Mount Izaak Walton Northeast Ridge via McGee Creek

  • Updated: June 15, 2014
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

What:
  Mount Izaak Walton (12,077')
When: June 13th to 15th, 2014
Where: Sierra Nevada, North of Bishop
Who: Matthew Hengst, Jen Blackie, Kristen Lindbergh
Pictures: [Matt]
GPS Track: [Map]

A combination of factors had delayed the initial Sierra trip of the season but finally it was time for a peakbagging weekend at altitude.  With a job switch imminent I needed to take advantage of whatever vacation time I could manage so we planned a last minute 3 day up McGee Creek to get Mount Izaak Walton via the northeast ridge which Secor at least described as a "good" 3rd class route.


Friday night complications resulted in us not leaving Orange County until almost 9 pm so we ere quite happy to spend the night bivying in Alabama Hills after grabbing our permit from the night drop in Lone Pine.


We woke up a little late (which was going to be a theme for the trip) and drove the rest of the way to the signed turnoff for McGee Creek about 30 miles north of Bishop.

The road is paved right to the end where there's a parking lot with a bathroom and bear boxes right past a pack station.


McGee Creek has been on my list for quite a while as I've heard from numerous people how pretty it is.  Unfortunately my bucket list has a bad habit of growing faster than I can knock items off.  Granted that's not the worst problem to have...

The view from the parking lot was already impressive and only got better as we got a few miles in.  We weren't thrilled at the notion of mule traffic but since the pass was still covered in snow they were only going partway in.


We did catch sight of a pack train on the lower trail (there's a split for the first mile or two and we took the upper branch) right around the wilderness boundary and we booked it so we didn't get caught behind them.  We thought we heard them one other time but managed to stay ahead.


The trail...wasn't bad...


We could hear the wind howling above us and word from others on the trail was that it was going to last until Tuesday.  And sure enough once we passed Upper McGee Lake we were getting pounded.


We hustled over the pass trying to make it over and back down before we lost daylight.


And failed.  But we did get a view of where we'd be spending the next few days before it got too dark right around the point we reached Fish Creek.

We actually missed where we'd planned to leave the trail intending to jump over a small saddle to reach Tully Lake.  We figured this out and made the unwise decision to just head a bit further down the trail and shortcut over to the drainage.

On the GPS track notice the direct path (which we took going back) vs our slightly roundabout path the first night.  Oops.

This also cost us the two best campsites we came across (see the Should Have Camped waypoints)

Instead we ended up doing a boots off stream crossing through some incredibly cold water and bushwhacking our way back up to Tully Lake, not finding any suitable campsites, and continuing up a drainage before finally settling for the aptly named Camp Ehhh.

There were some trees which provided a bit of protection but not as much as we really hoped for considering the wind situation.  We were tired enough at this point we called it good enough and settled down for dinner.

The next morning we got up reluctantly once the sun hit us.  Because it was cold.


The good news was we had a short climb that day so we could afford to take a bit of extra time getting out of camp.


We moseyed up the large basin aiming for the saddle.  The only trick was avoiding the snow as much as possible since it had a bad habit of turning into a post-holing mess.


As I mentioned before our planned goal was the reportedly quality 3rd class NE ridge route.  We spent a short while eyeing the snow fields and evaluating the slightly more roundabout 2nd class and more snow free route we could see off to the left of the above picture before deciding to go for our ridge.


As it turns out that was a good call.  We strayed a bit to the left to avoid the main snow field and then jumped on the ridge to the summit.  As promised it was solid and a "good route"


We had a good view and mercifully only a little bit of wind.


We spent a good long while on the summit enjoying our lucky break in the weather.



Ritter and Banner can be seen to the left of the above picture.


Descending was easy and we aimed for a route with less snow than the way up.


We spent another cold yet enjoyable night in camp.  We hadn't seen signs of anyone else since well before the pass so it felt like we had the entire basin to ourselves.

The next morning the wind was back in force.  For once the weather worked out conveniently for us!

With great reluctance we packed up and got moving back toward the pass.


Sure enough Tully Lake has two nice well protected campsites.  Directly on the planned route we'd passed by.  Ah well, next time.


We briefly jumped in the lake but it was so cold that didn't last long before we were strolling back up the pass.



McGee pass isn't bad from either side but there are an annoying amount of switchbacks when coming at it from the west.  At least they're short.



Once again the wind had us hurrying down off the pass.


On the far side we had to recross the same snowfields as before but out footsteps from two days ago made it a bit easier.


And once we were below that it was a breeze.  Unlike some of the other passes the trail doesn't have any of the big steps that can kill your knees so bad on descent.


And having finished a fun trip in the Sierra the only way to improve the day was to pay a visit to everyone's favorite Rovana resident.


After a amazing feast of steak and veggies we even made it back to Orange County by a (relatively) respectable 2 am.




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