Sometime last spring Charles Schafer asked me if I was interested in climbing McAdie, LeConte and Corcoran. I had already climbed McAdie and LeConte so I hemmed and hawed but Charles suggested the Southwest Ridge route on LeConte which is rated 5.6. I decided to go. This trip report describes the various "peculiarities" associated with climbing these three peaks in one trip.
Charles original intent was to obtain a permit for the South Fork of Lone Pine Creek and climb McAdie via Arc Pass and then and drop down to Iridescent Lake for the ascent of Corcoran and LeConte. This plan ran afoul of the Whitney permit system so Charles settled for a permit that allowed us access to Iridescent Lake via New Army Pass. On August 24, 2001, Charles Schafer and I set out from the Cottonwood Trail Head off of the Horseshoe Meadow road.
We loaded up the packs and headed off. We passed Golden Trout Camp, several branches in the trail, and many lakes. We then started up New Army Pass. Huff, puff, pant, pant up the east side we went. Huff, puff, pant, pant down the west side we went. New Army Pass is the sun's anvil. It is drier than Mars on both sides of this pass but especially the west side. Buzzards don't even go there. We chugged on down to a junction at the bottom of the pass and the little sign at the junction had a note taped on it from the local ranger. "Mama bear and cub operating in this area" was the general gist of this note. Great. We headed on over to Soldier Lake and put down our packs to contemplate our situation. It was getting late and our progress wasn't quite good enough. We had hoped to get all the way in to Sky Blue Lake but the day was wearing thin. Besides, the map indicated we needed to drop down about 400 feet in order to pick up Rock Creek where hopefully there was a trail. Now a bear was running around snacking on mountaineers food bags. We didn't have a bear can so we opted to stay at Soldier Lake for the night in order to stash our food in the bear box there.
Charles and I entertained ourselves, such as it was, by looking around for a route up and over this annoying bump which would force us down the 400 feet to Rock Creek. Bingo, we found it. Well, Charles found it. I had wandered off and was examining some ridiculous path. This is a great shortcut up and over into the Rock Creek drainage leading to Sky Blue Lake. Go about three quarters of the way around the west side of the lake on the trail that is there. There is a break in the cliff guarding Soldier Lake at this point. Drift off the trail about 20/30 feet and start looking around for a trail. It is loose but clearly defined all the way up to the top of the cliff. At the top of the cliff the trail seems to head back down towards the use trail heading up Rock Creek. We decided to turn right and skirt along the top of the broad ridge and intersect the trail much higher in elevation to the north. This worked well. We could see a very nice use trail at the bottom of the canyon that parallels Rock Creek. I don't know why it is not marked on the map. We eventually intersected that trail.
After finding the short-cut we returned to our campsite, cranked through dinner, and hopped into our bivy bags. I was fused. The drop down the backside of New Army Pass cost us about 1500 feet which had to be regained on the way out. Did I mention that New Army Pass is drier than Mars? Ok. We didn't make our destination at Sky Blue Lake. The resident bear had designs on my dinner. The muscle tear in my back was killing me. We had just set up camp about 50 feet from a group which consisted of three adults and about six boys aged 12 through 14. Any suggestion from Charles about fanning the trip and I was out of there the next morning.
Charles didn't save me by offering to punt the trip. Along about 8:15 PM the boys abruptly stopped yelling at each other and dead silence fell over Soldier Lake. A miracle. I slept like a rock.
We had decided that the necessary punishment for not reaching Sky Blue Lake on the first day was we had to lug our packs up there on Saturday, drop them at the lake, climb McAdie and then haul everything up and over into the Iridescent Lake area. At 6:45 AM we set out for Sky Blue Lake. I was in somewhat improved humour. Somewhat.
And that is exactly what happened. The south side of Arc Pass is easily accessible from Sky Blue Lake by hiking up past a tarn to the pass. From Arc Pass we headed up the scree and talus to the south summit of McAdie and climbed over it to the gap which separates the south summit from the north summit. Drop down the south summit into this notch. This is ostensibly rated class 3. At the notch go up about 50 feet to a ledge or ramp which heads left. Follow this around to easy class 3 scrambling which takes you to the summit. The description of this route in Secor's text is a little confusing. There is a ramp which heads left immediately from the notch. Following this particular ramp will give you a view of where you should be which is about 50 feet higher. Go back to the notch, head straight up 50 feet, and then go left.
Mt. McAdie is a mountaineers mountain. The drop from the south summit to the notch is intimidating. I climbed this route 23 years ago and used a rope. I am still a mediocre mountaineer but a far better rock climber and still I wished we had brought the rope on this ascent. As a consequence, the true summit is not easily accessable and does not see millions of ascents. The summit register goes back to the early 70's. The views from the top are great.
We headed down the scree from the south summit and picked up our packs at Sky Blue Lake. From the packs location we went up over the pedestal at the foot of the "Mitre" to Iridescent Lake. This transition is accomplished by climbing up through a class 3 break at the north end of the cliff guarding the pedestal. This break is easily visible from the Sky Blue Lake environs. It looks more intimidating than it is and many others have gone this way based on the quantity of foot prints in the area.
