Michael Minaret

First view of Michael

First view of Michael


From Clyde Minaret, Michael looks like an evil ice cream cone, an impossibly steep pyramid of dark choss. Lying behind the main Minaret crest, it is harder to reach than most of its compatriots: from Agnew Meadows, one must either go around the Minarets to the north or south, or go straight over them. I chose the second option, climbing the Rock Route on Clyde Minaret, then traversing below Eichorn to reach its saddle with Michael. The Minarets are steep, and have a reputation for bad and unpredictable rock; while the class 3-5 parts of the route I took were solid, this reputation makes me too irrationally nervous to enjoy harder scrambling in the area.

Minarets from near Iceberg

Minarets from near Iceberg

I slept through my alarm at Minaret Vista, but still woke early enough to make it through the gate well before it was occupied. Cold air often pools in valley containing Agnew Meadows, so it is often colder there than at the crest 1,200 feet above. With this in mind, I took the time to enjoy some hot coffee, then started out in hat and glittens just after 7:00. After about an hour in the shade, I finally reached the sun on the climb up to Shadow Lake, and became comfortable in a t-shirt while moving uphill. I passed a fair amount of traffic on this short stretch of the JMT, but nowhere near as much as I have earlier this summer.

Eichorn and Clyde from Michael

Eichorn and Clyde from Michael

Continuing past several parties camped at Lake Ediza, I followed the trail up to Cecile, refilled my water, and started up toward Clyde Minaret. While the Starr Route is better climbing on more solid rock, I chose the easier Rock Route, figuring I would get my fill of harder climbing later. I topped out near Clyde’s summit, then turned right on what I remembered as a tricky and non-obvious traverse to Eichorn.

Slanting ledge toward Eichorn

Slanting ledge toward Eichorn

My memory was correct: though the ridge is not long, the correct route is non-obvious and steep in places. The easiest path seems to stay near the crest for the first part, then climb a narrow, slanting series of ledges to surmount a false summit. Past this point, the crest becomes sharply serrated, and the fastest route to Eichorn probably drops down across a sort of bowl, then reascends near the summit. Since I had already climbed Eichorn, I continued across the bowl to its west ridge on chossy class 2 ramps.

Michael from near Eichorn

Michael from near Eichorn

I spent a few minutes studying Michael’s northeast side, then descended to the top of the Eichorn Chute, one of its west-side approaches. After a third class traverse around the west side of two gendarmes separating Eichorn and Michael, and a final bit of fourth class weirdness to the east, I finally found myself at the base of my peak.

While I had a photo of Secor’s route description, it was mostly useless, and I had failed to bring Bob’s more detailed notes. Fortunately, my usual “do the obvious thing” approach worked with only a little backtracking. From the notch, I followed a ramp up and left, then headed straight up when doing so made sense. After a minor misadventure trying to circle around too far east and south, I found some reasonably solid 4th class climbing leading back up and right to the summit.

Register box

Register box

Since it is difficult and not on any list, Michael sees only a few ascents per year, mostly by people doing the Minaret Traverse. I was the second person to visit the summit this year, and only one or two others had passed since Alex Honnold apparently did the traverse in July 2015. Vern Clevenger had placed the register in 1989, shortly before his son’s birth, and visited again with his son only a few pages later.

Starr plaque

Starr plaque

After enjoying my fish, it was time to get off this thing. I contemplated dropping down and around either north or south notch (thanks to global warming, an ice axe is no longer necessary), but decided to simply retrace my steps. I must have been closer to the “correct” route on the way back, because I passed a couple nests of rap-tat, removing as much as I could, and also found the Walter Starr memorial plaque. An early Sierra climber, Starr pioneered many bold routes, and seemed to mostly climb by himself. He also died in a fall near Michael Minaret when he was only 30 years old. I signed the log book, then spent a few minutes lost in somber thought.

Back to business, I took the same line back near Eichorn and Clyde, quickly descending the Rock Route to Cecile. I hiked the rougher trail down to Ediza, then ate my last food and jogged the rest of the trail home, passing a steady stream of backpackers headed in both directions. The outing took a bit less than 10 hours, and took care of a final bit of unfinished business in the area. While I have not climbed all of the Minarets, the remaining ones seem either uninteresting (Bedayan) or scary-hard (Dyer), and the traverse sounds like more fear management than fun.

One response to “Michael Minaret

  1. I’ve wanted to visit Michael Minaret since reading Judge Alsup’s “Missing in the Minarets.” Though I’ve passed right by it while going over South Notch or Amphitheater Col, for now I’m going to have to be content with this vicarious visit.

Leave a Reply