Mount Corcoran, Mount LeConte
By: Bill Oliver, Larry Tidball
Our SPS trip of eight met at 7:30 Sat morning on Granite View Dr, which closely parallels Diaz Creek, at the NW-leading turnoff (unsigned) to Tuttle Creek Cyn. Quickly signing in we sped off to the trailhead, finally braking belatedly when I realized we were then actually driving the trail. Reverse gears applied. Park in the obvious area off to the right overlooking the cyn, just where the "road" starts left and contours up the south slope. This is a non-quota trailhead; just phone Lone Pine a day or two ahead and they'll leave the permit in the overnight box.
Setting out at 8:15, we made the large stone cabin by 9, too late for breakfast. The use trail continues south from above the cabin and can be, at least vaguely, tracked until the stream crossing at about 9500' (11:30). Look for a short log crossing. While eating lunch here I was fascinated by Mark Adrian's use of his ham radio. I was amazed by its light weight, clear reception and effective range. [See accompanying article.] I also felt good knowing that we could quickly communicate outside if truly necessary in an emergency.
Continuing along low on the south slope, we endured much boulder hopping enroute to our prime campsite, located at about 10,600' (1:50) on a large, partly-forested bench just south of the drainage coming in from the NW. It offered a superb view to the east, open and shaded sites, and a small stream at the south edge. While others read, relaxed or dozed, I scouted out the route ahead. Only Larry had once been in the area before. Everyone obviously took very seriously the call for Happy Hour contributions. The success of the weekend was already assured now by our various culinary indulgences and triumphs.
Sunday we were up at 4:30 and enroute an hour later up the cirque bounded by Corcoran and LeConte. I very cleverly did not fill up at what turned out to be our last stream crossing. (Thanks again to Larry, Barbee Hoffmann and Mark for later sharing their water with this inept writer.) A large prominent snow chute, visible from Hwy 395, appears to lead to the notch just north of Corcoran. Up close, however, a snow-free chute to the left of the latter led to the sought notch. We had no trouble walking over snow fields below the gully. The upper reaches of the chute required care lest one dislodge loosely-bound rocks. At 8:25 we dropped down the back side of the notch a short ways. We went south then and up the short chute leading to the summit - topped before 9:00. [RJ's guide has a good photo and route description for this climb. Many years ago the true summit among the pinnacles was evidently a matter of some dispute even in the SPS.]
We were all set to declare victory and head home. A debate soon ensued, however, regarding the merits of now moving on to nearby Mt LeConte, which had not been planned. Those who needed it were free to sign out and go for it. Larry and I as leaders could not sign out. It was my understanding from Larry that the intended traverse, which he had not done, was quite exposed. In my mind, therefore, it could not prudently be led without a rope. I had misunderstood him, however, as he clarified that he thought it should go well. So, while two headed back to camp, six of us went for it - traversing low on the west side of the ridge. Climbing up finally into the third gully over from the notch, we were astride LeConte by 10:45 - one hour from the notch. There were only a few ducks, usually on the ribs, and Larry did really well as scout. Our route did not entail more than high third class.
Backtracking to the notch, we reclaimed camp at 2:15 and headed out before 3:00. The cars were reached about 5:45 - our exit slowed by losing the upper half of the use trail and by some weakening knees. The other participants were Greg Roach, Ali Aminian, Bahram Manahedgi and Steve Gatlin - the latter two on their first SPS trip. We had great weather, a fun group and gnarly peaks. Many of us learned anew the meaning of "arduous." Special thanks to Larry for his usual superb co-lead and to Mark for introducing me to ham radios.
"Mt Corcoran," named for a wealthy east coast art patron about 1878, was originally applied to what is now Mt Langley. The latter name finally won out on the 14er in 1937. Not until 1968, however, was the name Corcoran officially applied, perhaps as a consolation, to its present site. Mt. LeConte was named in 1895 for UCB geology professor Joseph LeConte, father of UCB engineering professor Joseph N. LeConte - a prominent early Sierra explorer and mountaineer. Both were original charter members of the Sierra Club. [Source: Place Names of the Sierra Nevada, by Peter Browning.]
LeConte was first climbed by Norman Clyde, solo, in 1935. The first ascent of Corcoran was from the north, solo by local RCSer Howard Gates in 1933. The first climb from the south, also solo, was in 1938 by future SPSer R.S. (Sam) Fink, still active now at 90.
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