Monday, June 13, 2022

Route Profile - North Arête of Bear Creek Spire (5.8, III)

The approach to the North Arête, which is the first ridge to the left
of the large notch.  John Scripps.

Bear Creek Spire (13,720')
Route: North Arête
Difficulty: 5.8
Elevation Gain: 3460'


Rising above Little Lakes Valley in the eastern Sierra, Bear Creek Spire is the most popular climbing peak of the Rock Creek area. It claims three of the classic High Sierra climbs - the North Arête and the East Arête both weigh in at 5.8, while the less technical but no less aesthetic Northeast Ridge is usually considered 4th class with a few easy class 5 moves.

Most climbers consider the North Arête to be the most compelling line of the three. With lots of cracks, some face climbing, stemming, and hand jams, the route contains all the best of a typical Sierra route.
View from the Arête, with the approach in the background.
Dade Lake is in the bottom right of the photo,
while the four small lakes behind the climber
are Treasure Lakes.  AAI Collection.

The good news is that the trailhead is at 10,260 feet, the highest access point in the Sierra, making the approach only about 4 hours for most climbers with light packs. (The bad news? It’s called Mosquito Flat - bring your bug spray in summer). Rock Creek Road can be closed as late as June due to snow, so check road conditions before you head out.

From the trailhead, follow the Little Lakes Valley trail, which is the remnant old road and has the corresponding gradual grade. After 3.5 miles, you cross a creek. There used to be a wooden footbridge here, which you may read about in old trip reports and the first edition of Supertopo. That footbridge no longer exists, but you’ll see a signed and well-worn climber’s trail to Gem Lakes. Camping is possible at Gem Lakes, but most climbers push through to Dade Lake, which can be reached by climbing up and to the left across (sometimes large) talus from Gem Lakes. Dade Lake is more exposed to weather and lightning, but has a better view of the route and is also the last water on the approach. The area has lots of bear activity, so bear canisters are required. 

From Dade Lake, it takes about 1-2 hours to get to the base of the route. 

The Climb

As a north-facing route, the North Arête doesn’t get much sun, so bring your layers. Depending on season and snow, an ice axe and crampons may be necessary - you’ll be able to tell from the approach to Dade.

The North Arête starts just to the left
of the large flake above the first ledge. Graham Hamby. 
The route itself is a Sierra classic, with five or six pitches of great climbing followed by a long aesthetic section on a low 5th-class ridge. The first pitch involves a fun 5.7 crack, followed by some 5.7 flakes - but watch these flakes, as they may be expanding. Pitches 3 and 4 are a bit easier, generally 4th class or low 5th. The crux of the route is a series of steep 5.8 flakes in a chimney - the flakes can be awkward, so climbers tend to use the technique that feels right to them, whether that’s using some offwidth technique, chimneying between flakes, or stemming. It can be hard with a backpack, and be careful of pulling loose rocks above the crux onto climbers below.

The second half of the route involves 4th class climbing on an exposed ridge. The summit block is a 5.6 mantel.


Either downclimb the way you came up for use a rap down a 50-100 foot section. The head north to a saddle that looks down on the snowfields in the Dade Lake basin and the rest of the descent back to Dade Lake. The easiest descent begins past the notch, and may require an axe in early season. It takes about 3-5 hours to get back to Mosquito Flat from the summit.

Bear Creek Spire is one of our favorites for two or three-day guided alpine climbing trips. If you are interested in building your alpine rock skills on the North Arête or Northeast Ridge, give us a call at 360-671-1505 or email to set up a trip!

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