Mount LeConte's Northeast Cirque — Page 7

Sunrise Over Owens Valley

Day Two

At the first hint of dawn, I'm awake, looking east toward Owens Valley and the Inyo Mountains, watching the preamble of the coming day.

Sleep has boosted my morale, and I've already made my decision: the talus can wait. I'm going to try to put my skis to use before I leave—at the very least, I want to scout the way ahead for future adventures.

A Log Ladder Andy Lewicky & Manzanita Finally, Snow

As soon as it's light enough to see, I'm out of my sleeping bag and packing my climbing gear.

Carrying my skis, I work down the nearby ravine, following the cairns I scouted last night.

The mini-crux of this section is a log helpfully angled against a large talus block.

I set my skis down, scramble down the log, and resume climbing.

The snow is so close I can taste it—just above the next saddle, probably only a few hundred vertical feet away.

It's not going to be easy, though. The opposite side of the ravine is well-guarded with Manzanita.

Ah yes, the Manzanita, a.k.a. the Hell Bush, one more layer of Sierra armor custom-designed to repel backcountry skiers. There are no cairns up this section, just here-and-there game trails that lead smack dab into the middle of the brush and vanish, Br'er Rabbit-style.

I take the direct route, plunging into the thick of it, heading straight up to get it over with. I crest the manzanita bench and there it is at last: snow. I could just about cry with relief. From the look of it, I'll still occasionally be scampering over rock gardens in between snowfields, but it's skins 'n skis time now, and in the South Sierra, that's always cause for celebration.

Once again, however, my elation is short-lived. As I crest the next bench and stare at Mount LeConte's northeast cirque, it's obvious my assessment of the conditions has been wildly optimistic.

next: the Northeast Cirque

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.