Red Slate Mountain WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: August 13, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 12th to 14th, 2017
Red Slate Mountain (13,123')
Day1: 12.5 miles, 4,200'
Day 2: 7 miles, 3,000'
Day 3: 12 miles, 1,500'

Red Slate is another one of those peaks that I've had on my radar for a number of years there was always some reason it didn't happen.  There's also the rather rad looking technical snow route from the north that was always damn tempting to attempt vs the walkup route from McGee Pass or Lee & Cecil Lakes.

But this year I was on a roll and looking for non repeat trips that would work as Wilderness Travel Course Experience trips.  Red Slate makes for an almost ideal 3 day that gets you over the Sierra crest and has the added advantage of taking you up McGee Creek which is one of the more spectacular trails on the east side.

So when Ross Doering showed interest we threw together a trip and a few short -ish months later we were off!  We'd planned it for August figuring the snow on the pass wouldn't be an issue but the winter of 2017 turned out to be a very high snow year with snow lingering until the end of summer.

This was my nice relaxing three day recovery trip after last weekends slightly compressed two day buttkicker climb of Goat Mountain.  I love three plus day trips whenever I can manage them since it means I get a lot more sleep vs the standard 2 day schedule of stay up late Friday night driving, get a decent night sleep Saturday, then stay up late again Sunday driving.

We spent the night at the Crowley Lake BLM campground since Lisa Bockley of old time WTC fame was there.  Ross Doering and Bill Payne drove up early and got to enjoy having an actual campsite a bit but for my $9 site fee I'd take the bivy spot behind the Sherwin Summit sign on 395 over this.  Yea there are no bathrooms there but you're also not listening to traffic noise all night.

On Ross's suggestion we dropped by the East Side Bake Shop for an quick pre trail breakfast.  The coffee was great as they brewed Black Sheep Coffee though the food was limited to a lot of rewarmed quiche.  Victor and I went for it and got their enchilada egg dish which neither of us would recommend.  But again, great coffee!

Day 1: McGee Trailhead To Tully Lake

In what has become a slightly sad pattern this summer we only had a single participant who wasn't a member of the Orange County Kaweah Group.  Fortunately he found us at the bake shop and once we'd sucked down some coffee we relocated to the trailhead and got ready to go.

We had a good strong day ahead of us to get in to Tully Lake with a little over  12.5 miles 4.2k gain.  Fortunately as 12.5 miles 4.2k gain days go this pass is relatively gentle.

We had one person that struggled a bit initially and I was concerned for a time that he wouldn't be able to make it over the pass.  Lack of sleep and altitude can really do a number on those of us who live at sea level.  Fortunately he rallied and did quite well on the latter half of the day.

We'd been warned about stream crossings when we picked up the permit.  We were told the crossings were all doable and one had been repaired recently.  As near as we could tell this was the patch job.

We ran into a packer group at this point who was just up for the day.  Apparently the snow up higher kept them from going further up toward the pass.

We'd been told by the rangers to expect 2k of solid snow below the pass.  I was skeptical based on the warm weather lately and sure enough that turned out to be a little out of date.

We did have to cross several snow fields and this one above Little McGee was the most precarious.  Fortunately the snow was really soft which made for easier footing.  We had two people slip but they only went down a short distance and were unharmed except for their pride..

I was actually a little too cautious further up and should have kept us lower on the snow instead of climbing the northern slope.  I was just concerned we might be walking over a frozen lake so instead we ended up doing a loose steep scree slope.  In retrospect it wasn't a concern and we stuck to the gully on the way down.

I could see the pass still had a significant amount of snow and from a distance it looked like it might be an issue.  Once we were closer we could see a clear boot path leading up to the summer trail.

Getting up to the pass was a great moment.  It was late in the day and the combination of smoke haze and late afternoon sun detracted a bit but the feeling of getting over into a truely remote area felt great.

We had a good 1,500' to drop after the pass and we were quickly getting toward sunset.

We did get a great view of Red Slate towering up behind the meadow.

Ross and I planned to camp at Tully Lake where I'd seen a great campsite back when I did Izaak Walton back in 2014.  To our surprise we found another group camped near where we left the trail.  Fortunately for us a non trivial little stream crossing was between them and the really nice site we planned to use.  The only downside was we had to cross it...

