Mount Gardiner (N#82, T#16), Mount Cotter (N#83, T#17), and Mount Clarence King (N#84, T#18)
Nathan Day 64, Travis Day 8
A golden ray of early morning sunshine pierced through my tent. I looked at my watch, it read 6:30am. Oops, I had meant to wake up at 6am! Nathan called from his tent, "Travis? Are you awake?"
"I am!" I responded.
"Ready to go climb some mountains?" he asked.
Nathan says this every morning, to which I always respond with, "you know it!"
I heated up some water for Nathan's oatmeal and my coffee.
"Aye yae yae!" Nathan exclaimed. I peeked out of my tent to witness Nathan trying to force his feet into icy frozen shoes. At first I thought it amusing and then … Oh no, my shoes were also frozen! It had been a cold night, even my water had froze. So we did the only reasonable thing anybody would do in our situation and used the stove to melt our shoes. Soon enough we had shoes on feet, breakfast in tummies, and packs on backs and set off.
To get over to the south slope of Gardiner we descended a trail nearly all the way to Charlotte Dome.
Nathan and I ogled it for a few minutes and then began to ascend the southwest bowl of Gardiner.
It was long, steep, and snowy.
It took us quite a while to reach the summit ridge which we discovered was also covered in snow.
Now I don't mind climbing difficult technical terrain, however I am from the desert, and have hardly ever climbed snowy technical terrain.
At first I was a little skeptical but then figured it would be a good skill to learn and launched onto the ridge. It wasn't too bad, and dare I say a bit fun. However it was sloooow.
From the top we could see Cotter and Clarence King and how far we still had to go so we started traversing back.
We descended the northeast slope on steep snow. We stayed 40 feet apart and on opposite sides of the slope due to avalanche concern. We had already seen a few slides on similar aspects.
Eventually we reached the base of Cotter and ascended the east ridge. Nathan and I both agreed it was perhaps the most pleasant class 2 we had ever climbed.
It was later in the day than we had hoped when we finally reached the summit of Cotter. The north ridge of Cotter is a very impressive knife edged granite spine.
I had an urge to cast off onto it but our lack of time made that impossible. I think it was around 4pm, and we still had to climb Clarence King, so we quickly made our way over in our snowshoes. The climb up the to east ridge actually went faster than we had expected.
However from the crest of the ridge we got a glance at our descent. It was a steep rocky slope covered in snow, supposedly it went at class 2-3 but nonetheless looked rather intimidating from our perspective.
We decided to worry about it later and carried on to the summit.
At first the ridge was engaging 3rd class and higher up became 4th to low 5th. The rock was slick from melting ice and snow covering the holds. I ended up climbing to a precarious perch which was obviously the wrong way but downclimbing didn't seem like a good option either. I spotted a thin crack that traversed 5 feet over to right where I wanted to be. Ok, here goes. There were no good footholds so I just smeared my trail runners into the granite and traversed my hands along the seam. After a few moves I was able to swing my weight over to a foothold and press my weight up on it. Whew, I hope Nathan found a better way.
I looked down to see Nathan struggling his way up a 4 foot wide chimney. It didn't look difficult but his pack kept getting wedged in the rock and he kept cursing. After a long, tough day it was much needed comic relief … well, for me at least.
I looked back up at the two summit blocks as I waited for Nathan: holy heck it was intimidating, and quite exposed! Supposedly it goes at 5.4, but Nathan and I were puzzled for a solid 15 minutes until Nathan made some hairy moves to the top of the first block.
I traversed around the right side and found an offwidth. Now for the next summit block.
Nathan fully extended his body to reach the lip of the block, committed his weight, then stepped up on a foothold and mantled his way to the summit. I tried to follow but unfortunately couldn't reach the lip!
I was puzzled for about 5 minutes until Nathan offered his foot. What a pal! So I crimped this weird sloper hold, lasted my foot on an edge and grabbed his ankle to haul my way to the summit. Now keep in mind Nathan and I both onsight free solo 5.9 but this summit block had us stumped! Props to Bolton Brown for climbing this is in 1896!
It was a hard earned summit so we took a bit of time up there, even though the light was fading. A fog had rolled in around us and mingled with the twilight. It was one of the most beautiful summits I've had the pleasure to witness.
After a bit of mountain gawking we downclimbed the summit block and made our descent via Nathan's route. We were still a bit anxious about the descent, however this time around it didn't look as bad and decided to commit to it.
We took our time but never did it feel too unsafe.
And when we finally reached the bottom of the technical terrain, night descended upon us, good timing.
We strapped on our snowshoes and began the long journey to camp. We had 6 miles, 2 passes, and 2,000 feet of elevation gain between us and our warm sleeping bags. We eventually made it to the "trail" but it was completely covered in snow and didn't offer much. We were mostly navigating by phone GPS. Less than an hour in my headlamp died, so Nathan led the way and I tried my best to keep in his light's radius.
At this point we were both quite tired but I'd say our spirits were high. There is something about the ridiculousness of an epic that makes you feel like it's a dream. We kind of just laughed at our situation. At one point, as we were crossing a frozen lake, Nathan turned his headlamp off and we just stared at the stars. "When would you ever guess you'd be standing on a lake at 11pm in the middle of the Sierras in a snowy wonderland." I never would've guessed, but I'll never forget it.
Around midnight we reached the foot of our nemesis: Glen Pass. It boasted a 1500 foot climb but we weren't scared, if anything I felt ready for a battle. "I'm NOT going to die out here and I AM going to sleep in my warm tent tonight and YOU can't stop me!" I yelled to Glen. But Glen was a formidable opponent. Instead of cruiser trail, we faced deep powdery snow. Every step was a fight. I was bonking pretty bad and Nathan had just downed a caffeine goo so he was breaking trail, I owe him big-time for that.
At the time it did feel a bit desperate but at the same time it was so ridiculous. Picture two young men power screaming on the PCT at midnight, in snowshoes, as they battle a waist deep mountain pass named Glen. Glen of all names! None of the three mountains we had climbed in the last three hours were as difficult as Glen. It was pathetic, heroic, and downright surreal all at once.
Eventually we reached the top of the pass and stormed out way down to camp. We got there at about 1:30am, made our instant potato dinner, and fell fast asleep.
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Original post from Dan
Looks like Nathan and Travis had a pretty epic second day of their multi-day trip. Here is the inReach track:
They started from camp between Bullfrog Lake and Charlotte Lake before heading west and up to Mount Gardiner, dropping down into Gardiner Basin, ascending the south ridge of Cotter, descending the west ridge, contouring around, climbing to another col, then up the south ridge of Clarence King. The return to camp saw them drop into the Sixty Lake Basin (nightfall), traverse to the Rae Lakes, join the JMT, ascend Glen Pass, and, finally, return to camp.
Data will likely come in around 18 hours (arriving back at 1:30am), 10,000'+ vertical gain, and 20 miles. This includes the 4th class Gardiner summit ridge and 5th class Clarence King summit block.
Nathan sent this captioned picture shortly after starting out of Onion Valley yesterday:
The recent fresh snow plus what remains of the snow pack is probably making for slow, difficult travel. Here's what the region looked like a month ago from the summit of Dragon Peak: