When to go:
May through September. Mid-May to mid-July is best for Avalanche Gulch.
Both wilderness permits (free, no quota, pickup at ranger station or trailhead) and passes (summit pass $25) are required.
NOTE: Crampons, ice axe and a helmet are a necessity on the Avalanche Gulch route and most other routes (two stores in town rent this equipment)
Avalanche Gulch route is the easiest, although the Hidden Valley and Clear Creek routes are generally suitable for the nontechnical climber.
The distance from Bunny Flat to the summit is about 6 miles, but the elevation gains over 7000 feet. For most people in good physical condition with good weather, 8-10 hours for the ascent should be sufficient. Four to five hours should be expected for the descent back to trailhead.
Most people like to go part way up and spend the night to accustom themselves to the elevation. There are three principal camping location on the Avalanche Gulch Route.
- One is the Sierra Club Foundation property at Horse Camp (7900′ elevation), where there is good drinking water, toilet facilities, and a knowledgeable caretaker during the climbing season who can answer some of your questions and offer good advice. A small camping fee is charged for this private, backcountry campground. $5/tent/night.
- Another popular camping area is Lake Helen, a (usually) dry or snow filled tarn at 10,400′ elevation. If you camp here, take plenty of drinking and cooking water and/or carry extra stove fuel for melting and boiling snow. The plus for camping here is that you are ready to accomplish the steepest part of the climb fresh from a night’s rest. The problem is that the ground at Lake Helen is rocky, the winds generally strong, and the temperatures cold.
- The third option for camping on the route is the upper Ski Bowl. Drinking water is available from springs to the west of the trail in the lower part of the bowl. In the morning you have a hike over the ridge to the vicinity of Lake Helen before joining the Avalanche Gulch route.