Red Slate Mountain and the Silver Divide, John Muir Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13137A, Backpacking


  • Enjoy the camaraderie of a nine-day adventure with fellow Club members
  • Hike a spectacular, challenging route, including two trail crossings of the Sierra Crest and excursions off the beaten path
  • Relax, explore, or bag a peak on two layover days


  • Planning and permits for a wonderful adventure
  • Great meals for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike
  • Shared group cooking gear and commissary equipment


DatesAug 3–11, 2013
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffBill Flower

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Early visitors to the Sierra Nevada were dazzled by the Silver Divide, a striking range of 12,000-foot peaks that shined like silver in the brilliant sunlight. Nearby, the purples, crimsons, tans, and browns of 13,163-foot Red Slate Mountain and surrounding metamorphic peaks combine to make this some of the most striking and colorful country in all of the Sierra.

On this trip, we’ll explore this land of jagged peaks; broad, glacially carved valleys; and peaceful, secluded lakes.  Our spectacular and challenging route includes two rugged cross-country passes and two trail crossings of the Sierra Crest. The off-trail hiking and scrambling is not technically difficult, but there will be a few challenging sections to add some adventure. For most of our trek we will be near or above the timberline, and all of our camps will be near or above 10,000 ft.

Join us if you’re looking for the adventure of hiking a challenging route -- both on- and off-trail -- through some spectacular scenery.  Please don’t hesitate to contact the leaders if you have additional questions after reading the full trip description.


Our hiking schedule is not rigid. How far we get each day and where we camp depends on how we feel, the weather, and other factors outside of our control.  Flexibility is important. The itinerary described here should be taken as a general plan -- the actual route and schedule may depart from this plan.

Day 1: Our trip officially starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 3, when we will meet at a campground not far from our entry trailhead.  A campground dinner will be served this evening, and campsites will be provided for the night.

Day 2: We will serve breakfast, make final preparations for hiking, and then drive the short distance to the McGee Creek trailhead (8,136 ft), where we will begin our hike.  This first day we plan to cover about seven miles and climb about 2,600 feet to our camp at Big McGee Lake. We will have our heaviest packs of the trip and we won’t be fully acclimated to the altitude, so we will take it easy. 

Day 3: We continue our climb, reaching the crest of the Sierra Nevada at McGee Pass (11,876 ft).  Here we find our first view of the Silver Divide, which meets the Sierra Crest just south of the pass and extends westward into the distance.  Rising from the pass to the north is 13,163-foot Red Slate Mountain, taller than any peak farther north in the Sierra range.  Some may choose to climb the peak (the view is spectacular) before descending to the small alpine lakes near upper Fish Creek, where we plan to camp the next two nights.

Day 4: We take a layover day to explore this area. Here one may climb a peak or wander to any of the many nearby lakes.  Red and White Lake is particularly fine.

Day 5: For the next few days, we will be hiking mostly cross-country or on lightly used, unmaintained trails. We start by crossing Shout-of-Relief and Bighorn Passes off-trail, reaching Laurel Creek not far below Grinnell and Laurel Lakes. We plan to make camp a short distance downstream.

Day 6: We will descend steeply on the unmaintained Laurel Creek trail to Mono Creek, where we meet a major trail. We’ll follow the Mono Creek trail upstream until we reach the lightly used trail coming out of Hopkins Basin.  We’ll ascend this trail into Hopkins Basin, where we will camp near one of several lakes.

Day 7: We will take a second layover day to explore the basin. One option is to climb high to the ridge that separates this basin from the McGee Creek drainage, where we’ll have a fine view of Red Slate Mountain and surrounding peaks, as well as Big McGee Lake, which we visited early in the trip. Looking back toward Hopkins Basin, we’ll enjoy an expansive view across Mono Creek to the Mono Divide and the Mono Recesses.

Day 8: We’ll return to Mono Creek and then head upstream to our last camp at Trail Lakes, where we’ll camp on ledges overlooking one of the lower lakes.

Day 9: On the last day we follow a trail over 12,000-foot Mono Pass and descend into Little Lakes Valley, which Galen Rowell famously called “the prettiest place on earth.”  As we descend, we’ll enjoy spectacular views of 13,000-foot peaks surrounding the Valley, including Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbot, and Bear Creek Spire.  A short hike down-valley brings us to the Rock Creek Road and the end of our hike.



Getting There

Our trip starts at a campground near the McGee Creek trailhead, which is located about ten miles south of the town of Mammoth Lakes and 30 miles north of Bishop on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.  We finish at the Mono Pass trailhead, about 20 miles away by road.  We will shuttle a few cars to the exit trailhead before the start of the hike.

The closest major airport is in Reno, about 180 miles to the north.  Airports in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas are about 270 miles and 300 miles from McGee Creek, respectively. Trip members flying from other parts of the country should consider sharing a rental car or arranging rides from one of these airports.  We will provide a trip roster with contact information to help facilitate shared travel arrangements.

Accommodations and Food

We will plan a diverse and appealing menu to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.  Responsibility for cooking will be shared among the trip members.  Our first meal will be dinner on the day we meet, and our last meal will be lunch on the final day.

Trip Difficulty

The overall difficulty of the trip is rated 4 on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 denotes the least difficult and 5 the most difficult trips. 

