From the Owens River Gorge to world-famous Yosemite,
climbing opportunities are plentiful and challenging
throughout this region.
The areas listed below are WORLD CLASS. You should
have no trouble finding interesting routes at any of
these. There are guide books around that will give you
a lot more information, directions, and climbing specifics.
And if you need a guide or want some crack climbing
advice you've definitely got to check out the
Mountaineering School, composed of a group of individuals
who offer a wide spectrum of activities in the world
of mountaineering to the general public. Good people.
And great climbers.
This guide will help you find a variety of interesting
crags amidst the world's largest single-stand forest
of sweet-smelling Jeffrey pines. Soon you will be pulling
down on steep, pocketed faces with beefy 3/8" bolts
and soft, pumice landings. This area boasts some of
the best bouldering in California, as well as the finest
granite climbing between Tuolumne Meadows and the Needles.
Much of the climbing in the Mammoth area is on welded
volcanic tuff, similar in some respects to both the
Owens River Gorge and Oregon's Smith Rock. The best
of the welded tuff has a dark, smooth patina, with numerous
pockets. There are also numerous formations that are
high-quality featured granite.
The relatively high elevation of these crags (7,000'-9,000')
and heavy local winters combine to make these primarily
summer climbing areas. Furthermore, many of these areas
are accessed by dirt logging roads which are not plowed
(or graded) and may not be passable due to snowdrifts
until late May or June. Daytime temperatures in summer
are generally in the high 70's, with an occasional afternoon
thundershower. Nighttime temperatures are chilly, and
often dip below freezing. Fall usually starts with an
There are numerous camping options in the area. In addition
to the many official U.S. Forest Service campgrounds
(with nightly fees), there are also free campgrounds
Accommodations in the town of Mammoth Lakes range from
budget motels to full-service hotels.
A guidebook entitled Mammoth Area Rock Climbs
is available in local stores and provides thorough and
accurate information. A cross section is reprinted here.
These areas will provide the visitor with easy access
to high-quality rock of diverse types.
Rock Creek Area
Rock Creek is a beautiful alpine canyon draining the
13,000' peaks of the Mt. Abbott region. The climbing
routes are at an elevation of 9,000' on the west side
of the canyon so they receive morning sunshine. The
rock is excellent-quality granite, offering some of
the best crack climbing this side of Yosemite. There
are also some bolted slabs, but the steep, featured
sport climbs of the Main Cliff should not be missed.
To get to the Rock Creek area start at the junction
of Hwy. 203 and U.S. 395 and drive south on 395. After
16 miles is the Tom's Place/Rock Creek exit. Turn right
here and head south up the canyon. The cliffs are all
on the west side of the canyon and take about 20 minutes
to scramble up to. The mileages indicated are measured
from U.S. 395.
To get to the Iris Slab, drive 4.1 miles up Rock Creek
and park outside the Iris Meadow campground, hike through
the campground, cross Rock Creek and scramble up to
the crag. The Iris Slab has long been a popular teaching
area with local guides services and is a great place
for beginning climbers. Fixed anchors are found on top,
making top-roping and lowering convenient. All routes
are about 80' long.
Mammoth Lakes Area
From Hwy. 203 head west through the town of Mammoth
Lakes and turn right on Minaret Road, the second traffic
light. Almost immediately turn onto Canyon Boulevard.
Follow Canyon Boulevard to its end at the parking lot
of the ski area's Canyon Lodge. The Austria Hof inn
is the last building on the right; park just beyond
it. From here, head up the first gully north of the
ski area for 1/4 mile; the cliff will be seen on the
This interesting wall provides moderate sport climbing
near town. The rock is sharp, grainy and of volcanic
origin. The cliff has a forested southern exposure with
good climbing from late spring to early fall.
Lakes Basin Area
The crag is high-quality granite. This area receives
heavy winter snowfall and holds snow well into the early
months of summer. With an elevation of 9,000', this
area is best in late summer or early fall.
To get to the Lakes Basin, head east on Hwy. 203 through
town. At the second traffic light, Hwy. 203 turns right;
instead, go straight ahead on Lake Mary Road, heading
uphill under Chair 15 and past Twin Lakes. A mile farther
is Pokonobe Lodge. Continue to the parking lot at the
northwest end of Horseshoe Lake. From the parking lot,
hike counterclockwise around the west side of the lake
past the group camp to a small trail. Continue to the
inlet stream on the southwest side of the lake, where
the trail dips down to lake level. The Horseshoe Slabs
are just beyond, toward the right in the forest.
Deadman's Bouldering Area
Deadman's I is justifiably famous as a world-class bouldering
area. The main cliff is over 30' tall and features a
number of "off-the-deck" problems. These tall
problems can be top-roped using large friends and trees.
A second rope can come in handy to extend anchors over
At 1.2 miles north of the Crestview maintenance station,
turn left at the only left-turn pocket on the grade.
The road turns to dirt and "T's" immediately.
Turn right so you are paralleling U.S. 395. At 0.2 miles
past the "T" is a right turn leading to Deadman's
At 0.6 miles beyond the "T" is a right turn
leading to Deadman's II.
At 0.8 miles beyond the "T" is a right turn.
Follow this while it veers to the left and dead ends
in the forest. From here, a short trail heads west up
a slope to the base of Deadman's III. Just beyond the
turn to Deadman's III, the road deteriorates as it climbs
up a short canyon.
Big Springs Area
These crags are located in a dense Jeffrey pine forest
on the east side of U.S. 395 just north of Mammoth.
The cliffs are eroded outcrops of welded volcanic tuff.
This area receives a large amount of snowfall in winter,
so climbing is often not possible until summer. The
roads in this area, although graded, are narrow and
To get to the Big Springs area, start at the junction
of Hwy. 203 and U.S. 395 and drive north on 395. About
five miles is the Crestview rest area. Just past the
bottom of the hill, turn right (east) on the paved Owens
River Road (2S07). Follow this road a few miles to a
left turn at Big Springs campground (2S04). This road
heads north past the campground, turns to dirt and begins
winding up a grade to the Indiana Summit Natural Area.
The following descriptions all begin at this point:
At 2.2 miles north of the campground, a sign marks
the exit for the road to Alpers and Clark canyons (2S06).
Follow this road just over a mile to the cattle gate.
A half-mile past the gate, road 2S06 joins with 1S47
coming in from the left, and soon passes through a second
cattle gate (please close all gates behind you). Continue
on this road through a meadow and around a ridge into
the main branch of Clark Canyon. At a 4-way intersection,
turn right and follow this road to a loop parking area.
From here, a trail leads north up a dry creek bed to
the main cliff area.
Clark Canyon is the most developed sport-climbing crag
in the Mammoth area. The routes are highly concentrated,
with convenient anchors. The canyon is in a beautiful
setting with views of Mt. Morrison and the surrounding
peaks. The rock is very featured, with pockets galore.
The routes tend to be short with cruxy bulges that must
The climbs are located in two primary areas. The trail
to the main area heads right up a steep slope when the
crag is reached. The trail to the Potato Patch goes
left up a wash. Beyond Potato Patch, a quarter-mile
up the gully, is the Swiss Cheese Boulder, which features
a couple of steep top-ropes (11b/c) and some excellent
When you are done climbing for the day, treat your
appetite to one the many fine restaurants
in Mammoth Lakes. Enjoy your stay!