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Laurel Mountain
Mountain/Rock

Laurel Mountain

 
Laurel Mountain

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: California, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.58000°N / 118.89°W

Object Title: Laurel Mountain

Elevation: 11812 ft / 3600 m

 

Page By: Diggler

Created/Edited: Aug 15, 2003 / Sep 26, 2006

Object ID: 151761

Hits: 21709 

Page Score: 89.01%  - 28 Votes 

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Overview

While overshadowed by its Convict Lake-area neighbour Mt. Morrison, both physically (Morrison is approximately 400 ft. higher), as well as in popularity, Laurel Mountain is an impressive mountain in its own right. Looking up at the huge northeast face of the mountain, there is nothing diminutive about it; towering over 4,000 ft. above Convict Lake, it commands the attention of all in the valley. Though more inconspicuous from its other aspects, it is nonetheless visible from Mammoth Lakes, farther north on 395, & from the White Mountains, as well.

While the summit can be achieved via a class 2 dirt, scree, and talus slog from various locations (including Convict Lake & Mammoth Lakes), a classic Sierra rock climb (the NE gully) exists on the mountain. It was here, in fact, that an important part of West-coast climbing history occurred- the first belayed rope climb in the Sierra Nevada, by John Mendenhall & James Van Patten in 1930. The peak's first ascent appears to have been by John D. Mendenhall in 1925, via the NE Trough.

Would-be climbers beware, though- getting off-route while attempting the NE Gully will land you on 3rd & 4th class 'rock' likely worse than any other you've ever encountered, with great exposure, & hundreds (or thousands, depending on one's position) of feet of vertical before the sanctuary of the gentle scree & talus slopes of the mountain's northern aspect are gained- trust me, this is highly undesirable.

Astute Star Trek movie watchers will have recognized Laurel Mountain's Sevehah Cliff (to the L of the NE gully) in The Insurrection.

Getting There

Various approach options exist for Laurel Mountain.

To gain its slopes from Convict Lake (the easiest approach), including the NE Gully, take the Convict Lake turnoff from Highway 395, ~8 mi. south of Mammoth Lakes, and perhaps 30 miles or so north of Bishop. Follow this until you reach the “Trailhead” sign on the R, shortly before the resort (also on the R)- take a R here, to the parking lot & trailhead.

This trail takes one to the base of the mountain, & almost directly to the beginning of the NE Gully (not more than 100 yards of cross-country lead to the old streambed {composed of mostly white scree/talus} marking the base of the climb). Make sure to take a R where the trail forks near the end of the lake (a sign shortly thereafter proclaims “John Muir Wilderness”).

It would be possible to hike south from Mammoth Lakes, too, to gain the talus & scree slopes of the mountain's northern aspect- this would be very long, however, & possibly all cross-country (across desert)- most likely not a lot of fun.

Red Tape

If camping is desired in the John Muir Wilderness (surrounding the mountain), a permit must be obtained from either the Mammoth or White Mountain (Bishop) Ranger Station. Wood-burning is not permitted above 10,000 ft. (a fire permit for below this level is included in the wilderness permit, however). Much of the parking is also reserved for day-use only.

When To Climb

The best time to climb Laurel Mountain would be from June to late October, when it is mostly snow-free. On a smaller time scale, as can be seen from the photos, it is possible to climb during the day, as well as the night (this is NOT recommended!).

Camping

There is a great deal of drive-in camping around the NE shore of Convict Lake, with some really nice spots surrounded by surprisingly lush vegetation, including some nice aspen. Deer often frequent the campsites. A fine view of Laurel Mountain & the NE Gully can be had from many of these as well.

These sites are first-come, first-serve, so get there early- especially on the weekends, when you'll be competing with rednecks, fishermen, & RVgoers for these precious spots. These plush sites offer running water (no need for iodine pills or filters!), toilets, grills, & picnic tables. Prices as of this writing are $15/site. To get to the campground, follow the road until it Ts at the lake, then take a L, and then another L shortly thereafter (follow the signs). 760.924.5500 (note: this campground is open seasonally, so call before you go!)

If you don't want to deal with this, & as much of Laurel Mountain lies in the John Muir Wilderness, it would also be possible to obtain a wilderness permit, and camp in the Wilderness; this is not recommended, due to desert climate [hot, dry, no shade] & lack of water. The only reliable source of water after the snow's gone is the river feeding the lake at its SW corner. Obtain a permit from the Mammoth Ranger Station if coming from the north, or in Bishop (White Mountain Ranger Station), if coming from the south.

