The Mendel Couloir
By Andrew McLean

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Originally published in Couloir Magazine

Over a four day weekend, Mark Holbrook and I flew from SLC down to Reno, drove to Bishop, CA and spent three days skiing around the Evolution Range in the Sierras. The main attraction was the Right Mendel Couloir (highly recommended by many sadistic friends), but we ended up having a wide variety of excellent conditions throughout the trip.

We started with an overnight stay at Allan Bardís house, then spent most of the next day slogging in to the base of the peaks. The conditions perfectly conspired to gloam huge wads of snow onto our skins (despite siliconing them before hand) which made the 6-8 mile approach especially soul searching. Adding to that was our unfamiliarity with the area, which made for lots of map reading, GPS consulting and generally going taking a less than optimal line to the basin. One really great aspect about approaching Mt. Mendel from Lamark Col is that you literally donít see it until the last few feet of climbing, then suddenly it fills your entire view. Itís a stunning and intimidating way to get started!

After a night of camping, we set out through some boot-top deep recrystalized powder and made our way into the Mt. Mendel cirque. The initial apron was about 800í of creamy powder that topped out at about 45 degrees. This lead into the actual chute, which was/is a narrow slot that splits a huge rock face. This descent was first done 20 years ago by Chris Landry and we figured that with the massive snowpack California was having this year, it would be in as good a shape as ever. The couloir was about 750í of 50-55 degree snow magically adhering to green ice. I donít know why it stuck, but as long as it did, that was all that mattered. We ended up climbing most of it with self arrest grips, but about 2/3 of the way up ran into some ice and ended up using ice tools. The final 100í to the summit was blocked with rocks and loose snow, so we dug a little launch platform, placed an anchor to keep from falling off while putting our skis on and stepped into our AT gear. Knowing that green ice and rocks lurked inches below the smooth covering of powder made the first turns especially sporty. About halfway down the couloir we hung a rope over a 50í section of exposed ice and used it for a hand line until we were back into deeper snow. The normal crux of the climbing route, an ice bulge near the mouth of the couloir, was completely filled in with snow and we were able to make linked turns past the fixed anchors. After skiing about half of the lower apron in tight little turns, I opened it up and made big sweepers to the bottom to try and carry some speed up to the top of a small knoll. Looking back to see if Mark was following suit, I saw him make a few turns, then straight shot the lower third of the bowl, leaving a streaming plume of snow hanging in the air as he flew by me at the base - an excellent finish to a wild run!

After this, we hiked up a beautiful little couloir to the viewers far right of the Mendel and had a great 1,000í shot as the sun started to set. After another night of camping, we woke up, skinned, booted and groaned our way to the top of Mt. Darwin and had an incredible 2,000í shot of creamy powder back to the tent.

Later that day we packed up, climbed back out over Lamark Col and had a speedy 6 mile corn ride all the way back down to North Lake. Of course, as luck would have it, they had opened the road since we started up a few days earlier, so we had an extra mile or so of downhill poling in mush to get back to our car.

Copyright - Andrew McLean Back to Writings Index