The next day we headed up to climb Corcoran and LeConte via the Southwest Ridge. Our first problem was to get up to the North Notch from the west. The route description indicates that the chute leading to the notch branches twice and a chockstone was to be encountered. We headed up a chute that looked like it was going toward the North Notch. This thing was as loose as it gets. There were "blast points", to borrow a term from "Star Wars", all over the rocks. These are those nice, encouraging, white powdery marks on the rocks, like where another (big) rock had come down from above and bashed into the rock. Ugh. Charles and I kept to the right at every opportunity. We encountered a chockstone and I took a peek under it. No daylight so going under was out of the question. Going up and left around the chockstone requires one or two fifth class moves. Above the chockstone the chute is crammed with rubble. Superman couldn't tunnel under that chockstone. Up we went. I was expecting to end up at the North Notch and kept looking to the right for the ledge that would take me to the chute leading to the top. In short order there was nothing at all going right and I soon determined that I was on the summit of Mt. Corcoran. That's because I nearly stepped on the summit register. How this route is supposed to work escapes me.
While Charles and I were on the summit we saw David Harris, Dee Booth, Scott Kreider, Arun Mahajan, and Ron Karpel working their way through the inobvious third class route coming from Mt LeConte. We dropped down the couloir and found the ramp leading to the North Notch, it is marked by a duck, and met the group in the notch. It was a huge kick to meet my wife up in the mountains like that. We chatted with the PCS group for a few minutes and they headed off for Corcoran and we headed up the ridge to LeConte.
The ridge line from LeConte to Corcoran runs approximately north-south. This ridge consists of a series of insufferable fins which run east west. The last of these fins is separated somewhat from the rest by a notch and is somewhat higher. The "namers of mountains" have decided that this one gets its own name. This one is Corcoran. At any rate we headed up the first fin from the North Notch heading towards LeConte. This went up to a shallow notch of about 10 feet and then up the next fin steeply. This section goes at third class with the exception of one sort of exposed fifth class move after the shallow notch. We dropped down the backside of this pair of fins and encountered the next one. It is a reddish thing and a cursory glance indicated climbing it would be tough. It looked like we could sneak around the west side. This goes as exposed fourth class. This brought us to the next fin. It looks like there is no way to work around either side of this fin. It was third class to the top of this one but the descent looked very difficult since this side is slightly overhanging at the top and there are a lot of loose blocks on the ledges. We rappelled from a chockstone stuffed into a crack at the top of this fin. At the bottom of the rappel there is a couloir heading up from the west. This looked to be the West Couloir which is another ascent/descent route on LeConte and could be used as an escape route. This brought us to another fin with a crack in it. We climbed the crack and this goes at about 5.6. This was the first time we used the rope except for the rappel. At the top of this fin is a wide section with a few more fins to the east but we passed them on the second class talus to the west until we hit the final head wall on LeConte. We ran into David, Dee, Arun, Scott, and Ron here again as they headed off to find the Northwest Chute. This head wall has a lot of cracks in it. Right at the top of the scree there is a triangular shaped flake system that leads up to some steep looking cracks. To the left of this about 20 feet away is another system which looked easier but heads for an alcove that looked hard to get out of. Down a little further to the left (west) is another break with several cracks in it. This is in a white section of rock. We went up there. It was about 5.7. This is about 180 feet and we had to set a belay just before the top to finish the last fifteen feet or so of this route. I have no idea if this is the correct route. It was a little grainy but most alpine routes don't see many ascents and are all pretty much grainy. The top of this is class three. We headed over to the north. The big pinnacle that can be seen from the top of the pitch is not the summit. We climbed the true summit from the south side. This goes about class 4.
From the summit we headed down the Northwest chute towards the north end of Iridescent Lake. We encountered the infamous "waterfall pitch" which I downclimbed and Charles rappelled. That thing is hard. We jetted down the chute towards the lake. By sticking to the right side it can be "scree skied" for a goodly distance. We arrived back at camp in time to pack up and head down to the big meadow below Sky Blue Lake. The next day we hiked out and drove home.
Final Notes: Overall this was a very good trip. The Rock Creek drainage is a beautiful alpine meadow area. Insofar as the logistics go in terms of climbing these peaks I have the following observations. Going up and over New Army Pass into the Rock Creek drainage is a pretty long hike except for bullets which I am not. The key problem seems to be that McAdie does not quite fit with LeConte and Corcoran from this side. I would recommend day hiking McAdie from Whitney Portal. Indeed, a few days earlier an entry in the register by Elizabeth Wenk indicated she had done just that. She was ostensibly in search of big horn sheep scat which she apparently found, all of which was duly recorded in the register. As for LeConte and Corcoran I think approaching via Meysan Lakes would be easier. The third class traverse around the back of LeConte can be used to get to the start of the Southwest Ridge. It took the PCS group about an hour and forty five minutes to get over to the notch from LeConte and that required a fair amount of route finding so it is not prohibitively long from LeConte to the start of the Southwest Ridge. From the notch Corcoran can be climbed and then go back up the ridge. The Southwest Ridge goes quickly since it is mostly third class. We climbed just two fifth class pitches. I over racked for this route, as usual, and it needs only a single selection of cams up to one #3 camalot and a few stoppers. Cams worked better on the grainy white section. We used a single 50 meter rope.
I am not sure why the Southwest Ridge of LeConte made it into the Sierra Classics book. Perhaps Moynier and Fiddler had 99 routes and needed one more to make an even 100. This route pales in comparison to Matthes Crest and the North Ridge of Conness, to name a few.
Guide books and further reading:
Sierra Classics, 100 Best Climbs in the High Sierra, John Moynier and Claude Fiddler, Chockstone Press, 1993, ISBN 0-934641-60-9. May be out of print. Worthless.
The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, and Trails, Second Edition, R.J. Secor, The Mountaineers, 1999, ISBN 0-89886-625-1. Another useless description of the ridge route, however, contains good information about the other chutes and a vague photo with the traverse from LeConte to Corcoran outlined.
TR: LeConte and Corcoran 8/25-8/26/01, David Harris. Excellent description of the traverse from LeConte to Corcoran.