ROUTE 6 - Cox Col-Seven Gables Pass

Cox Col, White Bear and Seven Gables Passes, returning by Recess and Mono Passes.

Negotiating the lower First Recess slabs from above takes patience.
Upper First Recess Lake with Recess Peak and Pass behind.
Northeast descent into First Recess from Recess Pass.
Recess Pass from the southwest is at the top of the dirt chute, but easier to climb the slope left.
The pass that should have a name: descend the rib northwest to Three Island Lake.
View back from the ridge leading southwest, to Seven Gables Pass and Gemini.
From the west side of Seven Gables Pass, traverse more tedious boulders south to gain the west spur of Gemini.
The upper section of Seven Gables Pass is easier and may have a snow headwall.
Seven Gables Lakes from the top of a steep section of the pass.
Climb through the obvious notch east of Big Bear Lake and descend the right ramp to Vee Lake.
Descend the Black Bear Lake outlet to Big Bear Lake.
Route to Dancing Bear Pass and notch to Black Bear Lake from White Bear Pass.
Traverse south from the saddle to White Bear Pass.
Climb the ridge left from the trail below the Lake Italy outlet.
Route to Cox Col from Toe Lake follows creek course and right sloping shoulder.
West from Cox Col with Gabbot Pass right.
Cox Col exit ramp and chockstone.
Cox Col from the NE showing right upward diagonal.
Dade Lake from the NE with Cox Col behind.
Leaving the Gem Lakes trail.

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Route Description

Route 6 Data TableThis is a longer cross country loop over some very fine terrain. Starting on the east side, it crosses the Sierra crest at Cox Col to the Lake Italy basin, traverses the Bear Lakes and Seven Gables Lakes basins via White Bear Pass, and finally gains the JMT near Selden Pass by way of Seven Gables Pass. Return is north on the JMT and east on the Mono Creek trail over Mono Pass, connecting the two by climbing to Recess Pass from Bear Ridge and descending First Recess. With five passes around 12,000 ft and above (four cross country and one by trail) spread over 44 miles, it's a good six day trip.

The loop starts and ends at the Little Lakes Valley trailhead at Mosquito Flat, which is at the end of Rock Creek Road. See ROUTE 3 for information on trailhead access and backcountry permits.

From the trailhead at Mosquito Flat, head southwest and in half a mile take the left fork into the popular and picturesque Little Lakes Valley. In another fast 2.7 miles the trail forks again; this time go right toward Gem Lakes (the left fork goes to Morgan Pass). In about 0.4 miles, before reaching the highest (and largest) of the Gem Lakes, head left and up on a use trail toward an unnamed lake. If you get to the "restoration area" sign, you have gone too far. You are now done with trails for a while.

The use trail ascends the left side of the drainage and disappears among tedious Class 2 boulders, crossing to the right side below the first lake; marker 1 is a view back. Continue in a generally southwesterly direction past some small lakes to arrive at Dade Lake. The going is probably easier keeping right, and there are some cairns. Dade Lake gives a view of Cox Col, which is right of the impressive Bear Creek Spire, and just left of the lowest notch visible marker 2.

Dade Lake is passed on the left (southeast). More tedious boulders above the lake, and possibly some snowfields, lead south to an extensive slab system. The slabs are fairly easy going and turn southwest toward the col. From the upper slabs, the details of the col emerge as a left diagonaling scree slope, which may be filled with snow or alpine ice, followed by a right diagonaling ramp to the notch marker 3. (If it's necessary to wait out weather, there is a small cave behind a boulder in the upper slabs that stays dry even in heavy rain.)

Crampons may be helpful here, though under these conditions it is possible to pass the ice by climbing on the left. The right upward diagonaling ramp has a chockstone at the top marker 4, which is passed by climbing right. This northeast side of Cox Col (13,058 ft) is Class 2 - condition dependent of course.

The col offers fine views northeast across Little Lakes Valley. Descend to the northwest over initially easy, Class 1 terrain marker 5; Mt. Hilgard is left center, Mt. Gabb is right center, and Gabbot Pass into Second Recess is far right. The terrain becomes steeper, Class 2; cross a rock band and turn southwest over slabs along a stream course toward Toe Lake. Toe Lake has excellent bivouac opportunities at both ends. marker 6 is a view back, showing the stream course center (green) and the shoulder rising right (southeast) toward the col.

Continuing, pass Lake Italy on the right (north) over easy and beautiful terrain to cross its outlet. Here an unmaintained trail follows the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek to the southwest. Follow it for a short 0.2 miles, leaving it before it crosses the Hilgard Branch to ascend a ridge rising to the east (above Teddy and Brown Bear Lakes, which are not initially visible). The ridge rises to a saddle northeast of Brown Bear Lake marker 7, and the going becomes easier on the back side. From the saddle a fairly level Class 2 traverse SSE leads directly to White Bear Pass (11,857 ft); marker 8 is the view back from the pass with Teddy and Brown Bear Lakes left. [Note: directly climbing the headwall above Brown Bear Lake also appears feasible.]

From the pass, a slope up left leads to Dancing Bear Pass (and Italy Pass) and a notch across White Bear Lake (east) provides access to Black Bear Lake marker 9.

Pass White Bear Lake on its north side and descend through the notch to the outlet of Black Bear Lake. Follow the drainage southwest over pretty and easy terrain to Big Bear Lake marker 10. Cross slabs to the east of Big Bear Lake and ascend southwest to an obvious notch marker 11. Follow an easy ramp down and right to the hillside above Vee Lake. Find easy going on the north side of Vee Lake to its outlet, and descend south to the largest of the Seven Gables Lakes. The bivouac sites are pretty fair here.

From the southern extent of the largest of the Seven Gables Lakes, initially head SSW over rough terrain, then dogleg southwest to climb an open steam course. Eventually the route moves to the stream bed itself. This is a fun section requiring extensive use of the hands, though the climbing is neither exposed nor difficult (Class 2). marker 12 is the view back northeast to the Seven Gables Lakes from the top of the crux section (to the extent there is one). Somewhat surprisingly, the east facing pass apparently can have a late season snow headwall even in a low snowpack year marker 13; crampons and axe may be useful, though in this case it's probably possible to bypass the snow by climbing left.

Seven Gables Pass (12,016 ft) offers views east to the Seven Gables Lakes basin and Merriam Pass, and west to Mt. Senger. Seven Gables and Gemini peaks are north and south, respectively.

From the far side of the pass, traverse south and up to the west spur of Gemini, again over tedious Class 2 boulders marker 14. From the spur, Gemini looks pretty easy pickings (in the absence of electrical activity).

A fun and easy ridge leads southwest, offering views to the Pinnacles heading south and the Wampum Lake basin on the left, and the Three Island Lake basin on the right. marker 15 is a view back (northeast) with Gemini center and Seven Gables Pass left.

Follow the ridge until a rocky rib provides a reasonable way down WNW, below Mt. Senger, toward Three Island Lake marker 16. Seems like this pass (11,600 ft) between Wampum and Three Island Lakes should have a name. The rib ends in a cliff, but it's easy to get off beforehand; right is probably better.

Shoot for a notch on the shoulder above the east side of Three Island Lake, and descend north over beautiful and expansive meadows to the Medley Lakes area. Judging from the amount of down deadwood, this area doesn't appear to get much traffic, and great bivouac sites abound.

Continue northerly and, somewhat disappointingly, reach a trail at Sandpiper Lake. The trail leads northwest past Lou Beverly Lake to reach the JMT in 1.7 miles, a bit north of Selden Pass. Make good time on the JMT north, passing turnoffs at the East Fork Bear Creek to the Seven Gables Lakes (0.9 miles), the Hilgard Branch Bear Creek to Lake Italy (another 1.2 miles), and the main Bear Creek trail (another 1.9 miles).

The JMT leads north, ascending Bear Ridge. To extend the fun and avoid the million switchbacks to come descending to Quail Meadows, detour through First Recess. Above the (far fewer) switchbacks ascending Bear Ridge and before reaching the Bear Ridge trail, leave the JMT (about 1.7 miles north from the Bear Creek trail intersection) and strike northeast toward a saddle above. (The geology is volcanic up here, and one can see where Vermillion Valley got its name.) Contour ESE, then angle left up a ravine to a notch that marks the beginning of an extensive system of connected meadows. Follow easy terrain ENE (Class 1) to the far end of the meadow system, before ascending southeast to a pair of lakes below Recess Pass, which offer bivouac opportunities.

From the upper lake, ascend northeast; the crossing is at the top of the dirt chute, but it is probably easier to climb the slope of Whitebark Pine to the left of the low rock band marker 17. The crossing is not the lowest notch in the ridge; that (and several others) are rappels. Recess Pass (11,989 ft) is about 450 feet south and slightly higher, and the only spot where you can walk off. The pass offers expansive views west to Lake Edison south toward Lake Marie and Selden Pass.

Descend broken terrain and scree northeast (Class 2) marker 18 toward the upper of the First Recess Lakes. After a steep and tedious section, slabs on the right give easy access to the lake below. marker 19 is the view from just below upper First Recess Lake, with Recess Peak left, and the pass obvious on the right.

Descend to the lower First Recess Lake, and continue down on sloping meadows and slabs; the right (east) side is initially easy, shifting back toward the center lower down.

The final challenge is the lower slabs, which are (dangerously) steep and not visible from above. Patience is required, and some backtracking may be necessary. It's best to allow plenty of daylight. One possibility is to descend the right side about half way (the stream turns into a waterfall), then traverse left and up on a wide ledge to a weakness left center, where a creek cuts through. Here, there are cairns marking the way down to lower angle slabs below. marker 20 is the view from the bottom; a rope might help move the descent along.

From the bottom of the slabs, find a way down - the slope right of the creek is okay - to the mouth of First Recess, where there is a cabin (Camp Leffingwell). A short trail northwest leads to a flat, broad, and relatively shallow (at least in normal water) ford of Mono Creek. The Mono Creek trail is just the other side.

Right on the trail leads to Mono Pass in 8.6 miles. There are several good bivouac sites not far off the trail between Hopkins Creek and Fourth Recess. From Mono Pass (12,045 ft) the trail returns to Mosquito Flat in another 3.3 miles.