Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2004 8:18 pm Posts: 270 Location: Bishop, Ca
Mt Mendel Right Couloir - attempt #2
Last year I made an attempt on this one, but from Lamarck Col I could see that the top 300 feet had been stripped by the wind and was snow free. So I didn't even bother going any further.
But this year the wind has been blowing from the right direction, so I decided to make a real attempt this weekend.
On Saturday afternoon I hiked in and set up a quick camp in the dark in Darwin Canyon. Sunday morning I woke up to a few inches of fresh snow and unsettled weather. So I skied around a little bit and tried to get a better look at the couloir.
Looking at it from the bottom, it appeared to be filled with snow all the way to the top and it looked like the ice bulge was covered.
It snowed a few more inches throughout the day, and I woke up to sunny skies on Monday.
Because of the view I got the day before I decided to leave the rope at camp. After a leisurely breakfast I packed up and headed out. Getting up the apron was fairly easy and I was able to skin the majority of it, then bootpack the last little bit to the bottom of the couloir.
Entering the couloir the angle changes drastically, and it doesn't let up. That thing is steep! But the snow was soft enough to kick steps comfortably, and there was only one short section where I found solid ice under the snow. Other than the occasional rocky stretch it was fairly smooth sailing up the majority of it, despite the fact that it was about 10 degrees steeper than any snow chute I'd ever climbed before. After maintaining an incredibly steep angle, the top of the couloir just gets steeper. I passed a little rocky section and found myself about 50 feet from the notch. I was so close I could taste it!
The top was right there in front of me. So I took another step up and found more rocks just a few inches under the fresh snow. The slope in my face was about 60+ degrees, with unconsolidated snow that was rarely more than 18 inches deep. Everywhere I put in my axe I would hit a rock. I managed to do some creative snow packing and swam a few steps higher, only to find even scarier conditions.
Upward progress was practically impossible, and my rope was back in the tent. There was no way I was going any higher. Of course it was also impossible to get my snowboard on my feet at this point. So I was forced to downclimb about 50 feet to get below the last rock bulge, where I managed to dig/stomp out a small platform and buckle in. Suddenly things felt 10 times safer.
So, with my tail between my legs, I dropped in.
Once out of the couloir I realized that it was snowing and windy. With more snow in the forecast I decided it would be best to get back to my house. So I packed up camp and climbed back over Lamarck Col. Maybe next year....
RIGHT ON DAN! That thing looks ridiculous from within.
I was just about to drop you a note to see if you'd ventured back there like you mentioned last week. Then I see this series of pictures....holy shit....I'm stoked for ya!
Strong work on riding the Mendel Couloir, Dan. Great shots of the couloir from your camp. That is especially cool of you to take some fotos while coming down the couloir! Did you encounter the ice bulge while climbing or riding? Nice style in going ropeless. Pure.
Oh yes, I am still riding 2 planks in the backcountry yet hope its still cool to post on this site!
I check this site for beta and to get stoked about trips so I thought it would only be right to chime in here and there. When I advance a bit and start to ride a board Ill post a trip report!
In case not everyone is up on their ski mountaineering history.....The Mendel has only been skied by three folks - Chris Landry in 1980(?) and Andrew McLean and Mark Holbrook in 1998. Pretty good company, eh?
BCD repeated a very covetted line that has only been skied twice (as far as I know) by guys who've been made famous for their ski mountaineering accomplishments.
And if you read McLean's description, he skied it from about the same place as BCD. So I don't think this should be called an attempt....either that or McLean and Holbrook only "attempted" the line also.
Over a four day weekend, Mark Holbrook and I flew from SLC down to Reno, drove to Bishop, CA and spent three days skiing around the Evolution Range in the Sierras. The main attraction was the Right Mendel Couloir (highly recommended by many sadistic friends), but we ended up having a wide variety of excellent conditions throughout the trip.
We started with an overnight stay at Allan Bard's house, then spent most of the next day slogging in to the base of the peaks. The conditions perfectly conspired to gloam huge wads of snow onto our skins (despite siliconing them before hand) which made the 6-8 mile approach especially soul searching. Adding to that was our unfamiliarity with the area, which made for lots of map reading, GPS consulting and generally going taking a less than optimal line to the basin. One really great aspect about approaching Mt. Mendel from Lamark Col is that you literally don't see it until the last few feet of climbing, then suddenly it fills your entire view. It's a stunning and intimidating way to get started!
After a night of camping, we set out through some boot-top deep recrystalized powder and made our way into the Mt. Mendel cirque. The initial apron was about 800' of creamy powder that topped out at about 45 degrees. This lead into the actual chute, which was/is a narrow slot that splits a huge rock face. This descent was first done 20 years ago by Chris Landry and we figured that with the massive snowpack California was having this year, it would be in as good a shape as ever. The couloir was about 750' of 50-55 degree snow magically adhering to green ice. I don't know why it stuck, but as long as it did, that was all that mattered. We ended up climbing most of it with self arrest grips, but about 2/3 of the way up ran into some ice and ended up using ice tools. The final 100' to the summit was blocked with rocks and loose snow, so we dug a little launch platform, placed an anchor to keep from falling off while putting our skis on and stepped into our AT gear. Knowing that green ice and rocks lurked inches below the smooth covering of powder made the first turns especially sporty. About halfway down the couloir we hung a rope over a 50' section of exposed ice and used it for a hand line until we were back into deeper snow. The normal crux of the climbing route, an ice bulge near the mouth of the couloir, was completely filled in with snow and we were able to make linked turns past the fixed anchors. After skiing about half of the lower apron in tight little turns, I opened it up and made big sweepers to the bottom to try and carry some speed up to the top of a small knoll. Looking back to see if Mark was following suit, I saw him make a few turns, then straight shot the lower third of the bowl, leaving a streaming plume of snow hanging in the air as he flew by me at the base - an excellent finish to a wild run!
After this, we hiked up a beautiful little couloir to the viewers far right of the Mendel and had a great 1,000' shot as the sun started to set. After another night of camping, we woke up, skinned, booted and groaned our way to the top of Mt. Darwin and had an incredible 2,000' shot of creamy powder back to the tent.
Later that day we packed up, climbed back out over Lamark Col and had a speedy 6 mile corn ride all the way back down to North Lake. Of course, as luck would have it, they had opened the road since we started up a few days earlier, so we had an extra mile or so of downhill poling in mush to get back to our car.
Joined: Fri Nov 19, 2004 8:41 pm Posts: 1606 Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Um, yeah... and those descents were not continuous/ropeless (Landry downclimbed the ice bulge; McLean/Holbrook sideslipped it with a hand line). AFAIK there has never been a descent from the very top, has there (did Landry drop from the very top)? So this sounds to me like the first recorded snowboard (let alone splitboard) descent, and the furthest continuous descent completely ropeless.
Dan, you are the man! Way to go. Also totally consistent with all the other amazing descents you post about in such a matter of fact, no big deal manner... it's easy to forget that almost every one of those descents is way beyond what most of us could even consider. Thanks for the stoke and an ideal to strive for.