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Mt. LeConte later climbed Tue, Aug 10, 2004|
Four miles separates Mts. Muir and Langley, the two most southerly 14ers in the Sierra. Between them the Sierra Crest connects them through a series of jagged and serrated ridges punctuated by some outstanding peaks that are hardly visited. Mt. LeConte, named for one of founding fathers of the Sierra Club, rises just 40 feet short of the 14,000-foot level, and was our objective for the day. I also hoped I might be able to climb some are all of the surrounding peaks including Mts. Corcoran, Mallory, and Irvine. There were only three of us climbing today, Joe (who was feeling better after a rest day), Michael, and myself. All three of us were fairly strong climbers, so I expected it would be busy day, moving fast. We drove up to Whitney Portal, parking below near the Meysan Trailhead, off the side of the main road. The trailhead isn't easy to spot and in fact is a loose collection of signs that takes one through the campground, past some private summer cabins before actually getting to the start of the trail. We fumbled a bit looking for it, but knowing the general location from the map and where we needed to get to, we were able to minimize our lost time to only a few minutes.
The Meysan Trail is far less busy than the Whitney Trail. Though a Sunday, we met only a few other parties all day. Mt. Irvine and its long NE Ridge divide two canyons here. Whitney Portal and Lone Pine Creek are in the northern canyon, Meysan Lake and its trail in the southern one. From Whitney Portal the Meysan Trail contours around the lower portion of the NE Ridge before switchbacking wildly up 3,500ft in something less than five miles. We climbed up these switchbacks quickly, hoping to race the sun and heat of the new day dawning. The sun rose on Mt. LeConte just before 6:30a, towering high in the background. Soon thereafter we passed the sign indicating we'd entered the John Muir Wilderness. By the time the sun reached the trail we were near 10,000ft and already enjoying the cooler temps of the higher elevations. We took a break after an hour to eat regroup, eat something, and remove the remaining vestiges of our pre-dawn clothing. It was going to be another fine day in the Sierra.
By 8:15a we'd reached Grass Lake and the end of the maintained trail. Another party of four or five had been camping here and were just finishing packing up before heading down. They would the be last persons we saw until heading down the trail at the end of the day. Meysan Lake was still above us, hidden from view by a large moraine, but Mt. LeConte and the upper plateau were plainly visible on the skyline. We still had a great deal of climbing to do. We followed a series of ducks along a decent use trail that took us through the moraine, greatly relieving us some tedium if we needed to climb the loose stuff that made up this rise. We crested over the moraine and found ourselves high above the north side of Meysan Lake - a large, beautiful alpine lake in a stark, rocky landscape. The blue waters of the lake contrasted refreshingly with the white granite that surround the lake on all sides. Climbing down to the lake, we found shallow regions that produced emerald and bluegreen hues, inviting one to swim in the tantalizing waters. We might have even considered it if the water temperatures weren't hovering around 40F or so. We contoured around the east and south ends of the lake, heading for the chutes leading up to the high plateau between Mts. LeConte and Mallory. The slopes east of this plateau pour down in an arc of talus and rubble to the south shores of Meysan Lake. If any part of the climb was to be tedious, this seemed the likely place. We filled our water bottles at Meysan Lake which was likely the last water we would see for some time. As on the previous days, Joe took the time to filter the water while I used the more cavalier approach of dipping directly into the lake.
