Alpine Touring on Mt. Morrison

I happened upon the Convict Lake area on my birthday backpacking trip up to Mt. Baldwin in 2016. The area is an amazing Eastern Sierra setting with two notable peaks (Morrison and Laurel) within a mile of the parking lot and an amazing remote basin several miles back. In this trip we were to follow the East Slope Variation route to ascend the chute between Mini Morrison and Mt. Morrison, ski down the chute, camp and then the next day ski out via the East Slope route. (map)

Packing it up to Camp

The road to the trailhead parking was unplowed and had several inches of snow on a layer of ice. After a little difficulty driving on the slick stuff at 3am we opted to sleep by the side of the road next to the trailhead road and get a few hours of sleep.

Most people slept in their car just off the road here and left our cars there overnight. Morrison peaking out in background.

The next morning we decided to leave our cars here, walking down the road towards the trail that traverses along the South side of Convict Lake. There was snow enough to skin as soon as we hit trailhead, but the snow was super hard even at 11am so most of us put on crampons to follow the skin track that traversed a decent slope, where if you fell would slide you into the lake. We found the lower ski track that stayed closer to the lake edge was easier with a less aggressive slope. If I did this again I’d take the Northern trail which is slightly longer, but progress would have been much quicker.

Much nicer lower skin track with actually packable snow. Anything in sun was basically ice. You can see the cold water below awaiting any slide.

Once past the lake we started left on ascent to the first saddle up a 30-35 degree slope. The climb took about two hours to haul our backpacks up this 1,500 ft of elevation gain.

This first saddle is the perfect place to camp: far away from rock fall, protected by terrain against a rouge avalanche and out of the wind. The short 2 mile 1,500ft approach to get here really took it out of several of our party given the backpacks so we decided to camp here instead of the higher ridge.

Amazing campsite on the saddle looking toward Morrison with chute on left

Making the most of the day we got in a good corn run at 4pm by skinning up to the ridge and skiing back to camp where we lit candles on a cake, sang happy birthday and popped champaign for my partner Sadie.

Brian self-lessly offering his body to keep our candles lit. 😀

Ascending the Chute

The next morning we woke up naturally around 7am to head up the chute. Starting out the snow was again too hard to skin without ski crampons so we put the crampons on. Once any snow had a half hour of sun it was good for skinning which was much more enjoyable then the post holing up the chute in our boots during the temperature transition. Some of us were dragging and it took us 3 hours bring our backpacks up 2,000 ft and 1 mile from camp to the ridgeline.

Looking down the chute from near the top

The top of the chute has hazard so be careful, we heard many rock fall on our ascent, saw evidence of wet slide avalanches and some fairly large cornices.

Avalanche debris on South side of chute
Large cornice on North end of ridge

We ended our trip in a half hour ski down from the ridge back to the road descending the East Slope route for Morrison. It was the longest run I’ve ever done and we had corn the whole way at 1pm.

View of the steepest section of East descent from saddle

Great stuff. On conditions note, I did find powder in the chute in areas rarely touched by sun, I bet this place holds powder pretty good earlier in season.