Aug 8, 2020

State: CA
Distance: 15.8 mi
Gain: 7,300 ft
Peaks: 3

John Muir Wilderness
Inyo National Forest
Sierra National Forest

11,843 ft
1,050 ft
12,552 ft
1,234 ft
11,981 ft
531 ft

I had been wanting to check out the NE Gully route on Laurel Mountain since I first visited Convict Lake over a decade ago. The route has been rated anywhere from Class 4 to Class 5.2 and has a reputation for difficult route finding and loose rock, so I hadn’t seriously considered attempting it until the last couple years. I was in the area for the Sierra Challenge the following day, so it seemed like a good time to give the route a try.

Morning light on Laurel Mountain.

I got started shortly after sunrise from the trailhead at Convict Lake. I followed the trail around the north shore of the lake for a little over a mile, then went up the broad wash that drains the NE Gully. The key to the route is making the left-hand bend about halfway up the face into the correct upper gully. I had studied route photos beforehand, which were helpful in visualizing the route from below. I also had a GPS track that I had downloaded, so I was pretty confident I could find the correct route up to the summit.

Starting up the wash leading to the NE Gully.

Shortly after starting up the gully I arrived at the steep dryfall that marks the crux of the route. The difficult section wasn’t very long, perhaps only 15 feet, but does require a few exposed moves. There is also a Class 3 bypass around the dryfall on right (north) side of the gully. Once above the dryfall, most of the remaining route was enjoyable Class 2-3, with only a few sections of Class 4.

Crux dryfall encountered near the start.

About halfway up I crossed a thin band of reddish rock running perpendicularly across the face. From here I could make out the correct gully leading up and to the left. A few hundred feet higher, I entered the larger band of reddish rock that marks the beginning of the upper gully system leading to the summit. Once I was in the upper gully, the route was pretty straightforward the rest of the way. 

Entering the upper NE gully at the reddish rockband.

There were a few steeper slab sections that required friction climbing in the upper gully, but these generally had a crack system on either the left or right that could be used to bypass them. I didn’t encounter much loose rock on the route, but if something did get knocked down it would go a long way before stopping. I wore a helmet, but fortunately there was no one above me on the route. Eventually the good climbing ended in a talus field below the summit. After a few hundred feet of Class 2, I arrived on the ridge just south of the summit. From there it was an easy walk up to the highpoint. Overall, I really enjoyed the route and would definitely recommend it to others looking for a good Class 3/4 route.

Convict Lake from the summit of Laurel Mountain.

My plan for the afternoon was to continue on to Bloody Mountain and Peak 11981, then loop back to the car past the lakes to the south. I chatted briefly with another hiker who had just come up from the 4WD road to the north, then started toward Bloody Mountain. Near the Laurel/Bloody saddle, I picked up a use trail that led all the way to the summit of Bloody Mountain. The summit had a good view of the surrounding mountains, including the colorful peaks to the south and east that included Red Slate Mountain, Mount Baldwin, and Mount Morrison. I could also see the remaining route over to Peak 11981, which looked like it should be pretty straightforward.

Approaching Peak 11981.

Dropping down the southwest ridge of Bloody Mountain, I left the red rock behind and entered back into granite. From the saddle, some Class 2/3 scrambling led up to the summit of Peak 11981, which I reached by mid-afternoon. Some clouds had started to build to the south, but fortunately these wouldn’t produce any rain. After signing into the summit register, I continued down the south ridge until I found a spot to drop down to Cloverleaf Leak. I refilled on water near Cloverleaf, then continued on trail past a string of lakes, including Edith, Genevieve, Dorothy, and Mildred. The colorful rock and the afternoon clouds made for a scenic hike back to the car. After cooking up some food in the parking lot, I drove south to Rock Creek Lake to get ready for the Sierra Challenge the following day.

Sunset on Red Slate Mountain from Mildred Lake.