At just under 12,000ft, we were now slowing down. We stared up at the talus pile to survey our route. We had planned to follow Secor's direction up what he calls the East Slope, a chute on the right (north) side of the bowl that leads up to the plateau. We could see that the upper part was choked with ice and snow - and we had brought no crampons or axes. The left side of the bowl would lead more directly to Mt. LeConte, but it had some serious cliffs and additional patches of snow that looked troublesome. We decided to aim for what looked like the easiest snow-free route we could see, a poorly defined chute a few hundred yards left of Secor's East Slope. Climbing the loose talus, we found the lower part as tedious as it had appeared from below. At one point we found water tumbling down from a patch of snow higher up. The rocks around this small stream were plastered in ice, a sign of chilly night temperatures. Having to cross this was a bit trickier than one might have guessed, but both Joe and I managed to make it across without slipping or soaking a boot. By now Michael had fallen behind about five minutes, climbing at his own pace. About half-way up the slopes, we reached a rocky class 3 section that proved to be quite enjoyable and hardly the obstacle we had feared. Joe had donned his helmet before crossing the stream, the only one of us that had bothered to bring one. Though there wasn't much call for it, Joe figured he may as well use it since he brought it. Above the class 3 section the chute opened in a broad fan to the plateau above. This section brought the tedium we had been expecting. The loose sand and talus combined with the high altitude to slow us to what felt like a crawl. Twenty-five steps, rest. Twenty steps, rest. Fifteen steps, rest. And so it went. The plateau didn't really flatten out as we had expected, though the slope relented some. It still took a good deal of uphill work as we did an ascending traverse across the plateau towards Mt. LeConte. By the time Joe and I had reached the base of the North Face, Michael was just topping out at the end of the class 3 section and seemed but an ant so far away. He seemed half an hour behind us at this point, but it was probably closer to 15 minutes.
It was 10:30a. We searched around for the large cairn described by Secor to have been erected on the north side here, but found nothing. We surmised it had been dismantled some time in the past. We did find a memorial plaque to a seven year-old boy named Kyle Ebeling (though a search on the web turned up nothing more on who he was or who placed the plaque, I was eventually contacted by his mother Kathy - see the end of this trip report for more on Kyle from both his parents). Looking over the Sierra Crest to the west, it was obvious where the chute was on this side was, marking our route. Down we went, sliding and hopping on the loose talus found here. About a hundred feet down we contoured around a short buttress to the next chute to the south, which led up to the notorious waterfall pitch. It is reported to be class 3, but often has water ice blocking part of the route in late summer. I had even received an email a few days earlier from a concerned enthusiast who had seen our daily reports online. We gambled that the pitch would be ice-free in this dry year, not bringing so much as a sling to aid our climb. As we climbed up the chute, it became obvious where the main difficulty was, a section blocked by a massive chunk of granite. Fortunately, it was dry. I reached the difficulty first and surveyed the various options. None of them looked class 3 to me. The left side seemed to offer the shortest route, but still required a stiff 12-foot climb up a near vertical groove. It was quite disconcerting as I started up, wondering if I'd missed something more obvious. Had it been rated class 4 I would have been much more accepting of this section, but now I had my doubts. I managed my way up, finding a rappel sling at the top - seems others didn't find this class 3 either. Joe had watched me struggle some and didn't really feel like repeating the performance. He explored around the right side, climbing up what I thought was a more serious section of tall blocks stacked vertically. He messed around on this for ten or fifteen minutes, coming within about ten feet of the top before giving up and backing down. I untied the rappel sling and tied it around a small chockstone further down to allow Joe to use it as an aid if he felt the need. Resting loosely around his wrist "just in case", this provided him the additional confidence he needed to complete the last move up the groove and join me above.
Above the waterfall pitch, it was an easy scramble by comparison. The chute tops out on the north face below the summit blocks. Some final class 3 climbing up the large blocks brought us to the spacious summit shortly before 11:30a. Five and half hours to the summit - not bad we figured as we heartily congratulated each other. The views were fine, allowing us views south to Mt. Langley, north to Mt. Williamson, west to the Great Western Divide. To the southwest we could see the smoke rising in the distance from the McNally Fire, an immense fire that burned for a number of weeks that summer, often obscuring views over the Sierra. A month earlier I had been on the summit of Mt. Brewer when visibility was barely a few miles. Today the winds were favorable, allowing us nice views. We didn't plan to stay long on the summit, and as we were getting up to leave, we found Michael but 50 feet below us, less than ten minutes behind. He had made much shorter work of the Waterfall Pitch than Joe and I had, it seemed. We stayed on the summit a few more minutes with Michael before I headed down. I was intending to make a detour for Mt. Corcoran, while the other two, now travelling together, would be on their way to Mt. Mallory. I bid them goodbye and best wishes as I left, heading down by myself.
