Adams Minaret
Ken Minaret CS

Jul 7, 2007
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

Dayhiking all the named Minarets in the Ansel Adams Wilderness has been done by only two persons that I know of, Peter Croft and Josh Shwartz. Both of these guys are well out of my league, so I've been working on dayhiking the Minarets in smaller groups of two or three at a time. Today's choices were the last of the "easy" Minarets (class 4 or less), located on either side of Amphitheater Lake. Ryan Spaulding was going to join me and planned to meet me at the Devils Postpile TH at 4a. Unfortunately a fire burning near Independence closed down US395 for most of the evening and he was unable to get through. And so at 4:15a I headed out alone.

Though the trail for most of the way until Minaret Lake is uninteresting, it was delightful at night with cool temps (50F) and a half moon overhead. It sure beat the daytime heat that usually plagues one on this trail. Shortly before 6a, my first view of the Minarets coincided remarkably with sunrise. A faint red glow turned to orange and the brighter light as the sun rose over the White Mtns to the east. I continued on to Minaret Lake and then up to Cecile Lake where I arrived at 7:15a. I took a short break to put on some sunscreen, get out my sunglasses, and put my headlamp back in my pack. Heading up to South Notch, I found the snow already soft, though the sun hadn't been on it long - it was the same in the shade, so I deduced that it hadn't gotten below freezing overnight. The snow is melting out quickly on the north side of South Notch and was already split into two sections with dry rubble in between. I used my crampons and axe as much as possible to avoid the loose sand and talus and make speedier progress. The crampons may have been overkill on the heavily suncupped slope, but the axe proved helpful.

I reached the top of South Notch at 8a, and as soon as I had my crampons off I started traversing around the northwest side. Adams Minaret rose to the west and my initial plan was to climb it from the saddle between Adams and Michael Minarets. But in surveying the closer East Face, it looked like a route could be found up a wide chute just across the outlet of Amphitheater Lake. I changed plans on a whim, passed above the southeast side of the lake and started up. The chute was littered with debris but it didn't present any danger - it just made the chute a bit messy. The chute was lined with ledges that made the climb remarkably easy, class 2 almost the whole way. I could have probably kept it at class 2 by moving left where a headwall was reached, but I found a convenient class 3 black rock ramp leading out of the headwall from right to left. It all went quite well and was an enjoyable climb. From the summit ridge, it was an easy walk over towards the summit a bit to the north. Only the last 50 feet or so was class 3.

From South notch, it had only taken 45 minutes to reach the summit. I found an aluminum box placed by the mysterious SRC in 1991. The register inside only dated to 1995, and in the 12 years since then there were only a few pages used. One entry made reference to a fine climb along the North Ridge, which I presumed it meant the NW Ridge since there was a near vertical drop down to Amphitheater Lake directly to the north. Intrigued by this, I started down the ridgeline and found that it was indeed a great scramble. The exposure was significant, wildly so off to the northeast side, mostly class 3 with occasional class 4 moves. I followed it all the way down to the notch between the two summits of Adams Minaret (the lower northwest summit is closer to the saddle with Michael Minaret). I considered only briefly a descent down from this notch, but it looked like it might cliff out before I got down to the lake. Instead I climbed up to the northwest summit, wondering if a second register would be found there (nope). There is a fantastic view of Michael Minaret's South Side from here and I paused to study it some. Secor makes mention of a class 5.7 route up the South Side, but I couldn't see anything I'd be willing to climb, with or without a rope. Impressive, but far too scary-looking. I continued west over the lower summit, then down in a spiral to the saddle with Michael Minaret. Michael Minaret didn't look any easier with a closeup look.

There was little snow on the east side of the saddle, and I was able to descend on class 2 rock all the way to the snow at the bottom. By then the angle of descent was low enough that I could travel down the snow without axe or crampons. I passed Amphitheater Lake on the north side, then started up a shallow chute on Ken Minaret's Southwest Face. With lots of debris in the lower parts, the rock became more solid higher up where it steepened and turned to class 3. I reached a notch with a small window located northwest of the summit, then turned to follow the summit up. It looked to grow more difficult ahead, so I traversed right back onto the Southwest Face, continuing across for about 70-80 yards. This turned out to be a mistake. It brought me to the part of the face directly below the summit, but the difficulty increased significantly. I made some progress, but could not make it up the final 50 feet or so. I tried half a dozen different ways, but backed down from all of them. I even found a couple of rusty pitons on one part of the face that made me think I was on route, but the climbing above was well into the class 5 range. In all I wasted almost an hour trying to find a route up, but it was just too scary - I even remember thinking at one point, "Ok, I don't want to die, time to back off." According to Secor, the route is supposed to be class 3-4, so I finally figured there must be an easier way that I missed. I traversed back across to the left and found a much easier route back up to the main ridge on the NW side of the summit. This turned out to be the correct route and it went far easier. In fact the two class 4 sections just before the summit were a piece of cake compared to what I had been struggling on, and just after 11a I finally made it to the summit.

There were two rusty tins holding papers in one, a small register pad in the other. The oldest of the two went back to 1962. There were many familiar famous names including Charles Wilts, Allen Steck, Steve Roper, Carl Heller, Vern Clevenger, and others. I photographed the pages, not many considering they dated back some 45 years. I felt like this was one Minaret worth earning.

The descent went much easier now that I had the route dialed in, and by 12:30p I was back at Cecile Lake after going over South Notch again. It took a bit more than two hours to return to the trailhead. The wildflower displays in the upper part were quite spectacular, but lower down the flowers ended and the heat and sand combined to make the trail drag on. Fortunately the whole outing came in at a relatively short 10.5hrs, and overall was a great time.

surfingmarmot comments on 07/17/07:
Very nice trip and report. Makes me want to go now too. camped at Cecile Lake once when it was still frozen over--didn't do any climbing but the views inspired me to consider it one day. I still want to and none of us are getting any younger so I better do it and soon. Thanks for sharing the details of your trip and climbs.
Dave Daly comments on 08/08/07:
Hey Bob......let's add these two as a dual objective for the 2008 Sierra Challenge. Seems completely resonable and the climbing is enjoyable in a wild and mysterious setting. Always spooky back there in the Amphitheater area.

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