Doing Davis in December

28 Dec 1998 - by Steve Eckert

Mt Davis, at 12311', is a class 2 lump in the shadow of great peaks like Ritter/Banner, Lyell, etc. According to the register, it's mostly climbed in August and September. Apparently almost as many people from out of state make their way there as do the locals, which is quite surprising. After a busy December full of overeating and socializing, Craig Taylor, Hal Tompkins, and I headed up the Rush Creek trail (from the June Lake Loop) on 12/28/98 for one last peak of the year and a bit of winter solitude. We saw no one once we lost sight of the road.

Craig had contacted an east-side guide who warned us there was no snow, and indeed we walked to Gem Lake at 9000' barely needing gaiters. On the other hand, the rest of our route was snowy enough to make skis or snowshoes useful (we had a mix). There was a lot of breakable windslab that made the skiing less than perfect but there was also a 2-mile flat run across Thousand Island Lake that made the snowshoers jealous. The snowpack was surprisingly heavy in the valleys given that all the ridges and faces were patchy to bare. Up high it's a great area for intermediate skiers, and there were lots of roped ice climbers near the road.

The first day, we chopped a hole in the ice near the outlet of Thousand Island for water, and made camp as darkness fell. Overnight it dipped to zero degrees, but the next day temperatures were in the 50s as we covered easy terrain to the peak in perfect weather. No significant wind, no clouds, no deep powder, no ice. We could have left all the heavy clothes and crampons and ice axes at home! We saw no evidence of any cornices, slumps, or avalanches on any slopes. It's a dry year.

We all summitted in thin shirts with no gloves, only a week after the winter solstice. The toughest part of the climb, other than the slog back across the lake, was the bare boulder field you have to traverse just north of North Glacier Pass - Hal bypassed it on the way down by skiing a chute down to Lake Catherine but it didn't really save time. (OK, I suppose hoisting the packs over those spiky gates on the Gem Lake spillway had objective danger, but we rated it no more than class 3 and we didn't rope up.)

Winter can be cruel, but [insert politically correct deity or deities here] arranged a very nice weather window for us. Clouds on the way out never turned into a storm, it was so warm that Gem Lake ice was groaning like whale song, and we had dry empty roads for driving home.



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