Monday, July 21, 2008

t-storm season in the sierra

Thunderstorm season is in full swing in the eastern Sierra and many a climbing plan has been squashed, so I didn't feel too bad being one of the casualties. With the inclement weather I decided to choose a route with a relatively easy approach. With its gentle gain, something around Bishop Pass was an obvious candidate. I had Winchell's E Arete on my to do list, but the approach from Glacier Lodge didn't sound overly appealing and the more technical western side routes were a bit more to my liking. I also figured that I could possibly traverse over to Agassiz.

I headed out at 7:30a under mostly sunny skies and made it to the top of the pass in under two hours where I encountered a helicopter dropping off supplies.
It didn't occur to me that the search for a missing climber on Mt Goode was still ongoing, but I suspected that they were looking for someone. I was glad to have my mp3 player to block out the drone of the circling helicopters given that I would be soloing. On the way up I scouted out possible breaks in the ridge before the pass in case I had to downclimb one of the eastern routes.

I had a somewhat vague description of the SW chute of Winchell from Secor, which rated the route class 4-5. That led me to ponder the obvious question of "5.what"? The description noted several class 4 variations, so I figured that I would have bail out options if the answer turned out to be "5.9+". I contoured
around the base of Agassiz, noting how jagged the ridge from Winchell appeared. From below a traverse looked out of the question, but it was difficult to know for certain without closer investigation.

I identified what looked like the SW Chute from Secor's route drawing and headed up through a break in the lower cliff band, which appeared to lie directly below the route. Once through the break I saw an obvious chute flanked on each side by aretes. The rock looked solid, but vertical, on the left hand side of the chute and easier, but loose and lichen covered on the right. I chose the the left for obvious reasons. The clouds were starting to thicken over the Palisades and surrounding valleys, but for now they were continuing to move east. I kept a watchful eye on the weather, knowing that easy class 5 wasn't as much fun when you're downclimbing it in the rain.

The chute appeared to top out so I headed right to get a
better assessment of my location, only to find that I was one chute over. My options were to continue on the arete or to drop down into the SW Chute proper. After noting a very large gap in the arete formed by a huge overhanging boulder it seemed that it would be best to drop down into the chute. By this time clouds had started collecting over the range and I could see a downpour in the range to the west. I probably had time to summit, but neither the prospect of downclimbing the route in approach shoes in the rain nor heading down the E Arete and getting all the way back over to the Bishop Pass trail didn't seem too desirable.

Not wanting to end up as the next SAR target I decided to cut my losses and head down. After some deliberation I decided to head back down the same chute I came up. Initially I
tried to check out the easier class 4 rock, but after experiencing one disintegrating foothold and one detached handhold I headed back over to the more solid class 5 rock that I had ascended. At the base of the chute I consulted my Secor description and noticed that I had taken the Roper/Waddell variation, which was incorrectly depicted in the route diagram. I wondered if they too had "accidentally" discovered the variation.

By the time I got back to the top of Bishop Pass I was not regretting my decision; Dusy Basin was socked in with thunderheads and I could feel rain drops. On the way down the trail I ran into one of the SAR guys from Lone Pine. He was looking a bit haggard so I offered to shuttle his pack down, but he politely declined. I hiked with him for a while, discussing his volunteer work. They were already on day 9 of the search with 3 helicopters and 30+ rescuers. I wondered who dictates how long a search lasts and whether the can the family call if off if the chances are it is only a body recovery operation. I would rather leave my remains in the backcountry than be buried in a box under a lawn. I decided that I should probably discuss this with my mom (who is probably stalking my blog) just in case. By the time I reached the South Lake the storm was all the way down to Hurd.

That night I emailed my friend Chris, as he was the only person in summitpost to have registered as climbing the SW Chute. He gave the route stellar reviews, but noted that the top section felt dicey, especially the exposed arete. I hope to be back after the t-storm season dies down, armed with climbing shoes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

intro to evolution

I decided to do some recon for our attempt at Evolution Traverse next month and headed up to the Lake Sabrina trailhead with plans to do Peak 13332, Haeckel, and Wallace. Thanks in part to my housemates' cat whining at my bedroom door in the wee hours I ended up sleeping through my alarm. So much for an early start. Do you see a pattern here?

I parked my motorcycle at the trailhead and marched around the lake. I made good time, passing a number of Outward Bound students/Boy Scouts, most donning those mosquito head nets. Bad sign. The trail was a bit difficult to follow at times as it meandered over multiple slabs, but I made it through the mosquito infested lakes to the trail's end at Midnight Lake. A use trail led up from here to the basin below Darwin and Peak 13332.

