The Mendel Couloirs

Mt. Mendel, 13,710’, sports the two best known gully ice climbs in the Sierra. Logically known as Mendel Left and Mendel Right, the couloirs split the impressive north face of the mountain and offer two tantalizing choices to the summit.

First climbed in the late 1950’s this remains one of the most highly coveted ice climbs in the range and Mendel Right is regarded “the” classic Sierra ice route – legend has it that Chouinard invented the curved pick on this climb. The route offers up to ten pitches of climbing that approach 65 degrees at their steepest with a final 5.6 rock pitch completing the climb. Often midway up there is a chockstone that melts out of the couloir creating the crux of the climb.

The left gully, also known as Ice Nine, was first climbed ten years later than Mendel Right, in 1967, and offers a more challenging climb. You may see Mendel Left and Ice Nine described as two separate routes but they are indeed one and the same. Conditions vary tremendously but at its best the climb is a narrow twisting gully, inclined at up to 80 degrees (and some vertical sections) and often little more then two feet wide of continuous ice to nearly the top. In drier years the vertical sections are steep rock chimneys and are very challenging.

Following a winter with plenty of snow, September is the prime time for these routes but in drier years July and August are best. We usually guide the right hand climb but the choice is yours. In either case the climb is sure to be a great adventure to the top of one of the High Sierra’s great summits.


Guide_Eastern_Sierra_iceGuidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails”, and “Sierra Classics” by Moynier and Fiddler. The best of course is “Eastern Sierra Ice” by SP Parker. Also check out our unpublished guide to the Mendel Couloirs here.

Get it from Maximus Press.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night in Mammoth would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead, such as the South Lake/Bishop Pass trailhead for a night just before the trip. Cardinal Village Resort in Bishop Creek near North Lake is also a good lodging option. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

Return to Classic Alpine Ice Climbs

Day 1:
The approach hike begins west of Bishop at the North Lake trailhead, elevation 9,300’. Lamarck Col is the destination and at
over 13,000’ it can be a grind. Only 6.5 miles from the cars, it takes most of the day. Lamarck Col is one of the gateways to Kings Canyon National Park but we seldom see other parties on the trail. There are several choices of camp spots: sometimes we camp on a sandy bench partway down from the col. Other times we drop all the way to the canyon bottom and camp at some of the tiny lakes in upper Darwin Canyon.

Day 2:
We are out of camp before first light, climbing up a steep, loose moraine bound for the bergschrund at the base of the
couloirs, which are only a few hundred feet apart. Either choice of route takes us to the summit and our descent is via second and third class scrambling to the east.

Day 3:
We reverse our steps on the third day, taking a final grand view from Lamarck Col before descending all the way to our

Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to Darwin Canyon camp: 6.5 miles, 3760’ of gain, 1180’ of descent
Camp to summit to camp: 2.25 miles, 2170’ of gain, 2170’ of descent
Camp to trailhead: 6.5 miles, 1180’ of gain, 3760’ of descent

Program Prerequisites:

You should be in good physical condition, have some backpacking experience and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderate pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. You should have basic snow and ice climbing skills and be able to climb moderate angle ice since we will not be instructing basic skills along the way, but we will be refining them.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Mendel Couloirs map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.