ApproachThis is one of the easiest approaches to climb any peak in the Sierra. Simply follow the trail on the north side of Convict Lake for a mile and half, then head up scrub and scree slopes to the obvious deep cleft found on the right side of the mountain's East Face.
Route DescriptionThere has been much confusion on this route though there need not be with some careful study of the route beforehand from Convict Lake. Secor and Roper basically copied Hervey Voge's description of the route which includes a "turn right" halfway up the mountain. Croft got the description correct in his book with a "turn left" correction. The picture in his book is dead on. Other routes are possible on this face, but the rock is looser and of higher difficulty. If one stays on the correct route, the rock is solid for the most part and highly enjoyable. Several entries in the summit register castigate Croft for including this route in his list of "Great" Sierra climbs. I tend to agree with Croft and think those disillusioned others may have been off-route.
From the trail, climb sage-covered hillsides on the right side of the talus trail emanating from the deep cleft which marks the start of the route. Climb the talus where preferred to avoid further bushwhacking. Once above the lower talus field, the rock becomes more solid and quite good.
Almost immediately you come to the crux of the route (assuming you stay on-route), a short 15-foot slab at about 60 degrees. Climb it on the left, or bypass it altogether by climbing loose class 3 crap down and to the right. Continue following the narrow gully. Approximately 1/3 of the way up you will come to a split, with two narrow gullies continuing left and right. Take the right gully. Climb slabs to the left to avoid a difficult steep section, near vertical at the top, rejoining the gully above this.
Once you reach the prominent area of reddish rock a the halfway point, angle left following the lowest point in the channel for the best rock, aiming for the broader gully just left of the summit. The route splits again at about the 2/3 point, it is here that you turn right (this is the "right turn" the other guidebooks were referring to). It is a gradual turn, and if you are following the bottom of the gully it will naturally lead you in this direction. Above the reddish rock you will find low class 5 slabs, possibly slick from water in early season. Some caution is advised here to find the easiest route.
When approximately 3/4 of the way up the mountain, the good rock disappears in a broad sea of ugly talus. Suffer this last injustice while you reminisce about the fun you just had. Depending on how you stumble up this upper face, you will come out either directly at the summit or somewhere off to the south (it is easy to reach the summit from any of several side ridges). Alois Smrz describes a variation leading right from the beginning of the talus that avoids the ugliness of the route. This may well be worth considering as the upper section held no special joy as I recall.
To be fair, there are many variations in lines that can be climbed on this route. Numerous chutes branch off to the right leading to the NE Ridge, and there are a number of aretes that could be climbed left or right in the low to mid-class 5 range.
To descend, head down the talus-strewn North Slope to a broad saddle on the NE side. You can drop down this to a hanging valley which can be followed down to slopes leading back to the trail. Croft recommends descending the NE Ridge and then back down scree slopes and gully systems to meet up with the base of the route. He suggests this in order to avoid "toughing it out" through scrub brush further east. I'm not sure he has made the descent further east, as I found the bushwhacking to be relatively mild and preferential to the loose descents on the scree and in the gullies.
Bob Pickering offers his excellent comments:
The Northeast Gully on Laurel Mountain is a long, high-quality route. Part of its appeal is that it is so different from other Sierra classics.
Guidebooks and trip reports describe both excellent rock and terrible rock on this climb. Both are correct. The bedrock on which you climb is excellent most of the way up, especially at the bottom. It's not as good near the top, but it is still decent. However, every ledge, from the bottom to the top, has loose rock and sand on it. If you climb very carefully, you can climb the entire route without kicking anything down. If you are careless or clumsy, you will knock lots of rocks down.
Steve Roper and R.J. Secor rate the route class 4 in their guidebooks. Peter Croft rates it III 5.2. I would rate it class 4. Regardless of the rating, I recommend leaving your rope at home. It would be very hard to keep the rope from knocking rocks down. The best climbing is in the middle of the gully, so very few rocks will miss your partner. In addition, the protection is generally poor despite the good overall rock quality.
The route is both long and committing. You have to climb 3,200 feet of rock with no good opportunity to bail off the route. Wet weather would make the route, especially the lower portion, very slick. A good thunderstorm could send rocks crashing down the center of the gully, right where you will probably be climbing. In fact, a good thunderstorm would probably send a small river down the center of the gully.
Having said all of that, this IS a quality route. The climbing is hard enough to be interesting and fun, but easy enough for many mountaineers to solo. The climbing changes constantly. There are short chimneys and short sections of face climbing separated by short sections of easier slab climbing and ledges. The climbing is fun, and the approach is only 20% of the climb. If you can solo class-4 rock comfortably, and the weather looks good, go for it.
Essential GearThe route was originally rated class 4 (Secor has it at this still), but Croft calls it 5.2. I rather agree with the class 4 rating, your opinon may vary. Some parties prefer to rope up, many do not. The rock is difficult to protect and there are many, many pitches if one chooses to use a rope. Retreating via rappel is apt to be an arduous process without leaving a lot of gear. Best is to be proficient at class 3-4 and leave all the extra gear in the car.
Winter/SpringThe route can also be climbed in winter conditions, though waiting for the snow to settle to avoid the obvious avalanche dangers would be essential. SP member Snowball climbed this in March, 2010 and has attached some photos of that climb. I'd suggest contacting him for further information.
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