Northeast Gully 5.2

  • Currently 3.0/5

Laurel Mountain

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
Mount Laurel in an Afternoon
Wednesday September 25, 2013 12:54pm
I wish I was as motivated at 4 AM as I am at 3 PM.

Highway 395 runs North-South tucked below the massive Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. I remember the first time I saw these peaks, in the middle of a long road trip home from Lake Tahoe in Junior High. Sitting in the back seat, bummed that the batteries to my gameboy were toast, I stared quizzically out West.

The range was obscured by afternoon shadows as the sun fell behind the highest mountain range in California. Perhaps everyone in the car was tired, or I sat too far back int he van to hear any conversations up front, because I only remember the sweeping massif of Mount Williamson from that drive – maybe that’s when the AA’s died in my game boy.

There was no understanding then of just how huge that peak was. My feeble ‘tween brain could do little more than trace the winding ridges from the Owens Valley all the way to the white capped summit. There was no yardstick, no football fields nearby to give a laymen a frame of reference. Only shadows and rock, a mysterious maze of gulleys without scale. 15 years later, when I sit below these peaks with an intent to climb them, I am still clueless.

Sunrise at Upper Boy Scout lake

Commuting to the Eastern Sierra from my home in San Diego takes a minimum of a half-day sitting in an uncomfortable sedan crammed full of gear. Gas prices and opportunity costs put only big objectives into my radar in the range. Odds were that if I drove as far as the Southern Sierra town of Lone Pine I was heading in to the back country – front country objectives and ‘half day’ climbs would have to wait for another day.

Some climbers get by without guidebooks, instead flying by the seat of their pants while gleaning beta from crusty clerks at the local climbing shops. Not only do I use them prolifically but I rest proudly on the crutches of Mountainproject and Summitpost for up-to-the-minute trail and anchor conditions.

Often I would buy a guide that was redundant with information I already had. By the time I purchased Peter Croft’s “The Good, the Great and the Awesome” there were already four high sierra climbing books in my library. I guess I’m a sucker for a good story.

Climbing big peaks leaves ample down time for studying or telecommuting. It isn’t rare to find laptops popped open at local Cafés or campgrounds near high country classics, as it would appear most Alpinists play hooky for glory.

With neither responsibilities nor aspirations for higher learning I would fire up the gameboy. Sometimes, when the batteries died and my pack was already stuffed for the next day’s adventure, I would crack open a guidebook. I was still curious after all these years to grasp the size of these peaks, to understand not just what they were but how to get up ‘em.

One story in particular that I loved was in “The Good, the Great and the Awesome.” Peter Croft, after a day guiding in Tuolumne meadows, got an itch to head out for a change of scenery late in the afternoon. Hauling down Tioga Pass and on past Mammoth, our intrepid adventurer sprinted up the North east gulley of Laurel, returning from the massive scramble to his car in a scant 3 hours.

The story fascinated me for many reasons, but mainly that it could be done – that an easy, long sierra scramble could be finished in an afternoon on a whim. The route itself is not quite proud enough to warrant the seven hour car ride from San Diego, but maybe one day if I found myself with a free afternoon on the East Side I might too get an itch.

It took some time to dig my gear out of the Chevy Cavalier I’d been living out of for the past 2 months. My method of throwing everything into a pile on the back seat was not the most efficient way to prepare for heading out at a moments notice, but eventually I got my pack and headlamp out from underneath what is best described as my pantry/hamper.

“Three hours?” I asked myself, looking at the daunting face across the lake. Mount Laurel is guarded by one of the tamest approaches in the range, but I figured getting to it wasn’t the problem. Rather, it was after 3pm and the summit was almost a vertical mile overhead.

I had read the route description a hundred times over the last few years but checked once more before heading out.

“At the 300 foot red band 2/3rds of the way up, head left. Got it.”

Three Lady Gaga songs went by and I was at the short scree field that leads to the main gulley. All of the supposed cruxes were down low, and as the opening section came into view I could just about see the actual climbing. The route was set deep in the catchment basin of the peak, and all the while as you stem and scum up disconnected chimneys there is a feeling of being inside the mountain.

Somewhere down low, I’m sure, was the crux. Chris McNamera in his guidebook “The High Sierra” recommended sticky approach shoes over snug rock slippers, which was more than adequate as I pasted the soles onto scoops and into wide cracks. The moves over the first half of the gulley were fantastic, choose-your-adventure style scrambling at its best. The cross country runner in me was focused on heart rate and electrolytes, but the 13-year old felt privileged to look down at the terrain spilling away below – “I climbed that!” I would marvel as the vertical gain fell through the hourglass.

Inevitably, as with all sierra scrambles, the dues are paid in the form of funky loose rock somewhere along the way. The gulley system opened up into gorgeous broken red rock perched like a house of cards, the wonderful amber of iron deposits ready to rocket down the chasm below like little time bombs.

“Time to head left” I told myself. So long as you step on top of the choss it holds in place and the moves, though loose, were fairly enjoyable. I was even rewarded mid climb with a beautiful mountain thistle, a lonely reminder of the flora that finds a way to thrive in such wild places.

There seemed to be a lot of red rock – like, more than 300 feet. A lot more. No matter, as all roads lead to Rome on mountains, and the summit I was sure could be reached by just about any route that goes ‘up.’

Thirty minutes of vertical dominoes and I joined up with a ridge. Large gendarmes blocked the views ahead, but until there was no more ‘up’ left I wasn’t finished.

