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.
Guidebooks 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 Also check out our unpublished guide to the Mendel Couloirs here.
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.