The NW face of Cleaver Peak is a fine, stiff Class 3 route in the heart of the stunning Sawtooth range. It offers a multitude of moderate alpine climbing challenges in a spectacular setting.
A climb of the NW face will generally require an approach up Glacier Col, the broad, steep snowfield between Cleaver and Blacksmith Peaks. Glacier Col itself can be approached via Horse Creek canyon and Cleaver Notch (see Cleaver Notch route in Blacksmith Peak page). This page will describe an alternate approach directly up the east fork of Blacksmith Canyon.
The approach is almost entirely off trail and can be tedious, but astute route-finding can keep the bushwhacking to a minimum, as one enjoys the splendid scenery of this rarely-visited canyon. From the trailhead at Mono Village, proceed on the Horse Creek trail across the bridge over Robinson Creek. From here, turn right and proceed through the walk-in campground (many fire rings and picnic tables). At the end of this campground, one has two choices:
(1) Proceed due west and slightly uphill. After about ¼ mile requiring modest forestry skills, one will emerge at Blacksmith Creek. A very good use trail follows steep switchbacks up and alongside the creek. As the angle of eases off slightly, the use trail temporarily diverges from the creek and traverses high above a flat, brushy section where the two forks of Blacksmith Canyon converge. Eventually, the use trail rejoins the creek and proceeds again up very steep switchbacks through fairly pleasant, rock-strewn forest duff.
(2) Alternatively, proceed more or less directly up hill through the forest. After a couple hundred vertical feet of bushwhacking around many downed trees, one will emerge onto more open slopes above. Many faint trails switchback up this hillside and generally converge to a well-worn use trail that eventually joins option 1 along the high traverse noted above.
As the angle eases off around 8700’ elevation, the use trail eventually disappears. Stay close to the creek (some modest bush encountered) to avoid the tedious talus hop along the left hand slope. As the forest thins, cross to the right-hand side of the creek and proceed over granite benches to a flat, open area alongside the creek. Above this flat area, a couple more crossings may be required to find the easiest way as the creek turns sharply left and up a steep drainage toward Avalanche Lake. Good camping can be found on the benches above the Avalanche Lake outlet.
Pass Avalanche Lake on the right (west) side, and proceed up the steep gully at the head of the lake; in winter or spring conditions this will be a snow climb (watch the post-holing); in summer conditions one may expect a steep talus hop. From the top of the gully, traverse a snow or talus slope and ascend towards the obvious Glacier Col at the head of the canyon.
Route DescriptionGlacier Col:
ascend the steep snow and/or scree gully. Again, winter or spring will likely find the route in easier climbing conditions. Approximately 100’ from the top of the col, a steep rock bulge is encountered with thin or lacking snow cover. This is the crux of the col ascent, perhaps requiring one to climb over the bulge or scratch their way up 10-15’ of steep, loose rubble. In times of thin snow cover, the best route appears to be on the left-hand edge of the slope. With more snow present, a few thin snow chutes towards climber’s right will cover the steep rubble and provide easier climbing.
the Class 3 grade is “old school”, and many parties will want a rope, particularly for the descent. From the top of Glacier Col, drop down about 50’ to the west (class 2), and ascend steep slabs and cracks on the west face (class 3) to a good ledge that traverses upward to the left. Beware of much loose rock perched on this ledge. From here, either climb directly up the west face (about 1 pitch of steep, low-mid class 5 cracks in solid granite with good holds, followed by a steep class 3 gully), or continue up and left along the ledge. The ledge contours around to the NW Face, where one may follow the “broad depression” noted by Roper and Secor to the summit. This “depression” is a stiff, class 3 face with solid rock and excellent climbing, requiring a few exposed class 4-5 exit moves as one approaches more secure ground below the summit block. The summit block is likewise a stiff, intimidating class 3.
Most of the route can be carefully downclimbed. Most parties may prefer to rappel; the steep class 5 section on the W face (noted above) can be descended with a single 60m rope on one rappel with careful route selection and some tricky downclimbing. Multiple rappels may otherwise be required.
The route can be climbed without belays, but some parties may prefer to have protection available if needed. A very light alpine rack should be sufficient. Carry some bail slings/webbing for rappels. Ice axe and crampons will likely be needed for the Glacier Col ascent, depending on snow conditions.