Sun, Aug 8, 2004
Mt. McAdie had been in my sights for three years running, and is the only peak to make multiple appearances on the Challenge lists. In the previous two years I had sustained cumulative injury to one of my achilles and I had to drop out before reaching the climb of McAdie. Since none of the other participants in those years had climbed it either (nor even attempted it), I've been leaving it on successive year's lists. This year I had had some soreness to the ankles again (as well as other places), but not bad enough to make me quit, particularly since I was very much wanting to go after this Mountaineers Peak not far from Mt. Whitney.
We had quite a gathering of Challenge participants at the Pizza Factory in Lone Pine the previous evening. The most interesting character at dinner was Heyning Cheng who seemed to be both amusing and annoying at the same time. He tended to dominate the conversation at dinner with an unending line of questions relating to both the upcoming climb of McAdie, but also a dozen other peaks as well. Many of the questions were directed at me which I tried to answer as best I could, but quite often I had no way of answering questions about peaks I had never climbed before, including McAdie. "How hard is the class 3?" was a typical question. Not having climbed it, nor having met anyone who'd climbed it, I could only report what the trip reports said. And he had them all in front of him, photocopied and bound together, and it was obvious he'd scrutinized them far better than I or anyone else had. Whether his endless quest for more infomation was driven by insecurity or just to be as well-informed as possible was hard to say, but it seemed to be some combination of these two. Most of us, myself included, were happy with a simple "class 3" rating and leave it until we actually climbed the peak to judge for ourselves. Heyning is also a good deal more safety conscious than myself, and where I have few qualms about soloing most of the peaks in the range, Heyning prefers the safety of numbers when the climbing level reaches class 3. This is an admirable trait really, and will undoubtedly improve the odds of his survival over my own. There were a limited number of us heading to McAdie in the morning, and with Heyning being the slowest his concern about being left behind was a very real one. The solution as I saw it was for him to start earlier in the morning so that he could meet us at Arc Pass. From that point we would not climb ahead of him, and would all go up and down the route together. Knowing our pace and his own, along with the route distances for the hike, it was not difficult to calculate that he would need to start at 5a or possibly earlier if the rest of us started at 6a. Many more questions along this line followed, and I gave what I believed were very accurate times for how long it would take to reach the various points - Consultation Lake, Arc Pass, and the summit. The others in the group heading to McAdie included Michael and Michelle besides myself. Michelle would probably also need to start early if we were to reach Arc Pass together, but she seemed disinclined to do so and not so concerned about climbing it solo.
The next morning, there were six of us at the Whitney trailhead. Jim, Peter, Vanessa, and Wayne headed up at 6a heading for Mt. Muir. Michael and I followed them a few minutes later, the sun just having risen on the Sierra crest far ahead of us. Heyning we figured started early, and we guessed Michelle was either getting a late start or succumbed to her nagging injury again. We passed Jim and the others in short order, then spotted Heyning ahead on some switchbacks after 20 minutes on the trail. So after all the questioning and calculating, Heyning didn't start at 5a, but rather at 5:45a, and I was at a loss to understand why. He spotted me as well from above and picked up his pace considerably now, because it was another hour before I finally caught up and passed him shortly before Bighorn Park.
There was the usual weekend crowds on the trail, but it was a fine day and I enjoyed the hike a good deal. Mostly I hiked alone, Michael a few minutes behind me, and not a word passed between us since we'd started out. Shortly before Trail Camp I left the trail and climbed down a hundred feet and over to the outlet of Consultation Lake which I reached just after 8a. Here was a grand view of McAdie's Northeast Face, a rugged piece of granite rising up to point in the sky. This is probably one of the peak's better vantage points since from other directions it doesn't quite have the same impressive outline. I filled my water bottles at the lake's edge, then continued around the east side of the lake without waiting for Michael - I figured we'd meet up again at Arc Pass where the views were better and the sun would be shining - a good resting spot.
