LeConte and Corcoran

25-26 Aug 2001 - by David Harris

Ron Karpel, Scott Kreider, Dee Booth, and trip organizers David Harris and Arun Mahajan climbed LeConte and Corcoran this weekend, 8/25-8/26/01. This trip report is brought to you by your trusty scribe, David.

On Saturday, the Bay area crew picked David up at the Lone Pine airport and hiked up to camp at Meysan Lake. The approach with light packs took about three hours at a moderate pace. I remembered it as a grueling and unrelenting set of switchbacks, but with a pack under 30 pounds, I practically floated up the trail. The current bushes covered with huge numbers of fat juicy berries offered a welcome distraction.

On Sunday we were walking at first light at 5:30. The descriptions from Secor and from Eckert's trip report were not completely adequate, so this report describes our route in a fair amount of detail. We include times moving at a moderate pace but fairly efficiently because the climb can easily consume a full day.

In this light snow year, so late in the season, the scree fields above Meysan Lake were almost completely clear of snow and quite unpleasant. Looking up the slope from the lake to LeConte, we climbed the chute on the left that seemed to have the easiest cliff bands to negotiate. We hit some 3rd class ledges and steps covered with loose rock and those of us who did not bring helmets came to regret it, although the team was careful enough that we had no serious rockfall incidents. We then slogged up the lower angle scree on the summit plateau to the cairn at the base of LeConte.

From the cairn, we climbed the east arete. The route looked exposed and impressive from a distance, but was fun 3rd class with no hard exposed moves. We traversed a ledge from the cairn left toward the broken area of cracks and ledges. We scrambled up some class 2-3 cracks up and left to cross the rib about 100 feet above the ledge. From around the rib, we continued up a chute, then gained the arete on the left side of the chute which led directly to the summit. We celebrated with summit cookies and chocolate at 8:30.

The crux of the trip proved to be finding the traverse to Corcoran. We descended the northwest chute to just above the waterfall pitch. From here, the route finding proved quite intricate; our experience matched none of the reports or guides we had read and we can't even precisely describe the route that we eventually followed. This description is our best attempt. There are many steep ribs and cliffs along the traverse and only one reasonable way to make much of the traverse, so you will eventually find the right route by exploring until you can stay on class 2-3. There were many ducks along the route and they marked a good route, but they often disappeared in the chutes where they are presumably carried away by avalanche.

We started our traverse to the left about 20-50 feet above the waterfall pitch; there were many ways to go. We followed ducks into a wide chute. From here, Secor said to descend 150 feet. About 150 feet down the chute is a notch, but it is not a good one. Instead, go 300 feet down the chute to a lower notch, were we found more ducks and a much easier traverse. Secor also said to pass two ribs. It felt like we passed innumerable ribs; the traverse to the north notch of Corcoran is quite some distance and you must be sure not to mistake one of the other notches along the ridge of LeConte for the true large north notch of Corcoran. We made that mistake and ended up below a large and difficult looking tower. We weren't certain if it was Corcoran, but fortunately we heard voices and saw climbers a quarter mile away on a huge tower. It turned out that they were Rick Booth and Charles Schafer, on the summit of Corcoran. We knew they were in the area, but thought that they would be ahead of us and didn't expect to see them.

The traverse ends up in a loose chute that leads to the north notch. We followed the right branch at the top and continued up class 2 scrambling all the way to the summit of Corcoran. We arrived about 10:45 and spent half an hour on the summit.

Meanwhile Rick and Charles were making a technical traverse from Corcoran to LeConte following the crest of the ridge. It looked like very unpleasant climbing on loose rock. We chatted with them a bit at the north notch, then caught up with them again on our traverse back.

We arrived back at the waterfall pitch about 12:45. Supposedly, there is a 3rd class route, but everything we saw looked 4th class. Two of us descended a squeeze chimney that required lowering packs, then descended the easy remainder of the Northwest chute and got back to camp about 3:00. The others opted to avoid the chimney and climb over the summit again, returning by 4:00.

The hike out took less than two hours on a pleasant trail. Along the way, we passed two middle-aged Polish women. They had apparently started at 10:00 and were 45 minutes short of their goal of Grass Lake at 4:40. They looked intent to continue on, but at their pace seemed certain to be caught after dark even if they turned around promptly. They had no flashlights or spare clothing and they had told a relative they would be back at 2:00! We hope they made it out intact.

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