I first saw this peak on a spring ski tour several years ago. From our camp the north ridge rose sharply above the saddle southwest of Blacktop Peak. Later I checked the guidebooks and was intrigued to find they contained no mention of this route.
On July 10, 2004, Roy Lambertson and I packed in about 10 miles over Kuna pass to the beautiful upper basin of Kuna Creek. With dreams of a first ascent on 4th-5th class rock, I had insisted on bringing a rack and rope. "Ah, a new route on my birthday," I thought as we headed up to the ridge the next day. I've always wanted to do a new route, meager though my rock skills are. Upon seeing the ridge, Roy said ominously: "It might be 3rd class."
We clambered up pleasant, solid granite ramps to where the ridge steepened. "Perhaps this is one of those routes where it's technical only if you stay right on the knife edge," I told myself. I started leading up the steepest rock I could find. It was no good: We soon discovered that the route was 3rd class in its entirety. We stowed our rock gear and continued climbing. When the long ridge leveled out it turned into a typical boulder-ledge scramble with one fun, steep part near the summit.
The route is so obvious that I'm sure it has been climbed before. One register entry, signed "Crag Hag," claimed the "first nude ascent of the NE ridge." She must have been referring to our route. Some of the summit register entries referred to the mountain as "Gem Peak."
We descended an unpleasant, loose face to the Donahue saddle, then climbed that peak as well. The small 3rd class buttress that blocks access to Donahue's easy summit slopes was fun, including some hidden ramps on the far left edge (left as one faces west toward Donahue from the saddle).
We broke camp and hiked out, not reaching the Mono Pass trailhead until 9:00 p.m. It was an exhausting day for meager rewards, but the Kuna Creek basin was a beautiful place to camp, a broad basin filled with alpine tarns, glacier-polished granite, wildflower gardens and with great views of rugged mountains in all directions, including Mt. Lyell and neighboring peaks across the Lyell Canyon. I'll go back someday, but with a lighter pack.
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