Mt Morgan-South, SW Ridge

14 Sep 2003 - by Arun Mahajan (view roster page)

A late wakeup causing long periods of indecision and coupled with a long breakfast at Schats caused me to decide to punt on climbing Mt Morgan (South) by the SW ridge but I thought that I would take a look at the ridge anyway. As it was, nobody I knew had done this route so I had little beta of that sort. Roper dismisses the peak as having easy routes and a supposedly good view. Secor rates the SW ridge as class-3 and the SW Ridge of Little Lakes Peak as having class-5 slabs. In their book, Sierra Classics, 100 Best climbs in the Sierra (1st ed), Fiddler and Moynier rate the route class-4 and say that it is long and loose as well. Their description mandates a climb of Little Lakes Peak to get on to the SW Ridge of Morgan. I decided to scope out the route from Morgan Pass and leave the climbing for another day when I could get an earlier start but as the day turned out, I climbed it anyway.

Finally, at 8.30am I was walking from the Mosquito Flat TH and at 10am was at the top of Morgan Pass, staring at the SW face of Little Lakes Peak. I thought I could see a class-3 line so I decided to go up and by staying to the right of the harder slabs I avoided the possible class-5 but did get into some easy class-4 terrain. I was on the summit of Little Lakes Peak at 12.30 pm. I stayed mostly on the ridge crest after the slabs. I checked my options. I could bail out by going down on the class-2 stuff towards Morgan Lake and catch the trail back but now Morgan was clearly visible and it looked doable as well. The long SW ridge is certainly striking looking, from a distance. Up close like this, it looked broken up and with several towers that would involve going up and down several times and it also looked loose. I spent 15 mins on the summit of Little Lakes Peak (no register, only a cairn) and then gingerly down climbed to the SW ridge. This was definitely a class-4 step, maybe 10 ft that I had to face-in for but the rock was solid. I was extra cautious here as there was nobody around and I did not want to fall. After that, it was class-3 talus and blocks with a few ups but mostly down to the black towers at the saddle between the peaks. I stayed on the ridge some times and other times, went to the right, under the crest. A little after the black towers, staying to the right did not look appealing as there were cliffs so I crested and then stayed to the left and/or the absolute top of the ridge. It was all solid class-3. I did encounter some class-4 (solid, not much exposure) but that was because I kept moving from the crest to a little below and then back up, as fancy took me.

Finally, the ridge ended and dissolved into a sea of class-3/2 talus and blocks and I reached what had looked like the high point and had been my beacon all along. This grey-white point was not the summit and the summit was still a little further to the left, connected to this point by a narrow ridge. But soon, I was at the summit, signing the register. There was also a PVC tube-register there. It was 3.45pm, a full 3 hrs from the top of Little Lakes Peak. There is indeed a great view of the Sierra from the summit. I was surprised to note that the hour-glass couloir below Dade had become a steep scree slope with just a finger of snow remaining on the very top-left.

After a short break, I started down at 4pm. The first destination was Eastern Brook Lakes. The lakes were visible. I went down to the broad sandy expanse on the NW side and then descended into class-2 hell to meet a dried out creek that makes its way into the EBrook Lakes. The scree and talus had ended by this time and I was on a faint trail that got more pronounced as I approached the placid lake and at 6.45 pm was back at the car taking the trail from the lake that leads to Mosquito Flat and driving by 7pm, with enough time to OD on salty and fried comestibles at Mammoth before the long drive home.

Stats: TH to Morgan Pass: 1hr-30, Morgan Pass to LLPeak: 2hrs-30, 15 min halt, LLP to Morgan: 3 hrs, 15 min halt, back to TH: 2hrs-45. Total: 10 hrs, 15 mins.

The route is long and the ascent is mostly class-3 with some class-4. If I were to do it again, I would start at least an hour earlier, if not more. The SW Ridge on Morgan-South is definitely more solid than the Nevhabe Ridge route on Morgan-North, both of which are in Fiddler's book of the 100 best climbs.

