High on the North Ridge of Mount Conness.
Photo Info © Mark Houston 1997

Alpine Climbing in the
Eastern Sierra

For the time being we are not offering any trips in the Inyo National Forest (most of the places in the Eastern Sierra Nevada we might want to go, including the Lee Vining ice climbing areas). This is largely due to the fact that we are in either the Alps, or the Himalaya until well into November 2006, but also partly due to a problem with the US Forest Service in the Inyo National Forest.

In the past we have run our Sierra work through permits held by our friends at the Sierra Mountain Center, working as SMC employees. However, recent issues with another local guide service have made SMC a bit worried about our advertising of Sierra trips as Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides trips. Also the Forest Service is trying to sort out the thorny question of what is an employee and what is a subcontractor, and where we fit in.

Until both issues are resolved we may be prohibited from offering trips in the Sierra. Currently, there is for all intents and purposes a moratorium on new permits (as there has been for years), and also USFS requirements and bureaucracy associated with maintaining permits is so costly and time consuming as to render the option of obtaining our own permits both impossible and, well, impossible.

We encourage you to write/call/email/visit the offices of the Inyo National Forest, and urge them to sort out the confusion in such a way that allows us to guide on Forest Service land, as well as to advertise possible trips as we do. Working as SMC employees was one acceptable solution for us, and it is our hope that this avenue of access will again work for us in the future.

But for now, no trips for us on the Inyo National Forest.

The Eastern Sierra has a tremendous variety of climbing for all levels of expertise. It is perhaps most famous for high quality alpine rock routes and peak ascents at all different levels of difficulty. But it also hosts great ice and snow climbing, on the frozen waterfalls of June Lake and Lee Vining Canyon in winter, and in the many steep snow and ice couloirs of the high peaks in late summer and fall.

We provide guiding and instruction at all levels. We can put together a custom program for you or for your group, designed to fit your abilities, interests and aspirations.

Guiding rates are on a per climber per day basis.

Shorter, front-country days

  • 1 climber with 1 guide: $295
  • 2 climbers with 1 guide: $190
  • 3 climbers with 1 guide: $150

Regular, full days

  • 1 climber with 1 guide: $380
  • 2 climbers with 1 guide: $250
  • 3 climbers with 1 guide: $180


The following climbs are a sampling of the best that the Sierra Nevada have to offer. There are many, many more.

Climbing & Mountaineering

Mount Whitney

  • East Buttress
  • East Face

Mount Russell

  • Fishhook Arête

Mount Conness

  • North Ridge

North Peak

  • North Couloirs

Bear Creek Spire

  • Northeast Ridge
  • North Arête
  • East Ridge

Lone Pine Peak

  • North Ridge

Mount Mendel

  • Mendel Couloir

Mount Sill

  • Swiss Arête

North Palisade

  • U-Notch Couloir

Polemonium Peak

  • V-Notch Couloir

Temple Crag

  • Venutian Blind Arête
  • Moon Goddess Arête
  • Sunribbon Arête

Clyde Minaret

  • Southeast Face

Cardinal Pinnacle

  • Regular Route
  • Red Bush
  • Cucumbers

Crystal Crag

  • South Ridge
  • North Ridge


Mt. Whitney - 14,494'

  • East Face - Grade III, 5.6 - 2 to 3 days
  • East Buttress - Grade III, 5.8 - 2 to 3 days

The steep, sheer eastern wall of Mt. Whitney is an obvious attraction when seen from the Owens valley, and hosts surprisingly moderate climbing on impeccable granite. The East Face and the East Buttress routes follow beautiful lines up the clean, solid rock of this wall. Normally these classic routes can be climbed any time from May through October. The photo left shows the steep and clean east faces of neighboring Keeler, Day and Third Needle

Mount Russell - 14,086'

  • Fishhook Arête - Grade III, 5.9 - 2 or 3 days

The Fishhook Arête on Mount Russell is one of the finest of the harder alpine rock routes in the Sierra. 9 pitches on clean granite, up to 5.9 in difficulty, lead to the airy summit. Best July through September.

Mt. Conness - 12,590'

  • North Ridge - Grade III, 5.6 - 1 day

The sculpted, sweeping North Ridge of Mt. Conness is a beautiful line up to the summit, overlooking Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite National Park. Moderate rock climbing in a fantastic setting make this a great day trip, or a grand finale to a weekend beginning with ice climbing on neighboring North Peak. Best late May to October.

North Peak - 12,242'

  • North Couloirs - Grade II, 50° ice - 1 day

The 50 to 60° frozen couloirs of North Peak's north face, are an excellent introduction to the classic gully climbing in the Sierra. A climb of North Peak can be combined with an ascent of the adjoining North Ridge of Mt. Conness, for a rewarding weekend's outing. Like all Sierra gully climbs, the couloirs of North Peak are in their best condition in the Fall. Mike Christianson can be seen here belaying Kathy on the last pitch of the couloir.

Bear Creek Spire - 13,713'

  • North Arête - Grade III, 5.8 - 2 days
  • Northeast Ridge - Grade III, 5.4 - 2 days
  • East Ridge - Grade IV, 5.8 - 2 days

This impressive summit offer a number of excellent alpine routes. The North Arête and the East Ridge are challenging rock climbs (both 5.8) while the more moderate North East Ridge is a long and airy 4th and low 5th class ascent. The best season is June through September.

Lone Pine Peak - 12,944'

  • North Ridge - Grade IV, 5.7 - 1 or 2 days

The North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak is a feast of airy climbing and scrambling up a long, challenging and extremely scenic ridge line. This 5.6 route can be done in one very long day, or with a bivouac in the middle of the route, surrounded by starlight and deep shadows. Good May through October.

Mount Mendel - 13,691'

  • Mendel Couloir - Grade 4-5 ice to 60° - 2 or 3 days

The Mendel Couloir is perhaps the most well known of the Sierra gully ice climbs, offering sustained steep climbing in a remote setting.. This is the classic right hand route of the twin couloirs that split the north face of Mount Mendel. Following a good snow year the couloir is best climbed in the Fall. In lean years your best bet is to climb earlier in the year.

Mt. Sill - 14,162'

  • Swiss Arête - Grade III, 5.6 - 2 or 3 days

The East, or Swiss Arête of Mt. Sill is a classic alpine route on a beautiful peak. The climb involves rock climbing of a difficulty up to 5.6, steep frozen snow and a moderate glacier approach. The best season is May through October.

North Palisade - 14,242'

  • U-Notch Couloir and East Ridge - Grade IV, 5.6, 50° ice - 2 or 3 days

This long ice couloir in the dramatic wilderness cirque of the Palisades, is excellent example of the kind of all-media ascents and terrain that the Sierra has to offer. After climbing about 8 pitches of snow and ice in the couloir easy 5th class rock leads to the summit. This climb comes into excellent condition in the Fall.

Polemonium Peak - 14,000+'

  • V-Notch Couloir - Grade III, 60° ice - 2 or 3 days

The twin couloir to the nearby U-Notch. The V-Notch Couloir is steeper and narrower and less frequented. As will most Sierra ice gullies, Fall is the best season for an ascent.

Temple Crag

  • Venutian Blind Arête - Grade III, 5.7 - 2 or 3 days
  • Moon Goddess Arête - Grade IV, 5.7 - 2 or 3 days
  • Sunribbon Arête - Grade VI, 5.9 - 2 or 3 days

Temple Crag is host to several long, challenging and beautiful rock routes. The Venutian Blind and Sunribbon Arêtes exemplify the quality of these serious and aesthetic wilderness rock climbs. Temple Crag is located beneath the alpine walls on the north side of the Palisades. Ascents of the Temple are often combined on the same trip with a climb of Mount Sill or North Palisade.

Clyde Minaret - 12,281'

  • Southeast Face - Grade IV, 5.9+ - 3 days

This route follows an intricate line up a steep face, beautiful reddish gold rock on square cut holds. The climbing is varied, strenuous and intriguing, always with great exposure. The Southeast Face of Clyde Minaret is one of the most impressive alpine rock faces of the Sierra.

Cardinal Pinnacle

  • Regular Route - Grade II, 5.6 - 1 day
  • Red Bush - Grade II, 5.9 - 1 day
  • Cucumbers - Grade II, 5.10a - 1 day


Several lines, from 5.6 to 5.11, on the sheer granite north face of this small peak, make it a fun and challenging one day objective. The best season is mid-March to late October. In this photo Chris Kulp enjoys the 5-pitch Regular Route.


Crystal Crag - 10,375'

  • South Ridge - Grade II, 5.4 - 1 day
  • North Ridge - Grade III, 5.8 - 1 day

A great one day objective, Crystal Crag offers an alpine climb with a short approach. The South Ridge is a perfect introduction to alpine rock climbing while the North Ridge offers more sustained and difficult climbing. May through October are the recommended months.

Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed
Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members

All images, layout and text ©1998 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved