ROUTE 8 - Hilgard-Ursula Pass

Cross country over the Mono Divide and into the Bear Lakes Basin via Hilgard and Ursula Passes.

Cross to the north side of East Fork Bear Creek.
Descend the steep walled drainage WSW.
Slabs descending from Coronet Lake.
Steep ledges on the south side of Ursula Pass.
View east from Ursula Pass.
View NNE from Ursula Pass.
Climb steep ledges to the saddle above.
Traverse into Ursula pass high right.
Ursula Pass from Beartrap Lake.
Contour on the ledge from Teddy Bear to Beartrap Lake.
South side of Hilgard Pass from above Lake Italy.
View south from Hilgard Pass.
View north from Hilgard Pass.
Final steep and loose slope of Hilgard Pass.
Hilgard Pass from the hanging valley.
Pass shelves at the top of the canyon on the right.
Slabs above the narrows run with water.
Narrows of the canyon right of the headwall.
Headwall from the south end upper meadow of Second Recess.
First view of the headwall from the lower meadow below.

(Mouseover triggers interactive features.)

Route Description

Route 8 Data TableThis cross country route crosses the Mono Divide to Lake Italy by way of Second Recess and Hilgard Pass, continues to the Bear Lakes Basin via Beartrap Lake and Ursula Pass, and returns along the East Branch of Bear Creek and the John Muir Trail. It's a good four day, 30 mile loop, with interesting side trip possibilities.

This is another loop with the same start as the Gabbot Pass trip. See ROUTE 1 for information on trailhead access, backcountry permits, and the Vermillion Valley Resort ferry service on Lake Thomas A Edison.

Take the ferry from Vermillion Valley Resort, or hike the north shore trail from the Mono Creek trailhead (adds 4.2 miles), to the east end of Lake Edison. From the east ferry landing, continue east to pick up the JMT northbound at Quail Meadows, cross the North Fork Mono Creek, and take the right fork at a posted intersection at 2.6 miles toward Mono Pass (the left fork is the JMT to Silver Pass). Another 3.8 miles reaches the posted turn off south into Second Recess; ford Mono Creek (very difficult in high water) or balance across on a log to the east (slippery when wet).

The Second Recess trail is initially maintained, but becomes a use trail higher up. As the trail fades, cross Mills Creek and head cross country directly up Second Recess. (Following Mills Creek where it turns steeply up and northeast at this point leads to the Mills Creek Lakes and Gabbot Pass as described for ROUTE 1.)

Keeping to higher ground left of the main watercourse draining upper Second Recess, ascend easy Class 1 ground through open forest and meadow. The headwall first comes into view from a meadow part way up marker 1. The final meadow below the headwall offers a fine bivouac marker 2. The route follows the obvious slot canyon right of the headwall.

Climb the steep Class 2 debris field to the narrow canyon right of the headwall marker 3. During early season, this slot runs wall to wall with meltwater and is challenging; accordingly, this route is best attempted in lower, later season runoff conditions. Even late season, the slabs above the narrows run with water from the hanging valley above and are quite slick maker 4, with few easy places to cross. Anticipate that the shelves at the top of the canyon are best passed on the right marker 5 (Class 2), although it is possible to climb out a side chute on the left (Class 3-4).

The hanging valley above the headwall offers easier going and, from a small Lake, the first view of Hilgard Pass just right of an obvious pyramidal prominence marker 6. Ascend south past a second small lake and up steep terrain. The final 600 feet is particularly steep and loose Class 2, and the "permanent snowfield" shown on the map is completely missing here marker 7.

Hilgard Pass (12,480 ft) gives a fine view north marker 8, down Second Recess, across to the Laurel Creek drainage, and over to the Silver Divide, as well as south marker 9, to Lake Italy and Jumble Lake higher up.

The south side of Hilgard Pass is steep and loose Class 2 also, but shorter, and the approach from above Lake Italy is more reasonable marker 10.

Descend to the west end of Lake Italy, cross its outlet, and pick up the unmaintained Italy Pass trail southwest for a short 0.3 miles before contouring south to Teddy Bear Lake, which offers fine bivouac opportunities. A broad, Class 1 ledge (left to right in the middle ground) contours around southwest from Teddy Bear Lake to Beartrap Lake marker 11.

The north shore of Beartrap Lake gives a view of Ursula Pass marker 12; it's easier than it looks from here. Head south and right (west) of another smaller lake, and traverse into the pass high right marker 13, where debris chutes indicate a less steep path through the ledges. Climb chutes and ledges to the pass marker 14; rock climbing and route finding skills (and a measure of patience) are useful on Class 3 terrain, which could prove more difficult with bad choices.

Ursula Pass (11,840 ft) gives a view NNE to Beartrap Lake and Lake Italy, with Mt Hilgard (left) and Mt Gabb (right) towering above marker 15. Hilgard Pass is hidden back around right of Mt Hilgard.

From the saddle, traverse east toward Coronet Lake and Feather Peak marker 16 until the terrain eases for a more direct descent (Class 2-3). The south side of Ursula Pass also comprises steep ledges marker 17, which are not so obvious from above.

Pass Coronet Lake on its north shore, and carefully descend Class 2 slabs marker 18 southeast from the flat area east of the lake into an obvious drainage. Patience in the route finding is helpful. Follow the steep-walled drainage WSW over Class 1 terrain marker 19, which in a few tenths of a mile joins the drainage from the chain of Little Bear Lake, Big Bear Lake, Ursa Lake, and Bear Paw Lake. Past the intersection the brush thickens, and it may be easier to descend the slabs on the left rim. This watercourse eventually drops into East Fork Bear Creek. In a flat area, where traces of a use trail begin, the creek widens into an unnamed lake, which makes for a good bivouac.

Descend East Fork Bear Creek. At the unnamed lake, cross to the north side where the going is easier on slabs marker 20. Later find easier terrain and the occasional cairn or trace on the south side for the second quarter of the descent. The path then evolves into a distinct though unmaintained trail on the north side at about the half way point, that near the mouth of the East Fork rises high above and away from the creek before intersecting the JMT.

Follow the JMT north for 3.1 miles, then turn left (west) at a signed intersection onto the Bear Creek trail. After 5.8 miles, at an intersection marked only with cairns, the Bear Creek Cutoff trail heads northwest, reaching the Lake Edison road about 0.4 miles south of the dam.