If neither of these options are desired (or possible), the Shady Rest campground, in Mammoth Lakes, next to the ranger station/visitor centre, is another idea (this campground open seasonally as well). Phone # is 760.924.5500

Mountain Conditions

The closest actual town to Laurel Mountain is Mammoth Lakes, located 5 or 10 miles N of the mountain. Checking the weather for here would work, or call the ranger station in Mammoth Lakes. Also indicative of the mountain's conditions would be those at Convict Lake- call the Resort & ask 'em what the weather's like.

Weather @ Mammoth Lakes

Rock Composition/Integrity

Laurel Mountain is composed of various types of sedimentary & metamorphic rock, including some of the oldest in the Sierra Nevada, many with beautiful color contrasts (reminiscent of Painter's Palette in Death Valley, if you've been there). It is also composed of some of the worst, if you're a climber and have the misfortune of getting off-route on the NE Gully climb- Cascade volcano rock feels like Sierra granite after climbing on this s**t! This peak is basically a large, decomposing mound of rubble, mysteriously held together somehow by fragile geologic forces. You've been warned- if you get off-route from the NE Gully, where the stone is purportedly quite good (I'd vouch for approximately the first half), you won't need your pro- any nut or cam you try to set will most likely break the 'rock' as soon as you test its integrity, the same as a possible hand/foothold. The biggest peace of mind you'll have to belay (a follower) is a big, firm ledge (luckily, fairly available).

Geology

A more formal explanation of Laurel Mountain's geology can be had here. I am indebted to Mr. Jade Star Lackey of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, for this information. He has authored numerous publications on the geology of the Sierra Nevada, & without him, such a comprehensive analysis of Laurel Mountain's geology would not be here. This section more or less is the summary he so graciously prepared for me, with some minor vocabulary modifications/additions/omissions made by me in a few places. If you're like me, a dictionary will be beneficial when attempting to understand this. Mind boggling.

Laurel Mountain is composed of metamorphic rocks (sandstones, slates, and marbles) that were originally deposited as a package of sediments off of western North America during the Paleozoic era. These sediments accumulated offshore much as sediments are accumulating off of the east coast of the US these days.

The presence of limestones & marbles suggests that the whole continent was closer to the equator at that time. A modern analogue might be the Caribbean, where there are many reefs & limestone deposits now forming. This passive sedimentation was abruptly interrupted during the Antler orogeny in Devonian times (360 - 415 million years {My} ago). This orogeny deformed the rocks now visible considerably, caused a great deal of faulting and folding, & caused them to dip steeply as do now. Many of the beds in the NE face are in fact overturned. This deformation may have continued until the late Triassic period (~225 My ago), but there's no concensus on this. No significant deformation occurred after that time, based on a date obtained from a granitic dike that cross-cuts a major fault in the area.

Fast forward to 89 My ago- the Sierra Nevada granites are being emplaced rapidly & forming the massive, bad-ass, & world-famous granitic batholith we now see today. This granitic magmatism was advancing to the east & in fact most of Laurel Mountain's sedimentary rocks were surrounded by granitic plutons (bodies) between 90 & 86 My ago. These granitic rocks (these vary in composition from diorite to granodiorite to granite) were being generated in response to to subduction beneath western North America, at which time things would have looked as the Andes do today. All of the heat and fluids associated with the granites caused the metamorphism of the rocks at Laurel Mountain. This metamorphism didn't change the overall shape or orientation of the rocks, but did lead to some significant mineralogical changes.

The mineral wollastonite (CaSiO3) forms when calcite (a common crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, the basic constituent of limestone, marble, & chalk) & quartz react in the presence of abundant water, into which CO2 (carbon dioxide) evolving from the reaction of calcite and quartz can be dissolved and transported away. If the CO2 is cannot be removed, the reaction will not occur. The sandstones in the NE cliff contain abundant wollastonite lower down in the cliff, but up high, the same formation, called here the Mt. Morrison sandstone, contains calcite and quartz. This can be explained by water-rich fluids moving vertically through the sandstone beds in the cliff, but petering out at this point. In photos of the NE face, this can be seen by the white wollastonite-bearing portions, as opposed to the upper gray sections, which contain mostly calcite and quartz. This mineralogical transition in the NE face gives rise to a considerable change in slope, where the wollastonite-absent portions up high form the steep gray spires, but the lower sections, with wollastonite, have a gentler slope. Wollastonite is a long, fibrous mineral, & cause cuts if you're not careful. Interestingly enough, once found to be carcinogenic, asbestos was frequently replaced in industrial applications by wollastonite.