I didn't have any beta on 13332 other than the routes on the S side were easy, but I figured that I could probably find something on the N/NE side. It seemed to take forever to get to the base. There were several obvious chutes, one of which had spilled out a large amount of rockfall. OK, skip that one. The next two chutes appeared to meet up on the top of an interesting looking buttress. I decided to find a way up the buttress, knowing I could bail out on the left if it got too dicey. The buttress was made up of a series of large steps with short class 4 and class 5 cracks connecting them. The steps made even the committing lieback I tried seem less exposed. At the top of the buttress were several snowfields/ramp systems that led to the summit. I attempted to cross the northernmost snow chute, which was a bit sketchy when I first tried to kick steps and hit a sheet of ice. Luckily I managed to step over a few feet and get purchase. Back on the rock, it was class 4 at most to the summit. It had taken me an hour of actual climbing. Once on top I found a history of the first ascent of the Evolution Traverse in the summit register, with entries from all three of Peter Croft's attempts. The peak got little travel with only a small portion of the register being filled since its inception in 1964.

The traverse to Haeckel looked long, but traverses always look longer than they are. Initially I tried to stay on the ridge, but I decided to pretend like I was climbing the route and stick to smaller talus for efficiency. If you stayed low it was pretty much class 2, but a lot of it was covered with snow so I stuck to the rocks. I could see a large notch below Haeckel so I also tried to minimize the amount of elevation gain/loss by contouring. The final section of the ridge before the notch was super rotten. In retrospect I should have bypassed this on the snow. Once in the notch my options for getting to the base of the headwall on Haeckel were pretty obvious: loose class 2 crap or large blocky class 3 with a fun class 4 variation to start. I chose the later. Approaching the headwall I could see several class 3 ramp systems, plus a number of crack systems for spicing up the rating. Since routefinding would be fairly straightforward I figured that I could slack on my scouting duties and have fun. From the summit I could see what was in store on the traverse, fairly easy but long ridges leading over to Wallace, then Fiske. It had taken me ~2 hours from summit to summit. It was getting to be late afternoon and I wasn't psyched to have to do much of the trail in the dark given that it had been slightly difficult to follow in broad daylight.

For variation I thought I would descent via Hungry Packer Lake. Big mistake. The slabs that surround the lake cliff out fairly rapidly and the descent route follows this heinous scree chute. There was a vague cairn leading off and left part way down the chute, but when I checked it out it looked like a false lead so I continued down. This is when I noticed that the cliffs dropped straight down to the lake and it was too deep to wade. The mosquitoes were thick and I inhaled many as I slogged back up the chute to the turnoff I had earlier dismissed. I hoped this was the correct way as the sun was dropping behind the mountains and I was not keen on routefinding through the slabs in the dark. Happy day, the route went and it dropped me out on flatter shoreline and soon the trail.

I started jogging to keep the mosquitoes from swarming around my head. Looking back toward the lake and the granite spires I could see why I heard about this area being so spectacular. No time to doddle. I hurried down the trail to get through as much of the confusing slab sections as possible before total darkness set in. On the way back I lost the trail a few times, but only briefly. I kept waiting for the section where the trail started skirting the lake. It took
forever. I could see lights from the boat house on the far end of Sabrina. They taunted me for over a mile. Finally I reached the road and my motorcycle. It had taken 13.5 hours (3 hours of climbing time) for 2 peaks and ~17.5 miles, at least 4 of which were x-country, with ~6000 ft of gain. Ugh, I feel slow.

technical difficulties on conness

OK, so I forgot my topo/description, made a small error on the approach to Conness, and took us up the NW Ridge of N Peak, which I realized was wrong once we started on the route. Fortunately, the NW Ridge joins up with the N Ridge of Conness so I guess you could think of it as an enhancement.

We made it to the N Ridge and moved quickly. The weather appeared to be holding out (20% chance of t-storms), but the winds were chilly on the W side. The crux on this route is a downclimb in a 5.6 crack, which is fairly easy thanks to a plethora of features. The next section includes some exposed class 4 slabs followed by one of the best photo ops in the Sierra, the fin. We topped out and signed the register. Some cock holster (special thanks to Mike S for this term, which seems most appropriate) had decided to censor my all-time favorite summit register entry. This was remediated.

The original plan was to do the N Ridge / W Ridge link-up, and I figured we could probably still squeeze it in. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember which of the many chutes that dropped down to W was the correct one and we got cliffed out several times. I was also starting to worry a bit about time, knowing that the descent was all cross-country and that I didn't have it memorized, and the wind situation on the W side given that we would be soloing. I discussed this with Jascha and we decided to cut our losses and head out.

I managed to piece together the descent from memory and cairns/footsteps and we dropped down to the E into the mosquito-laden swampland around the Carnegie Institute. To bypass the 0.7 miles of pavement between Sawmill Campground and the Saddlebag Lake parking area we contoured through the woods toward the damn at the end of Saddlebag Lake. This time I didn't get lost.

bcs finally

After an early season recon trip with much postholing (and cursing), conditions on Bear Creek Spire were finally optimal. I convinced Jascha to ditch work and join me on the NE Ridge.

