ROUTE 3 - Huntington Col

Pioneer Basin by Huntington Col and return via Mono Pass trail.

Box Lake from the west.
South to Ruby Lake from Mono Pass trail.
Summit Lake from the south under building clouds.
Evening color and storm remnants.
Side trip to Fourth Recess Lake.
South across lakes to Third Recess.
Largest of the Pioneer Basin Lakes and NNE to Mt. Sanford.
View south into the lower basin and Third and Fourth Recesses.
Southwest approach to the col is much less obvious.
View northwest from the col into upper Pioneer Basin.
Down the steep northeast side.
Huntington Col close up from the northeast.
Southwest to the col in the upper SW Hilton Lakes drainage.
North to Davis Lake.

(Mouseover triggers interactive features.)

Route Description

Route 3 Data TableThis cross country route accesses Pioneer Basin in half a day over Huntington Col, and returns on the Mono Pass trail. The base loop is only 15 miles and, including side trips, is easily covered in three days.

Permits are available at the USFS station in Mammoth Lakes. For the trailhead, from US 395, take Rock Creek Road south out of Tom's Place. The Hilton Creek Lakes trailhead is on the right just after reaching Rock Creek Lake. If you get to Mosquito Flat (the end of the road) you have gone too far. Vehicle access is easy.

Follow the easy trail north (paralleling the road), then turning west, for about 3.7 miles. Before descending all the way to the the largest of the Hilton Creek Lakes, contour around southwest to the upper basin, gettiing a nice view of Davis Lake to the north marker 1 (and Crowley Lake in the distance).

Pick up a trail (shown on some maps) on the north shore of the largest of the upper lakes, and take the right branch to the southwest as it splits, ending at a second lake at 10,360 ft. Skirt this second lake to the north, reaching its inlet on the west end. Ascend west and southwest on use trails; it's easiest to keep to the right of the creek until it is possible to cross to the moraine on a broad ledge at about 10,920 ft. Ascend southwest to a small lake from which Huntington Col is visible marker 2 (right center notch). Pick a path right and up for a better view marker 3 of the northeast approach, which could contain hard snow, depending on season, snowpack, etc.

Huntington Col itself is a steep Class 2-3 climb that narrows to a slot at the top marker 4. Loose material interspersed with rock that crumbles in your hand makes it a sporty proposition - no kidding. (In fact for a west to east traverse, one might be advised to rap rather than down climb.) The top of the col (11,840 ft) offers a broad view west into Pioneer Basin marker 5. The descent to the southwest is on far easier Class 2 terrain. The approach from this side is much less obvious - a notch at the top of a chute visible from the lake below marker 6.

Descend west to lake 10,920 ft with plenty of opportunities to bivouac along the way. From here, the lowest of the lakes in the basin is visible to the south marker 7 (as well as Third and Fourth Recesses), and is where you want to end up eventually to meet the well worn Pioneer Basin access trail coming up from Mono Creek.

But first wander through the basin on easy terrain, taking in the upper lakes and Mt. Sanford marker 8, and some of the lakes lower down marker 9. Enjoy this part because the route turns pretty pedestrian after this.

After reaching the main Mono Pass trail and turning east, a spur south in 0.1 miles crosses the creek for a side trip to Fourth Recess Lake marker 10.

The Mono Pass trail parallels and then crosses Golden Creek, climbing toward the pass, past Trail Lakes. A sandy broad plateau below Summit Lake offers a good bivouac marker 11 (under storm clouds in this case). The trail continues south along Summit Lake marker 12 to Mono Pass (12,058 ft).

Descend on the trail south past Ruby Lake marker 13, turning northeast to the trailhead at Mosquito Flat. Or for something more interesting, cross the Ruby Lake outlet creek about a half mile below the lake, and contour around southeast to Box Lake marker 14, picking up the Little Lakes Valley trail, which also runs to Mosquito Flat; this trail is heavily (over) used, but very scenic nonetheless.

It's 1.5 miles by paved road from Mosquito Flat back to the Hilton Creek Lakes trailhead, but if you look friendly, someone will probably offer a ride.