Ascent of Mount Mallory on 2019-05-07

Climber: Rafee Memon

Others in Party:AJ Kaufmann -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Mallory
    Elevation:13845 ft / 4219 m

Ascent Trip Report

Fresh off of a successful first ski tour to Cloudripper with AJ, I was ready to take on my next east-side challenge. AJ and I were both pretty sore after Cloudripper, and I took the next day to sleep in and catch up on work and calories. Brainstorming ideas for the best day, I came back to one of my initial ideas of heading up to Meysan Lakes for a ski descent of the east face of Mount Mallory. I guessed that the moderate terrain of the bowl would be a good fit for a beginner ski mountaineer. We studied the maps and decided to try it, with the possibility of also traversing to Mount Irvine if we could stay high enough in the bowl separating the two peaks.

I met AJ at the Meysan Lakes trailhead at 6am as he was beginning to get ready after cowboy camping in the Alabama Hills. We packed our gear and started up the trail in our trail runners. AJ was annoyed at me for walking so fast through the campground and cabins on our way to the trail, but my speed regressed as we began to gain elevation. I am normally highly annoyed by long meandering switchbacks, but I was thankful in this case as I was carrying a backpacker-weight pack, with my skis, boots, axe, and crampons, as opposed to my normal day pack.

We began to find intermittent snow around 9,000', and after it became sustained around 9,500', we decided to stash our trail runners and switch to our ski boots. We continued up the snow and reached Grass Lake (distinctly not grassy now) around 9:30am, where we snapped into our skis. From here, we got our first clear views of our possible routes: the various chutes on the Mallory east face, the inviting chutes of the northeast couloir of Irvine, and a bowl leading down between the two. We also observed that the weather was looking unsettled to the north and east, which was unfortunately the direction of the wind. The summits of Mallory, Irvine, and LeConte above ducked in and out of the clouds. Thus, we planned to attempt to summit Mallory as long as the clouds weren't too threatening; from the plateau below the summit, we would decide whether to continue carrying our skis to attempt the traverse to Irvine in the hopes of making it to the northeast couloir.

We skinned across Meysan Lake and set our sights on the rightmost chute of the bowl, which appeared to be the lowest angle; we even hoped we may be able to skin the whole way to the top. Midway through the ascent, AJ shouted at me from below, and I looked up to see a half a dozen good-sized rocks barreling down the snow towards us. In the span of a few seconds that seemed to last minutes, I locked eyes with one heading right at me and quickly skinned forward five feet once I was sure which direction I needed to dodge. A rock missed AJ by just a few feet as well. Surely a direct blow from any one of the rocks would have been fatal. I had foregone my helmet to save weight and bulk, but now I wished I had it more than anything. We collected ourselves for a few minutes and decided to call off the attempt if we saw another rockfall. Sure enough, a few minutes after we started climbing again, another rockfall happened above us. Though it wasn't nearly as threatening to us, I called out to AJ that I was ready to head down. However, he wasn't quite ready to give up, suggesting that we were nearly clear of the chute that was sending rocks down, and we could minimize the risk by staying high on the opposite side.

We continued upwards to take shelter under a rock, where we threw our skis on our back to boot the rest of the way to the plateau. Luckily, there were no more rock missiles, but the climbing was very tiresome as we tried to follow the softest snow. Whenever it felt like we had made some vertical progress, the plateau horizon seemed just as far away as before, if not further. After seemingly an eternity, we reached the plateau around 12:15pm, and I rested against a rock as I waited for AJ. Mallory was now only a short distance away, both vertically and horizontally, while LeConte stood guard on the other side of the plateau. I would have loved to be able to attempt LeConte on this trip, but I knew I had no chance of making it up the notorious "waterfall pitch" in ski boots.

AJ joined me at the rock and we discussed our options. Mallory was no longer in the clouds and the weather appeared to be holding, so we decided to continue with our skis and attempt to traverse the separating bowl to Irvine after summiting Mallory. We continued up the talus and sand to the summit ridge and stashed our skis. We reached the summit at 1:40pm and were welcomed by light snow flurries. Not finding a register, wandered over to a flake requiring a third-class mantle that we suspected could be the summit. While the views were better, it was clear that we were not at the high point, so we backtracked and found the register in the now-obvious spot. The views were enjoyable with three (or four, depending on how you count them) fourteeners visible despite the clouds.

AJ had lunch while I flipped through the registers, and shortly thereafter we started back down to our skis. Upon reaching them, there was blue sky over Whitney, and despite beginning to run short on time, decided to head to Irvine, in large part motivated by a ski descent of the northeast couloir. We took the skins off of our skis, and AJ attempted to descend but quickly cliffed out after three turns. However, in the process, he saw an entrance into the bowl about two hundred feet above. After climbing back out of the chute, we climbed up and dropped through some troublesome rocks to a spot we could get into our skis and continue. We managed to stay high in the traverse, leaving us only about 500' from Irvine's summit upon reaching the rocks on the other side of the bowl. We booted up the snow and talus and reached the summit around 4:20pm. Views from the summit were more spectacular now that the mountain we were standing on wasn't in the way!

We didn't stay at the summit long as, by now, we were seriously running short on daylight. We descended from the summit in the direction of the couloir over very large talus that was very awkward in ski boots. For every down climbing move I made, the equipment on my back loudly banged off of the rocks. I caught up with AJ at the top of the chute and realized that I somehow lost a skin and, inexplicably, my ice axe! I climbed back up twenty feet or so to look for them, but we didn't have any time to spare and needed to get down the mountain while we still had daylight.

AJ dropped into the chute first, making loud scrapes over the crusty entrance. I followed shortly thereafter and struggled to link turns through the crust, but I found my groove midway down the chute as the cover transitioned to corn. Two thousand feet later, we celebrated as we looked back up the couloir, and it looked like we would be back at our cars before sunset. We cruised through the final porches through the canyon and found our trail runners.

We heard grouses hooting in the lower part of the canyon, and partway down the trail, we stumbled onto a grouse with all of its colors showing and calling to one in the distance -- something I'd never seen before! We stopped to take photos and videos, eventually needing to walk right past it as it did not want to give up any ground. We reached the trailhead and our cars right at 7:00pm. It was storming in the Owens Valley below, and we were thankful that the weather held up for our entire 12 1/2 our trip. We got dinner at the Totem Cafe in Lone Pine and crashed in Bishop for the night.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5892 ft / 1795 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Skis, Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5892 ft / 1795 m
    Distance:7.1 mi / 11.4 km
    Route:East Slope
    Start Trailhead:Meysan Lakes Trailhead  7953 ft / 2424 m
    Time:7 Hours 12 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Route:Traverse to Irvine
    End Trailhead:Meysan Lakes Trailhead  
Ascent Part of Trip: Mallory/Irvine

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Mount Mallory2019-05-07 a5892 ft / 1796 m
2Mount Irvine2019-05-07 b558 ft / 170 m
Total Trip Gain: 6450 ft / 1966 m    Total Trip Loss: 6450 ft / 1966 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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