Saturday, February 27, 2016

Northwest Ridge of Mt. Morrison (class 3)

A couple of months ago I was browsing mountainproject , and saw something to the effect of "looking for a partner to suffer in the snow with". Well that caught my attention, someone else wanted to climb peaks in the Sierra's in the cold months?

Finding other alpinists, much less alpinists that want to climb things in the snow/winter has been an ongoing challenge for me.

The poster turned out to be a fellow pHD academic at UC Davis, Richard Cobb, and after looking at our dually busy schedules we decided on the weekend of Feb 27/28th for a trip.

I had been wanting to climb Mt Morrison but had been unable to find a partner. Richard had climbed the mountain in October, but was willing to do it again.

We met at the Convict Lake parking area Friday night, shared a couple of beers, then off to bed. We woke up around 5 and were heading up towards the peak by 6-6:30 am,
A quick jaunt down a hiking trail along the lake, then up to the snow covered scree slopes that lead to ridge proper. The snow was well consolidated, and wind swept making for fun step kicking and crampon work up the base of the route.

Richard having fun on the approach
After the snow slopes, we put our crampons away, and started scrambling on the ridge.
Time for some scrambling
The lower part of the ridge was excellent, the rock quality was actually not as bad as Mt Morrison's reputation indicated. However as we gained altitude the rock quality began to deteriorate. This resulted in some very carful climbing. Reminded me of a less extreme version of some Canadian Rockies climbs that I have seen on some of Mark Smiley's films. We made good progress gaining more and more height on the ridge, climbing over towers.
Fun scrambling!

After a few hours, I either ran out of glycogen or the altitude started to hit me, and I slowed down considerably. Richard was a badass, moving quickly, efficiently and with tons of confidence. It was really nice to climb with someone experienced, and with as much (or maybe even more!) stoke than myself.
Richard looking badass on the way up.

I'm getting tired
The ridge itself is about a mile long, and gains about 4000'. Lots of delicate, loose climbing followed by some even sketchier scree fields, and finally we toped out around lunchtime. 

Summit shot!

Signing the register
The views from the summit were awesome, the sun was shining, and it was nice to see such a health snowpack off in the distance. Mt Morrison itself lies in a rain shadow, so the ridge was fairly dry. We only encountered a few big snow patches on the line.

Lots of snow!
We descended the snow covered east slopes. Someone had summited by that route earlier in the day, leaving us a nice fresh set of tracks to follow down. We eventually dropped into a snow bowl and were able to glissade some of the way down. Woo hoo!

Descent down the snow bowl.
We were back to the car around 5pm. I was completely exhausted. Terrific climb, right at the limit of my endurance, the exposure and climbing were exciting, but never difficult or particular dangerous. I think an excellent introduction to semi-technical winter mountaineering. I would highly recommend this route to any aspiring winter sierra alpinists. 

On Sunday we were both way to spent to try a second peak, so we zipped up to Lee Vining for some top rope ice climbing! Great way to spend a few hours before the long drive back to Fresno. 

Typical busy climbing at Lee Vining

We ended up on a thinish WI2 on the right hand side. Perfect for learning!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ice Climbing with the Sierra Mountaineering Club

Its been about 6-8 years since I last swung an ice tool. I used to climb with Kyle every Christmas break when I was in grad school. At the time I was following Kyle on routes up to WI4 and I even led a couple of easy ice climbs.

My very first ice lead, circa. 2007
Thunder Bay ice climbing, circa 2007
Kyle battling White Lightning (WI3+) circa 2007
Fast forward ~8-10 years, and here I am climbing with as much passion as I did in my twenties. I think if anything my ambition is even bigger than it was then. With my alpine dreams, competence with snow and ice is a crucial competent. So this year I am committed to filling the technical gaps in my climbing so I can actually get onto some of the bigger peaks.

 I decided to try out the whole club/guide scene in order to re-explore ice climbing. I joined the Sierra Mountaineering Club, a non-profit alpine club that offers many training courses. I signed up for a 2 day ice climbing course at Lee Vining.

I drove up to Lee Vining Friday night (6 hours!) and joined the group at 7am on Saturday. There were 9 climbers on day 1, and only 5 on day 2. The guides through up a couple of top ropes, and we basically played around on the ice. We were given some instruction on motion, crampon use, and how to swing tools properly.

Our group top roping at Lee Vining

One of our group members getting instruction from an SMC guide
On the second day we were taught about ice screw placements, V-thread anchors, and did several mock leads. I think I must have climbed about 15 pitches of ice over the 2 days. I was amazed at how quickly my body remembered how to climb. I had no problem cruising up the ice falls. it was honestly like riding a bicycle. I think also my aerobic training was extremely valuable, I was barley tired even after all those pitches.

A climber leading a WI 4 section on the main falls

What I really got out of this course was confidence. If I can find willing partners, I am ready to go back to Lee Vining on my own, and lead some ice pitches. I also feel very ready for my week of ice climbing in Thunder Bay coming up in March, and I am excited to climb with Kyle again, and lead some ice pitches.

Drone view of Lee Vining