22 Jun Sierra Mountain Guides – June 2023 Conditions Report
The summer solstice is here, but summer still feels like a long way off. Some of our local spots on the east side of the Sierra have road closures or roads are just barely getting ready to open for the season. This is due to the considerable and at times damaging amount of snow we received over the past winter. Here I’ll present a series of updates on mountain conditions across the range as we hit summer climbing season. Come climb with Sierra Mountain Guides (SMG) this summer!
Mammoth Lakes Area – Crystal Crag
The beloved Mammoth Lakes Basin Road is open, but parking is limited. Until recently an approach from Twin Lakes was required to reach Crystal Crag. Even with the road open, snow travel will be required to climb the route. Be cautious of steep snow slopes and use appropriate footwear like mountain boots. Ice axe and crampons might be needed as well.
Bear Creek Spire is a classic peak of the Sierra. To approach there is plenty of snow, though the trail is melting out early on with bare patches showing through. Expect snow travel above Long Lake all the way to the base of the climbs. The Northeast Ridge has snow covering much of the 3rd class start to the ridge, but the rock above is dry. The North Arete is dry and waiting for you to climb it. Crampons and ice axe required.
Snow covers the trails right out of South Lake and extends as far as the eye can see. SMG Guide Ryan Huetter went exploring in that direction on skis during the week of June 12th. Surfaces were variable, but travel on skis with skins was a great way to explore the backcountry in that area.
I made a trip to the Palisades starting the 19th of June to climb North Palisade and Starlight with SMG guest Ross M. We approached from the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. The trail was snow free to the Lon Cheney Cabin then snow was intermittent to Second Lake. We used the direct route to Gayley Camp and were rewarded by excellent views of the Palisades! Conditions up high were good and we were able to climb the U-Notch Couloir to reach North Palisade. Soon this route will be out of condition due to an impassible bergschrund at the bottom of the couloir. V-Notch and the L-Shaped Couloir on Sill will likely be alternatives for a bit longer given the snow coverage.
Snow travel in the South Fork of Big Pine Creek starts right behind the Wilderness Boundary with a steep pitch to gain the Willow Lake Bench. After you start on snow there is little respite to Finger Lake and beyond. On Middle Palisade there is a lot of weak, unconsolidated snow on the route. Climbers attempting this mountain should use extra caution, pay attention to conditions and employ all their skill to stay safe until the snow melts from the upper mountain.
Mount Whitney and Mount Russell
The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek still has quite a bit of snow on the approach from Lower Boyscout Lake on up. Tricky travel conditions and creek crossings also exist down low below the Ebersbacher Ledges. Climbers managing the approach and all the snow are rewarded with great climbing conditions up higher on the peaks. Of the two, Russell is a bit drier with snow on the approach, but dry rock for much of the climbing. Whitney, on the other hand, has a lot of snow all the way up the Mountaineers Route. This includes the gully and the final 400 for a traditional mountaineering experience.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you all had a great ski and splitboard season. We hope to see you all the mountains soon!