Monday, June 30, 2008

long overdue reunion with matthes

Note: This trip report also appears on summitpost.

Back in August 1997 I was introduced to the Matthes Crest traverse, which still remains
one of my all-time favorite climbs. The massive granite fin is like no other formation I've seen, and both the scenery and exposure are stunning. I'm not sure why I waited so long for a repeat ascent, but after nearly 11 years I decided it was time to return.

Jascha and I headed out for our usual not so alpine start, but with enough time to get back before dark based on the low end range of Supertopo's time for the route.
We planned to do the full south to north traverse, instead of rapping off the north summit like most parties and as I had done in 1997. The route is mostly Class 3 and 4 with a few 5.3 to 5.7 pitches, so I packed a 30m rope, half a set of medium to large nuts, two Link cams (special thanks Dave and Naomi), four slings and a cordelette in case it got dicey.

We followed the approach as described by Peter Croft and aimed for the saddle between Cathedral Peak and Echo Peaks. As we skirted the Echo Peaks to the southeast the full crest came into view. The smoke from the Clover Fire created a faint, but perceptible haze in the air, but not enough to detract from the views. After crossing the valley we found ourselves at the base of the climb just under two hours from the car. A party of two was just finishing the third pitch.

The standard route follows three crack systems (the hardest of which is 5.5) that top out on easier, more horizontal terrain. We decided to solo this first section, which although easy provided some early exposure as we traversed between the sets of cracks. Moving swiftly along the top of the ridge we passed the party of two. Route finding was straightforward, with the majority of the climbing along the ridge top proper. The views of
the surrounding Cathedral Range and the exposure were as breathtaking as I remembered.

Before long we were at the south summit. Looking across to the north summit the 5.7 section looked blank and with the number of cracks the 5.4 chimney was not apparent. I was hoping things would become more obvious once we got into the notch that separates the two summits. We backtracked slightly and found the 5.2 downclimb with the tree as described in Supertopo. Once in the notch we found the 5.7 section to be a 20-25 foot long diagonal finger crack, basically a boulder problem, followed by an easy chimney. I asked Jascha if he felt comfortable soloing and off we went sans rope. We did use my cordelette and a sling to shuttle our packs up onto the ledge. Before long we were on the north summit and on to uncharted territory. I had no beta on the last section other than it was possible and that it shouldn't be harder than 5.7.

The exposure was far more spectacular, including an airy step across and traversing a
large overhanging wavelike fin. We passed several rap stations, where various parties had escaped the crest for who knows what reason. Hopefully, we wouldn't discover why. As we neared the end of the crest two final small towers remained. Here the terrain became more challenging and upon surmounting the first one we were unable to find a reasonable downclimb. We backtracked and traversed the left side of the tower only to find more difficult cracks leading up to the final tower, but also an easy ramp system leading to the end of the ridge. We opted for the later option, had a lunch break, and continued over the ridge just to the E of Echo Ridge. The traverse had taken 3 hours.

From here the descent was the same as I had done for the Cathedral Traverse several days prior. We picked our way down the snowfields and over the slabs to the eastern shoreline of Budd Lake. The trail was still partially snowed in, so we headed northwest until we hit the Cathedral climbers' trail and back to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead. We finished in under just 8 hours. Once home I consulted Bob Burd's description of the route on summitpost and discovered that the downclimb off the final towers exceeds 5.6. I think we made the right move.

tuolumne: the granite playground

Note: This trip report also appears on summitpost.

Back in May I quit my job and moved to Bishop to take full advantage of (fair weathered) alpine season. Lingering wintery storms made the conditions less than ideal (read major postholing) so I passed the time in the Gorge and Tablelands, anxiously awaiting for the big melt off. As the snow began to melt I did some shorter approach climbs to avoid significant slogging. I have some plans for big traverses late in the
summer, and I was starting to question my conditioning and readiness.

I was supposed to day trip Venusian Blind with Miguel, but he was sick and it didn't seem like an ideal plan given that he would also be driving all the way out from L.A. just for this climb. Additionally, I was aching to do a solo trip. As much as I enjoy climbing with other people, I also like the meditative nature of climbing alone. I suggested to Miguel that he reschedule our trip, and I started planning a trip to Tuolumne.

My original plan was to link up the NW Buttress of Tenaya Peak and the SE Buttress of Cathedral Peak, but was detoured from Tenaya after seeing recent photos of snow on the route and reading in the High Sierra Supertopo that bypassing this snow patch "will involve harder climbing on unknown terrain". At the last minute I settled on attempting the Cathedral Traverse select as outlined by Croft in The Good, the Great, and the Awesome: SE Buttress of Cathedral, Echo Peak #3, Echo Ridge, Cockscomb, and Unicorn.

