Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade IV
Elevation Gain
4,469.00 ft (1,362.15 m)
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
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Mount Emerson's South Face, otherwise known as the Waterfall Route, is considered a great entry-level alpine climb in the Sierra Nevada, but don't let this reputation fool you: This is a long and challenging route that is normally completed in 10 hours.

The hike in starts from the North Lake Campground, where there is plenty of parking available even if you aren't camping at the small campground at the trailhead. Make sure you bring some bug spray if you come early in the season as mosquitoes are very common here. After 1.4 miles on the trail, around 37.233035, -118.650336, you'll want to leave the trail and start finding your own route toward the base of the climb. Once you reach the base, the Waterfall route is pretty obvious until you reach the last pitch, where the route finding can be a little challenging afterward. This route is rated 5.4. Note that the Chimney section can be wet or icy in the early season or after rainfall. After the Chimney, continue up Class 3 and 4 terrain and head up to the chute while aiming for a notch on the ridge, then proceed along the ridge toward the summit. There are few knife-edge ridges that are pretty exposed and that get your adrenaline pumping. 

After reaching the summit, be ready for a long, steep scree descent toward Loch Leven Lake to meet back up with the trail. This climb can be done in a long day, but the climb and the view is worth all the effort.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Not Required


Short approach. Great climbing.


Can be icy earlier in the season.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

9,347.00 ft (2,848.97 m)


Backcountry camping
Rock climbing
Big vistas
Old-growth forest


Nearby Lodging + Camping

Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, California
Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, California


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