The cast of characters: Bob Suzuki (fearless leader), Sam Wilkie (fearless coleader), Dee Booth, Nancy Fitzsimmons, Debbie Bulger, Joan Marshall, and Joe Budman
With the low snow year, we were able to drive most of the way on the road leading to Bloody on Saturday morning (directions can be found in Arun Mahajan's trip report on Bloody), saving several miles and about 1500 feet of walking. Thanks to Bob and Debbie for getting us up there! The snow began just after the switchback in the road, less than half a mile from the beginning of the trail (just before the crest of the road). We followed the somewhat faint trail in the direction of the saddle between Bloody and Laurel, crossing a few snowfields en route, still somewhat firm in the morning. From there, it was a straightforward, somewhat tedious, hike to the summit along the east ridge. At times you could choose to walk along some snow patches instead of the rock, but the scree is quite firm along this route. I had done Bloody last October via the north slope (just to the east of the couloir), and the east ridge is a much better route! Views from the top were impressive: Ritter/Banner, the minarets, Koip/Kuna off to the north, and Red Slate dominating to the southwest. The mountains around had just the right amount of snow on them to make the scenery especially nice. Some skiers had also hiked to the top, and after watching them make the first few turns, we started our descent down the ridge.
Back at the Laurel-Bloody saddle, Bob, Sam, Dee, and I (our first names have 3 letters) had extra energy to waste, so we hiked the 1,000 extra vertical feet up to Laurel. The scree/loose rock is only slightly miserable on the ascent, but very miserable on the descent despite the low angle(no sandy areas to cruise down). The view towards the Owens valley is better from Laurel than from Bloody, but Bloody has a better view of everything else. The only real reason to climb it became apparent when we descended and drove to the campground by Convict Lake for the night: Laurel is a very beautiful peak from this direction (never mind that its other side is a garbage dump!). Its other claim to fame is that the first properly belayed/roped climb in the sierra occurred here, on the southeast gully route (class 4).
Evening temperatures stayed well above freezing, and at 8:15 on Sunday morning the hike to Morrison began. Previous descriptions make the climb seem like a really miserable slog, but most of the route is on solid ground with great scenery. We started along the jeep road/trail near the fee area for the convict lake campground, and gained the ridge by following the paths of least resistance when the trail became too faint (this involves less bushwhacking than following the river gully all the way). Once atop the ridge, we followed a dirt road (the one that goes towards the gully, not up a hillside), until that merged with the stream. No water was flowing in the lower part of the creekbed and the footing was very solid. There were several large snowpatches along the creek that we climbed through, hiking next to the river (which had some water running in the upper part) when it wasn't snow-covered. The slope becomes more and more gradual as the river turns to the right, and nowhere is the sage/brush that you have to hike through at all annoying. Eventually we found ourselves at the small lake (on the map) from which the steeper climbing would begin. The view towards Mt. Baldwin and Morrison from this lake merited a rest stop, from which we chose our route of ascent. A use trail leads up through talus and then we hiked through some snowfields (soft enough to kick good steps by late morning), eventually regaining the use trail. The top ~1000 feet of the climb have loose rock, though we were able to avoid much of it by following snow or easy 3rd class ledges. The view from the top was again splendid, and we made the hike out in 2-2.5 hours. Seeing the impressive face of Mt. Morrison as we began the drive home was the final reward to another fun weekend in the Sierra.