Thursday, July 3, 2008

An Ascent of Mt. Laurel

Valentines Day, 2004. I stood in the snow gazing at Mt. Laurel, a mile and a half across the frozen waters of Convict Lake. For a brief moment I scanned the route to the summit then snapped back to the task at hand. In a few minutes I would be married. Over the years I'd lost more climbing partners to marriage than to the mountains. Would today be the day I'd succumb to the same fate as the others? Not a chance. I made a vow that my life would be different and knew that it would be.

June 2008. Kurt, Eric, Kendall and I piled out of the car and hit the trail to climb Mt. Laurel. I'd been wanting to do it for over four years now.
Mount Laurel's Northeast Gully (III 5.2) rises four thousand feet above Convict Lake to the 11, 812 foot summit. This historic route was first climbed in 1930 by John Mendenhall and James Van Patten and marks the first place where a real roped belay was used in the High Sierra. While most of the High Sierra peaks are composed of immaculate granite, Laurel is loosely comprised of sandstone, slate and limestone. The N.E. Gully is polished smooth from avalanches sweeping the steep face, so the climbing is excellent. But if you get off route you are quickly on the worst rock imaginable. Despite the rich history, we decided to leave ropes in the car and simul-solo the long but easy face.
We cruised up the deep lower cleft and emerged into a broad bowl. Route finding became more difficult but we just followed the best rock up and left toward the summit. The geology was unlike any I'd ever seen. In the upper trough, the polished white rock yielded a beautiful red slate dike that Kurt climbed while I photographed.We reached the upper slopes and finally the summit.
Here, beautifully colored gneiss stones were scattered about like a blown up art project.Red Slate Mountain loomed in the south. Bloody Mountain to the West. Mammoth, the Minarets, Ritter and Banner Peaks to the North, and the upper Owens Valley was to the east. There was a funny moment where we each sat on the summit talking to our sweethearts on cell phones. We spent all this energy getting away with the boys, but when we reach the top, our natural reaction is to share the moment with the women we love.
Some time was spent taking in the tremendous view, then we blasted down the north ridge, descending long sandy slopes in a cloud of dust, finally arriving back at the car. We ate a quick bite and were off again to climb sport routes in Rock Creek before soaking our tired bodies in the natural hot springs. It was great spending time with my friends, in fact, these were my best men. But truth be told, the best part was getting home, kicking back, and sharing the story with my wife. Guess I'm a lost cause after all!

To see more photos from this set, see my Flickr page:

© 2008 Jerry Dodrill


bob cornelis said...


Is there some hint of irony involved in getting married in such close proximity to Convict Lake? just kidding... I always enjoy reading your stories along with the great photos. We all get to share in your obvious joy at being in nature.

Susan Cornelis said...

Your pictures take my breath away Jerry. . .or maybe it's standing on the summit with you. . .or the romantic sentiments. Whatever it is, it's working for me!

Sarah said...

Awwww...hope Arienne read that one. :) So sweet. (And glad to see at least one of you had a helmet on). :) Love ya, brother!