Paul and I hiked into the Evolutions this week to climb the Northeast Ridges of Darwin (Class 4) and Mendel (Class 3). Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. The adventure started on Monday when our shorts-and-t shirt approach turned into 3 inches of fresh snow! Tuesday morning was crystal clear, and we excited made our way to Darwin Col. But cumulus clouds were already starting to build before 7:00am, forcing us to divert from the more-committing and slower-to-climb NE Ridge and try to climb the simpler and more direct North Couloir (snow to 45 degrees). But the great kick-step snow we had found everywhere else didn’t exist in the couloir: instead we sunk into mid-thigh soft snow, and it took us an hour to get from 12,900′ – 13,000′. That wasn’t going to work with the weather, so we turned around and went to check out Mendel’s approach instead.

The start for the NE Ridge on Mendel is actually in a north-facing, deep chute. We read that to mean two hours of cold, dark climbing. The NE Ridge on Darwin was much more inviting, so we decided to get an even earlier start and try again in the morning.

I woke up at 3:00am, and shouted over to Paul’s tent, “Paul! Paul, time to get up!”

“Get up for what?” he shouted back. Something in his voice made me unzip the tent door and look outside.

Instead of the clear skies we enjoyed for the past few mornings, we were well socked in – clouds covered the peaks and ridges around us, as low as 12,700 feet. OK, we’ll figure things out in the morning light. We talked a little bit more, than I tucked back into my bag and fell asleep.

In the morning we were welcomed by continued clouds and a very dark wall of something coming in, so we voted to hike out. The snow started flying just we reached Lamarck Col, and followed us all the way back to the car.

So, in the way it sometimes happens, this was a climbing trip with no climbing. But we got into a great place with some real potential. Darwin has two awesome 4th class and a nice looking 5.8 route on its north faces, and the potential for another 5th class route too. Mendel has a great 3rd class route, and low 5th class buttress, not to mention two of the biggest ice routes in the Sierra. And I think I spotted a 3rd/4th class buttress further down valey climbing to a “peak-let”. The approach is on par with the West Palisades, without any of the horse/people traffic. I think I just found my new “favorite” place in the Sierra!


Chris Simmons is an AMGA Certified Alpine Guide, and an alpine, rock, and ski guide for SMC. More about his adventures can be found at Climb.Ski.Run.Sleep.Repeat.