We got our usual non-alpine start and found the Mosquito Flat trailhead choked with cars.
The clutch on my Mini (with less than 30K miles) decided to stick to the floor, so Jascha and a few other good Samaritans helped me push it into a parking spot. We figured it was mostly downhill to Bishop, so I could hobble down after our climb if needed. I tried to ignore the fact that I had just spent $1200+ a week or so prior on the car getting a new BST cable, which malfunctioned causing all of my electrical connections to intermittently cut out. A guy in the parking lot suggested that the clutch might be hydraulic and it just needed to cool down. Jascha pulled the clutch pedal up and it stayed, so it didn't seem like a broken cable.

We decided to take the Morgan Pass route (v. Treasure Lakes), but we ended up turning off early at Gem Lakes. It was still a bit hazy from the current wildfires, but it didn't detract from the strikingly blue alpine lakes. We skirted Dade Lake and headed up to the basin below BCS, taking time to admire the N Arete. Once at the base of the route Jascha had a brief bout with nausea. It didn't linger long enough to be AMS and he decided to keep going. We were almost at the good part anyway.

The climb steepened and we motored up the class 4 and easy 5 cracks to the place where the N Arete and NE Ridge routes meet. We traversed toward the summit block and looked for an interesting way up. Jascha found a short, but featureless crack into which was wedged an 8-10" chockstone. I scrambled up (admittedly using the rock) hoping the chockstone wouldn't give especially once I found that I would have to mantle on a grovelly, gravel-laden shelf. Jascha made it up behind me and we headed up for the final obstacle - a few class 4 moves on the summit block proper. On the top we scoped out the E Arete and the traverse from Julius Caesar.

We descended via the Morgan Pass route and found the parking lot mostly empty. I wondered whether I would have to use AAA to tow my car yet again. The clutch appeared to be working again and we made it back to Bishop.

The next day the clutch started sticking again, and it finally gave it entirely when I tried to drive it up on our makeshift 2 x 8" & concrete block ramp. Fortunately, it turned out to be a faulty seal in the plastic hydraulic clutch slave cylinder (interestingly, I noticed a number of online accounts about Mini clutches going out at under 30K miles), which was both easily accessible and cheap. None of the local chain auto parts stores seemed to be able to order this part for me, so I had to order it from a specialty Mini parts supplier. With Jascha's technical oversight I removed the old one. After 1.5 weeks I am still waiting for this stupid part. Thankfully I have a backup vehicle, albeit one with two wheels.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

temple time with rico

The time came for our day trip up Venusian Blind on Temple Crag, which Miguel (a.k.a. Rico Suave) originally scheduled back in December. Miguel proposed a 3:30a start, which I negotiated into 4:30 (still ungodly early). Supertopo estimated 13 hours on the low end, which I knew we could beat if we soloed at least the easy (less than 5.6). The smoke from the Clover Fire that had stifled the Sierra views from Bishop dissipated as we moved west and around First Lake the morning light lit up Temple Crag with a pinkish glow. At Third Lake we left the trail and moved southeast across the talus fields. I walked ahead of Miguel, knowing that he'd likely catch up on the snowfield given that I purposefully left my crampons or ice axe at home. The first half of the snowfield below Temple Crag was soft enough to kick half inch steps; however, I was unable to get any purchase on the later half and I hoped that I wouldn't have to use my sharp rock to self-arrest.

As we got approached the base of the route we
noticed five people ahead of us. That number increased to seven, seven on a Wednesday. There were no people on the other routes. I looked at Miguel and said "We need to solo". We climbed up the first two pitches of Class 3 and 4 and paused below the first Class 5 section where the other seven people were gathered around. Miguel put on his harness in preparation, stating that we'd need to at least simulclimb part of the route. I told him that we would see if that was necessary and we headed up a loose chimney variation to the left of the standard start, meeting up with the regular route at the top of the first pitch.

At the crowded first belay we recognized Romain from summitpost. Fortunately, Miguel didn't doddle as he did last year
on the Palisade Traverse, and we escaped the crowd. This is where the route finding became a bit more challenging. I had Supertopo, but it wasn't exactly obvious which of the several towers to take so we guessed. On the more technical sections I kept telling Miguel I'd go up and check it out and each time he followed without asking me to lower the rope. We continued up passing abandoned gear, chalk, and pitons, a good sign unless our predecessors were also off-route. We never did see the infamous "Death Diving Board" and the "scary four foot gap" looked more like a slightly exposed two foot gap. Before long we hit the summit plateau and made our way to the top.

After lunch on the summit we started down toward Contact Pass. The final hurdle of the day was downclimbing the grovely 5.4 chimney (a.k.a. Contact Crack). The
snowfield has softened up enough to plunge step and we hurried down to escape the fall line of the boulder laden moraine. We headed back across the talus toward Third Lake and hurried back to the trailhead. As always with this trail the descent took longer than expected. Total time: 10.5 hours (Supertopo estimate: 13-16 hours)