The Win Chell Factor. There was none. No wind-chill factor that day, none atall. On a warm and windless Saturday that rivalled most summer weekends, the six of us from the PCS began our attempt of Mt Winchell in the Palisades.
The group consisted of Debbie Benham and Nancy Fitzsimmons (leader and co-leader, respectively) and Kelly Maas, Peter Davids, Ron Karpel and designated scribe, Arun Mahajan. Climbing seperately on the same weekend were four other PCS members, Dee and Rick Booth, Dot Riley and Jim Curl. It was as if the PCS had laid seige on Mt Winchell.
Starting at 9.30 from the Glacier Lodge parking lot, we were at Sam Mack Meadow at about 2.30 pm. We were ringed by the towering crest of the Palisades. One couldnt but feel decadently slothful lazing under the warm sun on the rocks in the middle of a brook that grugled nearby. We strongly cautioned Debbie against leading such hard trips, I mean, really! That evening we paid a call on Jim's party camped near by. They were cooking over a Webber barbecue that they had lugged upto camp. We even saw 2 pints of Cherry Garcia that they had brought up, packed in dry ice and all. A bottle of wine nearby really gave one the feeling of having landed in the middle of an Omar Khayyam quatrain.
At 6.30 am on Sunday morning we got rolling. We worked our way to the top of the ridge in front (s.west) via the rocks near the third snow patch on the left. We walked past the Sam Mack Lake and over boulder fields towards a moraine slope that had many loose boulders and from there onwards, the many-featured impressive bulk of Mt Winchell spurred us on. Some caution is needed on the moraine slopes. Our co-leader, Nancy, got a rather bad injury when some large rocks slid down and fell on the fingers of her hand.
Some more tedious climbing brought us to the base of the two chutes mentioned in Secor's description of the east arete route. We followed the right chute towards the arete's crest. As we were going up, we saw Jim Curl doing some free climbing on the arete itself. Kelly, from our party also joined him and while mere mortals like us worked our way upto the knife edge from the right gully, these two topped out the arete onto the knife edge with great ease. I found that it was safer to reach the knife edge by staying closer to the arete (right of the right gully, instead of the left). The knife edge is not very long and we stayed a little below it on the left and there are enough holds and the rock has good friction. Again, from the knife edge, one can continue up the gully towards the summit, but we traversed accross and went up the ridge instead. Kelly had nimbly gone ahead almost to the summit by following this ridge and he graciously came down towards us as we stood at the start of the ridge, to show us the precise steps he took to get on the top. Within minutes after this we all were basking in the pride that one gets after bagging a summit that needs so much hard work. There are a few exposed spots on that gully and care and concentration is needed. We had made it to the top in a little over 4 hrs from Sam Mack Meadow. We had great views of the glacier under N Palisade, and of Sill and Aggassiz nearby. But, this was a 2 day trip and we were all thinking of the long drive home, plus the summit had very little room and by now Jim's party of Dee, Dot and Rick had also come up, so at 11.15, we headed down, bidding them goodbye. Some careful down climbing on the exposed parts of the gully and again the tedious descend on the moraine to Sam Make Lake and the easy descend via the now-soft snowy slopes got us back to camp at 2.30 pm.
We packed and headed out at 3.15 and were back to the cars at 6 pm. The other party got down about 30 mins later. The trail from the meadow to the Glacier lodge is spectacular with the aspens having changed colour. The yellow leaves that carpet the trail for long stretches make it a pleasure to walk and the ache in the legs and the weight of the pack on the back seemed to vanish away in that riot of colour.
Normally one cannot arrange for the weather. But in this trip, our leader Debbie had done just that, and so to thank her, we stopped at a restaurant in Bishop and held up our glasses in toast to her, for having led another great PCS trip from the front, and for having nullified the Win-chell factor.