Mount Morgan (south) — August 18, 2011
(13748 ft / 4190 m)

This report describes a solo day hike to the summit of Mount Morgan (south) via Francis Lake and over Mt. Morgan's north ridge, which is the easiest approach to this summit. Note that there is another Mount Morgan nearby, just a few miles away, in the McGee Creek area. This namesake is called Mount Morgan (north). The southern Mount Morgan, the goal of this trip, is "almost" a fourteener (its summit is at 13748 ft), and it is also a genuine "SPS peak". From the summit you get wonderful views of other central Sierra peaks, see the picture below. If you haven't already climbed this peak, it deserves to be added to your to-do list.

At the summit of Mount Morgan, with great views of Bear Creek Spire, Pipsqueak Spire, Mount Dade, Mount Abbot and Mount Mills.

A view from the summit of Mt. Morgan. (Check also an unmarked photo, and a better resolution photo, courtesy of Alana).

 

Trailhead for this route: Take the paved Rock Creek road off Highway 395, at Tom's Place. After 8.7 miles, just before you reach Rock Creek Lake, turn left onto a narrow paved road that leads to Rock Creek Lake Campground. A small trailhead parking, just for six vehicles, is in the campground, at the slot #9, on the left side of the road. A sign on the right side of the road says "Tamarack Lakes trail". This is just a day hike parking, no overnight stay! I heard that there is an overflow parking lot uphill and nearby, but I didn't have to search for it this time, and don't know where it is exactly. A narrow, moderately steep uphill path starts from the parking lot, its direction being marked by a sign reading "Trail". The trailhead's elevation is just slightly above 9700 ft.

Trail:A couple of hundred yards from the trailhead, this narrow trail hits the main pack train trail coming from the inlet of the Rock Creek Lake. Don't miss this trail fork on your way back! There is still some uphill even on the wide trail, and within the first one third of a mile you gain about 300 feet. The elevation change on the remainder of the trail, until it reaches Kenneth Lake is much slower. Near Kenneth Lake, at about 10400 ft, you leave the main trail and turn right to the well marked Francis Lake trail. There is probably no more than 2.5 miles from the Rock Creek Lake trailhead to Francis Lake, which is at an elevation of about 10875 feet. Just before you arrive at the lake, the trail becomes muddy and unpleasant. It makes sense to get off the trail here and take a higher ground to your right until you pass the marshy area created by the outlet stream.

Off trail:
My route to the summit of Mount Morgan (red dots).
There is no trail beyond Francis Lake. From the Francis Lake terrace you can finally see the top of Mount Morgan, straight ahead of you. There is about 2 miles from the lake to the peak as the crow flies. However, the shortest way to the summit is not the best option. As you look up the Francis Lake valley, you see a high and inaccessible ridge to your left (east), marked EEE on the attached map. To your right (west) is a low ridge, marked LLL on the map. Its side is covered with conifers and bushes. Behind the low ridge, and not visible from the lake, is the main north ridge of Mount Morgan, marked NNN on the map. The easiest way to get to Mount Morgan is to first reach the low ridge in order to stay away of a huge boulder field that covers the upper part of the main valley (BBB on the map). Obviously, if you love endless rock hoping, take the direct route, via BBB. For the rest of us, it is more appealing to leave the valley before the boulder field is reached.

Note that you don't have to leave the valley and climb the low ridge immediately at the lake, because the lower part of the valley is boulder-free. Simply continue up the valley, following Francis Lake's inlet stream until the trees and bushes to your right, on the sides of the low ridge, become more sparse. Eventually you reach a sharp boundary when there is no more vegetation on the sides of the ridge. This is where I left the valley, ascending the low ridge, but always staying close to the boundary between the last bushes and trees on the right and a more slippery scree on the bare slope to my left. After a short climb, I made it to the top of the low ridge. Had I stayed in the valley beyond this point, I would have hit large talus blocks and boulders.

The crest of the low ridge provides a good, relatively firm footing. The main Francis Lake valley is now below, to your left. To your right, there is another parallel and shorter dry valley, and then the main north ridge of Mount Morgan. Follow the crest of the low ridge uphill, until it gradually blends into the sides of the main north ridge, then traverse to a saddle on the north ridge just south of the point 12352 (see the attached map). From the saddle, I followed the north ridge, bypassing several snow fields that were still present on the northern slopes of Mt. Morgan, to my left. This part was slow but enjoyable class-2 scramble on firm rock, all the way to the top. I was curious on how many visitors come to Mt. Morgan during summer months, but sadly, the summit register had been stolen. At the top, I met Shelley, Gretchen and Alana, who were just getting ready to leave. They also were on a day hike from the same trailhead. We all agreed that the ascent was much easier than expected.

Distances and elevation gains: There is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead to Francis Lake, with an elevation gain of some 1160 feet, then another 2.5 miles from the lake to the summit of Mt. Morgan, with 2873 ft elevation gain. This adds to the total one way distance of about five miles (8 kilometers), and the total elevation gain of some 4033 feet (1230 meters).

Time line: I started from the trailhead at 7:10 am, paused at the Lake Francis inlet at 8:35 am, and was at the Mount Morgan summit at 12 (noon). I commenced the return trip at 12:40 pm, passed Francis Lake at 2:45 pm, made a brief stop for a swim in Kenneth Lake at 3:10 pm, and was back at the trailhead at 4:20 pm. A comfortable day trip, with many rests, in about 9 hours.