Northeast Gully 5.2

 
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Laurel Mountain


High Sierra, California USA


Trip Report
Laurel Mt. Northeast Gully 9/22/10
Wednesday September 29, 2010 10:34am
After a summer spent guiding at Castle Rock, playing disc golf, and sport climbing on the East Side, the urge to get up high finally manifested from deep down. With a gig leading hikers up Half Dome at the end of the week, good weather holding, and Leaning Tower in-a-push plans scrapped, the right moment for peak venturing presented itself.

Laurel Mountain had crossed my mind numerous times over the past few seasons--most recently back in June and July while clipping bolts and camping in the aspen groves of the Big Springs zone. Several rest hours were spend gazing out at Morrison and Laurel--the former resembling pillars of the earth and the latter seeming slightly more accessible. My friend James mentioned more than once how, among all the easy fifth class solos he'd done with Puhvel, Laurel was the one where he encountered an uncomfortable sense of exposure.

Game on.

Instantly, that comment rattled around my inner voice as a personal challenge. Now it would become a call to action. I booked out of Santa Cruz mid-Tuesday afternoon, intent on a Wednesday date with the route. Thursday was for rest. If all went well, Friday I'd meet my clients.

Five and a half hours down the road, I pulled into the Mobil and immediately ran into Tom Davis. Who else would use a pay phone to check wind conditions for a potentially epic paragliding adventure the next day? After chiding TD for not having a smart phone, he invited me up to his camp for post-flight, post-ascent spray. It sounded like the perfect conclusion, but I'm jumping ahead... Back in the present, I grabbed two Snickers for the send. The counter employee sarcastically reminded me to enjoy them, to which I replied, "Oh, I will." But didn't add, "for lunch on the summit." After all, no matter what snacks you carry, nothing is certain in the mountains.

After a soak in the Rock Tub and a solitary night's sleep next to the spring, I was up at six. Car packed, a quick breakfast of day-old, homemade blueberry muffins, and a gulped-down liter of water later, I hit the trail right at seven--Laurel just then catching a warm morning light.

Credit: billygoat

Other than some pretty flowers and the hulking face of Laurel looming overhead, the approach proved unexceptional--a fairly flat trail around Convict Lake and an obvious drainage to the base of the route. The Croft guide stayed in my pack for the whole thing. As I got within spitting distance of the gully, though, I ran into this:

Credit: billygoat

From below it looked like a pumice-mud arch. Rocks were actively falling from above, punching holes through it. I'm not crawling under it, I thought. It's clearly too thin to walk over it. Dammit! I'll rub some sunscreen in, put my helmet on, and then I'll have this figured out.

So I did, and I did, and I walked over the troll of the gully entrance, rocks speeding by, whispering "shall you pass?" As I came to the edge, I peered down into the small abyss, and jumped quickly with a mind toward a safe landing. Then I turned around and fully realized the core of what I'd negotiated.

Credit: billygoat

Damn, that's some dirty snow! So, maybe this thing is gonna be a bit loose. Think I'll leave the helmet on for the time-being.

As others mentioned, the start of this route has a canyoneering feel to it. Indeed, as I entered the gully, I encountered several short steps between periods of easy scrambling. For the most part, I stayed in my trail-runners. As the steps got taller, and the rock no less dusty or slick, I started to crave sticky rubber. I laced up around something like this:

Credit: billygoat

Soon the gully led to the slabs and some nice views down towards Convict Lake, Crowley further out, and the hot springs of the previous night.

Credit: billygoat

Somewhere in this zone, I noticed that I'd left behind the semi-continuous showering of rocks. So I made a decision that would lead to a terrible mistake: I took off my helmet and clipped it to the back of my pack. I continued up through another gully-ish section--this time composed of red scree. Not too bad to negotiate, but worthy of the "pull down, not out" attention that Pinnacles climbers know well. Exiting this section led to the best rock of the route: gorgeous white slabs enhanced by a solid red vein.

Credit: billygoat

In a perfectly enjoyable mood, I started to admire some of the blossoms, and paused at the top of the slabs to eat a snack and shoot the flowers for later identification:

Credit: billygoat

Credit: billygoat

Anybody?

I was on the edge of the final red-scree. A wiser climber might have read this as a sign. My helmet had been clipped to the top pocket strap. The helmet was now wedged between my pack and the rock, the top pocket being unclipped. Blame it on the altitude, blame it on my own forgetfulness, blame it on whatever. As I shifted my pack to put my camera away, my helmet came loose and went for a ride. I watched helplessly as it tumbled down all the slabs, into the upper gully, out of sight but not sound, and presumably came to a rest some thousand or so feet below my current position. My helmet! The precious brain bucket that had been apart of a streak of successful big wall ascents. My shell, with it's "organic" sticker on the forehead and In and Out sticker on the rear--to symbolize what's on the front and back of my mind. My white shield, no matter how uncomfortable it had become with age, had left me too suddenly. And what had it left me with? An impending sense of nostalgia and a loose section of crappy red scree to the summit. I said a quick goodbye and returned to the climbing. Now I'd especially little interest in spending much time in any more loose sections. I found a line of semi-solid looking red buttresses that, as it turned out, led straight to the summit. Somewhere among this mess:

Credit: billygoat

Soon I stood on top--no real register in sight, just a US Coast and Geodetic Survey marker from 1933 and (hidden under a rock) a make-shift notebook that had chew marks of marmot or some such high-altitude critter.

