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I returned to Meysan Lakes with my dad six weeks after climbing Mt LeConte and Mt Corcoran with a friend in mid-August. The original plan back then was to try to climb Mt Mallory and Mt Irvine as bonus peaks but I seem to be really slow on traverse cross-country hikes and thus ran out of time. My dad and I hiked into Camp Lake just below Upper Meysan late Friday and set-up camp. As I gazed up at the chute coming down from Mallory Plateau, I was struck by the difference six weeks make. The whole plateau and slope were now covered with a healthy blanket of snow. Six weeks ago, only the chutes had icy snow in them and we had used crampons and ice ax to climb up and down to the plateau. Having discovered a non-snow route during that climb, I had decided to leave the snow equipment for this trip. Now as I gazed up at this enormous snow field, I was wishing that I had brought my equipment or possibly even skis. Well, tomorrow would tell soon enough what would happen.
I awoke just after 6 AM and was out of the camp by 7. For snow gear, all I had was my water repellant boots, my zip-on leggings for my shorts, and my trekking poles. My dad had declined the invitation to climb as he was going to tramp around the basin and read his book. I quickly climbed the low ridge just west of the lake that leads to the northeast ridge of Irvine. I was surprised by the amount of snow even on top of this ridge. A very easy class 2 climb up Irvine’s northeast ridge made more interesting by me trying to dodge the deeper snow drifts (and not always succeeding.) During the climb, I had a constant view of Whitney, Russell, and the Whitney superhighway with tiny ants slowly inching their way up the trail. The 99 switchbacks were clearly visible as the snow coating enhanced their visibility. Just after 10AM, I stood on the top of Mt Irvine and gazed over the Irvine Bowl at Mallory, contemplating my next step. I also examined the route up Mt McAdie which I was considering as a possible bonus. I had zero beta on McAdie and decided, based on the snow and what I saw (some very sporty class 4 work), that I would forgo this impressive peak. I also made the decision that I would approach Mallory via Arc Pass due to the amount of snow in the Irvine basin. I left the final approach decision for later: climb up to the plateau for the class 2 southeastern side or attempt the class 3 northwestern side.
To avoid snow as much as possible, I traversed the ridgeline to the top of the chute leading to Arc Pass instead of dropping down and just cutting across the Irvine basin. The chute was completely clear of snow and the trace trail down to Arc Pass clearly visible. From where I stood, I could see that I didn’t have to drop down all of the way and could work my way around the various buttresses that spring from the ridgeline peaklets between Irvine and Mallory. This type of clever thinking is usually what gets me into trouble. I counted the buttresses as I traversed a couple hundred feet below the ridgeline coming to what I thought was the correct chute going back up. Success -- a trace trail going up the chute! I climbed up the chute and looked at my options. Hummm -- looks harder than the advertised class 3 but looks can be deceiving. I scrambled up to a broad ledge about 100 feet up but found further progress right blocked by a 500 foot vertical drop. I then scrambled around left and came face to face with a class 4 icy crack going most of the way up. After trying twice and avoiding the ice, I made it up the crack and scrambled to the top …. and looked over at the northwest face of Mallory. Damn!
I began to down climb my peaklet’s vertical wall facing Mallory as it appeared the blocky composition would afford me enough ledges to the bottom. Here’s that cleverness thing again. To get to lower blocks I had to grab a jutting rock and swing like a monkey over 800ft of thin air. And yes, the nice ledges disappeared into (from my vantage point) a class 5+ smooth face. OK, I’ve made some moves that I’m not sure I can reverse and even then it would take me at least another hour to get back to the bottom of the chute that I ascended to get to this peaklet. Adrenalin is pumping as I’m able to reverse my moves (monkey swing upward and all) and I’m back on top of the peaklet. I’m in luck because the north side facing the Irvine basin is snowy but an easy class 3 down to the gap between the peaklet and Mallory. After that, the scramble to the top of Mallory is fun but definitely anticlimactic (I even passed the high point by mistake). The views are stunning and I am quite happy to have completed this part of the adventure. In retrospect, Mt McAdie wouldn’t have been any more difficult and time wise probably about the same. It had taken me (and my cleverness) just over 3 hours to traverse from Irvine to Mallory – something that I now know can be done in an hour.
The descent from Mallory to the snowy plateau is uneventful but my doggedness for avoiding snow abruptly comes to an end. Leggings and trekking poles are pulled out of the pack and readied. I start walking towards the center chute since it’s the one I’ve hiked before. Plunge stepping and post holing sometimes up to my knee and sometimes up to my hip. I make it to the top of the chute, brush the snow out from inside tops of my boots, and begin descending. What 6 weeks ago was a cautious hard snow descent (mixed with some glissading) is now just wading through the deep snow. I do attempt to glissade a couple of times but just end up with snow up my back. I hike to the left side lip of the chute where there is practically no snow, shaking the snow out my boots and socks, and hike down a reasonable snow-less scree trail to where the chute narrows halfway down. Back in the middle of the chute I plunge step all of the way down in 2 feet of snow with a stiff ice breeze at my back. I reach Meysan Lake at last and perform one final shakeout of my boots and socks.
My post-hike analysis concludes that I had a great adventure with perfect weather but a bit too much cleverness. The final chapter of the trip closes back at home as I peruse the PBS Nova webpage (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/everest/lost/) on the ill-fated Everest expedition which resulted in the loss of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine – the name sakes of my outing’s two peaks.