Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mt. Irvine (13,770') - East couloir

Its been months since I've climbed a real mountain. Spring conditions have arrived to the Sierra, so I headed out to climb something. I had not partner for the weekend, so I decided to go solo an easy snow route.

I chose the East couloir of Mt. Irvine. The peak is located near Mt. Whitney, but unlike its EXTREMELY crowded and popular neighbour, Mt Irvine and the mountains in the Meysan lake basin are very quiet.

Mt. Irvine - East couloir
The route is a 2000' snow couloir, followed by a few hundred feet of class 2/3 ridge scrambling. Perfect for a solo outing.

I drove up Friday night, slept in my car and woke up at 4:45 am. When I woke up, I had a flat tire :(. 

I changed the tire, made breakfast, and was on the trail by 6:30. Not exactly the early start I planned on. The approach begins on the Meysan Lake trail. The first few miles were snow free, but then I hit the snow line, maybe at 9,000' elevation.

Start of the trail

Snow on the approach
The approach to the base of the couloir was 4.5 miles, and gained 4,100' of elevation from the parking lot. A hefty approach! I was happy for cold front that hit the mountains on the weekend, despite my late start the snow was firm and consolidated.

There were many avalanche chutes on the approach, this is defiantly not a place to visit in mid-winter.  I know at least one climber was killed by avalanche on this trail last year. 
Lucky for me, conditions were settled, and the cold meant wet slides were unlikely.

Avalanche chute - on the approach

Eventually I found my way to the start of the couloir. I could see 3 other climbers off in the distance. The were heading up the east chute of the peak, which is a lower angle route on the other side of the buttress. 

The altitude was starting to affect me,  I as pretty slow and sluggish, but I started slogging up the couloir. It was not very steep, maybe 35 degrees at most. The snow was firm, so made for good climbing. I stopped and took a nap about half way up. The weather looked a bit dreary, and a whiteout blew in for a while, but no snow or rain fell.

My nap spot in the couloir

White-out forming

Eventually I got sort of sick of climbing the couloir, especially when the angle dropped. For some reason, I find climbing steep snow less tiring than low angle snow. 

I decided to move onto the east face, which was a loose 3rd class choss pile. I climbed up the loose rock, glad to be out of the snow for a while

Moving onto the East face, 3rd class choss :)
I took another nap on a ledge. Moving from sea level to 13,500' was starting to really sap my energy. I gathered my will power and finished the climb on the face to pop out on the summit ridge. I traversed over to the top, and signed the register. 

There were nice views of Mt Whitney and Mt. Russell from the top.

Summit ridge
Mt Whitney (left) and Mt Russell (right)

Low quality selfie

I boiled some water, took another nap (yes, 3 naps on this climb)

Melting snow for water
I then headed back down the couloir. The snow had softened up a fair amount, so the descent was easy. I did some glissading int he lower part of the couloir. 

Lots of post-holing, and with very tired legs I arrived back at my car by 5 pm. 

~ 10 miles, 6,500' elevation gain, 10.5 hours. 

Not exactly my finest performance, but I find I simply cannot move quickly above 12,000', if I don't have at least 1-2 days of acclimatization. One of the downsides to living at sea level!

Overall, a nice outing, the route was very similar in difficulty and character to the Mountaineers route on Whitney, minus the crowds. It was really nice to have a quiet day of reflection and solitude in the mountains. 

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