Conquering Mount Morgan at 13,748 feet

Mountain Secrets

tonykrizan@hotmail.comJuly 15, 2014 

It was in June of 2013 that Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I planned our climb to Mount Williamson. To our surprise, because of late spring storms, the desert road to our trailhead was victim to flash flooding. So we referred to our backup hike, Mount Morgan at 13,748 feet. Would you believe this hike also had to be canceled because of forest fires and smoke? Here we are one year later and our objective today will be the summit of Mount Morgan. No spring storms or threat of fire are in the forecast this time.

On the morning of June 29, we drove over Tioga Pass, and at Highway 395 turned south, going 41 miles to the turn-off to Toma Place. We followed this winding mountain road as it climbed in elevation 8.7 miles to Rock Creek Lake and campground. The trailhead is located at 9,700 feet on the east side of the parking lot marked by a sign which simply reads 'Trail.'

After almost one third of a mile and 300 feet of elevation gain, we came to the junction to Kenneth Lake. Before arriving at the lake, this trail branches to the right at about 10,400 feet. At this point, we departed from the main trail and followed the alternate route toward the John Muir Wilderness and Francis Lake.

It is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead to Francis Lake, with an elevation of 10,875 feet. Trail finding was very simple to this point with a few sections offering tree cover, which we welcomed on this hot day.

From Francis Lake, we had our first inspiring view of the summit of Mount Morgan. We found an old camping spot surrounded by trees, which will be ideal if the cold wind starts blowing off the lake this evening.

Only two miles of elevation gain to the summit (as the crow flies) — however, sometimes the shortest distance is not the best option considering the large boulder field in the upper center of this valley. It was recommended that we climb to the end of the tree line on the right and then leave the valley by this high ridge. But first we'll follow the inlet stream as it climbs in elevation from Francis Lake.

After arriving at a large grassy meadow, we could see the saddle which disguises the huge boulder field. Directly to the right is the tree line that will start our climb to 12,352 feet. Boulder hopping and loose scree will have to be mastered to provide adequate foot holds for this aggressive elevation gain.

After a short class-two scramble, we made it to the top of the low ridge. While following the ridge and on its opposite side in the canyon below are the views of Lake Valley with its chain of deep blue lakes.

About 13,000 feet this small scree-covered saddle introduced us to the last class-two-plus boulder hopping climb. We kept the snow field on our left and scrambled up this last obstacle to the summit.

Once on the top of this 13,748 foot peak, one forgets all the hardships encountered during the last four hours. Today, the morning sky is crystal clear with only a few scattered clouds. Must be hikers luck? The views of the surrounding mountains are endless from this 360-degree location. To the west are Feather, Rosy Finch, Pyramid, Gemini, Seven Gables and Mount Abbot Peaks. We could now see the north side of Cox Col Pass which, in July of 2009, forced a three-day detour when we couldn't find a safe route off its summit.

The view to the east shows our hiking route to this summit from Francis Lake. In the distance looking over the mountains is the enormous Owens Valley stretching north to south. Looking south, White Mountain and Mount Whitney are displaying their majestic 14,000 foot peaks.

After spending almost an hour on the summit, it was time to start our descent back to the base campsite at Francis Lake. The climb to the summit took 5.7 hours, and our return trek was 4.4 hours.

In my opinion, this class-two hike/climb is not for the faint of heart. Decent physical condition is recommended, although there are many rocks of all sizes and shapes to rest during the adventure. Map reading skills are required, or an understanding of a GPS device.

Remember there are no trails from Francis Lake to the peak. On a brighter side, the views on the assent, followed by the 360-degree summit experience, will offer lasting memories of this special place within our Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Mount Morgan is named after J. H. Morgan, a member of the Wheeler Survey team of 1878. Although there are two brass survey markers located on the summit, we were disappointed we could not find a container to record and file our successful climb.

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