Chris Jain adds:

> The SW Ridge on Morgan-South is definitely more solid than
> the Nevhabe Ridge route on Morgan-North, both of which are in
> Fiddler's book of the 100 best climbs.

After a friend expressed disappointment with the Nevhabe Ridge, I noticed that this route has been removed from the second edition.

George Sinclair adds:

I did the Nevhabe Ridge several years back and didn't think it was that bad. It may not be one of the great classics of the Sierra, but I thought it was a somewhat enjoyable climb. There are great views throughout the climb. I found most, if not all, of the climb to be class 2 - 3 (my class 3 may be another persons class 4, etc.). A rope was never used. However, there is some not-so-solid rock on the upper section of the ridge. The main down side about the climb is that it seems to go on forever.

Jim Curl adds:

In one of the climbing rags several years ago, Peter Croft reported on a number of ridge routes that he'd done in the Sierra. Most of these were pretty serious technical affairs, but one of them caught my eye as being more of a mountaineering outing. Peter had climbed the Nevahbe Ridge on Morgan and then continued traversing over Stanford, Crocker, and eventually Red and White before dropping down to McGee Pass and hiking the seven miles back to the trailhead. I looked through the guidebooks and it appeared that this might be no more than class 4.

Peter had run the ridge car to car in a day, so I figured I might be able to do it in two or three days. There appeared to be places to easily escape or drop down a little to find water and bivy. So one July weekend I drove out to the east side, dragged myself out of my bag at 5am, and with a minimal overnight daypack, headed out from McGee Creek trailhead. The initial approach left a lot to be desired. After busting through some brush, climbing over a barbwire fence, and stepping through mushy bogs, at about 7am I eventually reached what felt like class 4 climbing. The rock was pretty darn loose, so I had my antannae up and was paying close attention. After negotiating the initial bulge, I found I was on easier terrain again: broken, dirty, vegetated.

As I got higher on the ridge, I kept waiting for it to get really good. Maybe just over the next bump or around the next corner, I kept thinking. By 9am I'd done about half the elevation to the top. Frustrated with the lack of good climbing, I was staying as close to the ridgeline as I could, trying to milk as much as possible out of the route. Then on a pretty easy section, I momentarily let my guard down and a foothold broke away beneath me. I wouldn't glorify this by calling it a climbing fall. What really happened was that I fell over and then slid about twenty feet down a dirty slope.

After the mandatory five minute writhe of pain, I looked myself over and found that Mt. Morgan's sharp rock had incised a deep one inch laceration in my elbow. I tried to convince myself that I could just tape it up and continue, but the reality was obvious: after driving all the way over here and getting up at dawn, I was going to have to go down after only two hours of climbing. Several stitches at a clinic in Mammoth Lakes concluded my weekend.

I haven't been back to the Nevahbe since then, and I'm uncertain about it. But here's my conclusion: alpine climbs are, by and large, loose to some extent. Generally, the more you've done the more tolerance you have for it and the better skilled you become at recognizing what's really loose and at treading lightly over house-of-cards sections. I recently climbed the Red Dihedral on Incredible Hulk with a guy who has been climbing for much longer than me and has done over a thousand routes at Joshua Tree. He is no stranger to loose rock, but had never done an alpine climb before. He thought the Hulk was kind of loose and chossy. But in fact, the Red Dihedral is one of the cleanest alpine climbs in the Sierra!

On the other end of the spectrum is the guy who not only can deal with loose rock but actually enjoys it. Fisher Towers desert mud climbing is an extreme example. It's kind of like an appreciation for really stinky cheese. Some people develop a taste for that sort of stuff. Gourmet or gross? It's a matter of taste.

So I think that the Nevahbe Ridge fits into this. It's a really nice line, even if the rock is largely crap and there's no shortage of dirt. The fact that Peter Croft has climbed it more than once ought to tell you something. And make no mistake, there are routes that have survived the second cut of the Moynier and Fiddler guidebook that smell quite a bit like limburger.

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