Friday, July 8, 2011

Alpine Ice in the Range of Light

"Those your ice axes?" The ranger gave me a boggled look through the dusty air of Camp 4. Yosemite's heat dripped from my sweaty forehead as I claimed my 6 by 6 foot patch of beaten earth. "Yep," I replied. "I'm hoping to explore the many different sides of Sierra over the next few weeks." The lady in green furrowed her brow and moved on to bother someone else. Just as I was reflecting on the dire Yosemite scene, a mangy squirrel ran off with one of my Powerbars. I just got here and I was already dreaming of granite peaks shrouded in the peace of nature. Kyle and I had found beauty high on Half Dome, but the ugliness of the Ditch stabbed at me the minute he left me alone in the mayhem of Yosemite Village.

Getting the kit ready at Mike's house

The next few days I worked my way towards Mt. Mendal, a peak accessed from Bishop, CA. I met Mike Collins at the Tioga cliff along the way and he graciously voulenteered his old Toyota Camery to take me up the twisting road to the Lamark Lakes trailhead. Big thanks Mike!

Ready to have some fun in a new mountain range!

Mt. Mendal is one of California's most classy north faces, two prominent ice lines snaking through steep shattered granite. I had brought my tools south intent on soloing the shadowed wall.

Day one I approached the peak through snow laden cols pinched by lunar landscapes of orange boulders. The pristine nature of the high Sierra was inspiring and I spent the evening watching the sinking sun play a light show on my route.

Mt. Mendal

A crisp, windy weather system lingered to my west the next morning as I cramponed towards Mendal. The wind pushed me around on the small glacier below the face. I relished the interesting weather and the day's alpine feel.

Time to climb!

Crossing the schrund I punched my way up the initial neve apron, aiming for the right coulior, California's classic path of alpine ice. For the next 800 feet I made my way through a variety of conditions. Neve gave way to unconsolidated snow over rock. Thankfully, water ice clogged the mixed finish. The climbing in this upper section was beyond enjoyable. Stemming up blocky rock with my tools securly in a grey runnel of ice was heavenly. A funky cornice capping the gash brought me back to reality as I stemmed carefully between snow and stone.

Cruising in the lower coulior

I drew a cold breath, scratched my frontpoints into asmall rock edge and mantled into a wind swept notch. Verglassed rock climbing on the south side brought me to the rime choked high point as thunderheads raced over my head. I scrambled down loose terrain toward the big snowfield that separated me from my tent. The way was not as straight forward as I'd hoped and the steep pebble strewn ledge systems forced me into my rock shoes. An old pin lashed to a faded white sling sat at the brink of the final step. I lowered myself off the ledge, found my feet and then the edge of the snow.


A festival of glissading shot me down towards Bishop only a few hours ahead of the snowy system's front teeth. Sipping beer in Mike's garden I savored my first high Sierra climb as the Range of Light faded into the darkness of storm. The air was heavy with moisture and wind cool like blue glaciers. I let the soothing nature wash over me and then I drained the bottle.

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