the way to Twin Lakes. Personally, I hate to pay to lay in the dirt, so I camp along Buckeye Road, which is accessed by the turnoff to Doc 'N' Al's resort, another pay camping area a couple of miles north of Lower Twin Lake. Take the turn, and pass the resort on the left, and continue onto Buckeye Road, across the bridge over Robinson Creek, and onto public land.
No cams here, yet. The NWS weather
is pretty reliable and detailed, and is worth checking out. The Bridgeport Ranger Station
may be able to offer some insights.
The Sawtooth Traverse
The Sawtooth Traverse, covering the ridgeline between Matterhorn Peak and Blacksmith Peak, was first accomplished in 1984 by Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler. The first ascentionists took the hard and long way to do the traverse, starting at the toe of The Cleaver, and traversing the entire Cleaver to the summit of Cleaver Peak. They then turned southeast, and traversed the rest of the ridge to Matterhorn Peak. Clevenger and Fiddler spent 2 days on their climb.
The traverse is most commonly done from the southeast, beginning at Matterhorn Peak, to the northwest, ending at Blacksmith Peak. Peter Croft has lent the traverse some notoriety by free-soloing the entire long, knife-edge ridge from SE to NW. The difficulty doesn't exceed 5.8, and with a rope this seems pretty casual, but the exposure wears on you after a while. And then there are the rappels. Personally, I hate to rappel. I know, if done right, it's plenty safe. But I don't like to. Some of the rappels are nearly a full rope length, and free-hanging to boot. Makes it more of an adventure...
The traverse is tremendously exposed, especially along the section from The Dragtooth all the way to Blacksmith. Driving along Hwy 395 throught the Bridgeport Valley, it is easy to assume that the ridgeline is only steep on one side, like the ridgeline of the Whitney Massif, but this is not so. It is steeper and more exposed (well, maybe not more exposed, but still plenty enough) on the southeast side than the northwest side.
So if the Sierra Nevada is getting too boring and predictable for you, strap 'em on and try this traverse!
GasolineCaution -- Extremely high fuel prices in Bridgeport!
Unreasonably high fuel prices
in Bridgeport motivated me to add this section. There are 2 filling stations in Bridgeport, and both are owned by the same shyster. The fuel prices are often a dollar or more per gallon higher than surrounding areas. With this in mind, I want to recommend to everyone using a trailhead in the Bridgeport area to fill up well before you arrive.
If arriving from the north, fill up in Minden/Gardnerville, or next best, at Topaz Lake. Coming in over Tioga, Lee Vining is also expensive, but (slightly) less than Bridgeport. From the south, Bishop is the best bet, but Mammoth is 40 - 50 cents per gallon less than Bridgeport. Coming over Sonora Pass, I guess you're out of luck unless you buy enough in Sonora to get over and back.
If you for some reason do find yourself in need of fuel in the Bridgeport area, Mono Village (at Upper Twin Lake) has fuel for 20-30 cents cheaper than in town.
While the fuel prices are a rip-off, other merchants in town are more reasonable, especially restaurants.