Credit: billygoat

I wolfed down my Snickers, made some phone calls (ever wonder where you can't do business these days?), and noticed the time. Eleven AM; not bad. Time to head down the forty two hundred feet I'd just come up. Of course, gotta admire the view first.

Credit: billygoat

This is the point where I could probably double the length of this report and give some incredibly detailed beta on the descent. Given the history of unnecessarily long descents associated with Laurel, that might be a nice gesture. However, I think keeping it simple might work better. The Croft description worked great. I'd say the key phrasing "minor gully systems" was crucial. After scree slopes and following a bit of the ridge line that most closely parallels Convict Lake, passing what might be described as major gully systems, I chose this one:

Credit: billygoat

I broke up good bits of scree skiing to admire some Blazing Stars (I believe):

Credit: billygoat

In due time, I was back on the trail around the lake, running, and smiling all the way to the car. A time check showed just past 1 PM. I took a quick dip, and headed towards the warmer waters of the Hill Top tub. Later, I left a note on the Mammoth Mountaineering Shop lost and found board--a desperate attempt to seek reunion with my helmet.

Anyone?

Finally (you thought it was over?), I made it back to the Mobil. As I was ordering my carnitas tacos and beer, a familiar figure flirted with my peripheral vision. With a foot-high stack of to-go boxes precariously balanced in one arm, it was Peter Croft depositing a sizable bill in the tip jar. Before I could think of anything to say, he smiled and made a speedy escape to the parking lot. Funny, I thought, he's tipping the ones serving us; I should be the one tipping him.

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billygoat
About the Author
Billygoat is a climber who pees on his beard to seek mates. It's odd, but somebody had to do it.

Comments
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Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

Trad climber
  Sep 29, 2010 - 10:05am PT
Nice work!
rhyang

climber
SJC
  Sep 29, 2010 - 05:15pm PT
What a fun route :)
billygoat

climber
Pees on beard to seek mates.
Author's Reply  Sep 29, 2010 - 06:22pm PT
Yeah rhyang. Couldn't help but notice we posted our trip reports a year to the day apart. Funny, considering they're the only two for Laurel on the taco.
eKat

Trad climber
  Sep 29, 2010 - 06:28pm PT
Well. . . YAY!

That first flower you posted HAS to be some kind of thistle. . . and my first response to the second was some kind of buckwheat. . . but I'd have to key them out. . . and all my natural history books are down in Shasta!

Thanks for postin' up!

eKat

billygoat

climber
Pees on beard to seek mates.
Author's Reply  Sep 29, 2010 - 07:07pm PT
Yeah, I was definitely thinking some kind of thistle on the first, but that's as far as I got. Buckwheat on the second? Interesting. I'd love to know more.
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Sep 29, 2010 - 07:27pm PT
Thanks for the share, good TR.

Did you find the exposure your friend had mentioned? I didn't feel exposed on this route until I took a variation waaaay out climber's left into awful quality rock near the top. I wanted to keep a clean view of Morrison and the valley between it and Laurel. I wouldn't go that way again because of the scary rock, but the views were great.
billygoat

climber
Pees on beard to seek mates.
Author's Reply  Sep 29, 2010 - 07:50pm PT
I didn't find the exposure, but I can see how it would be possible--especially if you go off route. I went a bit right of the route where it sounds like you went left. I think the rock was better, and I got pretty good views by avoiding the deepest section of what I call the "upper gully."
adam d

climber
CA
  Sep 29, 2010 - 08:57pm PT
nice! It's good fun up there.

my own poseur shot (gratuitous use of the timer) from the route (Aug '06)



a dive in the lake is such a treat after the dusty screeing through the sagebrush on the descent.
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
  Sep 30, 2010 - 12:54am PT
Nice pics of a very enjoyable climb. Another fun route to do again when the time is right...
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
  Sep 30, 2010 - 01:01am PT
William Goat...i think that was russian thistle...? i tried the route you climbed on laurel not knowing it was a route...back in 80 with mountaineering boots....didn't see any trolls...nice report....rj
billygoat

climber
Pees on beard to seek mates.
Author's Reply  Sep 30, 2010 - 04:48pm PT
Russian Thistle, eh? I don't think that's in my field guide (unless there's another name for it). Why Russian Thistle?
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Oct 1, 2010 - 12:10am PT
Wow, that is an interesting looking place!!
freerider

climber
  Oct 1, 2010 - 02:21am PT
yeah the route is really good I think. quite a big face and scary from far apart, isn't it? good work!
billygoat

climber
Pees on beard to seek mates.
Author's Reply  Oct 1, 2010 - 02:40am PT
Hey Freerider! Yeah, scary by reputation and the potential to get off route. And, hell, even looking at it from the parking lot is a bit numbing. But, once on it, it's pretty mellow. By following the Croft directions, it wasn't hard to stay on route. That said, seems like a lot of folks get off route. What's up with that?

But you did it between all those epic sends. Given everything else you did, it's hard to believe it struck you with any sense of fear. Man, I'd love to do the Evolution Traverse. Can I go on summer vacation with you next year?

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Laurel Mountain - Northeast Gully 5.2 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from Convict Lake.
Photo: Chris McNamara