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!


  1. thanks for the info, will be doing the route tomorrow

    1. I hope it went well! Its a fun scramble!