North Face, I, 5.3 (4 pitches)

Page Type
California, United States, North America
Route Type:
Time Required:
Most of a day
Sound rock, good climbing
Rock Difficulty:
5.3 (YDS)

Route Quality: 1 Votes

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North Face, I, 5.3 (4 pitches)
Created On: Jul 17, 2006
Last Edited On: Jul 6, 2011


Mount Le Conte is just 40 feet shy of 14,000 feet (13,960')and what it lacks(?) in height it gains in variety, views and solitude (if one approaches via Meysan Lakes Trail off the Whitney Portal). While the Portal is perpetually busy with campers, hikers and climbers, a short 1/2 mile away on the Meysan Lakes Trail, you are likely to have the place to yourself. The approach is fairly steep even for an Eastern Sierra trail but it reaches upper Meysan Lake, el. 11,600' in about 4.5 miles. The upper Meysan Lake is the starting point for several summit climbs on Mt.Mallory, Mt. Irvine, Mt. LeConte and Lone Pine Peak as well as the technical East Buttress route on Mt. Irvine. Many traverses are done on the peaks and towers between Mt. Langley to the south and Mt.Irvine to the north, as well. Several of these peak climbs and traverses are well known to SP members and are already described under the various neigboring peaks and towers. Mt.LeConte's North Face is suprisingly steep and clean climbing requiring a rope and at least some rock gear. I'm sure there are some people out there who might consider this route just another "Sierra Class 4" but it is a bit too sustained and steep to call it that. If you already climbed the peak by one of the several non technical routes, you might find this route a somewhat interesting, clean and enjoyable roped scramble to the top. The route was first climbed on August 29th, 1971 by Carl Heller and Bill Stronge and judging from the summit register, it just does not get climbed; we love the obscure routes in the Sierra.

Getting There

Just before reaching Whitney Portal you'll see a sign on the road pointing to Meysan Lakes Trailhead. Close by, the Portal Road is widened, allowing parking of several vehicles. Please note: Several bear boxes have been installed at the Meysan Lakes Traihead (Y.2006)allowing climbers and hikers to store food in them, rather than leaving it in their cars. Since bears are extremely active in the immediate area, this was a GREAT move on the part of the USFS.
Follow the well marked Meysan Lakes Trail for abour 4.5 or 5 miles to the upper Meysan Lake below the imposing east face of Mt. Irvine. Make your camp on one of the several flat spots a bit away from the lake. There are several short walls nearby, allowing you to hang your food. The top of the North Face route is clearly visible from the campsite area, accesible via snow slopes (in early season) or scree slopes of about 40 degrees and at least 1500 feet of gain. Topping the slopes, you'll reach the plateau between Mt. Mallory and Mt.LeConte. The right side of Mt.LeConte's summit cone consists of a fairly steep and suprisingly clean wall. The North Face route follows the prominent crack system at the base of the wall. Please see the route drawn on one of the attached photos.

Average times might be something like 1.5 hours from Upper Meaysan Lake to the base of the route, 1-2 hours climbing the route, couple of hours scrambling down the East Arete and about an hour back down to camp. Overall, this is a good day outing.

Route Description

The route follows the most prominent crack system (see photo) for 3 pitches of 5th class terrain (in mountain boots). The 3rd pitch traverses left for about thirty feet and climbs a prominent crack above (the crux, a bit strenuous). This short pitch deposits you on a large, flat tower about 200 feet from the summit. Downclimb a bit to the notch between the tower and the summit and scramble up to the top. The views of the Mt.Whitney group are awesome from here. To descend, we followed the East Arete route described in 2nd Edition of "The High Sierra" by RJ Secor (not recomended). From the summit, we droped down to the south for about 80-100 feet and then turned left or East down a steep gully. Several hundred feet of steep downclimbing (we roped couple of spots) brought us to an exposed ledge and about 400 feet of tricky friction slab climbing (we roped and belayed here) brought us back to the base of the climb. One of the photos included in this route description has the descent route drawn on it. There could be (must be?) an easier route down but we didn't find it.

Essential Gear

One can go very light even if an overnight trip is planned. In early season, the approach gullies are solid snow, so ice axe and crampons will be required. In August, the snow can be avoided, the gullies become endless scree slopes and ice axe and crampons can be left at home. Most people might want to bring a rope; if in ANY doubt, bring a rope, a few wires and 4-5 medium hexes. We brought an 8mm, 165 foot rope and used it as well as the gear.

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North Face, I, 5.3 (4 pitches)

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