After metamorphisis (peak temperatures were ~580 degrees C [1076 deg F], and the rocks were 7 - 10 km {~23,000' - 33,000' ; 11 mi - 16 mi} below the surface at the time), things were pretty chill, though the uplift of the Sierra & associated erosion caused the exposure we now see. The glaciers obviously turned the mother out.

Here are the specifics of geology of Laurel Mountain's NE face:

Starting up the NE face, one would start in Ordivician (440 - 490 My) black slates of the Convict Lake formation, and then possibly through some Silurian-Devonian (440 - 400) mudstones that are now hard pinstriped-looking schist (the Aspen Meadows formation). These two units are low on the cliff & are thus not that prominent; depending on the route taken, they might be covered with talus.

The largest unit in the cliff is the Devonian Mt. Morrison sandstone (360 - 415 My). Recall that the white lower portions contain the mineral wollastonite, but the upper spires are just calcite plus quartz sandstone. The bedding in the lower portions of the sandstone dips 50 - 60 degrees, but some of the upper exposures find near-vertical bedding dips (~80 degrees).

Midway up there is a rusty red slate unit called the Squares Tunnel formation (which is also Devonian, but slightly younger than the Mt. Morrison sandstone). It has a sub unit that is younger still called the McGee Mountain member. This is also calcite plus quartz sandstone & looks very much like the Mt. Morrison sandstone, but the beds in this unit are thinner on average.

Things then repeat. There is a thrust fault fairly high on the cliff (where the steepness starts to mellow out). This has caused some of the Mt. Morrison sandstone unit to be repeated in this section, but it also overturned the beds, so one goes into the older slates of the Convict Lake formation upon approaching Laurel Mountain's summit.

The summit itself is composed of black-spotted slates (the term schist could be used here as well). The rocks on top often have light-colored spots on them which are metamorphic minerals- some of these are andalusite & cordierite. Both of these formed during the high-temperature metamorphism of the area.

Whew.

Fauna & Flora

Laurel Mountain's unique position, at the very eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada, between desert lowlands & the high mountains, presents a number of different ecosystems in a condensed area, enabling an interesting mix of plants and animals to coexist side by side. Hummingbirds, swallows, crows, deer, hares, snakes, aspen, sagebrush, Indian Paintbrush, cacti (all seen), bats (heard), are among the creatures that call this place home.

More Information / Further Reading

 'THE GOOD, THE GREAT, AND THE AWESOME: The Top 40 High Sierra Rock Climbs,' by Peter Croft; Maximus Press; ISBN 0-9676116-4-4

Very well written book with great & humorous anecdotes, from a current High Sierra pioneer & world-class climber. Well-done route descriptions, topographic maps for climbs (!!- something sorely lacking in many CA climbing guides), & good topos for many climbs; unfortunately, topo lacking for Laurel Mtn's NE Gully; while some apparently find the route finding straight-forward, I unfortunately didn't while attempting this climb, got way off-route [at about the ½-way point], & encountered probably the worst 'rock' for the latter half of the mountain (class 3 - 4 climbing, with LOTS of exposure) that I've ever been on- really could have used a better route description, or rudimentary topo, in this case.

 Supertopo.com by Chris McNamara: THE BEST HIGH SIERRA CLIMBS , also available in print form (High Sierra Select); haven't checked out the actual route description for this one, but pulled off the free route overview & photo from the web, which worked well. From my experience with other Supertopo products, though, I suspect it's probably pretty good.

 Mammoth Ranger Station
2500 Main St. (just before getting into town from 395, on the R)
Mammoth Lakes, CA
760.924.5500
open 8.00 - 17.00 daily (summer hours)
Mammoth Ranger Station web page

 White Mountain Ranger Station
798 N. Main St.
Bishop, CA
760.873.2500
open 8.00 - 17.00 daily (summer hours)
White Mountain Ranger Station web page


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