From the parking lot at Virginia Lakes follow the obvious trail around the north shore for ¾ of a mile passing the historic miner's cabin on your left. After Cooney Lake and Big Frog Lake a half mile further, the trail eventually climbs above treeline to a talus slope beyond, switchbacking its way up to Summit Pass. At 11,100 feet, June and July hikers will likely encounter snow. Though reported to be "usually very windy," I encountered pleasant calm breezes at 10:00 am and 1:45 pm in mid October. The trail on the backside of the pass descends steeply for 1,000 feet through more switchbacks until it bottoms out at the junction between Summit Lake to the northwest and Hoover Lakes to the northeast. Turn left at the trail junction and head uphill as it climbs toward Summit Lake for ¼ mile, then exit to your right and cross-country the southwest slope to Epidote Peak on solid footing, aiming for the high point that becomes obvious as you once again clear treeline.
The high point on this slope is actually a false summit that can be climbed over or passed on the left. Doing so immediately leads to a thick row of low growing pines, hiding the sandy ridge that connects to the base of the final summit pyramid. Thrash through the pine barrier at the spot of least resistance and drop down onto the ridge. This is a good place to scout out your final scramble to the top as you are now close enough to pick out a route and there are many ways to go. The rock is blocky, solid and steep. Hand and footholds are plentiful with the occasional crack providing good hand jams. The exposure is thrilling and you will encounter it at some point regardless of your route. The summit plateau is flat and roomy but as of 10/14/02, didn't appear to have a register; so bring one and place it there if you feel inclined. Retrace your steps on decent. Total distance from trailhead to trailhead is approximately 9.8 miles with an aggregate elevation gain of 2,200 feet. I would subjectively rate this day hike as moderately strenuous. It's rewarding for scenery, interesting terrain and summit joy. The final scramble to the top is exciting and technically intriguing due to the open-ended possibilities for route choices. Add the fact that this mountain appears to be seldom climbed and the odds of encountering another party on the summit, small, I recommend it highly.
The approach to Summit Pass is gentle on a well defined trail and the pass itself is broad. Ice Axe and crampons are probably not a neccessity if the tread on your boots are decent. A rope and anchor gear is not necessary for the final scramble to the summit for those comfortable on steep class 3 terrain. For those not, bring 'm.
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