Mount Winchell WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: August 22, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 20th to 22nd, 2016
Mount Winchell (13,775’)

This peak was a repeat for me but considering I had an enthusiastic WTC group hungry for more adventurous trips *and* Kristen had just had her Sierra Club M-Rock rating issued it seemed like a perfect excuse to lead an old favorite.  And I always love any excuse to go camp at Sam Mack Meadow.

As usual we drove out late and pulled into the Glacier Lodge campground well after midnight.  And as usual the morning came far too early and the coffee wasn't near strong enough.  Fortunately we were in a spectacular place heading in to climb something awesome!

The trailhead is further down the road from the campground just below the pack station.  It's one of those rare ones that isn't well suited for trailhead camping since you can't really sleep off the pavement.  Hence why I always pay for a spot at the campground.

The downside of this trailhead is you climb right away and for a fair amount.  The parking lot is 7,500' and by the time you reach the first lake and it levels off a bit you're at 10k.  It does help warm you up.

And you always seem to run into pack trains.

On the plus side once you hit 10k the view suddenly turns into this.  That's Temple Craig in the background and the rather horrible Contact Pass to the left.

We had a strong motivated group and by early afternoon we reached Sam Mack Meadow.

I came here early on in my Sierra peak bagging career and it's one of my all time most memorable places to camp.

It's also not very large with only one area suitable for a group our size.  I was concerned that there might be another group there already and we'd have to continue towards the Palisades climbers camp and haul water.

We found a single person in the middle of the large camp who I'd never met but who it turned out had mutual climbing friends.  Fortunately she was relocating that night so we were able to take over.

The water running through the meadow is cloudy due to the rocks ground up and spit out by the glaciers above.  As a result it's also exceedingly cold.  I'm usually fairly tolerant of cold water but at the point my feet are still hurting 10 minutes after having them in the water briefly it's beyond me.  However others were a lot more brave.

Once out of the water it was almost warm enough to be comfortable but not quite.  At least until the sun started to go down the layers came on.

Dinner was a relaxed affair in our little self contained camp area.  Everyone was tired from the drive up from Orange County the night before and eager to get some rest before summit day.

We followed the usual plan of getting up an hour and a half before sun up and getting moving at first light.  Which meant breakfast via headlamp.

The route from here was up the waterfall which looked like it could get a little interesting.

The waterfall mostly wasn't bad except for one section where we had to cross some wet rocks.  It was secure -ish as long as nothing shifted and you took care stepping across the wet rocks.

Above that we filled our water at the pool south of Sam Mack Lake and started across the loose hellscape that is the Palisade moraine.

A moraine is what is left behind by a glacier and consists of all manner of dirt and rocks jumbled together.  And the rocks generally aren't overly stable either.  Traveling across this is more work than the actual peak scramble.

The glaciers up here have been declining for years and it's shocking if you compare modern pictures to those taken in the 60s.

Our route up Winchell was the 3rd class northeast arete route.

This is the meat of the 3rd class section.  Kristen up front is about to the point where it gets 4th class unless you cut up and to the left where there's a clear notch.

Getting to the notch required a few moves with some slight exposure but it's significantly easier from there.

Past the notch looking up at the summit

The summit itself offers quite the view but barely enough room for a group out size.  Fortunately we're a friendly bunch.

It's hard to give a real picture of how small the summit is just because you can't get far enough away from it.  You can see the register tucked away on the main part of the summit here.

I was able to find my sign in from 2009 when I was up here solo.  (The two people with me both waited below the 3rd class section.)

Looking east from the summit of Mount Winchell

View of the Palisades, Gayley, Temple Craig, and the Big Pine lakes from the summit of Mount Winchell

The clouds kept building as we descended and as we crossed back across the moraine it was apparent we were up for a bit of weather.

Nothing like a giant granite boulder field with slick wet rocks.

This picture pretty much captures the experience.

When we reached the meadow I noticed a tent set up on the opposite side of the stream.  I've been here when people set up in the middle of the grass (which is a horrible thing to do as it kills the vegetation) and assumed this was another case of that.

As I was busy internally cursing inconsiderate backpackers I heard Matt Kipper say "What happened to my tent"

I have no idea how this could have happened.  It seems suspicious that wind could have plucked a tent out of the tree protected area, blown it across the stream without getting the items inside soaked, and then deposited there on the far side behind a rock.  But at the same time if unknown parties had purposefully messed with our stuff it also seems odd they'd have picked just one tent and carefully carried it across the stream.  Especially when it would have been easier to just toss it into the stream and let nature dispose of it.

I did later get a ping from Sierra Club saying someone had complained about a group that sounded similar to ours except I couldn't for the life of me tie their specific complaints to anything we did.

Matt's tent was unharmed and after retrieving it a few folks decided once again to tempt a heart attack and clean up in the stream.

With the peak behind us we could also enjoy the booze we'd carried all the way up here.  Nothing like alcohol at 11k after a hard days climbing...

The next morning we could afford a more relaxed start since it was just a hike out and drive home day.

Kristen was excited about this because she had the chance to make steamed cinnamon rolls.

Then sadly it was time to go.  (The larger campsite is behind us in this picture)

The hike out is mostly downhill it just feels long and beats up the knees.

The weather kicked up again as we went past the Cienega Mirth.  At first I didn't bother with rain gear since I guessed it probably wouldn't rain much.

Which of course means it kept coming down harder and harder.  Still it wasn't very cold so I settled on protecting my pack and letting the rain clean off some of my sweat.

Fashion Twinsies!
This was one of the smoother trips of the year outside of the mystery tent displacement on the second day.  We got the peak, everyone finished with a sense of accomplishment, and we were on the road home at a reasonable time.

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