Clyde Minaret via SE Face Direct

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September 12-14, 2019
Clyde Minaret is the highest of the Minarets, a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada located 10 miles west of Mammoth. The Minarets are characterized by a series of steep black spires located within close proximity to eachother. Although they have a reputation for loose rock, the rock can be quite good on certain aspects of certain spires. Such is the case with Clyde Minaret's SE Face, which found its way onto Fred Becky's 50 Classic Climbs of North America. This climb is defined by a series of cracks and ledges weaving through polished volcanic rock. The nature of this highly featured rock makes large sections of the route feel more like sport climbing than trad, even though there are plenty of cracks and fissures that take excellent gear.

Most people seem to do this route over 2-3 days. A few will do it as one long car-to-car day. We chose to take a leisurely 3 days, hiking in on day 1 and doing the climb on day 2. On day 3, we would do another climb if we felt like it (spoiler: we did not) before hiking out.

There are two ways to start this climb: the Original Start (5.7), and Direct Start (5.9+ or 10a depending on who you ask). We took the Direct Start which was extremely fun. I have heard that the Original Start is also of high quality.

In terms of topos, we used the Supertopo High Sierra Climbing guide as well as a few Mark Thomas photo topos (shown below). These topos were spot on and never once did I feel off-route.

PeakElevationTopographic ProminenceSummit Coordinates (lat/lon)
Clyde Minaret12,263 ft1,151 ft37.6604N, -119.1739W
"Minaret Lake Peak"10,213 ft338 ft37.6609N -119.1496W

Getting to the trailhead

Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 37.6327, -119.0822

Recommended gear: 60m rope, doubles of cams to 2" and single 3", 1 set of nuts, several alpine draws

Total Stats
17 miles    5,800 ft gain/loss (without extra Minaret Lake Peak)
17.5 miles    6,200 ft gain/loss (with extra Minaret Lake Peak)

Donatas and I got a leisurely start from Devils Postpile Trailhead at 10am Thursday morning. This day would just involve a 7.5-mile hike to Cecile Lake. It seemed like most people camp lower down at Minaret Lake, but since we had an entire day to approach, I thought it would be better to get closer to the climb so we could get on it earlier the next day.

We followed a network of good trails to Minaret Lake. Upon reaching the lake, the trail began deteriorating, but it was easy to walk around the east and north sides of the lake and then head off up a canyon heading west towards Cecile Lake. The trail completely vanished in this canyon, as shown on the USFS maps. Just before reaching Cecile Lake, the canyon steepened into a small headwall with several gullies. We took the rightmost gully which contained a short class 3 section. The top of this gully popped us out at the rocky southeast side of Cecile Lake, where we located a spot to set up camp.

views from Minaret Lake

Cecile Lake

Since it was still early and warm, we took a swim in the lake and spent a while making dinner before heading to bed just after sunset.

sun setting behind Clyde Minaret

Sometime just after midnight, both of us awoke to sounds of yelling in the direction of Clyde Minaret. 20 minutes later, we could see a total of four lights descending Ken-Clyde Couloir. Based on the voices, they were not having a good time. Since it seemed like they were heading in our direction, we decided to stay awake and wait for them to pass by.

Around 1:30am, four people staggered past our camp, the sound of our voices briefly startling them. The group was from Mammoth Lakes, and they had attempted to climb the SE face in one day car to car. After starting the route well after sunrise, they had gotten lost somewhere around pitch 4 and ate up a bunch of time trying to get back on the correct line. After several endless pitches in the dark, they arrived at the summit of Clyde Minaret at 9pm, where they were then faced with negotiating the tricky descent in the dark. To add insult to injury, they had gotten two 80m ropes stuck while rappelling Ken-Clyde Couloir. After a great deal of effort trying to free the ropes, which was the source of the loud yells we heard, they gave up and continued down. Now they just had the 7.5 mile march back to Devils Postpile to conclude their 24 hr+ adventure. I was glad to not be doing that as I crawled back into bed and fell asleep rather quickly.

We got a semi-leisurely start the next morning, taking some time to cook breakfast and enjoy the views and calm morning air. By 8am, we were hoofing it up towards the SE face, aiming for the highest point of a prominent scree field at the base of the face.

Clyde Minaret in the morning

The start was defined by a series of right-facing corners culminating at a main right-facing corner about 50 ft up. The first 2 pitches would follow this feature.

The first 50 ft of right facing corners was a "choose your own adventure," and was pretty easy with good protection. Once in the main corner, the grade increased slightly, but was still mostly 5.7-8 with a few harder moves thrown in. I belayed about 150 ft up on a small ledge just left of the corner.

