Recess Peak is a remote and infrequently climbed peak in the John Muir Wilderness of the central Sierra between Yosemite and Kings Canyon. The peak anchors the western end of the Mono Divide and is the third highest (well… lowest) of the three major peaks on the divide after Mount Gabb
and Mount Hilgard
. Recess Peak’s location at the western end of the crescent-shaped divide provides it with excellent views of many popular and perhaps more well-known summits in the surrounding area. Unobstructed views are available across Mono Creek to the peaks on the Silver Divide to the north, east to the Mount Abbot group across the Second Recess, south from Bear Creek to the Seven Gables vicinity, and west to Lake Edison and the western Sierra foothills.
Though it is situated less than three miles from the popular John Muir Trail, Recess Peak offers probable seclusion at the unnamed lakes below the cliffs of its east face or within the First or Second Recess of Mono Creek located immediately to the north and northeast of the peak respectively. The normal route ascends a trail up Bear Ridge from Lake Edison to the west followed by a scramble up the class 3 southwest ridge. There are also other ascent options to explore from either the Mono Recesses to the north or Bear Creek to the south.
Recess Peak Vista towards the Silver Divide (click to view labeled peaks)
Route Map Bear Ridge Trail
As noted above Recess Peak is most easily and frequently approached from the west out of Lake Edison. Approaches from the east are possible, but add both distance and elevation gain. Recess Peak is also easily but seldom climbed as a short side trip from the popular John Muir Trail.
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. Alternatively but less efficiently the Bear Creek Diversion Dam trailhead can be used, turn right onto the OHV road 3 miles from the turnoff to Lake Edison and follow it 2 miles to the diversion dam (four wheel drive is necessary).
The Southwest Ridge of Recess Peak
The description here applies to climbing the southwest ridge, perhaps the easiest and most frequented of the several options to the summit. For a brief overview of other utilized routes to Recess Peak see the following section.
Trip statistics for the southwest ridge from Lake Edison Trailhead:
8.2 miles one-way, 5600 feet elevation gain out plus another 400 feet on the return
From the southwestern shore of Lake Edison (near the dam) follow the trail up and over Bear Ridge meeting the John Muir Trail after 5 miles. Soon after joining the John Muir Trail (before it drops down to Bear Creek) leave the trail and continue cross-country by contouring east across the slopes south of Volcanic Knob. The exact route here makes little difference and the travel is generally easy (keep further north for gentler terrain or to the south to minimize elevation gain/loss but with a steeper traverse). Soon a pair of meadows with streams are reached which make possible camping opportunities if not continuing to the lakes west of the summit. As you approach the southwest arête simply begin to ascend by following the crest to the summit. Travel up the arête is very straightforward and only as exposed as you might desire. It is made a bit more interesting by keeping to the north near the cliff on the left as you climb.
A general overview of some previously used routes on Recess Peak is outlined below. If not selecting the southwest ridge, the northeast arête looks to be an interesting route. The approach to the northeast arête could be made easier by taking the Vermilion Valley Resort water taxi
should the timing work out for you.
|Southwest Ridge||Class 3||From 11,000 feet elevation follow the crest of the ridge to the summit, keeping left at times for a little exposure to the cliffs on the north|
|Northeast Arête||Class 3||From Second Recess head to the cirque east of Recess Peak. Climb to the col on the arête and ascend to the summit.|
|Southeast Ridge||Class 3||From the vicinity of Hilgard Lake climb the southern scree slope of Point 12680 immediately southeast of Recess Peak. Drop to the saddle and follow the class 3 southeast ridge to the summit.|
Campfire on Bear Ridge
Recess Peak 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 permits 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 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, consequently spring through fall are the most realistic times for a visit (a winter approach will add 22 miles to the journey, each way). In early season snow is present at higher elevations, but those familiar with snow conditions should not have any difficulties.
Recess Peak and the Mono Divide from Marie Lake
Though Recess Peak can be climbed as a dayhike, excellent backcountry camping options exist at the lakes immediately west of the peak. Locations here are enhanced by the west face of Recess Peak towering above and are likely to offer complete seclusion for extended periods though just a short distance from the John Muir Trail. If it suits your itinerary there are also numerous great options along Bear Creek below.
There are many options for staying in established campgrounds 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.
Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of Sierra National Forest, and is a good alternative to staying in an established campground.
“Named because of proximity to the First Recess of Mono Creek. Theodore S. Solomons discovered and named the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Recesses in 1894. (T. S. Solomons.)” – Francis P. Farquhar, Place Names of the High Sierra (1926)
Sunset on Recess Peak (highest peak left of center) and the Mono Divide from Marie Lake