Mike Rinaldi, Max Nachury, Karin Reif
On June 30 the three of us left Berkeley/Palo Alto and headed to hills. Our goal was to climb both Mt Darwin and Mendel over the long holiday weekend. We rode into Bishop at about midnight Friday 6/30. We've opted for a hotel room followed by breakfast at Whiskey Creek rather than crashing at the trailhead. Consequently we didn't get to the North Lake trailhead until 10AM! But having a good breakfast was well worth it. Having read several trip reports and Secor we left for the quasi-cross country route to Lamarck Col. The many descriptions of the hike to Lamarck Col are fairly accurate with the one exception that nobody mentions the clearly visible sign on the main Lamarck Lake trail indicating exactly where to cross the stream and go onto the cross country trail. In Secor this is shown to be somewhere between the Lower and Upper Lamarck Lake. Actually if you stay on the main trail and cross the stream where you are forced to do so you will eventually come to the smallish meadow as indicated in the reports. At this point you will see a wooden sign nailed to a tree right on the trail that states, "Lamarck Col" (left pointing arrow) and Upper Lamarck Lake (straight ahead). We missed this sign on the way in because we crossed the stream too early thinking that we would not get another chance. It was only on the way out that we saw the sign and realized we had crossed too early. Anyway for what it's worth if you wait until the sign it'll save you some boulder hopping and route finding. The route to the Col was fairly open lower down. After the last set of switchbacks we entered the "ramp" up to the Col. At this point there was 30% snow coverage. The Col itself was only approached on snow. The conditions of the snow were good enough that poles or ice axe sufficed to prevent one from sliding into Lake at the base of the Col in case of a fall. Once over the Col we boulder hopped down to the east side of the first Lake and found a great camp spot. There was little snow, easily bypassed, on the way down into Darwin Lakes area. We spotted one other group who had opted to camp a bit higher before coming to the Lake. They were two Kiwis and another fellow who we would later see again on the summit of Darwin.
Sunday morning we got started late (~9:30AM) and made quick tracks for the West ridge route up Mt. Darwin. This route is described fairly accurately in Secor. We chose not the most westerly chute but the one just east of it. The entire Darwin Glacier "bowl" area was almost entirely snow covered. The bergschrund on the Glacier did not extend all the way around as it does later in the season. Since none of us brought crampons and only Max brought stiff boots we relied on him to kick steps into the 45 degree chute. We followed plunging our ice axe shafts deep into the snow to provide adequate protection in case of a fall. After reaching the top of the chute we were greeted with fine views of the Evolution Basin area. The snow coverage around Wanda Lake is still about 70%!! Dropping down the other side of the chute we followed previous trip reports and soon made the summit plateau. The way to the summit plateau is well marked with cairns. On the summit we again met the other group of David, Brad, and Paul. They had already climbed the summit block and were resting a bit before there descent. After chatting and eating some lunch Max and I decided it was our turn to tackle the summit block. Karin opted out since she did not feel comfortable with the class 4ish moves required. To gain the summit block we descended the the summit plateau down to the obvious bench on the west side of the summit block. From here we climbed back around the summit block in a clockwise direction until we reached the eastside of the block. Doing this required descending one steep snowy chute and then ascending another steep snowy chute to put us in place to attempt the summit. Once in place we managed the class 4 summit without too much to do. We carried a rope but didn't need it to gain the summit. After some pictures were taken we quickly made our way back to the plateau area and descended. We were back at camp by 7PM fully satisfied with succeeding on a fine mixed snow/rock route. Crampons and heavy boots would have come in handy at places but we managed fine without them. Thanks again to Max for kicking steps where necessary.
On Mendel we attempted the East face route. Secor warmed that there weren't any easy ways up Mendel. As far as we could see he is right. For the most part we followed Jim Ramaker's and Charles Schafer's 1997 Climborama route. We quickly worked our way up the right slanting (obvious) class 3 chute and the by traversing several ledges we zig-zagged our way up to about 300' below the summit plateau. We got to the point where we could see the "wall" close up. We saw several places that sounded like they were well described by the aforementioned report but at this point Max and myself were not in the state of mind to attempt the obvious intricacies of the final "cliff". We decided the better part of valor was to give up on this attempt and come back another day when we were both in a better mental state. As Austin Powers said, "Someone took my Mojo". Another try Next year!
On the 4th of July we packed up and climbed back up the west side of Lamarck Col. After crossing the Col we stayed high on the left side with the intent of gaining Mt. Lamarck. We though it an easy bag and a small consolation prize after failing on Mendel. After working our way under what seemed the summit block we left our packs and "ran" to the top in about 15 minutes. We took several summit photos and enjoyed a quick view of the Lakes below. Since we were in a hurry to get back to the car we didn't stay long. The views are nevertheless quite remarkable.
The hike back to the car was uneventful but absolutely gorgeous. The weather was perfect and the mosquitos were no where to be seen. I'm not sure I can remember a more pleasurable hike back to a trailhead. We cleaned up a bit and headed for dinner at... you guessed it Whiskey Creek! After dinner the ominous July 4th commute home never materialized. We made record time and were back home in the Bay Area in 5.5 hours. This is the second trip in two years that I've had the pleasure of going on with Max and Karin.