I headed out for Tuolumne on my motorcycle at 6:40a. After calling me "sir" the ranger at the Tioga Pass kiosk informed me that at the E side entrance I could only pay for my interagency pass via check or cash. He initially suggested that I go to the Tuolumne Meadows store ATM and return, but told me that I could pay on the way out when I said that I was out to climb Cathedral and didn't want to waste time getting started. I figured that I should at least get cash in case I get stopped on the way out, and ended up having to wait until 9a for the store to open. So much for an early start, but that's why I live in CA and not CO.

Finally at 9:30a I set out with my mp3 player. As Cathedral came into view I started to feel slightly intimidated. The
one time I had tried to climb the SE Buttress (roped) many years ago we were rained off. Is that Conness 5.6 or Yosemite sandbag 5.6? Would I get off-route? Comments from my Bishop friends at the previous night's dinner ranged from "I would never solo Cathedral, especially if I'd never climbed it before..." to "No problem, there's a lot of ways to go...". Jascha told me the night before that he just read a short sci-fi story in which the main character was reminiscing about getting a call from Yosemite SAR to report that her daughter had died after falling off a peak. Great timing. I told myself that as with most Sierra peaks the routes look easier the closer you get.

As I neared the base I was passed on the trail by a guy wearing only approach shoes, a chalk bag and a visor. He effortlessly flew up the route. I pulled out my Supertopo route description and settled on a variation combining route C (the right most route) with route A (the standard route) starting at the chimney.

Being a Thursday the route was dead by Cathedral standards. Two parties of two were milling around at the bottom on the standard route. As I started up the climb I found it mostly easy going with good friction. I found my rhythm and took in the amazing views. The dicey sections, like pulling into the chimney, were short and the route finding was straight forward. On the last pitch I got to a section that didn't quite match the topo, but all of a sudden I topped out. The climb had taken 1 hour and it was now noon. I descended back to the base and made my way over to Echo Peak #3.

I climbed to the notch next to Echo Peak #1 and skirted the SE side of #1 and 2. Between Peak #2 and #3 I found a slightly wet trough to access the summit ridge, although I thought "Class 4" might be a better adjective than "easy" as used by Croft. I guess it's all a matter of perception. Amusingly, the summit register (the only one I found on the whole traverse) was a rusted cookie type tin. The views of Matthes off the backside were spectacular and I was looking forward to doing the traverse in a few days.

The climb over to Echo Ridge was uneventful. I found a fun downclimb on the SE side and spent a lot of time drooling over Matthes. I still had a lot of time before dark and I wasn't feeling particularly tired, so I figured that there was a good chance I could finish the whole traverse at a reasonable hour.

On Cockscomb Croft's description mentioned heading up and right to a notch. Of course, there was more than one notch. I picked the leftmost notch, which turned out to be the wrong one. Fortunately, the route is relatively short so I was quickly back on track and on the summit. The descent options are a 5.6 downclimb off the backside (more direct) or reversing the route and heading around the N side of the base. I tried the downclimb and decided that I wasn't up for crumbly, exposed 5.6. The downclimb from the first notch I tried seemed more reasonable, but I didn't want to reverse the grovely, exposed mantle move I had found on the way up. I opted for skirting the N side of the peak on a somewhat exposed, mossy/snowy ramp system. This seemed more palatable than losing a bunch of elevation by dropping down to the snowfield.

Now on the ridge between Cockscomb and Unicorn, the only thing impeding my
route was a huge pile of talus of almost the same height as Unicorn. I decided to ignore the Croft route, which goes over the pile, and go for the lazy option of contouring across it to minimize the amount of elevation change. Fortunately, the talus was large and stable, and progress was swift. I easily found a fourth class route up Unicorn for my final peak of the day. I stepped off of Unicorn at 5:30p (6.5 hours or climbing time).

I cruised back down to the Unicorn/talus pile saddle and headed SW across the slabs through the lovely basin below Unicorn. On the other side of the basin I found a ramp system down the slabs that put me on the SE shore of Budd Lake and briefly back on the trail. The trail disappeared in the snow, so I crossed Budd Creek and beelined cross country NW until I hit the climbers trail. Back at the trailhead at 7:30p I was descended on by the infamous Meadows mosquitoes, so I quickly donned my riding gear and headed home. Of course the Tioga Pass kiosk ranger waved me through.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

back on track

After much anticipation the snow is rapidly melting and the (warm-weathered) alpine season is now in full swing. This past weekend I brought Jascha along to revisit two favorite routes, the NE Gully of Laurel Mt and the W Chute of Cloudripper. I have fond memories of my last visit to Laurel with Dave and Matt, Dave's first alpine experience, which resulted in this. Dave and Naomi are recent proud parents, so Dave's ADP (Alpine Development Program) is on hold for the near term. No matter because my newest student, Jascha, is progressing along quite well.

Conditions on Laurel were decent, given the recent melt-off. Not su
rprisingly the gullies were wet and the slabs were covered with silt. The various route options made this only a minor inconvenience. The scree descent was slightly more palatable by the fact it wasn't blazing hot (thanks to our mid-day start). Once back on the Convict Lake trail we encountered a snake that I had not seen before in the wild, which we later confirmed to be a rubber boa. Although the literature reports is as being incredibly docile we suspected that it was injured due to its inability to move the lower third of its body. Jascha moved it off the trail, and we let natural selection prevail.

Sunday we headed out from the S Lake to do Cloudripper, which we had planned to do the previous weekend before detouring to Hurd. There was little information on the W Chute in Secor's The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails, summitpost (I later remedied this), or the various other internet alpine resources, so I hoped my memory from our 2004 trip would provide some enlightenment. From the Chocolate Lakes we identified an obvious route, which upon closer inspection of the upper slabs I could see was the same as from my previous trip. We headed up the chute and just as I remembered the granite was solid and there were a number of options for bumping up the Class 3 rating. On the summit the lighting wasn't so ideal for views/photos of the Palisades, but I did notice that the bergschrund was quite sizable.

We headed north down the talus slopes toward Green Lake hoping to catch the aqueduct. Unfortunately, I could not remember where we caught the aqueduct four years ago, only that it crossed the trail several times. We looked at the topo and decided to contour cross-country southwest after Brown Lake to shorten the distance. I figured we would be able to use the dam on S Lake as a landmark for the parking area. After following a series of faint animal trails we hit the aqueduct, which we followed (in the dark) until I noticed that we were about to pass the dam. We cut through the trees, hitting the road ~0.2 miles from my car (pretty good route finding IMHO).

Off to Tuolumne tomorrow for a solo trek up Cathedral after my Venusian Blind plans got postponed due to Miguel's cold.

Monday, June 9, 2008

redemption on hurd

OK, so it wasn't exactly the most brilliant idea, but then again I would be a much duller person if I always took the conservative route. Yesterday Jascha and I set off on my F650GS for the Mount Humphreys trailhead with plans for climbing the E Arete. I had traded in my Toyota Tacoma before I left Boulder for a Mini, which is amazingly fun to drive but has almost no clearance. That left the option of borrowing someone else's vehicle or riding my enduro, not exactly the best offroad machine for me given my far from Dakar racer skill level (650cc , ~430 lbs wet; I am 5'6" and weigh ~135 lbs).

hings went OK for the first 7 or so miles off-road. Having the extra 200+ lbs on the back of my bike made the bike a bit more stable in the sand, and with the plethora of rocks I finally put the engine guards to the test. Then I started getting tired, likely from overgripping due to my fear of dumping the bike with Jascha on it. We stopped at the McGee Creek crossing, which is followed by a short steep curved uphill. In my head I saw myself dumping my bike in the water just like the countless photos on advrider. Then I thought about riding out after climbing all day (possibly in the dark) and decided to cut the epic short and head back. The way out was a test of patience. Riding uphill over technical ground was not so bad; on the contrary I dumped my bike at least five times on the way out. Fortunately I made Jascha dismount on the more technical sections (the extra weight pushing forward didn't help my stability on the steeper downhill sections), so it was only me on the ground. I was also thankful to have an extra person to help me pick up my bike out of the sand. More nerve wracking, however, was knowing that we might not be climbing a peak that day after Jascha had driven all the way out from L.A. and purchased a new BD Raven axe at Wilson's. Another day at the Gorge didn't sound appealing.

Then I thought of the W Face of Cloudripper, w
hich I knew we could easily do in a half day. We dropped off my motorcycle, picked up a Bishop Pass topo, and headed up to S Lake. On the way up the trail Jascha asked about the peak to our SW, which looked quite enticing with its multiple potential routes on solid looking granite. After a brief discussion we detoured down the Treasure Lakes trail toward Hurd. On the approach we weighed our various route options and finally decided on the NE face (aiming for the NE ridge) as being the most fun of the more direct routes. The route did not disappoint. We encountered everything from straight forward Class 3 to thought provoking icy, lichen-laden Class 5 hand cracks. It took us a few pinnacle ascents to find the true summit, but the sweeping views of the Inconsolables, Agassiz and Mt Goode made it worth it the extra effort.

After giving Jascha a brief seminar on self arresting we headed down one of the steep snowfields to the E. Once the angle eased up we glissaded to the base and contoured NW toward S Lake and the Bishop Pass trail. We were back in Bishop in time for sweet potato fries at Whiskey Creek.