Mount Darwin

By: Ellen Holden

August 4-6, 2000

I was more than a little worried as multiple thunderstorms pounded the North Lake trail head the day prior to our scheduled departure. But the next morning found the six of us headed up the Lamarck Lakes Trail under clear skies, which prevailed for the entire trip. With me were Ali Aminian, Chris Kerr, John Paterson, Asher Waxman and Joe White.

We found the good use trail to Lamarck Col without much difficulty, although we should have crossed over to the west side of the creek just above Lower Lamarck Lake. We stayed on the east side at that point, ascending the steep trail to a short section of talus and boulder hopping along the stream to where the col trail took off. Crossing to the west side of the creek and then back to the east side at the sign for Lamarck Col avoids the talus and boulder hopping, as we discovered later on the way out. The hike up this good, but steep, use trail proceeded uneventfully, and we soon found ourselves on a well-traveled path across the deep snow apron on the northeast side of the col.

Once there, four of us dropped packs and left to climb Lamarck while the other two proceeded down to look for a water source and campsite, which they located about 500 feet below near a grassy area visible from the col. We were tired and relieved to find good running water and comfortable bivy sites without having to descend all the way to the lake. Two tent sites were utilized as well.

We departed camp at 6:45 the next morning and traversed the head of Darwin Canyon on medium-size talus and crusty snow to the base of the Northeast Ridge. There were several good streams along the way. We took a break on the rocks to hydrate, don crampons and consider our route up the steep glacier, which is described by R.J. Secor as a "variation" of the North Face route.

After making a few crampon adjustments, we began our climb up the crusty, sun-cupped slope, encountering some icy spots along the way. After passing the one large crevasse on the right, kicking steps became the norm as we ascended back and forth on small ledges and softening snow. The final 70-80 feet of the left branch of the upper snow couloir consisted of hard ice, however, despite the sunlight and moderate air temperature. I think we were all relieved to gain the rock at the small saddle and be done with ice axes and crampons for a while; we left them there for use on the descent.

Above us loomed a large tower, rather monolithic, that blocked access to the summit plateau. I traversed around to the east to a notch looking for a way around this tower, but found only a wide, sandy gully full of loose rock, very unappealing. A little more scouting around to the right, on the north side of the tower, revealed a wide, boulder-strewn ledge. This we followed to an area of large boulders which afforded ready access to the summit plateau with little exposure along the way, third class with one hard move at the bottom of a short crack. We used no rope or gear for this.

After having lunch, Joe decided that he was going to use the rope and rock pro we had brought up, so he led the 5.2 on the summit block while John and I traversed around to the exposed third class route. Once on top, we all savored the view and snapped the mandatory pictures. It was nice not having to rush things. Then down we went by the same route. Most of us elected to bypass the hard ice by downclimbing the Northeast Ridge for quite a distance (class 2 and 3) before traversing back onto the snow, but this was much more time-consuming due to the route-finding required. We donned our crampons again for the down climb, since icy patches were still in evidence and we wanted every protection we could muster against the constant exposure on that slope. We had our fill of steep snow by the time we got down to gentler ground.

The return to camp was made in a leisurely fashion, since we had plenty of time, and we arrived just after 5:00 pm. Snacks, drinks and eventually dinner revived us, and we socialized for the next several hours knowing we would not have to make an early start the next day.

The hike out was uneventful, with John and Joe going on ahead since they had a longer drive and a potential car problem to deal with (it never materialized, though). My thanks to everyone for a very enjoyable and satisfying trip. We all agreed that it was a good route on an exceptional mountain.

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Last updated: October 15, 2000