08 Jun Alpine Conditions Report – June 2021
The 2021 alpine climbing season is here. Over the last month Sierra Mountain Guides has conducted trips from Matterhorn Peak in the north to Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney in the south. A light winter means trail access is great to reach the sheltered couloirs and soaring ridges of the Sierra. If you are interested in snow climbing and alpine couloirs now is the time, but don’t wait too long. Spring weather kept a new coat of snow on the rock in the end of May and now that has melted away leaving the rock dry and climbable.
North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak – May 24th, 2021 (Credit: Ryan Huetter)
If you look at the relative snow coverage in different areas there is relatively little snow in the Whitney area when compared to the high peaks near Bishop, Mammoth and June Lake. The area from Tioga Road/Lee Vining and North to the Sawtooth Range holds the most winter snow. The difference in snow coverage is one way the range of light shows its diversity of conditions and opportunity. For example; Matterhorn Peak, North Peak and Mount Conness hold plenty of opportunities to do a combination of snow, ice and rock climbing all on the same route. On the other hand, the Mount Whitney area holds plenty of dry rock with a minimum of snow climbing.
Conditions Information by Area
The last report we have from the Matterhorn peak area was from late in April with powder skiing in the upper basin. At that time the trail was snow free to 7800 feet, but it is likely you can approach on dirt much higher at the time of this writing.
Matterhorn Peak Conditions – April 19th, 2021 (Credit Ryan Huetter)
Tioga Road Area:
Highway 120 is open through Yosemite(reservation required to enter the park). The road to Saddlebag Lake is free of snow and there is ample parking by the Marina.
The approach to North Peak and the North Ridge of Conness has intermittent snow along Saddlebag Lake. The snow increases in depth and distribution as you reach the upper basins around 10,600 feet. The snow in this area is very spring-like and it is much easier to move early in the morning before the surface softens and becomes punchy. The North Ridge of Conness was climbed on May 26th by SMG Guide Geoff Unger and his guest in “great early season/mixed conditions“.
The upper basin approach to Conness North Ridge – May 26th, 2021 (Credit: Geoff Unger)
Ellery Bowl is melting out quickly and could be useful for some basic snow skills, but climbing to the Dana Plateau completely on snow is no longer an option.
Ellery Bowl and Ellery Peak May 26th, 2021 (Credit: Geoff Unger)
Third Pillar of Dana would require an approach on both bare ground and snow with a significant snow crossing to reach the rock at the base of the route.
Mammoth Lakes Area:
Mammoth Mountain is closed for the skis season, but the bike park is open.
The crag climbing areas around Mammoth are snow free and great for honing your rock skills in the single pitch environment. Some local favorites include; Clark Canyon, Warming Wall, Horseshoe Slab and Iris Slab.
The Mammoth Lakes Basin Road is open as of May 28th providing easy access to Crystal Crag. The approach to Crystal Crag is intermittent snow and dry trail. Please be prepared with appropriate footwear to walk on snow in order to avoid cutting switchbacks on the approach and descent from this route. Up at the Crag there is a mandatory snow field to cross to reach the North Arete. An ice axe and appropriate footwear are worthwhile here.
Crystal Crag North Arete – May 28th, 2021 (Credit: Geoff Unger)
From South Lake via Bishop Pass
The trail to Bishop pass is mostly snow free until up near Saddle Rock Lakes. There are a few steep exposed patches of snow to reach Bishop Pass. After the pass the traverse to Thunderbolt Col is mostly snow free, but there are increasing snow crossings as you approach the Col. At Thunderbolt Col there are a series of dry bivy sites with snow nearby. You may want to be prepared to melt snow to get water at these sites.
Along the Palisade Crest there is still ample snow hidden up in the high peaks and crossing steep firm snow is mandatory for all these routes. It is important to be prepared for more ‘mixed’ conditions between snow and rock on routes in this portion of the range. The rock on the high peaks is mostly dry provides good friction between the snowy sections as long as you can dry off your boots.
Palisades west side conditions – May 30th, 2021 (Credit: Geoff Unger)
From Glacier Lodge via Palisade Glacier
The trail up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek is snow free to above the turnoff to Sam Mack Meadow. As you approach Sam Mack Meadow intermittent, but increasing snow patches are encountered to reach the high camps on this side of the Palisades.
The Palisade Glacier is still snow covered, but there are already icy patches showing through. In this area it is important to be very selective about route choice and it looks as though the season for climbing the snow couloir routes from the glacier is coming to an end. For other routes on Mount Sill there is still enough snow approach and descend routes like the North Face(Regular Route) and the Swiss Arete.
Palisades from Sam Mack Lake – May 30, 2021 (Credit: Michael O’Connor)
Mount Whitney/Lone Pine Peak Area:
The Approaches in this area are mostly dry until you are near the high peaks. For example the climbers trail up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek is almost entirely free of snow to Iceberg Lake though the lake is still frozen.
There are still patches of snow on the rock routes of Whitney and Lone Pine Peak, but they are mostly avoidable with dry rock being the majority of the climbing.
Mountaineers Gully conditions May 28, 2021 (Credit: Ryan Huetter)
In summary, it is a great time to be in the Sierra. There is ample water for drinking and cooking, or snow to melt. The snow is there if you want to engage in some ice axe and crampon climbing. Or you can head to areas where there is a minimum of snow climbing and maximize your time on the rock.
View of Mount Whitney from Iceberg Lake in early June (Credit: Michael O’Connor)
Sierra Mountain Guides can help you achieve your goals with expert instruction and experienced guidance.
– Contact us now to book your next climb. (www.sierramtnguides.com or 760-648-1122)
– Visit our web page to learn what we offer. (www.sierramtnguides.com/alpine-tours/)
– Follow along and stay engaged on our social media; Facebook and Instagram(Links)