The first view over the ridgeline wasn’t what I expected – another gulley. Where was the summit? I was picking my way across steeper and steeper terrain, stopping often to look around – a gulley to the left, a gulley to the right, and a sun fast fading below the skyline.

A last obstacle came into view. A tower stained green with lichen was jsut above the ridge, and peeking over its shoulder was the little summit bump.

Despite a decade in the mountains I still failed to realize the scale of the peak, but the false summits were now behind me. The hardest moves were on the final tower, climbing up and over good hand jams and reverse manteling a boulder to drop myself onto the final sloping talus field that ends abruptly at 11,800 feet, all out of ‘up.’ Running hard on the stable stacked rocks of the summit ridge, heart racing and the sun finally warming my face – this was what Croft was looking for that afternoon.

Summit tagged, register signed. The circuitous descent past rubble and down sage-infested troughs did little to wipe the grin spreading from ear to ear.

Despite modern gear and better beta, Peter was still faster. Of course, he’s a superman. I’d like to be a superman one day too, to soar across the speckled granite buttresses and smell the hidden flowers.

2:07 from car to summit

3:20 round-trip

More super awesome stories can be found on my blog!

  Trip Report Views: 2,442
About the Author
Greg Davis likes vertical bushwhacking.

Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
  Sep 25, 2013 - 01:02pm PT
That's a great time, thanks for the report. It took four of us about 11 hours! We were so dehydrated at the end, that we threw ourselves face first into Convict Creek and drank like dogs. The tourists on the boardwalk weren't sure what to make of that.

That's a nice route.

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Sep 25, 2013 - 03:31pm PT

So I take it you descended most of that ridge behind you?

I don't have Croft's book, was there some easy 5th in your send?
or was it all 3rd and 4th mixed?

5000' in two hours is FAST in my book.


EDIT Just found it in the Mac book, forgot it was there.
Thanks for the reminder. Yeah, you smoked it! :)

Those fantastic looking aretes are just too chossy dirty?

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Sep 25, 2013 - 01:27pm PT
Very nice in all respects.


The Granite State.
  Sep 25, 2013 - 02:58pm PT

Your writing's getting pretty good, too.

Thanks for sharing!

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Sep 25, 2013 - 04:24pm PT
That's a nice route.

I found the rock to be good down low, but the rest of the mountain is a choss pile.
I am glad that I did it, once.

Trad climber
  Sep 25, 2013 - 04:26pm PT

I'm a Norwegian stuck in Joshua Tree
  Sep 25, 2013 - 04:38pm PT
Good job, Greg. Thanks for sharing.


Trad climber
  Sep 25, 2013 - 04:40pm PT
Wow that's impressive.....a fun day and that's a fun route indeed!

Footloose, the decent that I followed last time actually cuts out "rock" right down towards the white cliffs. Its faint and improbable looking but there is a steep trail through it and it then levels out into the valley. From there is dirt skiiing all the way back to the lake
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Sep 25, 2013 - 04:56pm PT
Despite modern gear and better beta, Peter was still faster.


You make it sound like Peter did it in winter of 1874 wearing double boots. I don't think much changed since he soloed it. Maybe your shoes were 30 grams lighter lol.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Sep 25, 2013 - 06:21pm PT
Thanks Greg, way to get after it!!!

Social climber
Author's Reply  Sep 25, 2013 - 06:50pm PT
You make it sound like Peter did it in winter of 1874 wearing double boots. I don't think much changed since he soloed it. Maybe your shoes were 30 grams lighter lol.

Gu, shot blocks, coolQ wicking fabric, Julbo shades that change from Cat1-3 and photo overlays of the route I gleaned online... Yeah that stuff makes a difference :)

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Sep 25, 2013 - 07:02pm PT
Sickly fast man. You're like a freakin' alpine ninja. Proud send.

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, Ca
  Sep 25, 2013 - 10:59pm PT
Good work, took me a lot longer to get up and down that thing. How was the descent? As "msiddens" noted, it looks like you missed the descent described in the book.
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Sep 25, 2013 - 11:34pm PT
Enjoyed the TR. Cool beans.

See that ridgeline over your right shoulder in the 2nd to last photo?

That's the way we went down. Fun.

Social climber
Author's Reply  Sep 25, 2013 - 11:39pm PT
Thanks everyone :) I went too far east, and went down some loose scree and sage rather than the correct cirque, but found enough intermittent use trails to keep it NBD.
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
  Sep 26, 2013 - 12:17am PT
The white ridgeline in your last foto is the normal descent, isn't it? I hiked it a long time ago, and (if memory serves) it was pretty straightforward from the lake right to the summit. I am probably wrong.
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
  Oct 10, 2015 - 11:40pm PT
Nice pics and writes. People have descended it on skis, and climbed it from the west etc, god knows what-all.

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Oct 11, 2015 - 12:03am PT
I don't remember reading this one before. Nice!

  Oct 11, 2015 - 11:38am PT
I missed this one the first time around as well. Glad I caught it this time, thanks. I expected this route to have way more loose and scary rock from what I have read but until the final scree slope to the summit I was able to avoid touching much other than a bit here and there and at no point did I think I would send anything down. I also am surprised by comments like "I am glad I did it once". I plan on climbing it at least one or two times a's that good.

I took a picture of the thistle as well.
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report
Laurel Mountain - Northeast Gully 5.2 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from Convict Lake.
Photo: Chris McNamara