Finding my Mojo on Mendel

On Wednesday I was finally feeling re-charged, and a little antsy, so I made plans to do something big.  Something alpine.  And something solo.  Inspired by Dan and Jeanine Patitucci's alpine-scramble-runs, I wanted something with some distance too.  No road-side alpinism for this project.  At the Black Sheep that morning I described my idea as finding my motivation again.  "You're finding your mojo!" a friend shot back.

Sunrise near Upper Lamarck Lake
So yesterday I got up at 4am, made coffee, and headed out the door.  I had a big circuit planned.  Starting at North Lake, I wanted to hike up and over Lamarck Col, climb the NE Buttress of Mt Mendel, descend the East Face, hike over to the neighboring Mt Darwin and climb up the North Ridge, down the North Face, then hike back up and over Lamarck Col and back to the car.  No doubt, this was an ambitious plan, but my most pessimistic time plan thought it could be done in 16 hours.  I stuck a note on the board at my Bishop home detailing my route and finishing with, "Please don't panic until midnight!"

Mt Darwin and Mt Mendel from Lamarck Col
Leaving the car at North Lake (9275'), it was really hard to get warmed up, despite the excellent temperatures and fantastic trail.  I finally stopped for "breakfast" atop the Upper Lamarck Lake moraine, and started to feel a rythm as I walked along the high alpine plateau to Lamarck Col (12,880').  As I descended, I even started to run the few sandy stretches that would allow for it.  Still, by the time tagged the bottom of the valley and climbed back up the other side to Mt. Mendel, I was an hour behind my time plan.  My chosen route up Mt Mendel, the Northeast Buttress, climbs a featured chute to the ridge, then follows the ridge directly to the summit.  It was longer than my mental picture in my head, and the climbing more sustained than I expected.  It was old school third class too:  big ledges, big holds, BIG exposure.

The Sierra Club left a new register
It was 1:40pm when I finally reached the summit, meaning I was 1:40 behind in my time plan.  So I wrote off climbing Darwin, and figured I would just climb down the East Face as planned and hike out.  I was reading Secor description of my descent route and trying to put things in reverse, since the description was written as a climb:

"East Face.  Class 3.  From the western edge of the Darwin Glacier, climb a gully that rises diagonally to the right.  Take the second ramp system that leads to the left to a chute.  Climb the chute, which eventually widens into a sandy gully, leading to the summit headwall.  At the base of the headwall, go to the right and climb the ridge (forming the right side of the chute) to some large blocks.  Work around the blocks to the right, passing through a notch.  Descend slightly and continue up to a 15-foot wall.  Turn left and pass through a keyhole that leads up to the summit plateau, and walk to the summit."

The NE Ridge, as seen from the East
L-R | Summit, 3rd Tower, 2nd Tower, 1st Tower,
Notch Tower, the Gendarme
The lowest point on the ridge is the 1st Tower-2nd Tower notch
Of course, these are my own given names
Simple, right? Of course not. I was completely unable to find anything that lead to a keyhole. I did find an obvious chute entrance - it even had a cairn and obvious foot travel - but it was on the wrong end of the summit headwall. But since it was the best descent I found, I went for it. Mistake. Better than halfway down I found my self scrambling around the top of a 200' tall headwall, littered with rappel anchors from the fortunate souls who had come before me. I call them fortunate because they had the harnesses, ropes, and hardware to rappel. I expected to solo a simple 3rd class route and had brought none of that. So I finally gave up the ghost, climbed back up, and looked for an alternative route down.

Sunset on Mt Mendel's West Summit
A Sierra Club team had summited just a few days before me, and in the register wrote about a first ascent on the east face that topped out just 30' from the summit. I took a look over the edge, and sure enough, I could see footsteps leading down. Couldn't be any worse, I thought to myself, and started following them down. The route, which I'm going to call the East Chute, was almost entirely 2nd-class-sandy-chute scrambling. The sole exception was the last 30 feet or so to the summit plateau. So dead easy that I can't believe it hadn't been traveled over before. And since climbing has been documented regularly in the Sierra Nevada since the 1920's, I'm guessing that what this team had done is re-discovered a climb. Either way, it was good work and I found myself down without too much trouble, except now I was almost 4 hours behind my original time plan and needed to start moving out of there.
I reached Lamarck Col again at 7:30pm, and at 8:00pm emailed my friends, "Coming down lamarck col now. all is good. 2 or 2.5 hrs to car. i.ll call @ home." I made it to the car right at 10:30pm, pulled my shoes off my sore feet, and started driving. 17 hours never felt so good before.

Summary | The Northeast Buttress (3rd class, 2700') of Mt Mendel (13,720'), solo. Approximately 16 miles round trip, 6720' elevation climbed and descended, 16.5 hours.

Note on the climb's length: I develop a rough estimate of an alpine climb's length by using National Geographic Topo or Google Earth to determine the linear distance of a route, aka as the crow flies, and my own notes to determine the elevation gain. Then I simply plug those numbers into Pythagorean's Theorem to get the distance. In this case the route climbed 1320' in 2322' of distance, therefore the route was approximately 2700' long. - Chris