I started diagonally up some boulders on the southeast side of the lake, but they weren't much fun - loose in places and I had to be very careful. The whole area between the lake and Arc Pass is similarly crappy and I looked around for ways to make the best of it. I hit upon a shallow gully to my right that still held some snow. The snow was not too steep though icy, but certainly easier than the boulder field alternative. I took the snow as far as I could and then aimed for a ramp running diagonally up and to the right at the headwall before Arc Pass. I thought this might prove a key to getting up to the pass, but it wasn't anything special - in fact it may have had more sandy material than elsewhere. The others headed up well to the left of this ramp and in hindsight it was probably the more efficient route. Halfway up the ramp I noticed not one but two climbers on the leftside route. I recognized Michael further down about 5 minutes behind, but this other climber was about level with me to the left by about a hundred yards. It took a few minutes before it dawned on me that it was Michelle, and we waved to each other when we had each other's attention. I reached Arc Pass just after 9a just as Michael caught up to Michelle, and some 15 minutes later the three of us were together at the pass.
It had been a very nice surprise to find Michelle up here with us. She hadn't sounded keen on getting an early start, but had ended up starting from the trailhead at 5:30a. Though she had been on most of the Challenges so far, Michael and I hadn't had any opportunity to climb with her. Boyfriend Tom had left a few days earlier, and her hiking buddy since then had been Joe, but Joe had left in turn the previous day. While She and Tom were the most skilled climbers of the all this week's participants, they weren't as fast as those of us out front, so we rarely saw her after the first half hour in the morning. With the long approach over, we took a short break and then started up towards the middle summit from Arc Pass. The route grows steep quickly and though mostly class 2, the altitude had the effect of making us somewhat lethargic. After 30 minutes we were near the middle summit and the beginning of the enjoyable class 3 section which revived our spirits. Following Secor's directions, we located the tunnel formed by a leaning slab, passed through it, then right, up and then down a class 3 chimney, where we were then looking down on the notch between the middle and higher north summit. We noted the class 2 chute rising up from Crabtree Pass to the west, probably the technically easiest route to the north summit. With Michael in front and Michele behind me, we carefully downclimbed the northwest side of the middle summit to just below the notch, then climbed into and across the notch to the base of the south side of the north summit. At this point we deviated from Secor's description that says to traverse around the southwest side of the north summit and climb from the west side. Though we noted several ducks heading off in that direction, we all were intrigued by the more direct route up the South Face from the notch. Without much discussion, we picked out differing lines and had a most enjoyable climb for about a hundred feet of good class 3-4 rock before we eased onto the summit rocks at 10:15a. For an unusually lengthy route description, we'd found the route from Arc Pass to be pretty straightforward and great fun.
Flanked by Whitney to the north and Langley to the South, McAdie appears to be the short man among the giants, but the views were nice all the same. Our route to Irvine from Arc Pass was plain enough to the east, though we couldn't see what was on the east side of the crest once we got to the saddle between Irvine and Mallory. We stayed on the summit some 20 minutes to rest and have a snack, then headed down. We enjoyed the South Face so much we returned by that same route, then paused at the notch to consider an alternate route down the east side of the notch. This was mostly my doing, as I always enjoy a varying descent route, and it seemed a worthwhile endevour to see if we could make a more direct descent to Arc Pass. Our first obstacle was a huge chockstone that straddles the notch, hanging over some on the east side. This we bypassed with some spicy downclimbing on the north side, then down into the steep, loose chute. The chute wasn't terribly dangerous aside from stuff we were prone to knock down on each other, so after about 80-90ft of it we started traversing out of the chute to our right as we headed back to Arc Pass. The alternate route was successful (class 3), but it would be interesting to see in the future if we couldn't ascend or descend the chute the entire distance (from Irvine, the entire chute appears to be class 2-3).
