Split Mtn is technically one of the easier of the California 14ers, but still a serious effort requiring some 7,500ft of gain from the nearest trailhead. It lies along the Sierra Crest, at the southeast end of one of the highest portions of the High Sierra encompassing the Palisade range, home to 6 other 14ers. Split Mtn can be easily recognized from US395 by the East Couloir that splits the twin summits. The north summit is the high point. It is also easily identified from the Big Pine area and highway 168 leading to Glacier Lodge.
The easiest route is via the class 2 North Slope and Red Lake on the east side. There are many other routes to the summit of varying technical difficulties. There are snow/ice routes on the east side in the East Couloir and St. Jean Couloir. There are also extended arete routes that rival Temple Crag for the longest such climbs in the Sierra. The west side is a jumble of spires, aretes and gullies that make routes difficult to describe and impossible to follow.
Secor claims Split is the easiest 14er after Whitney, but that claim is hard to justify unless only considering Sierra peaks (White Mtn in the Inyos, 14 mi roundtrip on a dirt road is the easiest 14er) and further considering only technical difficulty (Mt. Muir, just off the Mt. Whitney Trail is far easier, but has a class 3 rating for the portion just below the summit). And Mt. Langley via Old Army Pass (or New Army Pass) and the SW Slope is also much easier than an ascent of Split Mtn.
This is the hard part. Of all the California 14ers, Split Mtn has the most difficult access, which may or may not require 4WD with good clearance, depending on road conditions and how much you care about the underside of your vehicle. There are two ways to reach the Red Lake Trailhead, the first being that most often used:
From Big Pine on US395, head west on Glacier Lodge Rd, which heads to the Big Pine Creek Trailheads. Steve Eckert provides comprehensive directions from here at: climber.org.
A second approach, purported to be shorter and easier (but I haven't actually tried), is via the Tinemaha Campground several miles south of Big Pine.
Oct, 2002: I have seen at least two posts from folks attempting this route this summer, both giving it up as a waste of time and going the first route.
Jul, 2003: ScottyS adds the following upon successfully negotiating the Tinemaha route in 2002:
Last year I successfully navigated the Tinemaha Campground route in a Subaru Legacy at night. I didn't even attempt the McMurray route.
Beta --- Basically, continue past the gravel plant (after Tinemaha) taking the north fork in the road along the edge of the hill. The road bends north around the hill and ends up in a gravel pit. After the curve and before the pit look for a light track turning left (west) through the sand to a fenceline about 100yds off the gravel road. Follow the track for about 1/2 mile along the fenceline (heading directly towards the mountains) until reaching the road from McMurray Meadows. Turn left (south) and proceed to the trailhead. It takes very little time to reach the fenceline road from HWY 395, and the only slow part is driving that 1/2 mile of exposed course alluvium.
See the attached additional information for more comments and details.
Everything you need to know about permits and regulations can be found on the Eastern Sierra - Logisitcal Center page.
Climbing season is generally June-Oct, though ambitious climbers can undertake an ascent anytime of year.
On the east side, most parties choose to camp in the vicinity of Red Lake, at the base of Split Mountain's east face. This is a great location that makes for an easy hike to the summit the following day, and the sunrises on Split Mtn can be grand. Be sure to follow rules for camping away from lakes and streams in the Wilderness, and follow proper disposal procedures for human and food waste. Bears are definitely in this area, so be sure to follow good food storage practices - use a bear canister if you have any doubts about your ability to keep food away from bears and marmots (also a hungry pack of these in the locale).
"'To the north of this gap the crest rises into a huge mountain with a double summit ... which I called Split Mountain.' (Bolton C. Brown, 1895, in SCB 1, no. 8, May 1896: 309.) The Wheeler Survey called it 'Southeast Palisade' and it was also known as 'South Palisade,' although it is not actually part of the Palisades. Theodore Solomons used the latter name on his 1896 map."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada