Mt Mallory and LeConte

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | Hiking in California
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A preliminary note about Mt LeConte. There are two widely publicized ways to get to Mt LeConte: via the "waterfall pitch" (via the Meysan Lakes trail) and via the "laughing dolphin" (via the Tuttle Creek route). Neither is passable. Don't believe hardcore climbers who boast how easily they can do impassable sections. I describe them below but they both end in a deadly (if brief) class-4 section just before the summit that you probably won't make unless you have climbing gear. The only "hiking" route is the least advertised northern route via the Meysan Lakes (the "groove and crack" route described below).

LeConte and Mallory from Meysan Lakes

Mount LeConte (4246m) and Mount Mallory (4221m) are reached from the Meysan Lakes trail that starts from the last Whitney campground before Whitney Portal (at about 2400 meters of elevation). You have to park the car on the road and walk through the campground, looking for the trailhead that is actually hidden among summer homes. If you start hiking before sunrise, this is not trivial at all. To make matters worse, the trail crosses the paved road one more time: walk a bit uphill and look on your right for the second start of the trail.
Parking area:

The trailhead is off this road hidden in the campground:

The trailhead:

The trailhead:

Very long switchbacks (that will be very annoying on the way down) take you around the wall in front of you and into the valley created by the creek that comes down the lake. The trail ends at a meadow. From here you have a choice. Most people continue in the same direction (roughly south) and enter the lake from the west. I think this is a massive west of time (you will need to descend to the lake and then walk all around it on the southern side). It is easier and faster to cross the swamp and enter the waterfall chute. Depending on the season this can be trivial or a little complicated, but i always found a way to climb the waterfall chute without getting wet. At the end stay to the left and coast the lake to the east.

Once at the lake reach the beach (eastern side). In front of you (south) there is a colossal wall of mountains and it is not apparent how you can climb up. There are usually three chutes with snow that are visible from the beach. The third one (east to west) is the one you want to head for. Getting to the bottom of that chute is not difficult, a lot easier than it looks from the lake. Once at the bottom, the snow is on your left and a cliff is in front of you (the cliff that borders the chute to the west). Coast the cliff to the right. Now it's steep class-3 with scree. This is the worst part of the climb. Stay near the cliff. Eventually find a way to climb above the cliff and into the chute: further up (in summer) the chute is wide enough that you can walk next to the snow on clean rock. When you can, climb again to your right and you'll get on a ridge that takes you straight to the plateau with minimal scree.
The route from the lake to the plateau:

The route from the lake to the plateau:

The plateau has three mountains if not more, so it can be confusing. At the very east (left) is Mt LeConte. The summit block doesn't look too high because the plateau is tilted to the east, so you will actually be climbing to approach the LeConte summit block. At the very west (right) is Mt Mallory, which appears to be a much bigger summit block but it is actually the same height. In front of you is an unnamed mountain that has four or more peaks. Mallory is easier than LeConte and offers much better views. So if you have to choose one, i recommend Mallory. LeConte is a few meters higher and that's really the only reason to climb it.

To climb LeConte there are several ways, none of them safe. From the plateau just before you get to the summit block you will see a "pass" that leads to a southern chute. If you walk down just 50 meters, you intersect the southwestern chute coming down from the summit of LeConte through a colossal crack in its southwestern face. That's probably the safest way to climb it, but very slow and annoying, and halfway you have to climb a short class-4 section (the "Waterfall Pitch") that i consider impassable without rope.
Southern chute:

Take a sharp left turn into the southwestern chute:

Waterfall pitch:

An alternative hair-rising route from the plateau is to find the groove that goes east coasting the steep northern granite wall. That groove is relatively safe (and roughly flat) but the exposure is colossal. Where it gets too narrow, take the diagonal crack (the only thing you can do) until you reach safer territory and then work your way around the eastern side where a chute leads to the summit.

Climbing Mt Mallory takes about one hour from the plateau: it's a much longer distance than LeConte's climb but it's easy class 1-2. No particular route: just walk up towards the top, and straight up is probably the best choice. I did not find the register nor the USGS marker so i am not sure which of the many peaklets (all about the same height) is considered the real summit.

The unnamed mountain between LeConte and Mallory has several peaklets and it's hard to tell which one is the highest. When you reach the plateau, walk up straight south and pick one.

  • Meadow 3h
  • Lake Meysan 4h
  • Beach 4.5h
  • Bottom of cliff 5h15'
  • Plateau 6.5h
  • LeConte 7.5h
  • Nameless mountain 8.5h
  • Mallory 9.5h
  • Meysan 11.5h
  • Trailhead 14h

LeConte or Corcoran from Tuttle Creek

Mt LeConte and Mr Corcoran (4194m) are close neighbors.

Take the road to Whitney Portal from Lone Pine and turn left into Horseshoe Meadow Rd. Turn right into Granite View Drive and drive almost to the end. Before some private property turn right into the only major unpaved road. (Most likely you'll get to the end of the paved road and then drive back and turn left into the unpaved road). Drive to the end, but, if your vehicle is a regular low-clearance car, you will most likely park before the steep section (there's an appropriate "square" on the right side) and walk the last km. At the end there is a wide parking lot. The road used to continue but now there is a sign "wilderness" and a boulder to block it. This is the trailhead. You are parked on the south side of the LeConte creek.

The trailhead leads in 30' to a wooden bridge over the Tuttle creek and in two more minutes to an abandoned building that used to be a temple. This building has a working roof and a fireplace (and great views of the mountains). Above the building there is a metal shed. The trail here is difficult to follow, but just walk east (left) towards the Tuttle creek and you should hit the trail (we left lots of cairns in 2011). The trail mostly follows the Tuttle creek upstream staying within 100 meters of it. Resist the temptation to climb the ridge in order to take a short cut while the creek bends right (it's loose granite dirt with extremely steep and slippery chutes). The trail enters foresty (and shady) terrain and calmly ascends the Tuttle canyon. When you see the waterfalls of the creek, you should prepare to cross to the other side (the right side gets very bushy). I crossed just below the waterfalls at a clearing when the creek is almost flat. It only required a little jump. On the other side stay as close to the creek as you can without entering the vegetation. This should mostly be on friendly terrain. After a pine forest, you will be doing mostly bouldering to the Black Falls. These falls come down from the ridge to your right (the north ridge). Now the creek splits in three branches: to your left there is a south branch that is dry in summer; in front of you there is a vertical wall (not so vertical when you climb it) that takes you to the (very dry) Tuttle basin and then to Tuttle pass (Mt Langley will be on your left); to your right are the majestic Black Falls.

To reach either Corcoran or LeConte, you have to climb the Black Falls. In order to avoid slippery rocks, you have to move to the right of the sandy chute. This will send you against the giant wall of granite above you. Turn left at the top and you enter a basin, which is a series of ugly moraines. Initially you can only see the peak to your left, but eventually Sharktooth, Corcoran and Leconte appear.

At the end of this basin there are two chutes: one goes to the North Notch and the other one goes to the center of LeConte. Climbing LeConte from the latter requires some serious climbing skills, if nothing else because of the ungodly amount of scree. Most people aim for the "Laughing Dolphin" gulley, that has a class-4 chockstone almost at the end.

If you survive the Laughing Dolphin, move to the right into the only reasonable chute and you'll descend into another chute: this is the southwestern chute just above the Waterfall Pitch, an easy five minute scramble to the top that feels like an highway compared with the scree of the east side.
I would not recommend this route unless you have helmet, rope, etc.

Overall map:

The traverse from Corcoran to LeConte is a bit senseless: much easier to just go back down and climb Corcoran from the bottom of the North Notch.

  • Trailhead (2050m)
  • Wooden bridge and temple (2350m): 30'
  • Waterfall 1: 2.5h
  • Base of Black falls (3300m): 4h
  • Plateau: 5h40'
  • Base of North Notch chute: 8h
  • LeConte: 10h

View from Mt LeConte