Mt. Corcoran is a poorly defined grouping of peaklets that stretch along the Sierra Crest between Mt. LeConte to the north and Mt. Langley to the south. Secor records that there are four summits to Mt. Corcoran, the northernmost being the highest. That seemed fortunate since I was approaching it from Mt. LeConte. I had left the other two, Joe and Michael, at the summit of LeConte and headed back down the way we'd come up. About 50 feet above the top of the Waterfall Pitch, I contoured left (south) around the buttress as described in the various route descriptions I carried with me (one can also contour around at the top of the Waterfall Pitch). This route seems awfully confusing from the descriptions I'd read, so I made sure to bring photocopies of the various descriptions, hoping it would make more sense when I found myself on the slopes. I found a nice cairn at the edge of the buttress, just before it led south into the next chute. I took this as a good sign that I was on-route. As I was to find out soon enough, there are many cairns all over this side of the mountain, suggesting either many possible routes, or just too many climbers who like to build cairns that have little value. From here, Secor suggests descending 150 feet in the next chute, then traverse south over two more ribs before heading up to the notch between LeConte and Corcoran. I found it very difficult to determine what was a rib and whether I'd traversed across the proper number of chutes. This whole side is a confusing mass of chutes filled with loose rocks, and some tricky climbing to get from one chute to the next. Since it is reported to be a class 3 route, I kept looking for the easy way across, avoiding the class 4-5 terrain.
When I'd figured I'd traversed far enough south after half an hour of climbing, I started heading up. The chute I was in narrowed, and I found myself on class 4 then class 5 climbing to get out of it. I didn't mind really - I'd had a great time climbing class 4-5.easy the whole week, and this was just more of the same. Several of my fingertips were starting to protest as I'd wore the skin down to the point where the tiny feldspar crystals in the granite would prick the nerves in the tips like so many little needles. This was the first time I'd done so much climbing with my hands that they'd literally been worn away. I found I was leaving little bloodstains on the rock as well, so I started to climb with only three or four fingers from each hand where I could to give the injured ones the break they deserved. I could see where developing calluses on ones fingertips would be a great advantage! I reached the crest again, but didn't find an obvious notch between two peaks. There were several spires rising above me, so I chose to climb the one to the south and worked my way to the top. Definitely class 5 I thought, so I didn't expect this to be the correct summit. I figured once on top I'd get a good look around and the proper peaklet should become obvious. The climbing must have been on the adventurous side - I hadn't taken any pictures since I'd left the summit of Mt. LeConte.
It was hardly obvious, I found. Looking south towards Mt. Langley, I could make out three distinct summits in a nice line, all about the same height as the one I was standing on. Thus, it seemed to me that I should be on the northernmost summit, the highpoint - but there was no register to be found anywhere. I began to have doubts about this mountain. Did the summit even have a register? As a listed peak of the Sierra Club I expected one, but perhaps it didn't. Maybe there was another summit hidden among the three I could see to the south? But that seemed much futher than the description of a few chutes and ribs given in Secor. I looked north towards LeConte and found a bit of a surprise - yet another summit that I called #0 appeared higher than my current perch. Hmmm, maybe I was on the second summit? It was all very confusing, and by now I'd spent about an hour wandering about looking for this peak. I climbed down a different way and headed to the notch between #1 and #0, being quite careful - there was a good deal of class 4 climbing around here. I managed to find a way down, then up to the top of #0. I didn't have a good feeling about it being the right peak because it was certainly more difficult than class 3. Sure enough, I came up empty in terms of finding a summit register. Darn. Now I was beginning to believe I must have climbed the peak, but the register is either non-existent, hard-to-find, or misplaced. Later my doubts would resurface, and I suspect I'm going to have to come back and try again. It was 1:15p when I left the summit of #0 and headed back. It took another half hour to reach the top of the Waterfall Pitch back on the west side of Mt. LeConte, roughly two hours since I'd left.