Donatas following up pitch 1

Pitch 2 continued up the corner and was my favorite pitch of the climb. It started out mellow, then turned into a clean 5.8 hand crack for about 30 ft. Above that, the crack thinned into fingers and suddenly widened into a brief offwidth. I placed a cam right below the offwidth and stepped right to avoid it, climbing on thin ledges. This was the 5.10a crux of the route, and it was over quickly. About 20 ft above the crux, the corner ended, depositing me on a big ledge.

looking down pitch 2

Pitch 3 was a short 100 ft easy traverse across the large ledge to the base of a 5.7 wide crack. The direct and original starts joined up at the base of this crack. Pitch 4 headed up this crack, which required no offwidth technique as there were ample ledges to grab.

looking up at the P4 wide crack

After the crack, I wandered gradually right up a series of ledges. All these ledges eventually converged at a large talusy ledge running right. I followed this large ledge until it ended abruptly at a horn with several slings on it. I reached this horn in two long pitches from the end of pitch 3 (following the Supertopo guide). The Mark Thomas topo shows this as 3 pitches.

somewhere on pitch 4

looking back from the end of pitch 5 (Supertopo)

The next pitch after the horn was an exposed downclimb and 5.8 traverse to gain the base of an obvious giant dihedral. I felt like this traverse was well protected.

looking towards the dihedral from the horn with slings

looking up the dihedral

After one more pitch of easy climbing, we established ourselves in the dihedral proper. The next two pitches led up this amazing dihedral (5.8+) to a prominent notch. The climbing was mostly stemming with a few crack moves.

looking up from the notch

The notch signaled the end of the hardest climbing. From there, we walked 30 ft left on a giant ledge to gain the obvious East Ridge of Clyde Minaret. A few more easy class 4 pitches brought us up to the warm sunny summit.

summit of Clyde Minaret

The descent was somewhat involved, but not insanely hard to follow. From the summit, we descended a few hundred feet down the west ridge (class 3) until we reached a rap station. Our 70m rope was more than enough to make one rap down some class 4 terrain (a 60m would work here as well). After the rap, we coiled up the rope and continued south to Ken-Clyde Notch. The terrain here was unmemorable class 3 with lots of class 2 scree thrown in.

rapping off Clyde's west ridge

Michael Minaret and The Portal

From the top of Ken-Clyde Notch, we descended east down the Ken-Clyde Couloir.

looking down Ken-Clyde Couloir

The first half of the couloir was class 2 scree. The second half suddenly steepened into loose class 3 before dropping off. Here we located the stuck 80m ropes we had heard about the previous night. The double fisherman's knot used to tie the ropes together had become wedged in a groove which had made pulling the ropes impossible. I freed the knot from the groove, and commenced the long rap. With a 60m or 70m rope, this would need to be done as 2 raps.

After both of us finished the rap, we pulled down the ropes and put them in a pile along with a note not to take them. Donatas would later inform the group that they could retrieve their ropes, since we were not feeling generous enough to carry two 80m ropes back ourselves. It was now getting pretty dark, and we quickly put away our harnesses and descended the uneventful scree slope back to camp, passing by the base of the SE Face along the way.

The full (or semi-full) moon had risen before it got dark, and this lit the way pretty well as there was no need for headlamps. We got back to camp at a reasonable hour (~8pm-ish), and celebrated with a big dinner while gazing up at the glorious moonlit SE Face (wish I had taken some pictures)!

The next morning we woke up to watch the sunrise, fell back asleep, and began hiking back out around noon, making a brief detour to scramble up the short class 3 Northwest Ridge of Minaret Lake Peak. The summit of this peak afforded great views of Minaret Lake and the Minarets towering overhead.

sunrise from Cecile Lake

Minaret Lake and Riegelhuth Minaret

class 3 section of Minaret Lake Peak

summit view from Minaret Lake Peak

back at Minaret Lake, where we jumped in for a quick swim

Weather Forecasts
Devils Postpile Trailhead
Minaret/Cecile Lake
Clyde Minaret

Other Trip Reports
Mark Thomas
Steph Abegg

Peakbagger Pages
Clyde Minaret

Summitpost Pages
Clyde Minaret main page
Clyde Minaret SE Face

Mountain Project Pages
Clyde Minaret SE Face
Clyde Minaret SE Face Direct

LOJ Pages
Clyde Minaret
Minaret Lakes Peak

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