The first couple steps of the booter went well but the snow conditions rapidly deteriorated. As rotten and wet as the right fork had been, the left fork was rotten and dry. The snow was so faceted and weak that I had to take massive steps uphill to avoid breaking down into the previous step.
Most of the time on the east side I find myself constantly moving, either pushing desperately for a summit or descending eagerly back to safety, but in that moment I found peace and happiness and the ability to bask unconcerned.
As I rounded the lake, a striking peak near its outlet came into view and I knew immediately that the plan was kaput. I didn’t care if this peak would even count for a bonus on the Challenge, or if I’d have enough energy to continue on to the Challenge Peak; I had to climb this peak!
This was much more technical than I’d expected. Secor’s description indicated that there was a small amount of class 4 climbing but I found that nearly 90% of the 300 ft from the couloir was high consequence, fairly technical climbing!
At one point I followed a tight chimney 50 ft up before finding that the only way to continue would be to step out over 100 ft of air to connect with another chimney. I easily could have done the move, but I realized that this was getting into Class 5 territory and that there must be an easier route. I downclimbed the chimney, making quite a racket as my ice axe scraped on the rock, and tried a different route to the left which went well.
In one spot I placed my feet atop some partially buried trees, thinking that I was less likely to posthole there, and one of the trees lurched up as the snow restraining it broke. I panicked for an instance and the image of my body being cartoonishly flung up the mountain flashed through my mind before I realized the tree had only rose about an inch.
Now that we were off the steepest snow and there were fewer consequences, we took a raucous descent of the snowfield. I was surprised by how much fun glissading was!
This was a minor creek which drained the only the west slope of Lee Vining Peak so I wouldn’t be surprised if it dries up before the end of summer. During the current peak snow melt it was sparkling with life and the surrounding meadows were lush and full of small flowers.
To the southwest, Mt Ritter and Banner Peak rose up above the north shoulder of Carson Peak. From this angle, the slightly taller but more distant Ritter appears to be the same height as Banner and their sloping summits mirrored each other with impossibly symmetry.
We had a short discussion of the hazards, mostly worried about potential wet loose slides and rockfall and I started down the slope first. The snow wasn’t ideal, but it was delightfully slushy and fun! We traded leads down the slope setting off several wet sluffs. We frequently found the sluffs to be better skiing than the adjacent consolidated slush!