Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 37.02333°N / 118.5235°W
Activities Activities: Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Elevation: 12362 ft / 3768 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Observation Peak boasts spectacular panoramic views over a wild, remote part of the High Sierra. The Palisades, Devils Crags, and Middle Fork Kings River are only a few of the sights for those who make the long journey to the top. The peak is one of the 248 included on the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter’s Sierra Peaks Section list. Other SPS peaks in the area include Mt Ruskin, Marion Peak, and Arrow Peak.

The first credited ascent of Observation Peak in 1902 is attributed to Joseph N. LeConte, the University of California, Berkley engineering professor and noted Sierra explorer. LeConte climbed the peak during the same trip that he made first ascents on (the north face of) Split Mountain and Marion Peak. The name more than likely originates from the fact that he used the peak for triangulation purposes to map the area.

Observation PeakObservation Peak from Dumbbell Pass -- Observation Pass to the right (Aug 09)

Getting There

Observation Peak can be approached from a number of different directions depending on the itinerary. It is debatable which trailhead is closer, Bishop Pass or Taboose Pass, but most people appear to use the Bishop Pass trail as the easiest access to the John Muir Trail. Entry into this region is also available from the west, albeit a bit longer.

Bishop Pass offers several strenuous routes over abandoned and mostly non-existent trails to Observation Peak via the junction with the Middle Fork of the King’s River trail (Grouse Meadow).

  • The first route continues about 4 miles east to Deer Meadow on the JMT and climbs the Cataract Creek trail to Observation Pass. While the lowest section of the trail suffers from many burnt & felled trees, the excellent central section (west edge of the drainage) avoids large fields of talus before giving way to colorful granite ledges and benches (now on the east side) leading to Amphitheater Lake.

  • The second route uses the almost vanished west terminus of the Cartridge Pass Trail which starts 5 miles south of the JMT on the Simpsons Meadow trail. Leave what’s left of the trail below Triple Falls, following the north fork to Dumbbell Lakes Basin.

  • A third alternative to Cataract Creek trail is to climb the NW slope of Mt Shakspere directly from the JMT and follow the SE ridge line to Observation Peak. This appears to be a popular descent route based on summit log entries.

  • Taboose Pass provides access from the south and east to couple of different routes.

  • The Cartridge Pass Trail is easily accessed from the Taboose Pass / JMT trail junction. The principal disadvantage of this route is that both Cartridge Pass and Dumbbell Pass must be climbed to gain access to the Dumbbell Lakes Basin. The east terminus of the trail begins just north of the point where the John Muir Trail crosses the South Fork of the King’s River.

  • Another route leads the hiker north on the JMT just south of Mather Pass. At approximately 11,400’, turn west and climb Amphitheater Pass, dropping all of the way to Amphitheater Lake before climbing Observation Pass.

    The Copper Creek trail provides two arduous routes to Observation Peak. Cartridge Trail (via Simpson Meadow and Granite Pass) or a variation of the Steve Roper’s High Sierra Route will both eventually get the hiker to the Observation Peak area.

    Climbing up Observation PassHiking up Observation Pass from Dumbbell Basin (Aug 09)


    Observation Peak’s north face may boast some difficult routes but the standard scrambles are straight forward. These include:

  • The easy standard route from Observation Pass up the class 2 east ridge. The south approach to the pass is a relatively gentle slope above the Dumbbell Lakes. The north approach ascends a steep and loose chute above Amphitheater Lake. The chute is reached by performing an ascending traverse of the west shore of the lake. The chute retains late season snow which maybe bypassed by climbing the rocks on the climbers right.

  • A direct approach from Dumbbell Lakes that climbs the Class 2 South face composed of a mix of talus and scree.

  • Ridge top traverses including the previously mentioned Shakspere to Observation traverse or a traverse from peaks overlooking the Cartridge Creek drainage.

  • Amphitheater LakeAmphitheater Lake with Observation Pass seen in the upper right frame (Aug 09)

    Red Tape , Camping, and Conditions

    Everything you need to know about permits, regulations, and driving directions can be found on the Eastern Sierra - Logistical Center page. While overnight hikes require a wilderness permit, day hikes can be done without red tape.

    Climbing can be done in almost any season but May through October are the most popular times. In heavy snow years, the chutes and slopes may hold residual snow. This is also true for any of the routes over the Sierra Crest. Check for current weather.

    Observation PeakObservation Peak from Marion Peak with the Palisades as a backdrop (Aug 09)

    External Links trip reports

    My photos from High Sierra Route Part 1