Mt Morrison, 12,268ft.
April 21, 2016 written by Rick Bauer
When you’re heading south on Hwy. 395, just about to Mammoth, there, through the tunnel of trees, appears a big black rock, Mt. Morrison, ominous and foreboding! It is called “The Eiger of the Sierra” for that view and you start getting butterflies in your stomach when you think that you’ll be trying to scale it in a short while.
Five SMC climbers met at the trailhead on a Wednesday afternoon to get a look at the start so that it would be easy to find early in the morning. We headed back to the trailhead parking lot to set up our car camp, an assortment of tents, cots and pickup bed sleeping arrangements. It was a bit breezy so we had to do our best to get out of the wind and we only had one neighbor, a truck/camper combo at the far end of the lot, whose occupant came over to check out our tents. We sat around in the early evening, talking climbing of course, and trying to not go to bed too early, but that soon came to an end about 8pm when a voice came from the camper “I hate to say this but…”, which was our cue to shut up and go to bed! Thus came a later comment from one of our climbers that that was one of his best night’s sleep! Ha! Well, back to the climb! Gearwise, we planned to go as light as possible. Just helmet, crampons, 2 axes, clothing, food and water.
We arose at 4am, ate, packed up camp, and drove the short distance to the trailhead on the south side of the lake. We were on the trail at 5am. We planned to ascend the east slope variation, so we took the trail to the west end of the lake and then took a left and headed south and up. We ascended about 1000ft to the large hanging valley which lies between Morrison’s north face and Mono Jim on its eastern flank. Here we put on our crampons and began the mile long ascent to the saddle at the head of the valley at about 11,000ft.
We were lucky with the weather! There wasn’t much wind when we reached the saddle and the sun felt good! From the saddle the route ascends a narrow ridge that leads to the steep east slope. At the top of the ridge, one of our climbers decided that he had done what he could do for the day and would rest in the sun, awaiting our return. The rest of us headed up steep snow and rock. The rock is very loose, so great care must be taken in not pulling a hold or kicking rocks on partners. Another one of our climbers had reached his limit on this rock and decided to return to the ridge and join the other climber resting in the sun. The other three climbers continued upward, each trying to find the easiest combination of rock and snow. The shin deep snow was a workout and much of it was on downward sloping slabs so extra care was needed. We three summited, the last a little before 1pm. It was well earned! We took some photos, signed the book, the last entry was from SMC climbers a couple of weeks earlier, and headed down. We weren’t sure of the best route. We didn’t want to down climb rock, so we took the snow chutes to the left, which turned out to be good, and with a combination of plunge stepping and face in down climbing we exited on the ridge, a short distance above our companions. We took a short break, relaxing in the sun, before making the long descent back down the hanging valley. There was a bit more post holing now and we were happy to get to the dry, loose talus, bushwhacking part of the descent. We were all happy to get back to the lake and the easy trail and finally to our cars at 430pm! We had a great climb, with beautiful weather, and great companionship, and Morrison isn’t so scary anymore!