TRIP REPORT: South Lake Peaks Traverse

This was a fun ridge traverse of 4 peaks based out of the South Lakes trailhead in Bishop. I’ve also heard it called Hurd to Johnson Traverse. The route sticks to mostly 3rd class with long sections of 2nd class, plus some 4th and low 5th class (especially if you stick to the ridge). 


Difficulty: 5th Class, Grade IV

Distance: 11 miles (~2 miles of Ridgeline)

Elevation Gain: 4,850 feet


Overview of the route (view from on top of hurd)


We opted to start at Mt Johnson and make our way back to Hurd due to snow conditions (this is the opposite of how it’s described in other trip reports). We took the Bishop Pass trailhead and then turned right on the Treasure Lakes trail. Many snow and high water crossings slowed us down a bit, but in a regular summer season, it would be quick going. At the back side of the lakes, we continued on snow towards Mt. Johnson. 


moving above Treasure Lakes towards Mt. Johnson



Due to the unique snow conditions in this record year (July 2023), a component of the technical part was the snow to gain the ridge. The northwest ridge of Mt. Johnson had signs of wet avalanches and rather large bergschrunds. Between that and the early clouds, we opted to gain the ridge beyond the summit. Crampons and an ice axe were needed, as gaining the snow in this cirque was probably steeper than it would have been on the main peak. 

From here we were able to pick up speed and quickly hit the top of Trapezoid peak. Little did I know this was the 1st of 3 times I would summit that particular peak in 10 days. The views toward Mt Goode are spectacular.


Looking at the top of Trapezoid. To the right in shadow is a slab decent to a notch and then fun 3rd class ridge climbing.


From the top of Trapezoid Peak, you need to downclimb some exposed 3rd class to a notch and then continue on exposed 3/4th for a bit until it eases off. This was some of the more enjoyable parts. 


Eventually, you will make your way to the notch between Peak 12,192 and Trapezoid Peak. This is where the route officially feels like a slog as it was sandy class 2 most of the way to the top of Peak 12,192. Perhaps this is a good reason to do the route from Hurd to Mt Johnson. Then you can walk quickly down the sand!


A view of the saddle between Trapezoids long ridge and peak 12,192


From the summit of peak 12,192, you begin to climb 4th and 3rd class towards Hurd. If you stick to the ridge in the final section, you will be in solid 5th-class terrain for a bit. I found this really enjoyable, but you could try to descend off the true crest to make it less technical. 



Once on top of Hurd, you have many options for decent. Sticking to the ridge would be the most technical. Most people descend sandy slopes west to Treasure Lakes or east to Long Lake. We opted for Long Lake hoping to avoid the cold-water crossings. After crossing Long Lake, you are officially on a trail again with a short hike back to the car.

It did rain on us for part of the hike out.


Snow and ice at Long Lake looking towards Mt. Goode


We had an ice axe

crampons helmet

a small rack

a rope  

The ice axe and crampons were absolutely necessary for the snow approach. We never used the rope. While I think there are sections where it could be nice (close to Hurd), it never felt necessary. Keep in mind that both my partner and I have a climbing background and are good with exposure. With lower snow, it could be possible to avoid any extra gear, and just wear approach shoes. 


Wanna Try?

This felt like a reasonable outing for those experienced with backcountry navigation who also have some background in rock movement. If you choose to do it early season or on big snow years I would also add snow movement in terrain up to 40-50 degrees. 

You can read other details at Mountain Project. 





The summit of Trapezoid celebratory handstand

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