The Minster, Deerhorn Mountain, Northwest Horn

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September 13-14, 2014
It was 5:15 in the morning as six of us dragged our sleepy bodies from Onion Valley (9,210 ft) 4.7 miles up the Kearsarge Pass Trail up towards Kearsarge Pass (11,810 ft). Mark and Craig B. had planned an outing in the Eastern Sierra to climb Mt. Ericsson and Deerhorn Mountain in the Kings Kern Divide/Vidette Creek Drainage area. The first day they had planned to head up Vidette Creek Drainage to Deerhorn Saddle, set up camp at one of several lakes in the basin south of Deerhorn Saddle, then head south up Harrison Pass and west up Mt. Ericsson. The second day, we would head back up and over Deerhorn Saddle and climb Deerhorn Mountain before heading back out. 

PeakElevationTopographic ProminenceSummit Coordinates (lat/lon)
The Minster12,303 ft263 ft36.716096, -118.42236
Deerhorn Mountain13,281 ft650 ft36.713077, -118.410387
Northwest Horn13,278 ft150 ft36.713688, -118.411674

Getting to the trailhead
Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 36.772560, -118.341186

Sunrise came shortly before we reached Kearsarge Pass. 

At the pass, everyone stopped to put on some layers and eat snacks. Someone had left a pair of women's glasses sitting on a nearby rock.

Mark's intellectual pose

From Kearsarge Pass, we descended the trail on the other side for 0.4 miles, took a left at a junction, and proceeded 2 miles to meet up with the JMT/PCT.

Bullfrog Lake

tarn shortly before the JMT/PCT

Once we met up with the JMT, we took it south for 1.5 miles as it descended into a canyon containing Bubbs Creek (9,550 ft). Once in the canyon, the trail veered left. We continued on the trail for ~0.5 miles to the first campsite (on the right) containing bear boxes, then took off cross country in a general southern direction, crossing Bubbs Creek at a large log, then locating a use-trail on the other side of the creek.

views from the JMT as it descends to Bubbs Creek

In less than a fifth of a mile, we came to a small structure known as Shorty's Cabin. Even though the roof had several holes in it, it contained a small fireplace and was pretty cozy inside. This would be a nice place to hole up in the winter.

From Shorty's Cabin, we headed SSW up a steep slope to join up with another use-trail, which headed up Vidette Creek Drainage.

Vidette Creek Drainage seen from the JMT

backside of the Kearsarge Pinnacles

The use-trail continued for a short distance before petering out just before Lake 10,500 ft (the large long lake just west of East Vidette). Above Lake 10,500 ft was a headwall which contained two distinct options to surmount it. On its left (east) side was a scree slope which I had used the previous May when the route was covered in snow. Without the snow, it looked like a cruddy slog fest. To the right (west) was a distinct ramp carved into the headwall, which we took. The rock here was mostly solid. The ramp eventually deposited us right before the outlet of Lake 10865, the largest of the Vidette Lakes.

Lake 10,500 ft

the headwall

Lake 10,500 ft seen from the ramp

From Lake 10865, another headwall could be seen to the south. This one could be easily bypassed on its left side by ascending a semi-loose boulder/scree slope.

above Lake 10865

The top of the second headwall was the start of a large moraine which would last until Deerhorn Saddle. The topo map indicated a good sized tarn (11,610 ft) in the moraine located 0.5 miles northeast of Deerhorn Mountain. As we approached it, it was barely a puddle of water. The drought had caused the water level to drop by about 15 feet. The water in this tarn contained several swimming bugs which resembled tiny shrimp. We recharged our bottles, being careful not to scoop up whatever they were. 

We now turned our attention south towards Deerhorn Saddle, which looked like a crud-filled slog fest. And that's exactly how it turned out to be: three steps forward, two steps back, with each step causing several mini rockslides.

At Deerhorn Saddle (12,635 ft), we caught our first glimpse of the even nastier looking crud-chute which headed up Harrison Pass to the south. Because none of us desired to head up that chute, it was decided unanimously that we would forgo climbing Mt. Ericsson. Instead, the interest now pointed to Mt. Stanford. Stanford's class 3 north ridge would be an easy climb from Deerhorn Saddle.

Mt. Ericsson seen from Deerhorn Saddle

Harrison Pass

Since I had already climbed Stanford before, I turned my attention towards The Minster, a series of pinnacles on a spur ridge which extended WNW from Deerhorn Mountain. This feature was labeled on the topo map, but contained no online beta. The only mention of it that I had been able to find was by Secor, who said that "This ridge of pinnacles was traversed from east to west on Aug 3, 1939, by Ted Waller, Don Woods, and Edward Koskinen," but provided no route description. It was definitely an interesting feature to say the least.

From Deerhorn Saddle, I headed southwest, heel plunging down a sandy slope. Ahead lay three lakes. I aimed for the westernmost one (11,810 ft), walking around its northern side. To the northwest, the jagged pinnacles of The Minster were visible.

