Split Mountain – South Face

Originally our objective was a fiercely ambitious loop in the Williamson arena, but conditions didn't look favorable, or maybe we just weren't stoked about putting in that much work, so we kept driving north. Farther up Highway 395, Split Mountain's south face looked enticing, so we gave it a go.

Without having scouted the area beforehand at home, I wasn't terribly confident I could stay on-route in the dark, so I got a relatively late 4 a.m. start. That proved to be about an hour too late. The California sun turned Split's upper south face into one big slush field by the time I got around 13K feet. Post-holing down to my thighs and starting to wheeze to the point of having trouble breathing, I decided the prudent course of action was to turn back. I do like to try to be reasonable at least once in a while.

My partner Dave of course was on his usual blazing place, and topped out on the South Summit right about the time I decided to quit climbing. By coincidence, we ran into Howie Schwartz of Sierra Mountain Guides, who was playing hooky from his guiding duties and off having a little fun by himself. SMG, you may recall, was the company I chose to guide my climb of North Palisade, and Howie was also my teacher for the Level I Avalanche Class I took this past winter at June Mountain.

So, small world.

My impressions of Split? It is indeed a hard mountain to get to, necessitating a vehicle-bashing drive over some really ratty dirt roads. It is also one of the most strikingly beautiful peaks I've climbed. Colors bursting out of granite. The skiing was fantastic: smooth, glorious snow that just went on and on and on. The climb itself up Split from the Red Lake trailhead is a long one. I'll be back—and I'll definitely be budgeting a little more time for the ascent.

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents