Mt. Mendenhall P300 PD
Virginia Peak P500

Aug 8, 2016

With: Scott Barnes
Iris Ma
Patrick O'Neill
Eric Su
Sean O'Rourke
Michael Graupe
Rob Houghton
Chris Henry
Jonathan Mason
Sean Reedy
Bob Pickering
Loren Davis

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


We were in the Mammoth Lakes area for the 4th day of the Sierra Challenge, heading to unofficially named Mt. Mendenhall starting out of Convict Lake. The 12,260-foot peak is located on the Sierra Crest about 2mi NW of Red Slate Mtn. It was expected to be a medium-difficulty day, middle of the road sort of stuff for the Sierra Challenge. I hoped to visit nearby Virginia Peak as a bonus while others had far more ambitious plans.

We had a group of 15 at Convict Lake just before sunrise at 6a, though there were more than that in total. Some were late getting to the trailhead while others had other objectives, including Mts. Hilgard and Fiske out of other trailheads. Three of our group planned no summit at all, choosing instead to try their luck fishing in Lake Dorothy and Mildred Lake along the way. As we started off, the sun hit first upon Mt. Morrison to the south, then gradually spread down from the summit of Laurel Mtn ahead of us on the trail. After an hour hiking we came to the crux of the trail work, the crossing of Convict Creek where the bridge was washed out more than a decade earlier. The water levels were a bit lower than I remembered from the last time the Challenge hiked here, making the crossing an easier affair without the treachery that soaked several participants. I believe Bob Pickering was the only one to take a swim this time, slipping on a rock during the effort. Ironically, he had hiked in the day before to check this out because he was concerned about it, having no trouble crossing both ways on the practice run.

Sean O. had turned off to climb Laurel's NE Gully route and somehow I found myself in the front with Mason after the crossing. We continued up to Mildred Lake where we made two mistakes. The first was in continuing south past the lake towards Red Slate, not paying attention and missing a turn. The second mistake was in trying to follow the trail as depicted on the topo map going around the south side of the lake before climbing up towards Lake Dorothy. Three of us wallowed in swampy turf here, trying to get over Convict Creek without taking our boots off. The other two went for a partial boot soaking to speed up the process while I got behind in taking my boots off to cross knee-deep water to the other side. While all this was going on we could see others begin the ascent up the opposing slope towards Dorothy - they had apparently noticed a turn in the trail which has now been rerouted to go around the north side of the lake without any swamp to deal with.

With a few others, I reached Lake Dorothy by 8:30a. The lake is quite large and takes half an hour to get from one side to the other, lengthwise. The trail follows closely along the eastern shore before dissolving by the time one reaches the south end of the lake. There is still 1.2mi to reach Mendenhall, but the terrain is a little deceptive as we pointed out one wrong peak after another before finally noting our summit's true location tucked back at the end of a high valley. As the others stopped to take a break, I found myself solo heading up from the lake. The cross-country went through some pretty terrain with small, hidden meadows and often grassy slopes leading higher into the valley. The last part of the valley is a steep climb up to Pretty Pass on the north side of Mendenhall. One can hike to the pass before turning south towards the peak, or like I did, traverse left before reaching the pass to bypass a few minor pinnacles. There is some class 3 in places before reaching the summit, which conflicts with David Brower's FA account from 1934 of finding the route to be class 2. At the bottom of a narrow chute just below the summit I crossed paths with Loren who was already on his way down. He's one of these very fast guys like Sean and Eric and looked almost bored with the effort to Mendenhall. He planned to make a larger loop of the day by taking in the Baldwin to White Fang to Morrison Traverse (he ended up doing just White Fang before taking off to do some climbing with friends in the following days).

Eric Su had gotten to the summit second, followed closely by Rob H. They were both hanging out there when I arrived around 10:20am. A register held some loose pages dating back to 1995 with more activity picking up in the past few years. Matthew Holliman had been here in 2014, to my surprise. Eric decided to head off to the southwest for the start of a 5-peak bonus run around Lake Virginia. He had been talking this up over the past few days but did not get anyone else excited about it. After he left, Rob and I talked about heading to the highest of these, unofficially named Virginia Peak. Neither of us felt like going over there and back by ourselves, but with company it seemed like more fun. So we followed Eric down to the broad saddle between the two, before scrambling lots of class 2 rock up to the summit about 4/5mi to the southwest. Eric was sitting on the western edge of Virginia Peak (which is about 60ft higher than Mendenhall), taking in the sublime views he found looking west. Virginia had a much more interesting register, dating to the 1980s and comprising 34 pages of entries. We were only about 15min at the bonus peak before starting back, leaving Eric to the more involved circuit. On our way back to Mendenhall we came across first Scott and then Michael, who also though Virginia to be worth a visit. As we were reclimbing Mendenhall, Rob powered ahead of me while I investigated the steep northwest side of the peak to see if I could manage to traverse across to Pretty Pass without going all the way back to the summit. Along the way I called out to Sean O. who I spied coming up from Franklin Lake to the north after traversing across Bloody Mtn. Knowing he was on his way to Mendenhall's summit, I didn't give him time to catch up before continuing to look for a bypass below the summit. With some short sections of class 3 scrambling I managed to find an alternate way into the same steep chute where I'd met Loren earlier. I then continued down fairly close to the ascent route I'd used a few hours earlier.

I was back to Lake Dorothy by 1p, running into the trio of Kimberly (wife of participant Matt A.), brother Jim and Matt Y. Kimberly was hanging out at the lake waiting for her husband to return while Jim had finished up fishing with Evan and Don, expecting our return at any time. Matt Y. had given up on the summit today and was videotaping folks as he came across them. On my way down to Mildred Lake, Sean O. came jogging past me. Despite his much longer loop going over Laurel, Bloody and another unnamed peak, he would beat me back by almost half an hour - he was on form today. I found the convenient bridge going over the outlet of Mildred Lake that I'd missed in the morning, continuing down the trail along Convict Creek and the colorful walls that form the west side of Mt. Baldwin. As I neared Convict Lake I met up with Evan, Don and David P. The first two had been fishing with Jim and reported an outstanding day. David had turned back from the summit at Pretty Pass, not liking the class 3 traverse to reach Mendenhall. After following behind them for a short distance, they eventually pulled over to let me pass by. It was 3p by the time I returned to Convict Lake, taking just over 9hrs on the day.

Jersey Strategy: Loren ended up taking the stage win today, beating Sean O. back by more than an hour, though we didn't know until the next day because Loren never reported in before leaving us to join his friends elsewhere in the Sierra. Scott Barnes continued his impressive run at the Polka Dot Jersey, adding three bonus peaks (Virginia, Red Slate, and an unnamed peak between the latter and Mendenhall) to bring his totals to 20 peaks in the first four days. His next closest competitor was Eric with 15.

Matt's Video


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