Sunday, October 22, 2017

Laurel Mountain (11,812') - NE Gully - E Ridge variation (III, 5.2)

This weekend  I had originally planned to climb the Dana couloir with someone from SMC, but a last minute snow storm closed highway 120 putting the kibosh on that trip.

 I had already packed the car up, and was psyched to get in another mountain before the winter snows set it. I consulted my Big Tick List, looking for something interesting that I could solo, and settled on the north east gully of Laurel Mountain. The guidebook describes the routes as being "part canyoneering part mountain climbing". The gully ascends more than 3000 feet of 3rd class to low 5th class rock with only a 2 mile approach. Peter Croft rates the route at 5.2, but with only short sections of "difficult" climbing Perfect for a solo outing. 

I took the long drive around, spent a night in my car near Bishop, and I was hiking into the mountain out of convict lake by 8 am.  The approach hikes skirts the north shore of convict lake. A well maintained trail with beautiful views of Mt Morrison, and lovely fall colors. 

Mt. Morrison in the early morning
 After a short hike I entered into the NE gully, which as advertised is a canyon cut into the limestone of the mountain. The crux of the route appeared pretty early, with some 5th class climbing up a 20 foot cliff in the canyon. The climbing is easy, but you really would not want to blow it.

the crux
After pulling the crux it was an enjoyable scramble interrupted by brief sections of 4th class climbing all on excellent rock. Following about 1000' of  climbing I emerged from the main gully onto a wide open section of slabs

Climbing good rock in the gully
A sea of grey slabs

At this point I "decided" (i.e. went the wrong way) to head left into another gully system that ultimately brought me the the east ridge. Although this was not the "correct" way, it ended up being fortuitous, as the route avoided the scree garbage on the upper 1/3 of the NE gully system, and resulted in 1/4 mile of exposed, 4th class ridge climbing. Mark Thomas calls this variation the "Wombat variation" (see below)

NE Gully of Laurel Mountain, I took the variation in green
The new gully system was shaded, and had a fair amount of new snow. My feet got pretty cold as I was just wearing approach shoes. There was some loose rock, and a bit of interesting scrambling.

A cruxy section in the snowy gully on the "Wombat" variation
Eventually I popped out directly on the east ridge, just below a false summit. I moved onto the ridge, and climbed up to the top of the false summit. The climbing was fairly engaging, with a few short sections of easy 5th class and fairly sustained 4th class climbing.

Looking down from the east ridge

A steep section of 4th class leading up to the false summit
I reached the top of the false summit, and then headed towards the main summit. I was disappointed to find that I had to make a short but steep and exposed down-climb to gain a col. This was fairly scary, but the rock was good and it was fairly short. 

The remainder of the east ridge was easy 3rd class scrambling on loose blocks, which eventually transitioned to class 2 scree walking. I also spotted the scree slope I should have been climbing! I'm glad I ended up on the ridge, I think it made for a more enjoyable climb.

Scree leading to the summit. The bully to the right of the snow is where I should have been

Class 2 section

Cool rocks

 I was on the summit ~3 hours after starting, even with getting lost. Not bad for a wussy, out of shape guy. Since I had so much of the day left, I hung on top, surfed the internet (I had 3G on top!) and enjoyed the clear views around me. 

Red Slate Mountain - still holding lots of snow

Mammoth mountain in the foreground. Ritter in the back?

summit register
After loitering in the sun for about 70-90 minutes I began the descent down the North ridge. At first it was fairly enjoyable, with occasional views of the face I had just climbed.

Starting down - Convict lake and Owens valley below

Mt Morrison (left) and Laurel Mountain (center/right)

However the descent turned fairly heinous, with maybe 1500' of descent on loose garbage, steep scree. I ended up rolling my ankle several times which was fairly painful. This is the downside to approach shoes - no ankle support. 

I reached the convict lake parking lot in about 2 hours. I sat in the sun, and enjoyed a beer. What a great day. 

I had originally planned to go solo another mountain on Sunday, but my ankle was swollen and fairly painful. So I packed it up and headed up after an enjoyable diner at the Whoa Nellie Deli

I hope I get in at least one more mountain trip this year, but with winter fast approaching , my November fairly booked, and my neglect of rock climbing this might be the last peak I summit in 2017. 

Veggie chilly - good way to the trip


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