Tue, Aug 10, 2004
Lone Pine Peak
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Lone Pine Peak previously climbed Fri, Jun 11, 2004|
later climbed Sat, Aug 23, 2014
Mt. LeConte previously climbed Sun, Aug 25, 2002
The Sierra Challenge was officially over and everyone with the exception of myself had gone home. I was one of those guys that was always the last to leave because I couldn't tell when the party was over. It was Tuesday morning and I was still in Lone Pine, figuring since I didn't have to go to work and my family was still vacationing in Florida, I could spend a few more days in the mountains. I decided to give the North Ridge of Lone Pine another try, a route that had stymied Matthew and I earlier in the year. We had gotten a late start that first attempt, and ran out of time well before reaching the summit. Not to underestimate the route again, I started almost 3hrs earlier, and was heading up the Meysan Lake Trail out of Whitney Portal at 5:10a. By headlamp as I wandered through the campground towards the trailhead, it wasn't long before sunrise and I only needed the headlamp for a short while. It took one hour on the trail and a second hour to scramble up the Northwest Face to the North Ridge. I approached it from the same start as last time, but this time I didn't take the traverse to the left as far east while on the northwest side of the ridge. I took a more direct route where I found excellent class 3 rock going more directly up one of the gullies. Aside from being more direct, it avoided the less-interesting class 2 on the lower part of the ridge as I met up with the ridge just where the class 3 begins there. It took a third hour for me to negotiate the first notch, the leaning slab, and the rest of the portion of the climb Matthew and I had done the last time, landing me at the second notch. At this point I put on my rock shoes and headed up, staying close to the ridge, off to the right when blocked (except for one section that had a narrow ledge leading around the left just before the third notch). The climbing was intense at a few points (I would rate it 5.6), but not desperate (desperate would have been without the rock shoes). The hardest part was where I found an old piton ring just below a steep lieback that gave me the willies. It took two hours to reach the summit from that second notch, staying more or less on the ridge, with lots of sustained class 3-4 climbing. There were obvious bailouts to the right for class 3 climbing to the summit on the NW face, but that seemed like cheating, and would have deprived me of some fine climbing. Josh poo-pooed the N. Ridge in his SP summit log entry, but I think he either got bored with low class 5 climbing or was taking a different route. I found the route absolutely outstanding - one I would highly recommend. Staying true to the ridge provided over 3hrs of great scrambling, including over 2hrs of more exciting class 4-5.easy climbing.
I had Secor's route description in my pocket, but never took it out. Last time we were constantly confused by it, wondering what the hell it was talking about. Croft's instructions are much shorter and far more accurate. I noted several entries in the summit register wished for a better route description, so I wrote one on the summit while it was still fresh in my mind (it also gave my nerves a chance to relax and recover). It turned out to be quite a long description, and I suspect if I ever publish it others will find it as confusing as I found Secor's. And so it goes. The register and ammo box had been placed the previous year by SnowNymph - Kudos to her and SnowDude for hauling it up there.
While on the summit, Mt. LeConte beckoned to the southwest, only a 1,000ft higher and two miles distance. A ridge topped with Peak 3985m connects Lone Pine to LeConte. Having already climbed LeConte, I didn't care too much to do so again, but just to the left of it lies Mt. Corcoran, a peak I spent 2hrs hunting down 2 years ago, only to climb the wrong towers. To settle the score on two peaks I'd been rebuffed on in the same day seemed too tempting to pass up. It was only 11:30a when I left the summit, so off I went towards LeConte thinking it would take 2hrs to get there. The descent off Lone Pine's southwest side was easy, and it seemed 2hrs might be an overestimation.
Not having planned this beforehand, I had zero beta on the connecting ridge and Peak 3985m. Had I checked Secor, I would have found the East Ridge going up is class 2-3, the West Ridge going down is loose class 4, and I probably would have run up and down the ridge (ok, moved carefully down it). But before I came to the summit, larger and larger blocks made me think of my escapade on Langley the day before, and I decided prudence suggested I should bypass the summit blocks with a lower traverse. Coming to a convenient notch that led to some ledges on the South Face, I happily took off in that direction. This turned out to be some rather unbelievable scrambling across the South Face, around numerous aretes, looking down some hella steep air in a convoluted traverse going up and (mostly) down across the face. Secor lists no less than 4 class 5.7 (and higher) routes going up this face to give you an idea of what I was traversing across. I spent over two hours traversing the face, never sure I would get off it until the last moment. I considered the Worst Possible Scenario where I got stymied at the very end and would have to retrace my steps, so I even placed a few cairns to help should I have to retreat. I was able to finally reach a class 2 chute that climbs to the gap between LeConte and Peak 3925m, and I took this up to the LeConte-Mallory plateau.