The last technical bit of my less-than-successful attempt at Mt. Corcoron was this small stretch in the chute on Mt. LeConte's west side, dubbed the Waterfall Pitch. We'd had some difficulty in surmounting this on the way up to LeConte, though were able to free it without resorting to aid. Now it looked even more difficult going down since I couldn't see the foot placements that I'd used previously. Fortunately there was a rappel sling that I had removed and tied close to this section that could be used as a cheater rope. I turned around to head down, blindly thrusting my feet into the groove below, feeling for any place solid to step on. The sling was loosely around my wrist, "just in case." I didn't want to use the sling, but as I hung there for a brief moment considering the remoteness of my location and the chances of someone finding me should I do something stupid like fall, safety concerns overcame pride and I used the sling to hold me as I lowered myself through the crux. At least there was no ice!
I climbed down the chute a few hundred yards, went north around the buttress, then up 150ft to the Sierra Crest and the north side of Mt. LeConte. I could tell I was getting tired by this point, now nearly 2p, as the loose talus and sand in this chute reduced me to a near crawl. At the top of the chute I found a note from Joe on the rock where we'd agreed to leave correspondence earlier in the day. He and Michael were heading for Mt. Mallory, and they had a two hour lead on me. It didn't seem likely I'd catch them before the end of the day. Off I headed north along the relatively flat portion of the high plateau between Mts. LeConte and Mallory. The weather continued fine with hardly a breeze, temperatures cool, but not cold. As I approached the south slopes of Mt. Mallory, I looked up towards the summit, surveying the slopes between it and myself. There was 300-400 feet of what looked like mostly loose sand and talus - ugh! The slope turned out to be a bit better packed than it appeared, and though I felt I was going quite slow, I think I made pretty good time. The upper portion of the mountain had some very large granite blocks piled crazily and offering some surprisingly fun class 3 scrambling as I headed northwest looking for the highpoint.
The summit isn't obvious on Mt. Mallory, as there are several likely-looking candidates for the highpoint. Sitting on one such candidate, I was about to head to the next potential highpoint north of me when I happily spotted the summit register nestled in lowspot amongst the rocks. It was now 2:30p - it had taken only 30 minutes to get here from the north side of LeConte, but it felt like it had taken twice as long. I was ready to head back, to be sure. I took a suite of photos from the summit. Nearby to the northwest rose Mt. McAdie, impressive and difficult-looking from this angle - tomorrow's fine goal. Further right was the rest of the Whitney Crest from Discovery Pinnacle to Mt. Whitney, then in the background Mts. Russell and Williamson to the far north. Nearer at hand to the north was Mt. Irvine, which along with Mt. Mallory was named by Norman Clyde following the pairs disappearance on Mt. Everest in 1924. I had hoped to cap the day with an ascent of Mt. Irvine before heading back, but my energy was now waning. Mallory's North Ridge is purported to be class 3, and the easiest way to connect these two peaks, but it looked more like class 5, tortured and long, from my current perspective and state of tiredness. I consoled myself with the thought that I could more easily add it to tomorrow's agenda after climbing Mt. McAdie, and resigned to start heading back down. Joe and Michael had left entries in the Mallory register, and I added my own note right after theirs. They were the only others to the summit this day. The time was now 2:30p, and I was now an hour and a half behind the others. I'd caught up half an hour, but it didn't seem likely I was going to catch them on the way back unless I ran down, and I was too tired for that.
