Mt Agassiz via South Lake

Mt Agassiz via South Lake

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Oct 10, 2015

Date: October 10, 2015

Mountains climbed: Mt Agassiz

Summit: No

Climbing time: 14.25hrs (incl multiple rest stops)

Difficulty: Class 1 walk-up via South Lake Trail Head (9,493′), and Class 2/3 on Agassiz

Elevation gain/loss: Approx. 8,030’ total

Total mileage: 13.6 miles car-to-car (trailhead lot closed, had to park 1/2mile down the hill)

Gear: Gregory Palisade 80L pack (30lb weight); Wenzel 25L Summit Pack; 3L Platypus Hoser reservoir; 1-32 oz bottles of H2O; 2 GU gels; bonk bar; banana; chewing gum; Salomon Quest 4D II GTX; Darn Tough socks; Columbia convertible cargo pants; Patagonia Capilene tee; LL Bean 1/4 zip fleece; Hawk & Co. down jacket; Oakley Tin Can sunglasses; Garmin Forerunner 310XT; Shiseido sunblock SPF50 (forgot it this trip! This enabled a wonderful autumn sunburn which I proudly flossed back at home the next few days!); Panjshir Pakol (wool hat); Black Diamond headlight.

Weather outlook: 42-60F, clear skies, light wind, no precipitation.

Trip Reflections (condensed version)

This was the third peak in the Climbing CA for Syrian Refugees series. My cousin Meleq joined me this outing. It was our first hike together and, as I recall, his first time climbing above 11,000′.

The approach to Agassiz wasn’t inordinately long (6.5 miles), despite the seemingly endless sequences of switchbacks from the trailhead, and then up Bishop Pass, which admittedly was a bit tedious because of the deep snow. But the trailhead stands relatively high at 9400’+, and eliminates some of the work on the approach. If you’re able to camp there the night before (we stayed in a motel in Bishop, 3000′), one can also acclimatize a bit which can theoretically help minimize symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) at higher altitudes.

The route in its totality is exceptionally beautiful, with enough lakes and soaring mountains to impress even the most jaded urban denizen. The Palisades region provides scenic vistas at virtually every turn, in my opinion making it hard to collect a bad photograph.

While we began just before the dawn, about an hour before sunrise, the return hike in the late afternoon really allowed us to enjoy the golden foliage of the trees, the immense slopes of the Inconsolable Range, Mt Goode, and even Table Top Peak, and those incredible shimmering crystalline alpine lakes. These views were a nice recompense, considering we were generally tired and hollowed out by the end of the day.

Agassiz itself isn’t very technical in nature; depending on the route chosen on the west face (where we ascended), it’s mostly class 2 walk up, with possible instances of easy class 3 scrambling (which we sought out/encountered).

The one mostly unexpected element on this day was the sheer amount of unconsolidated snow we encountered going up the Pass, and on Agassiz proper (leftovers from the heavy dusting the Sierras received one week earlier). The snow made the going in these places with boots incredibly slow and tedious. Our 10am ascent start from the base of Agassiz’s west face, at roughly 12,100′, up to our peak altitude of 13,508′, took roughly 3hrs15mins; this exceeded our my cousin's desired 1pm turnaround time.

Judging by the absence of footprints on the pass trail and up near Agassiz in Dusy Basin, I reckon we were one of the first to hike up that way since the recent snowfall. Indeed, trail blazing a path on new snow up the pass was draining; and descending in the afternoon when the snow had turned to wet slush…no less amusing!

Likewise, the arduous route finding on Agassiz itself, as we tried {mostly in vain} to avoid post holing in 2-4′ unconsolidated snow pack by laboriously zig zagging our way up the hill, hopping precariously rock to rock, in the end sapped far too much time, and energy.

Without doubt it was primarily the snow, abetted also by just 2-4hrs of sleep the night before, a relatively late start at 545am, and in my opinion much too slow of a pace on the approach to Agassiz from the Trailhead, which prevented us from attaining the summit.

Still, in the end it was a terrific day and most definitely an excellent workout. It was good to get out into the High Sierra with my cousin, and no doubt Agassiz is one we’ll be thinking about climbing again soon.


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