Mount Darwin - North Face

11-13 Jul 2003 - by Ron Hudson

Four of us went over Lamarck Col to camp on a meadowed ledge about 300' above the Darwin Canyon bottom. A dawn start put us at the bottom of the Left Rib on Darwin's north face, our goal for the trip. The snow between the rocky rib and the north ridge looked good and climbable all the way to near the summit. Only a small amount of ice was present on the Darwin glacier. But our goal was the rock route. Secor rates the rib class 3-4. It looks formidable, rising 1000' above its base, and has pillars, cracks, slabs and near vertical looking areas as it rises to Darwin's top. We followed the obvious crack in yellow rock for the first part of the climb. There it was mostly class 3, but we did rope up for short sections. To get around the large buttress/block 40% of the way up, I fifth classed it about 100'; where it was exposed and with fewer holds. Onward was 2nd class for a while, then the gray near vertical granite slabs we had cringed about. There was very little information about this climb, 1930s climbs were referenced in Secor's book. We also kept our eyes on the 35-50 degree snow gully next to us as a bail out, or descent route after summiting. We had our axes but did not bring crampons; midday the snow would be good I figured. We did find a route among the ledges and cracks in the slabs; no 5th class face climbing. It was mostly 3rd class, decorated by polemonium and alpine gold daisies, again with some class 3-4 roped moves. The last 150' or so was among some blocky and loose gullies; we didn't use a chimney as described in the book. Quite vertical there but it went OK. A lot of loose rock (as for much of the climb) ; prudent to check the security of every block necessary to touch. Then, finally we were on the football field-sized summit plateau!

Next was the detached summit block. We roped up and got up the awkward looking formation to finally sign the book for this emblem peak. Great view! Perfect weather (it was 100+ in Owens Valley)! We felt like mountaineers, as we had worked a lot, physically and technically, for this one. The ridge to the (east one of the two) notch was our way to proceed downward. Two snowbanks in the notch gully impeded our progress somewhat, but downclimbing on lead and a rappel got us back to the glacier and security, finally! I was a bit nervous the whole climb--a sketchy route going up, then downclimbing what we were not familiar with. But the uncertainty is what makes an adventure! As the sun was setting; we were relieved to be back on the glacier, safe and successful. We had been careful and took our time. A couple hours back to camp, and we still managed some happy hour snacks and dinner. As we saw the peak again in the morning, it still seemed kind of amazing that there is a not too technical route up that imposing rib. The next day three of us bagged Mt. Lamarck and got to the trailhead about 3 PM. Climbers were Tom McDonnell (leader-great job!), Ron Hudson (assistant and report author), Patty Rambert, and Paul Morash.

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