We were back at Arc Pass at 11a where we found Heyning had been waiting a short while. He asked us more questions about the route, and this time we had information to give him, but he didn't seem interested in tackling it alone despite our assurances that it was easier than we'd expected. Knowing the answer already, he asked anyway if one of us was interested in going back to McAdie. Michelle announced that she was heading back down Arc Pass. Michael and I said we were on our way to Irvine and invited Heyning to tag along. "How difficult is it?" he asked in typical fashion. "Class 2" we replied. Heyning accepted the invitation. We bid Michelle good-bye, and started up the talus slope east of Arc Pass. From McAdie it looked like there were two main chutes up this side to the ridgeline between Irvine and Mallory, with a rocky arete running up the middle between them. The left chute would require some downclimbing, so the easiest route from the pass seemed to be up the right chute. We started up that way, but the tediousness of the boulderhopping was getting to me so I worked my way up the arete to the left. Michael and Heyning stayed the course up the chute to the right. I found the climbing more enjoyable though probably slower, climbing over large blocks and boulders. I eventually reached an impasse along the arete and had to traverse right into the chute. I found Michael not far below me in the chute, Heyning presumeably out of sight further down. We reached the top of the chute at 11:30a and were treated to a fine view of Lone Pine Peak on the other side. Looking back down the west side we saw no sign of Heyning yet, and so we waited another 10 minutes. Not sure if he was still climbing or turned around, we headed off on the traverse along the southeast side of the ridge heading for Irvine's summit. Periodically we would turn to look for Heyning, but we never saw him reach the saddle. The traverse had unexceptional climbing, mostly tedious sidehilling across much talus. There was some good scrambling near the very summit, but hardly enough to recommend the route (I don't think Irvine has any routes to recommend it frankly).
We reached the summit shortly before noon, less than an hour after leaving Arc Pass. We took another break, photographed McAdie from this impressive vantage, and perused the summit register. The most humorous item was a photocopy of the Union Jack that had a tribute to Mallory and Irvine to commemorate the 75th anniversary of their disappearance. Funny thing was, the author wrote Andrew Hillary, and a later climber had crossed out Hillary and correctly penciled in Irvine's name. It was strange to me how the author, going out of his way to provide this tribute, could get the name of Irvine wrong while he was climbing the mountain named after him. After another 15 minutes and still no sign of Heyning (though we had a clean view all the way back to the saddle), we decided it was time to head down. Michael was all for an alternative and possibly quicker route down, so I had no trouble talking him into a descent off the Northeast Ridge. The scrambling was surprisingly good right along the ridgeline, quite spicy in a few places (one could easily avoid these class 3-4 sections by diverting off the ridge a short ways). After some 300 yards or so the ridgeline split. The east branch could be followed down class 2 slopes to Meysan Lake, but this didn't sound too interesting owing to the extra elevation we'd have to climb at the end back up to the Whitney TH. Instead, we followed the northwest branch heading down towards Consultation Lake, a drop of more than 1,500ft. The good scrambling soon ended as did our ridge, and we found ourselves looking down a huge chute running almost 1,500ft down to the lake. We picked our way down much talus, much of it distastefully loose. We kept hoping we'd get to some sandy sections to allow for a quicker descent, but it was only in the last few hundred feet of elevation that we could manage to do so.
We were down at Consultation Lake by 1p where we got a much needed recharge of our water bottles. We hadn't had any water sources in the previous 5hrs since we were last at this same lake and were pretty much bone dry. We traversed around to the north side of the lake and followed the drainage down (good scrambling here) to where it met the Whitney Trail above Mirror Lake. Down through the myriad of Whitney hikers we cruised, returning to Whitney Portal at 2:40p. I had started to have some problem with my achilles on the hike back again, so when we got back to Lone Pine I started icing it right after my shower. This seemed to do it a world of good, and by the time we headed off to dinner a few hours later it was feeling OK again. Later we found that Heyning had turned around before reaching the saddle, evidently not finding the class 2 way, or not thinking it class 2 to begin with. That was the last day for both Michael and Heyning as well as for the crowd that had climbed Mt. Muir. The last day would be lonelier with only a few remaining, but I was glad to have a chance at getting all ten Challenge peaks for the first time in four years.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. McAdie - Mt. Irvine
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