Note that in recent years we have changed the method of determining overall difficulty ratings so that the rating now is based only on the days that we are hiking with full packs.  That is, layover days are no longer averaged in, as was done previously and which in the past lowered the overall difficulty rating of the trip.  We believe that the revised procedure more accurately characterizes the overall difficulty that participants will experience on the hiking days.

Altogether, we will hike about 36 miles.  We plan to hike four to eight miles on travel days, and we intend to take two layover days. We cross two high, cross-country passes on the fourth day.  All of our planned camps are above 10,000 feet, and one night is spent above 11,000 feet.

Our greatest elevation gain comes on the first day, when we climb 2,600 feet to Big McGee Lake.  The remaining hiking days will have elevation gains between 1,200 and 1,800 feet, except for the final day, when we gain 800 feet. The total elevation gain summed over six planned moving days will be about 9,600 feet.  We will descend anywhere from 900 feet to 1,700 feet on each of the moving days.

Off-trail sections of the trip include some relatively easy walking but also some hiking on rough, rocky terrain with loose footing.  While not technically difficult, these portions of the hike can be very tiring and demanding. Cross-country hiking requires good balance, stamina, and a patient, tolerant attitude -- all of which are requirements for the trip.

Participation in this outing requires that you be experienced, in shape, and have reasonable expectations for the trip.  Recent backpacking experience and very good aerobic conditioning are essential. 

Our objectives are to enjoy some spectacular country and to complete the trip safely as a group.

If you have questions or have concerns about whether this trip is appropriate for you, please do not hesitate to contact the leaders. 

Equipment and Clothing

A list of suggested personal equipment will be sent to all participants in advance of the trip. If you would like the list before signing up, let the leader know and he will send you a copy.  Each person should keep the weight of personal gear below 25 pounds so that, with the addition of water and approximately 15 to 20 pounds of group commissary equipment and food, total pack weight will be less than 40 to 45 pounds at the start.

We will provide all food and cooking equipment, but you must bring your own personal eating utensils. Some of the group equipment is relatively bulky, particularly pot sets and bear canisters. Your pack should be sufficiently large to carry an item about the size of a full paper grocery bag (alternatively, four or five one-gallon milk jugs) in addition to your personal gear.

Although Sierra summers are generally relatively dry, you still must be prepared for rain. For shelter, tents are strongly encouraged, and lightweight waterproof tarps are the required minimum. Where possible, we will help participants contact other trip members who want to share shelters. For clothing, you should bring a waterproof jacket and rain pants rather than a poncho.


Please plan on bringing your own map and compass -- not only is this a matter of safety, but you will have a better appreciation of where we are going and where we have been.


Any of the following sets of maps provides coverage of our complete route:

  • Four USGS 7.5-minute quadrangles -- Convict Lake, Graveyard Peak, Mt. Abbot, and Mt. Morgan.
  • The combined Mammoth High Country and Mono Divide High Country maps published by Tom Harrison Maps (  (The first of these -- Mammoth High Country -- would be used only while on trail the first two days; a photocopy of this section of trail would likely suffice.)
  • The two-sheet map set for the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia/Kings Canyon Wilderness published by the U.S. Forest Service.


  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. The Mountaineers. An excellent general reference to trails, cross-country routes, and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Roper, Steve, Sierra High Route – Traversing Timberline Country. The Mountaineers. Includes a guide to the cross-country route from Fish Creek to Laurel Creek.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Heyday Books. An excellent field guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra. We will bring a copy of this guide for use by the group.


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines “wilderness” as “an area where the earth and its community are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor.” This important act first established the National Wilderness Preservation System, originally protecting nine million acres of national forest lands. Today some 106 million acres are encompassed by the system, including the John Muir Wilderness, where we will be “visitors” for all the days of our hike.

Although this wilderness is now protected from logging and mining activities, this has not always been the case.  Furthermore, the surrounding national forest lands do not receive the same level of protection.  We will examine and consider the level of protection that wilderness designation has given to this area, appreciate how this land compares with other types of “protected” areas we are familiar with, and discuss how we should protect these areas for future generations. 

Although we seek to minimize human impact on the parklands, clearly we do have an effect on the environment.  Our trip provides a good opportunity to consider our own impact upon the land.


Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Inyo National Forest.



Bill Flower was born in the East but moved with his family to Arizona when he was ten. Bill took his first backpack trip – in the Grand Canyon – when he was 11 and his first trip in the Sierra Nevada when he was 12. He has been hiking in California and the West – as well as in other parts of the world – ever since. A real highlight of his summer for over 20 years has been participating in Sierra Club National Outing trips, both as a trip member and as a leader. Bill has led or assisted more than 40 National Outings, primarily in California’s Sierra Nevada, but also including trips in the Colorado Rockies and in the canyons of southern Utah.

Assistant Leader:

As a girl scout, Pam Abell spent her youth backpacking The Smoky Mountains in Kentucky. After college, she moved to California where she immediately fell in love with the Sierra. Over the past 20 years, she has backpacked and hiked all over the Sierra on her own and as a Sierra Club trip member. She enjoys meeting new people and sharing her love of the Sierra with others. She currently lives with her husband and three sons in Oak Park, California, where she works as a graphic designer for a biopharmaceutical company and spends her free time hiking and trail running in the local mountains.

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