Spring Ascent of Mt. Morrison

I just flew back to Milwaukee this morning (June 4) following a week of hiking, climbing, and mountain biking out in California, Utah, and Nevada. There’s probably enough material for seven or eight blog posts, which I’ll be posting over the next couple weeks. The map below outlines where we were (blue for stuff I did solo; red for stuff I did with my brother Trent, who few into Las Vegas a few days after me).

Trip Map

I made the flight from Milwaukee to Las Vegas on the evening of May 27, arriving around 2130 that night. My initial plan had been to drive overnight to central Nevada to climb Currant Mountain and Duckwater Peak the following day, but a few developments caused me to change plans at the last minute. I’d called a local ranger station earlier in the day, and learned that there was ~150% usual snowpack in the area…so I would be looking at a very long and challenging day, with lots of snow and ice, on very little sleep…and on top of it all, I had just picked up a nasty respiratory infection. (One week later and I’m still coughing up green junk.)

I decided instead to go for something shorter and less remote – Mt. Morrison (12,268′), nicknamed the “Eiger of the Sierra”. I departed Las Vegas in my rental car a little after midnight, and drove directly to the Convict Lake trailhead near Bishop, California. The drive was pleasant, with lots of coffee and podcasts to keep me awake. I arrived around 0515 in the morning and began hiking at 0540.

Early morning light on Mr. Morrison, seen from the road

Early morning light on Mt. Morrison, seen from the road

Based on my research, I knew the mountain could be climbed from several different approaches. I opted for a loop route (seen below).

ascent in red; descent in blue

ascent in red; descent in blue

I began by heading southwest along the shore of Convict Lake, then began my climb from the north.

View across Convict Lake (Mt. Morrison off-screen to the left)

View across Convict Lake (Mt. Morrison off-screen to the left)

The initial part of the climb was a straightforward uphill slog, taking me under the towering cliffs north of the summit. I found myself slightly more winded than usual (thanks to illness, lack of sleep, and no time to acclimate to the elevation) but I kept a reasonably good pace nonetheless.

Looking up toward the summit

Looking up toward the summit

It wasn’t long before things got more interesting. Starting from the base of these cliffs, most of my route was still snowed in. I had brought along my ice ax, but in hindsight some crampons would have been nice as well. The snowfield was still solid as rock at this point, but would become progressively mushier as the day went on.

Snowpack leading up to the pass

Snowpack leading up to the pass

Looking back down

Looking back down

View of the cliffs, from halfway up the snowfield

View of the cliffs, from halfway up the snowfield

Things got a little spicy when I reached the pass, directly east of the summit. From my angle, it was impossible to see what kind of drop-off awaited me on the other side. More specifically, I had no way of knowing whether I was climbing up onto a solid ridge, or up onto an exposed cornice. And to make matters worse, the morning sun was now beating directly on the area in question. Potentially a deadly combination.

I decided instead to climb directly onto the ridge higher up and to my right. This was steeper and slightly more challenging, but put me up on solid rock and safely away from (what turned out to be) a cornice. I was now faced with yet another detour, as the route upward from here required some semi-exposed snow climbing that I wasn’t comfortable attempting in running shoes. So I cut further southward, dropped below the aforementioned cornice, glissaded a few hundred feet down the mountain’s east face, then continued south across another snowfield toward more gentle terrain.

View up the (more gradual) east face

View up the (more gradual) east face

I climbed up to the summit ridge using the scree and talus to the right of the snowfield pictured above. There was one more unavoidable patch of deep snow near the top, maybe 150 yards long, which by now was soft enough that it required postholing up to the hips. I made the summit ridge at 1100.

View along the summit ridge, looking south

View along the summit ridge, looking south

For the descent, I headed directly down the east face before continuing my loop around Mono Jim Ridge toward Convict Lake. I was able to glissade several hundred vertical feet, which sped things up some, but I did lose time picking my way through some cliff bands lower down.

Yes, it's possible to keep those cliffs route 3 with patient route selection

It’s possible to keep those cliffs class 2-class 3 with patience and good route selection

The last couple miles was a very gradual cross-country hike down to my car. I was going on 30 hours without sleep at this point, so despite the easy terrain this felt like the longest section of the day. A storm also moved in around this time, and I was completely drenched. I made it back to the car at 1355, drove back to Bishop for some much needed McDonalds, then slept in the car for 13 straight hours.

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Published in: on June 4, 2016 at 10:09 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Sounds like a challenge with rest and without a respiratory infection,,,glad you got the much needed rest!


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