Ascents of Charybdis (Northeast Ridge, class 3), Scylla (Northwest Slope, class 2) and Black Giant (West Slope, class 1), with René Renteria, September 3-8, 2019.


September 3, 2019. We left the trailhead at Lake Sabrina at 9:54, heading up the drainage toward Echo Lake. This was the week after Labor Day but the trail was full of hikers. We reached an area just above Moonlight Lake around 14:00 and it started to rain heavily. We sought shelter under some trees but this proved futile and we got soaked. We bit the bullet after a half hour and set up camp under the rain, in the flat area just south of Moonlight Lake. Pretty much every item of gear was either soaked or damp. Rain continued until about 19:00. (A 4:06 hour day, 7 miles, 2,000 feet of elevation gain).

September 4, 2019. We woke up to partly cloudy skies and laid our gear out to dry before packing up camp. We left camp at 9:00 heading toward Echo Lake and the col that crosses the Sierra crest above it. To gain the cirque below Echo Col, one needs to traverse left (East) above the cliffs that surround Echo Lake. This we did without difficulty, and upon reaching the cirque we crossed a snowfield and then climbed a steep face and a short class 3 gully to Echo Col, which we reached at 11:10. On the other side of the crest, we were greeted to outstanding views of Black Giant. We descended the steep talus and scree to the shores of Lake 11,428, where we had lunch. We then proceeded toward the JMT descending steep talus. I took a bad fall on an unstable block, bruising and scraping my right shoulder, elbow and hand – but nothing broken. We hiked up the JMT toward Helen Lake but rain started around 13:00. This time, we quickly pitched the tent in a grassy area to wait it out, and played cards. The rain subsided after a couple of hours and we were able to continue on to Helen Lake (15:36) and the Ionian Basin. We set up camp near Lake 11,828 at 17:15. We were to spend three nights there. What was supposed to be a long approach day turned into two, on account of the weather. (An 8:15 hour day, including a 2 hour stop, 6.5 miles, 2,600 feet of elevation gain).

September 5, 2019. We woke up to very cloudy skies and decided to try Scylla, since it involved a long approach that would give us time to assess the weather, and a class 2 climb affording an easy retreat in case of bad weather. We left camp at 7:10 and crossed the Ionian Basin toward Chasm Lake, a place I had much wanted to see for many years. It did not disappoint and is clearly one of the "special" places of the Sierra. It was now 8:00 and the clouds were thickening, which we thought unusual so early in the morning in the Sierra. From Chasm Lake the routefinding toward the base of the Northwest Slope of Scylla is complex. It is necessary to first ascend a left leaning ramp along the cliffs West of Chasm Lake. Upon reaching a shoulder one takes a sharp right toward a small tarn, and then another left to reach a valley leading to Lake 11,837 (some snow travel, due to the heavy snow year). It is in this small valley that the rain started, at 9:00. We sought shelter under overhanging rocks but quickly got cold and proceeded toward Scylla under intermittent rain. We found our way through a maze of narrow dark valleys and sharp talus fields reminiscent of Tolkien's Emyn Muil / Mordor. The weather made this region seem particularly ominous. The approach to Scylla should not be underestimated even under good weather conditions: the routefinding is complex, the terrain is unfriendly, and the path is circuitous.

We reached the base of Scylla's NW slope at 11:00 under worsening weather, but decided to proceed, since there was no sign of thunder. About 300 feet up this 900 feet route, thick clouds gathered around Scylla, blocking all visibility. It was raining heavily and we found imperfect shelter under a rock. We worried about the possibility of thunder, and at 12:00 decided to retreat in the increasing rain, retracing our steps across the Land of Mordor toward Chasm Lake. There, a comfortable cave formed by huge fallen granite blocks afforded the first decent shelter from the rain that we found that day (14:45). This was also our lunch spot. We continued toward camp as the weather improved slightly, making us question our decision to retreat from Scylla. On the way we saw a lone coyote crossing the Ionian Basin. We reached camp at 16:23 and were surprised to see another tent pitched nearby. At dinnertime I went to greet its occupant, a nice climber from Germany called Ronald. We agreed to climb Charybdis together the next morning.. That evening it rained again, well into the night. (A 9:13 hour day including about 2 hours of waiting out the rain, 8 miles, 2,600 feet of elevation gain).

September 6, 2019. We woke up to slightly better weather. Ronald came by our camp at 7:00 and the three of us set out to climb the Northeast Ridge of Charybdis. This was quick work and we were on the summit at 8:41. The climbing toward the top was a lot of fun along the crest of the steep ridge, with a lot of exposure and some surprisingly steep class 3 bits. We spent time perusing the summit register (Charybdis sees about three ascent parties a year) and started the descent after about 20 minutes. We reached camp at 10:30. I proposed to the others a return to Scylla. They agreed, and after a cup of coffee, some food and a quick rest in camp we set out at 10:55 to repeat the previous day's long approach. This was relatively uneventful and the weather held up. With no weather issues and the routefinding all sorted out, we were faster this time, and reached the base of Scylla's NW slope around 14:00, after a quick lunch near Lake 12,070. We were on the summit at 14:50. The register dates back to 1990 and again features about three ascent parties a year. At 15:10 we started retracing our steps as the clouds were thickening. It started to rain as we were descending the ramps above Chasm Lake. We sought shelter in the same cave as the previous day and were surprised to see a tent pitched in the grass near Chasm Lake. Hearing us pass by, its occupants said hello but did not come out. We were back in camp at 19:04, had dinner, played cards, and drank whisky. (A 12:04 hour day, 10 miles, 3,500 feet of elevation gain).

September 7, 2019. We woke up around 6:00 to blue skies. Ronald set out to go climb Mount Darwin and exit via Lamarck Col. René and I considered our options for the return and decided to wait for the sun to dry our stuff, and then to retrace our steps to Echo Col and Lake Sabrina. On the way, however, we climbed Black Giant. The weather being much improved, we had a longer day and were able to hike back to a location close to our first camp, near Moonlight Lake. The timing was as follows: we left camp at 9:06, dropped our packs at Black Giant Pass at 9:30, set out on the climb at 9:35, were on the summit of Black Giant at 10:30, back at the packs at 11:30, and at Helen Lake at 12:13. After a lunch break at one of the numerous campsites that string the JMT, we climbed back up to Echo Col (15:45) and down on the North/East side of the crest toward Echo Lake and then to camp just South of Moonlight Lake (17:30). The sun fought the clouds all day and ended up winning, so weather did not bother us any longer. The evening was windy and cold and we spent it inside the tent finishing off our supplies. (An 8:24 hour day, 8 miles, 2,900 feet of elevation gain).

September 8, 2019. We had to hurry this day because René had to catch a plane back to San Antonio at 19:00 from LAX. We left camp at 8:07 and hiked down at a good pace toward Lake Sabrina, reaching the trailhead at 11:35. We were back in LA at 16:15 and René made his flight comfortably. (A 3:28 hour day, 7.2 miles, no elevation gain).

Trip totals: 45:30 hours, 46.7 miles, 13,600 feet of elevation gain.


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