Darwin Canyon Peak P300
Peak 13,464ft 2x P750 PD
Mt. Lamarck 4x SPS / WSC / PD

Aug 6, 2019

With: Scott Barnes
Iris Ma
Tom Grundy
JD Morris
Rob Houghton
Clement Guillaume
Chris Henry
Jonathan Mason
Grant Miller
Lucas Bravo
AJ Kaufmann
David Quatro
Ken Yee
David Pletcher

Mt. Lamarck
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Peak 13,464ft previously climbed Aug 17, 2011
Lamarck, Mount previously climbed Aug 17, 2011


Day 5 of the Sierra Challenge had us going over Lamarck Col for an obscure summit I've dubbed Darwin Canyon Peak. I'd taken note of it on more than a half dozen trips over Lamarck Col and down Darwin Canyon where it lies about a mile west of Mt. Lamarck and the Sierra Crest. It wasn't that the peak was striking or looked to make an interesting climb, but I imagined the views from its summit must be quite impressive, taking in not just Darwin Canyon and the northern end of the Evolution Traverse, but also of the Glacier Divide and the huge unnamed lakes that occupy the canyon north of the peak. And the peak also happens to be a ranked 12er that I'd yet to visit.

There were 16 of us at 6a on a Tuesday, starting from the North Lake TH for the second day in a row. This time we would use the Lamarck Lakes Trail which branches from the Piute Pass Trail only a few hundred yards from the trailhead. Once again a group of 4-5 shot out in front at a fast clip, not to be seen (by me, anyway) for some hours. I found myself near the front of the middle group, not really sticking with anyone in particular, but mostly just going at my own pace. Still, Iris seemed to be matching my pace for the most part and we were in sight of each other for most of the way up. We reached Lower Lamarck Lake in about 45min. The crossing of the outlet looked a bit dicey so I let Iris go across first to see how she managed. She got a boot wet in the process but worse, dropped her phone in the water before quickly retrieving it (it luckily survived the mini-ordeal). Deciding it looked harder than it should and not much like I remembered from previous trips, I looked around a bush downstream and lo and behold, there was the much easier log crossing. Iris found this terribly unfair which got a laugh out of me. It was unfair, of course, like life.

We continued up the trail a short while, Iris mentioning there was a sign now for the Lamarck Col turnoff. We crossed the stream where I would have started up previously, and then came to the new-ish sign that made finding the Lamarck Col Trail much easier. We crossed back to the other side of the stream and found the unofficial trail with ease. We spent much of the next two hours making our way up the trail to Lamarck Col, finding Lucas somewhere below the col. He had started with the fast group but had slowed down as they forged ahead. There had been a couple of snow patches to cross on the way to the pass, but nothing requiring crampons or axe. Lamarck Col was only slightly more challenging, but a good boot track meant we could manage without the extra hardware.

It was just before 9a when we went over the col on the Sierra Crest. I dropped down about 100ft on the other side before starting a descending traverse towards our peak while still high above the bottom of Darwin Canyon. This was the part I had been least sure of beforehand, but it turned out to be easier than I anticipated. The slope wasn't too bad and there was plenty of sand between rocks and boulders to allow faster travel which got easier as we moved west, away from the col. There was a flat, cruiser section before reaching the saddle between Darwin Canyon Peak and Mt. Lamarck where we got some of our first views looking into Evolution Valley to the southwest. The East Ridge leading to the peak looked broken and quite difficult, so we favored the south side where the going looked easier. The gradients stiffened and the route become more broken and blocky as we got closer to the summit. Lucas and I were just ahead of Iris as we made our way up a broken ramp of sorts to the short South Ridge which seemed to offer the easiest way up. This was some challenging class 3 scrambling and it was not easy to find a workable route as we climbed higher on the ridge. It looked like Lucas was going to handily beat me to the summit as he got ahead, but then his route ran into trouble and I found an alternate way around his difficulty.

It was just after 10a when I topped out, surprised to find no one else there. Had the fast guys left already? As we quickly came to find out, the faster guys had all gone to Mt. Lamarck first and were only minutes behind Lucas and I. Iris showed up around the same time as Rob and Clement, the latter appearing from the considerably harder north side because "it looked like fun!" In rapid succession, David, JD and finally Tom appeared, giving us eight at the summit within 15 minutes' time. The views were pretty good, as expected, especially of the emerald colored lakes in Darwin Canyon. There was a still half-frozen lake to the north below Muriel Peak and Alpine Col, unusual because it's on the south side of the crest. Darwin Bench and much of Evolution Valley can be seen to the southwest, framed by the LeConte Divide in the background. Forgetting to bring a register, we made a makeshift one and took a group photo before folks started to head down. I started down with the fast group, but then headed to the saddle where I crossed paths with AJ and Grant. Once past the saddle I started up the West Ridge of Lamarck, now on my own. I had been told by one of the others that the sandy descent was a breeze from Lamarck, but an ascent the same way would be quite tedious. It didn't turn out to be as bad as that, because I avoided the obvious sand sections and went up mostly on rock and found it enjoyable enough, with some fun class 3 near the top where I came up within a few dozen feet of the west summit. From there, it was an easy hike across the large, flattish summit plateau, visiting first Peak 13,464ft, then the (oddly) lower Mt. Lamarck. There was a new register on the former from 2018, and the very busy SPS register on the latter. I spent about 40min between the three summits, enjoying the views and easy hiking in the chill air up there by myself.

Rather than return to Lamarck Col, I took the East Ridge down from Mt. Lamarck, essentially the same route the fast group had used to get to Mt. Lamarck earlier. After returning to the trail, I spotted Grant ahead of me in the flat meadow area, catching up to him when he paused for a moment. We chatted briefly while walking together, but Grant soon took off at a faster clip and was out of sight again. I had another hour and a half to get myself back to the Lamarck Lakes Trail and then back to the North Lake parking lot shortly after 2:30p, just over eight and half hours for the roundtrip. Grant had beaten me by only five minutes, but Rob and Zach were a full hour ahead of us. Most of the others would come back around the 9hr mark (most of those also climbing Lamarck Col Peak), Scott quite a bit after that to bring up the rear (and adding another half dozen bonus peaks to his already considerable lead in the KoM Jersey). Another fine day in the books...


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