I retraced my steps along the class 3 top portion of Mt. Mallory, then headed down the East Ridge, staying to the south side where it was easier climbing. Halfway down the ridge I came to a small notch marked with a cairn that I took to mark a descent route to the East Chute. I started down this steep and loose chute, and after about 100 yards found myself quickly on 4th then 5th class terrain. The north face of Mt. Mallory is surprisingly full of steep cliffs - the photo in Secor looks much milder for some reason. Looking down, I couldn't be sure there was a reasonable route off, and I was afraid of making mistakes so late in the day. I surveyed the cliffs below a great deal before giving up and climbing back out. I really didn't feel like hiking my tail back uphill, but it seemed the most prudent course to choose.
Back up on the East Ridge, I continued down after destroying the offending cairn - no need for others to suffer as I did. Later I found that Joe and Michael had seen the cairn as well, but did not make the mistake I had in following it down. I travelled a good deal further down the ridge before consenting to try my hand again in descending to the left. This time I was more successful, but I was surprised at how much route-finding was necessary to keep the climbing at class 3 or lower. The lowest part was the most devious, as there was much cliff here to bar progress. Weaving back and forth a bit I found a way down to the boulder-strewn bowl that separates Mts. Mallory and Irvine on the east side. This bowl funnelled down to the East Chute that I expected to be a straightforward class 2 descent. Not so, as it turned out. The chute was almost completely snow-free, though a few patches still remained. Still, it was evident that the chute normally spends most of the year covered in snow. The infrequently exposed talus and boulders were extremely loose and steep enough to be quite dangerous. Large rocks would roll over quite easily, and I had to be very careful not to twist an ankle in here, or possibly worse. And to top it all, the chute goes on interminably for hundreds of feet without relenting in the looseness of the material in it. It would have been dangerous to ascend/descend in a group, so it that regard it was probably good that I was by myself. I did notice I was starting to get a pain in my ankle, the achilles tendon more specifically. It started as I was descending the chute and grew worse as time went on, first as a dull ache, then a sharper pain. Though I could see Meysan Lake plainly below me, it seemed to take forever to get down to lake level, and it was only when I was within a hundred yards of the lake that the terrain got easier to negotiate and I could finally relax, though my ankle didn't improved.
Cruising around the south and east sides of the lake, I came across a discarded pair of men's underwear. How do people lose their underwear out here, I wondered. Often times I'll pack out trash I find in the wilderness, but this seemed a bit much to ask of myself - packing out another guy's chonies. I hit upon the idea of burning them, and lit them on fire with my lighter. Not a good idea. Not 100% cotton, these were some percentage of polyester which burns much like plastic - making good fire but a gooey mess. As I stood there watching this blob burn and ooze over the rock it lay on, I had pangs of guilt like I'd just clubbed a baby seal or cut down the last tree on Half Dome's summit. I was certain to lose much karma due to this one.
I continued down to the meadow below where I picked up the maintained trail. The pain in my foot grew sharper. It hadn't been caused by any single move or misstep, but seemed more of an accumulated trauma from the last ten days. I jogged down a few stretches. The running didn't seem to aggravate it, but it didn't go away either (not sure why it might, but it seemed possible at the time). I kept thinking I might run into the others on the way down, but they had apparently made good time as well. I came across a backpacker heading up who informed me he'd passed them about half an hour earlier. That meant they were probably about 45 minutes ahead of me. The sun was still up, but had set in the canyon some time ago. I could feel the temperature growing warmer as I lost altitude, evident that it had likely been another 100F+ day in Lone Pine. But the decreasing altitude was offset by the setting sun, and the temperature never got more than about 80F on my way back to the car. I actually got lost as I reached the first cabins near the trailhead, and swore in frustration as I wandered up and down the paved road looking for the trail we'd taken in the morning that seemed so obvious then. Argh. I ended up wandering a different route through the campground before I finally found the trail close to the car, returning shortly after 5p. It'd been a long day.