Nothing like a boots of crossing in freezing cold water where you really need to watch your footing to finish off a long day.  Most people didn't bother going back into boots as the campsite was just up hill from here.

One person was too tired but the rest of us got settled and enjoyed a happy hour which included 9 cans of beer packed in by our various members for 12.5 miles and 4,200'.  I blame Victor being a bad influence.

Day 2: Summit Day Fun Day!

We had one person who had intestinal distress to the point where they didn't feel they could do the summit which left 8 of us tromping down the hill a little after dawn.

We managed to find a place where we could cross without removing our boots getting only slightly wet in the process.  Granted this proved to be a very minor victory since immediately after rejoining the main trail leading down from McGee Pass  we ran into two more crossings that did require wading.

It was slightly chilly.

After the second crossing we started uphill following a periodic use trail up toward Lee and Cecil lakes.  It crossed streams several times but fortunately they were all small and we could keep our boots on.

The lakes themselves were beautiful and would have made for spectacular camping if they didn't require another few miles and 600' of gain with full packs to get to.

On the approach we had been eyeing two routes up the side of Red Slate.  The right hand ridge looked shorter but steeper while the left was a bit longer but seemed to divide the climb out into a few more manageable efforts.

Either would have worked and honestly we could have split the difference and just went up the face but after filling up our water at the small lake at 11,522' we picked the ridge on the left and started up.

It was steep and considering we were climbing up to 13k it's was a glorious slog.

The rocks were pretty damn solid as these things go at least and you couldn't complain about the views.

Up top we celebrated and found a register filled with people we knew.

It was one of those gloriously spectacular days that makes up for all of those occasional slogs through adverse conditions.

Of particular interest was Mount Baldwin visible to the north.  Kristen and I had another trip planned to climb it from Convict Canyon later that summer so it was neat to get a preview of the route and Bright Dot Lake where we planned to camp.

Rather than go back down the way we'd come up I wanted to drop down to McGee Pass and get a look at two routes for the price of one.

We dropped into the large gully on the southeastern face as I had some beta that suggestied it was easier going.

It was only moderately better though we did save a few hundred feet of walking down the trail.

We were all quite happy by the time we rejoined the trail.  Having seen the western face and the route from the pass I'd heartily recommend climbing from Cecil and Lee and saving this side for the descent.

We made it back to camp around 4 pm with several hours of daylight to spare.  A few of us decided we couldn't pass up the opportunity to swim.  After all, how cold could it be?

Snow fed deep lake.  Fill in the blank...

Those of us that did go in of course swore it felt great.  Once we regained the ability to speak coherently.  Also we discovered that Alisse is an unassuming cold lake jumping baddass.

Unfortunatly the mosquitos were fairly relentless so dinner was a headnet affair all around.

Wine makes everything better.  Even mosquitoes.

We had a little bit of smoke off in the distance as the sun went down both not enough to bother us.

Day 3: Easy -ish Day Out

The last morning was one of those depressingly nice days that makes you really not want to leave.  Especially when your first few hundred feet from camp involve this:

Nevertheless we had a 12 mile day to get out and the promise of post trip mexican food to drive us on.  We might have left earlier except for the fact we knew we'd have to be going down snow on the north side of the pass and were hoping to let the snow softened a bit in the sun.

At least until we got to the pass at which point it turned a bit cold and windy.  Which did mean the snow wasn't quite as soft as I'd hoped...

Since we didn't have ice axes with us I took the cautious route and took us down some tongues of rock skiers left from that pass that got us through the steepest sections.

Once we were down in the bowl below the pass it was trivial.  This time we walked down the drainage instead of trying to stick to the sides.

We arrived at Big McGee Lake at 1 pm and took a nice long break while eating lunch.  The sun had come out again and the mosquitoes were mercifully absent.

We left the lake at 1:30 pm and made the trailhead around 5 pm which was plenty of time to get down to Bishop and grab a post trip feast at Las Palmas followed by a beer at Mountain Rambler.

The best sunsets involve beer

We made it back to OC at a respectable 1:00 am.

Despite this not having the bragging rights of the North Couloir route this was a beautiful trip and made for an excellent WTC Experience Trip for students who were in shape.  For those looking to shorten things a bit it would be feasible to camp at Big McGee and then climb the pass with daypacks and do the peak from there but that misses out on the spectacular area on the far side of the pass and the better climb.

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