North American Classic Climbs

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Mount Mendel

Mendel Couloir

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A climb that shoould be done in season to appreciate its appeal. As the summer goes on, the snow deposited in the couloir during the winter morphs slowly to ice through the daily melt/freeze cycle. By late August or early September the couloir will present glassy blue ice for most of its length. The first ascent was done in June, and it provided a serious adventure for two pioneer Sierras climbers. They encountered dangerous rockfall that forced them out of the couloir for 300 feet of class 4 climbing on the adjoining buttress low on the mountain. When they returned to the couloir for the crux section, the leader found ice that was hard enough to break the pick of his crude Austrian ice hammer. They perserved to the top, using rock protection for some measure of security since their tools provided little. Seven years later, the couloir was attempted by Yvon Chouinard and Dennis Hennek, who confirmed that the ice tools of the day were just not up to the task. Chouinard went on to reinvent the tools and thus the sport of ice climbing itself.

Although not a difficult climb with modern equipment, it is fairly remote, very scenic, and in the heart of the incomparable Sierra Nevada Range. There are two couloirs on the North Face; they are both excellent, but the right one is more often formed and is the one chosen for this collection. A climber with experience on the much bigger icy routes of Canada would enjoy this route, but not consider it much of an challenge in comparison to similar routes abounding in the Rockies. True alpine routes of this type, length, and quality are rare indeed in the sunny Sierras, and therein lies its popularity.


Snow & Ice




Evolution Area, Sierra Nevada Range, California, USA





III, ice and snow to 60 degrees, lower 5th class rock


Route Descriptions & Maps:

First Ascent:

F. Knauth, J. Whitmer, June, 1958.


Trip Reports:

Artman, 8/05