Over the Labor Day Weekend I climbed Mt Gardiner from Charlotte Lake. Since Mt Gardiner is not climbed often (I was the fourth person to reach the summit this year), and when it is, I think most people climb it from Gardiner Basin, I thought that the following report may be of interest.
Mt Gardiner is not visible from Charlotte Lake. However, if you head for what looks like the highest point on the ridge you will come close to the mountain. Do not go to the top of this point, but instead traverse around it on the south side staying a few hundred feet below the top. The South Summit of Mt Gardiner will soon become visible. Traverse up and over to the South Summit.
When climbing from Charlotte Lake you are unable to see the actual summit of Gardiner until you are on the top of the South Summit. The impact of suddenly seeing the spectacular knife-edge ridge rising across a deep chasm is something you won't soon forget. As I sat there looking for a way to get over to the actual summit, I couldn't help but think of what LeConte and Brown thought when they teamed up to make the first ascent in 1896. I also wondered how it was that they happened to meet by chance on the South Summit as reported. Was there competition between the two men? Was one of them following the other?
It took me, alone and without a rope, about 10 minutes to make the traverse from the South Summit to the actual summit. At places it was necessary to drop down on the north side of the ridge during the traverse. Some fresh snow from a storm a few days earlier made this section interesting. The most difficult part was near the end of the ridge. Although challenging, the climb is much easier than Clarence King.
A tube style register was found on top, with the entries going back to 1971. It was a rather cold, but clear day. Great views in all directions, with a particularly nice view of the Mt. Brewer area to the south.
The entire climb took about four hours from Charlotte Lake, and about three hours to return. Other than the fact that many people do Clarence King and Gardiner on the same trip, I do not see why more people don't climb the mountain from Charlotte Lake. It is a much easier approach then crossing the three or four passes that are required to reach Gardiner Basin (the approach described in Moynier's book).
Despite the poor weather earlier in the week, the weather over the Labor Day weekend in the Southern Sierra was great, albeit cold. I saw relatively few people going over Kearsarge Pass. I think the weather caused many people to cancel wilderness trips at the last minute. However, Owens Valley and the Bishop area - site of the Tri-County Fair - seemed to have plenty of people. On Monday, southbound Hwy 395 was a constant stream of cars. Fortunately, I was going north.
Much to my surprise, just south of Lee Vining Hwy 395 is being turned into some type of super freeway. This section of 395, compared to the area south of Bishop, never gets that much traffic. What is all this about? There were huge tractors everywhere tearing up the countryside. What a disaster.
While passing through Independence I took a moment to visit the museum there. They have an interesting collection of old mountaineering photos, and some things that once belonged to Norman Clyde, including a revolver that Clyde had given to Jules Eichorn. Certainly worth a stop if you've never been there before.
One final comment: Although many people I know seem to think that unless you apply for a wilderness permit very early in the year you will never be able to get one, I had no trouble getting one (for two people originally) for Kearsarge Pass just five weeks earlier. I think fewer people are going into the mountains than was the case just a decade earlier.
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