Mount Marsh

28 Sep 2003 - by Reiner Stenzel

There are a few unknown peaks in the Sierra Nevada that are real treasures of terms of climbing history. One of them is Mount Woodworth with a 100-year old register, another one is Mt Marsh. Few peak climbers have even heard of Mt Marsh. No word about it in Browning's Name Places; no trip reports in the SPS archives or on climber.org. It is not spelled out on the Mt Whitney topo map since only last year the USBGN has officially accepted the name. It is located 0.3mi NNW of Mt McAdie at UTM 11 385679E, 4046037N, elev. 13,550', NAD27. Bob Rockwell wrote a fine article about it in the Southern Sierran (Feb 2003, p.8). Inspired by the history and the name I called my friend Tom Marsh to find out whether he wants to climb his mountain. He happily agreed although there were no family ties. We scheduled it as an I-rated Sierra Club trip through the SMS, which now conducts summer peak climbs.

Due to the scarcity of permits we decided to do it as a long day hike from Whitney Portal (8,360'). Our participants were Rudy Fleck and Mike Rector. On a fine summer-like fall day we started at 7am and hiked up the main Whitney Trail, our expensive day hike permits dangling from the packs. By 10:30am we were near Consultation Lake where we consulted the write-up and terrain about our XC route options. Bob Rockwell describes an ascent via the obvious chute from Consultation Lake to Whitney Pass. It is a 1500' climb on sand at the angle of repose, not my favorite uphill choice. Besides it is difficult to enter the chute from either the lake or the steep rib to the right (north) of the chute. So we chose to climb to the right of the rib on rock and talus blocks. After a long ascent we reached the ridge west and above Whitney Pass (13,280'). According to the map running the ridge appeared easy, but in reality there were a few short cl 3-4 surprises on the way.

By 1 pm we were all on the summit of Mt Marsh (13,550' or 4130m). Under a pile of rocks was a peak register. Two stacked soup cans contained a plastic bag with another metal cylinder inside, a Colgate shaving stick container. It contained two long sheets of paper with all the original entries, starting with the first ascent by Chester Versteeg and his party in Aug 1940. The first page has three other entries up to the year 1968, the second page has five entries from 1971-76, the third page lists three climbs in 1979, 1998 and 2002 and the fourth and last page has now our signatures from 2003. No familiar SPS names were found in this register. Ours must have been the first scheduled Sierra Club trip to this summit. Two further Xerox copies were included in the plastic envelope that described the background history of this peak: Chester Versteeg (1887-1963) unofficially named the mountain in honor of Gustave F. Marsh from Lone Pine who designed and built the Mt Whitney trail in 1904 and the summit hut in 1909. The latter was used for scientific purposes. Through the persistence of George Marsh, the grandson of Gustave Marsh, the US Board on Geographic Names officially named the mountain Mt Marsh on January 10, 2002.

After taking pictures of this historic register and enjoying the views of nearby McAdie, Muir, Whitney, Russell, etc., it was time to descend. At 1:30pm we were back at Whitney Pass. The sandy chute leads straight down to Consultation Lake (11,680'). Usually scree slopes are fun to descend. So we decided to jump into it, two in parallel since the rocks were tumbling down the chute. After a while we would duck for shelter and radio the other pair to come down. It was fun until the sand gave away to hard clay and the footing became insecure as the angle steepened to >35 deg and the chute funneled down into a narrow gully. We had to get out of the chute. We traversed just below the rockwall to a second broader gully, which also leads down to the lake. Unfortunately at the lake we found out that vertical rock walls obstructed the way around the west side of Consultation Lake. Even on the south side vertical rock walls dropped into the lake, preventing an escape around the east side. So we had to climb back up through a cl 3-4 chute to the plateau west of the lake. From there on it was a short hike back to the trail below Trail Camp. Obviously, the chute is not the best way to Whitney Pass. Another 3-hour march on the Mt Whitney highway got us down to Whitney Portal by 6pm. We felt the 11-hour day of doing about 18mi rt. and 5200' up and down. More than enough to burn all the good food from Ret Moore's SPS List Finish Party the day before. Thanks to Tom for his help to lead this trip for a small, strong and fun group.


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