The Minster and Lake 11,810 ft

west face of Mt. Stanford

Lake 11,810 ft

The topo map indicated a series of highpoints on The Minster, so it was pretty obvious that the first tower was not the highpoint. The first tower could easily be bypassed on its left side on class 3 terrain.

Ericsson Crag no. 3 looking mighty

after bypassing the first tower, I climbed onto a second smaller tower which cliffed out on the other side. I doubled back a few feet, descended a small chimney on to the west, and continued on. Ahead lay a series of jumbled pinnacles and towers with the highest one unclear. I traversed up several pinnacles on class 4-5 terrain just to find a higher one further ahead.

view from the second tower

one of several cliff-outs

At last, I spotted the highpoint. It was a pointed pinnacle with a slight whitish tinge. It was the westernmost pinnacle in the group.

I downclimbed to a large notch east of the pinnacle. A few class 4 moves brought me to the summit block. The backside of the summit block was easy class 3.

summit block

a little exposure

view southeast from summit





On the way down, I found a way to bypass the class 5 section by descending south from the eastern notch onto a large sandy slope, then contouring east along the slope for a few hundred feet before it ended just below the second tower. After climbing up the tower, I retraced my steps to Deerhorn Saddle. 

views from descent

I reached Deerhorn Saddle just in time to meet up with the rest of the group which was making their way down Stanford. We regrouped and decided to camp at Tarn 11,610 ft (the one at the base of Deerhorn). Descending back down the north side of Deerhorn Saddle involved another bout of slipping, sliding, and crumbling terrain. We located a large flat area about a few hundred feet south of Tarn 11,610 ft and decided to camp there.

On the way down to the tarn, Dagmar was able to locate a babbling brook, and obtained several liters of water there. The rest of us weren't so smart and headed back to Tarn 11,610 ft with its shrimp-infested waters. After spending several minutes trying to avoid getting the little buggers into our bottles, we gave up and decided to just drink them anyway. The tarn was packed full of these little protein bits.

descending from Deerhorn Saddle

The next morning, we woke up right around sunrise and proceeded up towards Deerhorn Mountain. After a initial section of scree slogging, we reached the base of two prominent ridges: the northeast ridge (class 3-4) and northeast buttress (class 3). Craig J, Craig B, and Sung headed up the northeast buttress while Mark, Dagmar, and I headed up the northeast ridge. 

Deerhorn seen from camp

sloggity slog to the base

The most difficult thing about the northeast ridge was simply getting on it. We ended up heading up a large steep concave class 3-4 "ramp" at the base of the ridge, then slowly worked our way up to the ridge.

After the initial few hundred feet of climbing, the ridge was characterized by a series of class 3 slabs.

Throughout the climb, we had spectacular views to all sides. To the northwest, the other three could be seen climbing up the northeast buttress.

As the slabs steepened, we headed onto the crest of the ridge for a very fun wildly exposed knife edge. About 15 ft above from where the knife edge ended was an exposed class 4 step-across to the left (which is referred to as the crux, but we felt that the beginning of the northeast ridge was much more difficult). Above the step across, few more feet of class 3 rock got us to a notch. This is where the northeast buttress and ridge routes join up. The remaining terrain between the notch and summit was straightforward easy class 2-3.

looking across the knife edge (Sung & Craig can be seen standing at the notch)

on the knife edge

climbing to the notch

The summit was a small set of blocks which could comfortably accompany about three people. Each of us climbed up to it, then headed back down and out of the wind.

view southwest from Deerhorn


From Deerhorn, everyone proceeded to descend the northeast buttress. We descended class 2-3 terrain to a notch (13,130 ft) between Deerhorn and Northwest Horn, then walked across a rocky ledge around to Northwest Horn's northeast side which was the buttress. The rest of the descent on the buttress was straightforward class 3.

Northwest Horn was a short class 3 climb from the rocky ledge. The summit contained a small cairn but no register.

Mark silhouetted against Northwest Horn

view north-northwest from Northwest Horn



looking down the northeast buttress

On the way down, it began to snow lightly, making the granite slightly slippery. By the time we reached camp, the snow had stopped and we packed up and hiked out. A few rain showers fell as we headed out, making for pleasant temperatures in contrast to the usual blazing sun.

Lake 10865

Lake 10,500 ft

lowest of the Vidette Lakes

Bubbs Creek below

shiny shiny shiny!

Kearsarge Pass

Final Stats
30.2 miles
12,535 ft gain/loss

Weather Forecasts
Onion Valley Trailhead
Kearsarge Pass
Bubbs Creek
11,100 ft in Vidette Creek Drainage
Deerhorn Saddle, The Minster, Deerhorn Mountain

Peakbagger Pages
The Minster
Deerhorn Mountain
Northwest Horn

Summitpost Pages
Deerhorn Mountain

High Sierra Topix message board
John Muir Wilderness


  1. Heya. Love to chat about your awesome site and hikes. Best way to talk offline?

    BTW, we just did a dayhike traverse from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal via Whitney. Love the Sierras...