TRIP REPORT: East Arete of Mount Humphreys

This peak is a part of the Bishop skyline.  If you spend enough time here, eventually you’ll want to climb this picturesque peak.  The East Arete of Mount Humphreys is considered a classic route for those inclined to rock climbing.  It’s a big day with a lot of elevation gain and ridge climbing.  I enjoyed the climb, and found it to be a full day’s effort of mountain climbing.

Difficulty: 5.4 grade III

Distance: 8 miles

Summit: 13,992 feet

Trailhead: Turn off Buttermilk Road towards McGee Creek

Approach Hike:

The initial hike starts on a defined trail which will follow McGee Creek to the north basin of Humphreys.  You will want to turn off shortly after the trail starts to veer left towards a steep saddle to the left of the ridge.  There are some erosion paths and lots of junipers.  If done correctly, you will climb for longer than it looks and top out on a plateau overlooking the south Humphreys Basin.  From here you can see the East Ridge and the next saddle you must reach to start the climb.  

There is no defined trail, though at times you may find yourself on more well-traveled paths of travel. 


Juniper Approach

Approaching through the juniper is mostly cross country travel

PRO TIP: There are also other options to approach through the basin, but I like to avoid the lower talus walking involved on these approaches.


Technical Rock Climbing:

The route has 3 parts:

  1. Gain LOTS of elevation.
  2. Now go horizontal towards the upper prominence of Humphreys. 
  3. Climb that upper prominence and the final headwall.


Section 1 : Up

Getting close to the start of the route from the saddle.

Section 1: Up

The climb starts when you get to the saddle and is mostly 3rd and 4th class.  The highly photogenic knife edge ridge will be reached in this lower section.  It’s a classic narrow walk and worth taking a moment to enjoy.  Continue along the edge of the ridge as much as seems comfortable for you.  More 5th class climbing is available if you stay true to the ridge line.  It’s also relatively easy to drop down and left to avoid some of the harder sections if you want to.   (I don’t know why anyone would do that. The climbing is already minimal on this route and without the small climbing sections it can feel like a big slog).


Humphreys Quartz

A band of quartz in the rock on the route.

Section 2: Over

This horizontal section has some great exposure and a bit of up and down scrambling.  There are a few sections with somewhat awkward down climbs.  You may consider bringing a rope for rappelling through this section.


Downclimbing the second section

The down climbs on the second section can be awkward and exposed.

Section 3: Summit

Finally, you have reached the main prominence. It invites you in with some fun climbing at the start.  But alas, there are many sections of just sandy walking as you are gaining elevation steeply again.  At some point you will emerge onto lower angle terrain and the final headwall will come into view.  The climbing is 5th class here. Many people rope up for this final push and there are many rappel anchors for the way back down.


The technical and exposed headwall is the most exciting part of this route!


This summit is a great spot to enjoy a healthy snack, take in the views, and get ready for the long descent in front of you!



Plan to descend back down the way you came.  There is a different descent off to the west but it would require a car shuttle.  Many people retrace the entire route, descending the same terrain they just climbed.  This is likely the fastest way down and back to your car.  I’ve used that descent when climbing the Humphries Couloir.



Another option is to descend the way you came part of the way, and then drop down towards the South Basin – walking below Checkered Daemon and the backside of Mt. Emerson.  I chose to use this descent this time, just to check out new terrain. It’s quite beautiful back there and was still a relatively simple walk down.  It did involve a fair bit of talus and scree and probably wasn’t any faster than retracing your steps the whole way.



In total this was about an 8 mile day.

Gear List:

  • 30 meter rope 
  • small rack of nuts
  • few mid-range cams (small to 1”)
  • couple of alpine draws
  • webbing or cordelette to reinforce rappel anchors, as needed
  • alpine harness
  • helmet
  • rappel system

This would give you options for roping up short sections and rappelling down.  Please check all rappel stations and plan to reinforce or rebuild for your own safety. Material at these elevations gets weathered quickly and it’s just a few dollars of gear to leave that could save your life. 


The above gear list is presuming a climbing party that is not planning to pitch out the entire route.  Bring more gear if this will be your climbing style, a 60m rope and start really early.  



It can be hard to describe in words the climbing style, scope, and exposure of these classic alpine routes.  Check out this video recap of my trip on Humphreys here


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