Joe had left a note on my car and I found them already relaxed when I returned to our motel room in Lone Pine. They had gotten back half an hour earlier and were already showered and relaxed. We had dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant a second night (getting better service this time). Joe and Michael had decided that they'd rather climb Mt. Whitney instead of McAdie the following day, as neither had been their before. Since we'd gotten Whitney Zone permits for the McAdie hike, there was no problem with that option. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to hike the next day anyway, and in fact when I woke up in the morning I was in no shape to go anywhere. At 5a I got up with the others, walked a few paces around the room to test it out, and promptly announced I was going back to sleep. That was it for me. Joe and Michael had an easy time climbing both Muir and Whitney while I drove back up US395 and back to San Jose.
It had been a successful trip by all accounts. Nine of the ten planned peaks had been climbed as well as twelve other bonus peaks in the nine days. Eight of the fifteen CA 14ers were included. There were eleven total participants, up from six the first year. It would take a little effort, but I was sure I could scrounge up another interesting ten peaks for 2003. One of them would certainly be the forgotten Mt. McAdie from 2002.
This was sent to me on Aug 27, 2007:
I wanted to finally pass along some information about Kyle's Memorial. I noticed someone had asked about the memorial on your website - my husband sent this response to him which I thought would be great if you could post.
"My name is Chuck Ebeling the father of Kyle who's plaque you saw on Mt LeConte. A friend of mine, Lee White and his wife Julie, went with me to place the plaque. I put it up their late April 1994. The whole place was covered in snow. We spent the night down by the stream. Then got up early the next morning to make the ascent. We cramponed the whole way up there. There was snow about 2 ft below the place where I hung the plaque. I borrowed a battery-operated drill with a masonry bit in hopes of drilling two holes in the rock. But I didn't even get a 1/4" into the rock and had already expended two batteries. I also brought with me marine epoxy to seal it against the rock. When Lee, Julie and I finished mounting the plaque, I spread my sons ashes into the wind just nearby the plaque. At the exact time I spread those ashes a huge black bird flew about 150 feet overhead and about 200 yards down wind from where I spread my son's ashes. It was amazing. I had never seen a bird that high and it seemed as though it came out of no-where. In 1998 I revisited the plaque on a training climb I was leading when I was with San Diego Mt. Rescue. It was awesome being there with another great group of guys.
My son, Kyle, had severe neurological problems. He could not walk or talk. His muscular system was extremely week. Eventually he was over come by pneumonia. In his tribute I, with my friends, affixed that plaque. So far I haven't had any park rangers follow up on the name and tell me to take it down. I thought the place I mounted it was a good location for hikers to see. Since one basically make there way to that point to turn left or right to climb to the top."
These are some of my thoughts:
For me, it is hard to put in a few words what a truly remarkable little boy Kyle was. He died shortly before he turned 7. For all of us that were around Kyle, we loved him so much. We did not see a little boy who was extremely medically fragile and could not walk, talk, was tube fed, had severe breathing problems, could not hold his head up, could not raise his arms. No, we saw a little boy with a loving smile for everyone, whose eyes lit up when he saw you, who was able to do some amazing physical things despite his severe limitations, who brought joy to his family and countless friends. However, we did see the suffering that Kyle endured, and that hurt. Despite his "limitations," Kyle truly impacted lives in a great way. One example is his brother, Derek, who was 8 when Kyle died. Although Derek went on achieve athletic and academic awards, and recently graduated from the USAFA, he has been the first to say it was Kyle's inner strength and determination that inspired him through the tough times.
On another note, I have been trying to find the "perfect" picture of Kyle to email you, but just can't seem to settle on one, so if it's okay, I may email a few pictures instead. Thank you!
Kathy Kyle's Mom
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. LeConte - Mt. Mallory
This page last updated: Mon Aug 27 22:04:46 2007
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