Spring Summit of Mt. Morrison

Mono Jim (left), Morrison (center), moon (right)

I have looked at Mt. Morrison’s grand 12,240 ft summit for many years. We had a Spring summit attempt in 2017, when we said “who cares, let’s ski” at the Morrison Couloir. In 2020 Sadie and I climbed Laurel and the view of Morrison again called to me. Now on fun-employment I took the day to bag it (basically this route) through brush, across post holing snow and up some 4th class rock that I got myself into (the route goes Class 3 if you aren’t messing around like me).

I started my day at the overnight trailhead lot at 6am. This is where I made my first and only mistake of the day. I didn’t realize there was day-use parking outside of the resort along Convict Lake right by where the hike starts. This cost me a mile and about 15 minutes each way, but tired feet speak. When I got to approximately to the left of the stream bed (shown as a river on a topo map), I just started up. No trail, just trying to stay left of the gully and away from trees. Following deer paths until I climbed the first 1200 ft out of the Convict Lake basin.

What the approach looks like

From here I got myself pulled into the right side canyon a few times by trying to avoid gaining unnecessary elevation, traversing going towards a saddle. However, I soon found those were false saddles and staying on the ridge reduced the shin to knee high brush to more like ankle height. Keeping on top of the ‘ridge’ I reached the base of the Morrison couloir in about two hours at 10,000 ft. (FYI there was no water at the ‘lake’ shown on topos at the base of the couloir)

Looking up towards the couloir (the upper snow patch) from the base

I found a use-trail climbing up the scree which started at the base of the couloir. This trail was steep but got me up to the couloir pretty fast. Peering over the other side, there was still a decent amount of snow in the gulley but it was a lot steeper than I remember.

Looking over the couloir

At this point I turned up towards Morrison, going across a snow patch for about 100 ft. Unfortunately, this snow traverse put me to work. I was postholing knee to hip in the snow which softened up very quickly in the day (9am). I would bury my ice axe to the blade and then try to pull myself up. I resorted to crawling up with the ice axe and a free hand several times.

View forward from the col.

Finally through this snow section it became a little scrambly where I tried to stay on rock instead of the rock gully with loose stuff on top of hard stone. I had to be careful of rock because even big stuff could tumble like the microwave sized block I stepped on and pushed down mountain a few feet. A big deal if it fell on my leg or foot.

Rocky ledges section

For a section, I started climbing on some rock that got steeper and steeper and eventually was in Class 4 territory. I was in this harder terrain mainly because I was trying to get the feel of alpine climbing and a little exposure for an upcoming objective this Spring.

After the steep stuff, it was hard to catch my breath at 12,000 ft. I managed to slowly make my way to the summit and sign the registrar full of ski ascents from the season. “Now its time to ski this shit” was a common phrase. Celebrating my four hour ascent of 5 miles 4,500 ft I ate some food and took in the view. I’m pretty quick on summits so after 15 minutes I was gone. Off down loose stuff on hard rock, trying to go around the steep stuff I climbed before and retrace my steps.

View of Laurel Peak from summit

Just above the couloir, I reached some snow in the trees and started my long glissade. The snow was sufficiently warm at 10am and my ice axe was kinda doing nothing to slow me down. I had to push my feet a foot down into the snow to get enough friction to stop and guide me through the trees for half the glissade until I got into the open on tougher snow.

Glissade done, it was time to hike the brush out to the car. I always feel kinda cool wearing an ice axe and felt like some mountain man as I stumbled out of the brush onto the road by two lake-goers. After a mile hike back to the car, it was complete! 6 hours car-car for 10 miles, 4,500 ft. I felt it was a pretty good showing even if the AllTrails comment says that’s the average.

View from summit