By now it was 1p, I'd been at it 8hrs, and I'd last filled my water bottles (1.5qts total) 7hrs ago. The climb to Lone Pine Peak had taken one of them, and the traverse most of the second. I had about a quarter of one bottle left, and it was hard to decide to continue on. I was damned tired and thirsty, but I was even more dogheaded about reaching Corcoran. I struggled on, rewarding myself with a small sip whenever I climbed about 100ft. I reached the Sierra Crest, dropped 100ft to the chute on the west side, and climbed up towards LeConte. I got extra water for managing the Waterfall Pitch without aiding it (the white cheater sling I installed 2yrs ago had an additional blue sling attached to the end of it). I surmounted LeConte at 2p, signed the register and headed back down without staying atop (if anyone is wondering why I didn't bypass LeConte's summit and head for Corcoran directly, they don't understand peakbagger disease). I recall Eric Lee saying he had added new ducks to the Corcoran Traverse, so I headed across the West Face of LeConte, happy to see a series of 4 ducks leading to the next chute over. Then nothing. High and low I looked, but no more ducks. The correct route at this point heads diagonally down, losing several hundred feet across notches in two aretes. But I stayed high, hopefully wishing I didn't need to lose all that elevation, even though I recall Secor in the back of my mind saying that if you stay too high you get "Big Air". For my trouble, I got Big Air. I climbed up to what I thought was North Notch, but it looked agonizingly familiar to the wrong route I had taken on my first attempt. I looked across the notch to what I could see of the east side of the crest. I got out my camera and played back the pictures I had taken earlier. It was hard to see them with such a small screen and in daylight, and I tried to shelter the screen in the shade and with my hands as I looked for a photo I'd taken a few hours ago of the east side. Though the angle was quite different, I believe I was able to match some large blocks below Corcoran with those I could see through the notch. This turned out to be the crucial help I needed to convince myself I had not traversed far enough south. I resolved to struggle on despite my thirst, and went down some loose chutes looking for the correct traverse path. I was first rewarded with some small snow patches hiding out on the north sides of the chute I took down. I greedily scooped the top off into my water bottle to let the warm water help melt the snow. I didn't bother to scrape the top layer with dirt and bugs off like I normally would because that would mean the snow I got underneath would be colder and melt less. I stuffed more snow in my mouth and relished the taste of dust and small grains of sand. My second reward came when I found a duck at a notch in the next arete to the south. Aha! At this point, I found an excellent series of ducks that lead me across a number of more aretes, up to the North Notch, through a small keyhole, across the west side of Mt. Corcoran and up to the summit in a broad chute on this side. It was 3p when I summited - and though I knew I was in for a long day, it all seemed worthwhile at this point. The oldest register in the canister was placed in 1970 by Galen Rowell on the traverse from the south, and I had a moment of connection with Sierra history.
I returned to LeConte faster than I had left it, finally sure of the correct route. I added another couple of ducks and made some of the existing ones higher so they might stand out better for future climbers. It was a monumental struggle to climb up those several hundred feet of talus to the top of the Waterfall Pitch, but the various sips of water I allotted myself kept me going. Unlike last time, I downclimbed the crucial pitch without aiding it, though I was happy to see that sling dangling there beside me should I suddenly slip. If this is class 3 as it is rated, it has to be the hardest class 3 I've ever encountered. A bit more downclimbing, then a last uphill struggle of another hundred feet.
It was 4p when I was again at the LeConte-Mallory plateau, and I was elated to know the rest of the journey was downhill. I found a trickling creek on the steep slopes leading down to Meysan Lake, and I slaked my thirst with the cold, delicious water. Now life was good again. It took only three hours to descend from the Sierra Crest back to the trailhead, making for a 14hr outing - the longest day yet of 13 days I'd been at it. I drove back to Lone Pine, and stumbled into my hotel room. The hot shower was good, but it wasn't enough to revive me, nor was dinner a short while later. Rest was the only thing that was going to help, and by the time I got into bed it felt long overdue...
Following is the route description I penned on the summit of Lone Pine Peak. If you use it, I'd appreciate any feedback on its helpfulness. My guess is most will find it as useless as I found Secor's description. :-)
Secor and others describe the route with two towers, a description I found misleading both times I was on the route. It seems more accurate to me to describe it as having four notches, which I will attempt to incorporate here. Climb 2nd to 3rd class up to the tower before the 1st notch. Downclimb into the notch (class 3-4), then climb up (5.4) just right of the ridge. Climb up and back onto the ridge where you can see the large leaning slab on the left side. Climb down a nice ramp about 30ft to where you can climb up and around the leaning slab on the left side. Climb down 15ft, traverse the east side for about 40ft, then climb a series of 3 grooves/chimneys back up to the ridge (5.2 on the last one). Follow the ridgeline, airy and knife-edged at times, to the point above the second notch. Climb down to the notch.
This is a good point to put on climbing shoes if you haven't already. The east side of the 2nd notch is a steep, difficult chute. The west side has a sandy ledge that is easy to follow down for several hundred feet, but far off the route. Your best bet is up the ridge, just to the right of the centerline. This section is the crux - off-widths, chimneys, and a 5.6 lieback await you. There are escape options off to the right a few hundred feet above the 2nd notch, that look to be class 3 routes to the top on the NW Face. Better climbing is found by returning to the ridgeline where possible. You should never have to climb down more than 10-20ft to get around obstacles. Check your options before committing to a line of attack. There is a fantastically airy class 3 ledge that goes around the left side of the ridge and brings you around obstacles and back to the ridgeline. Here the ridge gets airy and knife-edged, but only class 3. Follow it to the 3rd notch.
It now appears you are at the base of the summit blocks (last 400ft), but there is one more notch above. Climb down into the 3rd notch directly from the ridgeline, then follow interesting folds of rock up on the left side of centerline. You may have to climb down about 20ft to avoid obstacles, but no need to climb down into the sandy chutes. The hardest climbing is over, but there is much great climbing ahead if you stay close to the ridge. From the 4th notch, traverse a narrow, sandy ledge about 120ft on the west side, then climb back up towards the ridge where possible. Better climbing is found close to the ridge, bail to the right for class 3 routes to the summit. You should be able to top out right at the summit with class 4-5 climbing along the very ridge.
I've always assumed the mountain, town and prison were named after one of my ancestors who was hung on the side of it. What for could only be conjectured, but bad jokes, impersonating a cowboy or just plain pissing off enough people have come to mind. They have certainly come close to getting me done in.
I appreciate the work you went to and the results.
Thanks a lot.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Lone Pine Peak - Mt. LeConte - Mt. Corcoran
This page last updated: Tue Jun 6 20:18:23 2017
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