In about five and half hours, the three of us, Dee Booth, Scott Kreider and scribe, Arun Mahajan, were at the west end of the lake. We spent some time surveying as much of the route as we could see from this camp site and decided on a route. Basically, Gardiner or whatever we saw of it, looked like an unappealing pile of junk from where we were. While, as lakes are wont, Charlotte Lake is beautiful, the campsite is devoid of views since it is wooded and within a drainage. Bear visitations are often but as the dutiful ranger who came by past dusk to check our permit informed us, there had been none for the past four days.
At 6.45am on Sunday morning, we were walking on the trail that stayed on the right and above the Charlotte Lake drainage and we stayed on this trail till we were able to see Charlotte Dome in the distance. We angled cross country on steep scree, initially through a sparse forest and then in the open where the angle began to steepen. The scree slog at this point sucked like few things have sucked before. On the sucking dial, this would be in the same class as the slog to the Russell-Carillon saddle from Upper Boy Scout lake. Perhaps I am being unkind. It was early morning, we were all feeling strong and as we topped out on the scree slope, we all agreed that it was not so bad after all. We had been heading generally north-west from the lake. Leaving the trail, our goal had been the leftmost high point that we could see and we had topped out on the ridge just left of it (at 10.30am, per Dee who was logging the times). At this point we were not certain that we would be summitting if there was more of this junk to do. From the ridge, we could see another long ridge with two summits. This long ridge met the ridge that we were on, higher and to the right. So we decided to climb higher on our ridge (now much nicer class-2/3 blocky talus) and then traversed to meet the longer ridge. The traverse went smoothly and soon we were traversing just below the ridge line of this longer ridge on mostly solid stuff. Only now it seemed to us that the summit was attainable. Scott, in front, guided us to the first high point and to our relief, this turned out to be the southern summit of Gardiner. There was a small cocoa tin but quite rusty and we did not open it so its contents will remain a mystery.
The final ridge of Gardiner, as seen from the south summit is a stunning sight. It is short but it looks like a near vertical wall of rock that has been jammed into the mountain side and looking at it you wonder if it could be climbed by mortals.
Well, we decided to give it a try. We had brought along a 30 metre, 9mm rope and a set of stoppers and a set of small camming devices and slings. For personal gear, we had helmets, harnesses, belay devices, biners and slings. As it turned out, the helmets were all that we needed. The ropes, pro and harnesses remained in the packs. The downclimb from the south summit is steep but has nice holds and starting off first, Dee made it look easy. But this is indeed class-4 or perhaps easy class-5 and good care and concentration are needed and we would have pulled out the rope at the slightest sign of doubt amongst any of us. Scott and I followed Dee to the small notch. Then we started climbing up, initially on the left but then soon going right (class-3) to the right corner of the main ridge. From there it is hard class-3 (as in, exposed) and class-4 and almost horizontal. There were two occassions where we were faced with an impasse due to large rock blocks and in both the cases, we skirted right (when looking in the direction of the summit) to bypass.
We were at the summit at 12.25, the ridge from the south to the north summit probably taking 20 or 30 mins but who was counting....we were having just so much fun! It was a cool day, the views were fantastic although Clarence King did not look like much from this side. Going back on the ridge required the same amount of care and caution and after a long lunch break at the south summit and then traversing back on the scree back to the trail, we were back at camp at 4.40. It had taken ten hours, for the round trip, for the three of us. Sunday night was warmer than Saturday and Monday morning was crisp and cool but we were up early and walking out by 7 am. We blasted out in just four hours.
End notes: Take ropes and gear. You may or may not use it but they are good to have in case anybody needs it. Take helmets. Your appetite for scree needs to be substantial since the route from Charlotte Lake has it in a healthy dosage.
The trip reports of George Sinclair and Steve Eckert on Climber.Org were a great help and so also the descriptions in Secor and Fiddler+Moynier's book of the 100 Sierra Classics, although we did only the second and more interesting part of that description. We all decided to pay a visit to Gardiner again, since we liked the final ridge so. But this time from the Sixty Lakes Basin and Gardiner Lakes and via the east ridge.
Ron Norton adds:
We climbed Mt. Gardiner (a couple of weeks before your party) via the east slope/ridge and found the route to be quite enjoyable. Any scree encountered on the slope can be avoided by staying high (near the east ridge). We also liked the final ridge - the moves are all there, just don't make a mistake....