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Climb North Peak via the NW Ridge

Lee Vining, California


Added by Evan Thomas

Excellent climb on good rock in a stellar setting. This loop traverses 2 different lake basins, for around a total of around 9 beautiful alpine lakes. Enjoy spectacular summit views of the Yosemite high country from the top of North Peak. 12,242' Peak, ~9 mile loop and 2500 feet of gain, Class 5.3/4 Grade I Climb. Duration: 1 Day.

Although North Peak lies right on the border of Yosemite, the hike starts just outside the park at the Saddle Bag Lake trail-head. There are also some campsites here if you wish to spend the night, but I think they are usually in high demand and hard to come by. To get to Saddlebag Lake, approach Lee Vining along the 395 from either the south or north. Just south of Lee Vining head east on the 120 up the canyon towards Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows. The turn off for Saddlebag Lake is signed, fairly close to Ellery Lake and just 2 miles shy of the actual park entrance, so if you reach a pay booth, you've gone too far. Head up Saddlebag lake, which is dirt in some areas, to the TH and campground by the lake itself.

The Approach
Start your hike along the trail which contours around the SW side of Saddlebag Lake. At Greenstone Lake, you'll want to head around the right, or east, side of the lake and head towards Steelhead Lake. Stay above, or west, of Steelhead lake and pass between the small lakes making up Cascade Lakes. Above Steelhead Lake, there is some cross country hiking, but an occasional use trail pops up now and then. Above the lakes you can see the ridge you're aiming for. You can head straight up, then slightly left, to start the climbing right where it gets a little spicier, or you can head slightly right and enjoy some additional easy ridge with stellar views. I recommend getting in as much ridge as possible!

The Climb
Once on the ridge proper, follow it to the summit plateau. Starts easy at first, but you'll have to surmount a steep section that leads up to a higher portion of the ridge. This is where the climb gets a bit spicier. There are a couple of easy notches that need to be negotiated at Class 3. Eventually, you'll come to a BIG notch and this is the crux. You can either do a short Class 5 downclimb into the notch, which is what I have done both times, or there is a Class 4 bypass down and right, which I can't vouch for not having done it. After the notch, the climbing turns into an airy Class 3 climb, steepening into a Class 4 finish. Now, that you've reached the summit “plateau”, slog/scramble the rest of the way to the summit.

If you'd like to get a good feel for what the climb is like, I made a video from a solo climb I did in 2014.

North Peak, NW Ridge, Vimeo

The Return
Head slightly south from the summit then drop down into the Conness Lakes basin and return back to Greenstone Lake from here. Starts out cross-country, but picks up a trail pretty quick. Enjoy a nice lunch by one of the lakes and bask in the day!

For an easier climb, one can ascend and descend via this side, which is Class 2.

Chow Time
There is a cafe at Saddlebag Lake that is pretty good from what I remember eating there 10+ years ago. But, the Tuolumne grill is probably a slightly better bet, with yummy burgers and fries. You can also head back down the canyon to the Whoa Nelli Deli at the Mobile station. Yep, you heard right, at the gas station! This place is famous and they really do have some yummy food. The fish tacos are famous.

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