Gardner Mountains

Katie in Gardner Meadows

Gardner Mountain (8,898 ft) and North Gardner Mountain (8,956 ft)

Eric and Katie

June 10-11, 2017

After climbing Reynolds Peak on Friday and eating dinner in Winthrop, we drove up to the Wolf Creek trailhead to spend the night. On Saturday we hiked up the easy, mostly-flat trail to Gardner Meadows, and we surprisingly encountered almost no snow. I was testing out a new pair of mountaineering boots for an upcoming trip to northern Canada, and they didn’t even give me any blisters.

As expected, we found an awesome packers campsite in the meadows, with a big fire ring and benches. It was only 2pm, but we decided to take a relaxing afternoon instead of pushing on to the summit. We gathered lots of firewood and had a big old fire for a few hours.

The next morning Katie decided to work on a book in camp while I went and tagged the summits. I beelined directly up to Gardner Mountain, occasionally climbing up icy snowslopes in crampons, and summitted just in time to get socked in with clouds.

From the summit I scrambled along the ridge over to North Gardner, then returned to camp. We packed up and hiked out, then drove back to Seattle for dinner.

Reynolds Peak

Reynolds Peak (8,512 ft)

Eric and Katie

June 9, 2017

The roads have finally melted out to most of the trailheads, and with the school semester just finished we drove out to the cascades Thursday night to camp at the Reynolds Creek trailhead. The trail was overgrown but snowfree until around 5000ft, where we cut left to cross Reynolds Creek. Unfortunately we had to take our shoes off and wade through the frigid water, but it wasn’t too bad.

On the other side we bushwhacked up the valley, and soon reached an open meadow cleared of trees by avalanches. We scrambled up the snowfields and eventually reached the base of the Reynolds Peak summit pyramid. A short and fun class 3 section led to the airy summit.

We watched snow squalls passing through the valleys below, but luckily were spared. After a short break we descended back down, and reached the car in time for burgers in Winthrop.

North Palisade

Eric on the exposed summit

North Palisade (14,242 ft) via U-Notch (~5.6)

June 2-3, 2017

Eric and Matthew

I flew down to San Jose Thursday night, and we were soon driving off into the mountains. After a quick dinner stop at Subway we reached the Eldorado National Forest around 11pm and found an excellent spot to camp at 5,000ft.

The next morning at 5:30am we drove up through an 8,000ft pass and saw spectacular snowy mountain scenery. Unfortunately the Tioga Pass road is still not open, so we had to drive farther north to get across the Sierras, adding at least an hour.

Matthew nearing snowline, with Temple Crag in the background

We dropped down to the eastern Sierra, and drove south to Bishop to pick up our permit. We were lucky enough to reserve a permit online in advance for the North Fork Big Pine area. Somehow now all the reservable permits for the whole summer for that area are already taken!

With permit in hand, we drove to the end of the road and parked at the Glacier Lodge trailhead. According to the rangers, this trail was one of the few in the area that was melted out of snow, since it faced south. We packed up and started hiking up the dusty trail by noon.

Nice campsite at 11,500ft

The snow started around 9,000ft, shortly after we passed a ranger cabin. It was interesting how the trail would either be completely dry, or covered in several feet of snow. Soon we reached first lake, and the trail was continuous snow. We were treated to excellent views of Temple Crag and the surrounding mountains. I’d done a trail crew hitch in this area back in 2005, and remembered building a few bridges and waterbars. Unfortunately they were all covered in snow, so I couldn’t check out how my work had been holding up.

We ascended a snowy ridge past Sam Mack Meadows and camped on a rare bare spot around 11,500ft with views of the top half of North Palisade in the distance.

Climbing up the U-Notch

The next morning we left camp shortly after dawn and hiked on firm snow up to the base of the U-notch, our planned ascent route.┬áThe U-notch route has a few pitches of mid 5th class climbing and isn’t the easiest route to the summit, but it is the closest approach, and had a trailhead that was plowed. There’s another 4th class route up the back side of North Palisade, but it has a much longer approach and the road was still not open.

The U-notch becomes a WI2 ice climb in late season, but luckily for us it was a pure snow-climb up moderately steep slopes. We took out the ice axes and I kicked steps up as Matthew followed.

We soon reached the notch, and got a good look at the rock climb ahead. I lead up the first pitch, a fun lower 5th class chimney-crack system to a good belay ledge. I was testing out a new pair of mountaineering boots, and they worked well for climbing. The next pitch was a little steeper, and I ran out of gear just below the ridge. In hindsight, I had enough gear to get to the top, but stopped to belay Matthew on a good ledge.

Climbing up the cracks

I then climbed the next 15ft to the ridge and belayed Matthew to a big snowy ledge. From here we simulclimbed on snow down the south side, across an easy bowl, and up some 3rd/4th class rock to near the summit. I built another anchor and Matthew belayed me up the last exposed bit to the summit block.

On the summit was a big snowy flat area, with the true top an exposed pointy block. We took turns belaying each other up the block for summit pictures.

The simulclimb down was a bit more exciting, and we soon made it to the upper rap anchor. It was pretty solid with 8 loops of webbing, and Matthew led the way down with me following. We soon reached the notch, and put the rope away. By now the snow was nice and slushy, and we easily plunge-stepped down the gully and back to camp, arriving at 3pm.

Matthew traversing the summit ridge

We quickly packed up and hiked back down to the car, passing a handful of groups who were camping out at the lakes. It looked like we were the only ones climbing that weekend. We had enough time to drive through Mammoth Lakes to check out our old trail crew apartments, then headed north to a good campsite at Obsidian Dome.

Sunday we drove all the way back to San Jose and I caught my flight back to Seattle, while Matthew packed up for his flight to Europe the next morning.