Monument Peak


On an adventure to the southern Seven Devils, we climb Monument Peak and three other peaks.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Tom and I bounced a few ideas around, finally settling on a new area for both of us: the southern Seven Devils. I had become entranced with this area after viewing it from the summit ridge of Pollock Mountain.

So we met in Council for the drive through Bear and then to Black Lake Campground. The last part of this drive is on a single-lane, rough road that requires high clearance.



The road winds through the woods as it climbs, then pops above timberline, yielding great views. There's Smith Mountain Lookout on the right.



We drove the first part of the very eroded road to the lookout, then parked and started walking. It was going to be a very short climb, about 250' of gain for us, so all I carried was my camera. Running shoes and street clothes.


I was sort of snubbing the shortness, but was pleasantly surprised by the awesome views from the lookout catwalk. This is looking south from where we had just come from.

I think Tom had 4G. Trailhead

And this is looking north toward our destination. Very pretty.


Once back to the car, we drove another mile, then stopped to get a southerly shot of the lookout.

When we got to the lake, the campground was stuffed. At the other end of the lake, lots of people had been off-roading to unofficial camp spots. No facilities (where are all those people doing their business?). We joined them. Chainsaw serenade.



Our main goal for today was Monument Peak. However, we were going to try a different route than the 'normal' route climbed by Big Dan. We hoped it would work. We also hoped to pick up another peak or two for the effort.

Our route went from Black Lake to Satan Lake. I had spotted a trail on the satellite view of the map, a trail not on the topo. Luckily, we found the trail and followed it happily all the way to the lake.


From Satan Lake, we crossed the outlet and climbed steeply up to the ridge seen here on the right, then folllowed the mellow ridge over the highpoint in the middle of the shot.


From high on that ridge, this is looking back on Satan Lake in the foreground, and Black Lake in the shaded pocket in the background.


From the highpoint above Satan Lake seen previously, here's another false summit before John Milton Peak.


And from that point, there's the actual summit off in the distance.


And finally, after some easy scrambling and rock hopping, the summit of John Milton Peak (named, like much in the Seven Devils, to some connection to where you go for poor behavior).


Okay, then. It was a little after 10, and so far the day was going great. And now we could finally see Monument, the dark point just right of center. We had also 'pencilled in' the peak on the far right, the one split by sun and shade.

According to the map, just north of here there was a saddle in the ridge that might let us drop into the valley.

Note the bottom of the valley.... it wasn't going to be a stroll.


There was indeed a saddle, but instead of the hoped-for scree hillside, it was more of a sort of gnarly gully. Then the scree.

Below this, we went into full rock-hop mode. When we eventually got to the toe of the ridge up the smaller peak, we knew we had to pass it up to maintain time control.


As we followed the valley (and big-block talus) around the smaller peak, we got our first view of Crystal Lake. Folks, this is one gorgeous lake.

From here, our route would go around the lake clockwise, climb to the ridge just above the rock tower, and then continue up left.


Once up onto that ridge, here's our view of what we thought was the summit. Still not a definite route. We'll just have to be patient to find out if this is possible.

But before we go higher, here's the view back to where we had come from. That's Crystal Lake with our "little" peak above it. And the high, right snowfield near the saddle approximates where we had come down off John Milton. Trailhead

More up.

500 feet gained, and I think I see a cairn. It's so close!


We did some scrambling, maybe a bit of soft Class 4, and traversed right on several ledge systems (as shown in the photo). Goat poop encouraged us in lieu of actually being able to see the top.

Eventually we were forced to the top of the ridge. Then we ran into a 35' vertical wall. Peeping around the right, it was a 300' vertical drop.

TrailheadTom Lopez photo
After some shuck-and-jive up and down, back and forth over the ridge top, we walked around a corner to see this gully. Looks great! Trailhead
I led us left up to a dead end, so Tom took the center and found a passable route. Class 4, but generally good rock if you paid attention to the debris (one at a time here). Trailhead

I followed shortly after.

The view here is south, back along the ridge top from where we had come from.

Optional western-style climbing helmet.

Tom Lopez photo

Summit of Monument.

Boy that was a lot of work. About 4.5 hours. But lots of fun. And pretty sweet adventure.


This is looking south along part of our route.

We discussed what it was going to be like going back the same way. I suggested we could return on Dan's route, which we were vaguely aware of. Tom was a little skeptical, but agreed to try it.

But where was it? We looked for cairns, but found none. I was pretty sure that the standard route came in from the north (shown here). I could see some possibilities, but nothing that went all the way through the cliffs. We took a gamble and headed out north across the ridge. The first gully didn't look too happy, but we saw some potential in the second. Sort of a clogged mess, so I didn't see any point in taking a photo. Trailhead

We had to go down quite a way before we finally saw dirt. With some relief.

Then started a long, long descent.

We knew we had to drop 2300' from the summit to gain the trail. We also remembered the reports of the last 600' of thick brush. But for now, it was a stunning canyon with tiring, although reasonable, footing. Trailhead
Somewhere up there is the summit. Trailhead

And then there was that last 600'. Tom says willows. I say alder. Whatever- it was continuous, and we did our very best to stay out of it.

We worked our way through forest, talus, and some cliff bands. The GPS showed we were close to the trail, and then Tom spotted a cut log down over a drop. Wading through deep, wet weeds and crawling over some logs, we finally got to the trail.

Great- now there was just 1400' of climbing to Purgatory Saddle.


Most of the trail was shady, thank goodness. Because it was hot. And down in the woods, it was humid. I ran out of water. It was getting late.

But it was very beautiful. That's Emerald Lake (what happened to the 'devil' theme?).


Here we are looking back at Emerald Lake from near the saddle.

We were very happy to finally top the saddle. Then followed a 700' dusty drop back to Black Lake. Cold beer never tasted so good.

Note: Tom and I agreed that although the standard route is perfectly functional, it is not aesthetic. We would only send someone up the 'standard' route if we really didn't like them.

Tom's route description



When we got up this morning, we were tired. Still dehydrated. Foot sore. So after a short discussion, we abandoned our plan to visit Six Lakes Basin. We'll be back for that later when we have the energy to do it proper.

Instead, we opted to follow a ridge above Lost Basin that might eventually lead to Echols Peak. This pic is about 50' off the road, and heading straight into the sun.

From a little farther up the ridge, the highest point here is off on the left, but that's not the summit. We needed to follow it's right (east) ridge to get to the highpoint. Trailhead

On the left is the same point as the left in the picture above, with part of Lost Basin on the right . And that's our goal on the right (even if it looks lower from here).

We decided to drop under the left-most talus patch, then diagonal up to the summit.

The summit of Purgatory Peak gave us a great view of where we had spent the last couple days. Trailhead
But wait... that point that we had cut under looks higher. Ingenious Tom tried to use the water in a bottle to sight in a level line. He complained because my bottle was red. Trailhead

We decided that we needed to go up and check the fake highpoint, the one we skipped previously. My two GPS readings showed the skipped peak as 5' taller. His GPS showed it as 6' shorter. Both readings are within the 10' margin of error of a modern GPS, so we'll go with the summit location of Purgatory Peak shown of Lists of John, the one now in the background.

A bonus in being diligent: as we sat here on the fake highpoint, a bald eagle flew by directly underneath us. Fantastic!


Another bonus: from the fake highpoint, we could see a shortcut. We dropped down off the ridge and walked the last quarter mile on the road. Done.

On the way out, we had 7 or 8 opportunities to pull over to allow traffic to pass. This place is busy! We agreed that next time we'll avoid Black Lake on a weekend.

Map of our Monument loop. Trailhead

Home | 2016 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski