Sierra Adventures, an Attempt on Mount Langley

9 09 2009

As the summer heat reached near record highs two weekends ago I found myself shivering in the cold shade of the Northeast Face of Langley Peak. This summer I have taken a bit more time to explore the Eastern Sierra and this weekend was one of the most adventurous yet.  The goal was to establish a new route on the massive Northeast face of Mount Langley. Currently there is only one other technical route to the summit of this 14,054 foot peak.
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Getting ready to hike in carrying a whopping 7 liters of water…

Langley would be my first 14er so I was super excited to try to climb it via a new route. Shay had a handful of maps and semi-useful descriptions that would guide us to our first bivy. The start of the approach was a familiar jaunt up to the Stone House. This trail was nice and Lizzy and I had been there about a month earlier.  We were apprehensive about water so we both packed maximum capacity, carrying almost 2 gallons each.

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The stone house complete with new prayer flags to honor the passing of Bruce Binder.

Reaching the stone house we could tell that Tuttle Creek was still flowing strong so we dumped a bunch of water and set out to the unknown. Shay and I had been to the Lone Pine Peak side of the Tuttle Creek drainage but never up towards Mt Langley. A bit of guess work lead us up to a trail behind the metal shack above the stone house. We took this across a big slope and eventually ran into a bigger trail. This well cairn-ed trail continued up hill for many miles and brought us to the Keyhole wall.

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Really happy that we were able to follow a trail all the way from the stone house to the Keyhole Wall.

Following the advice from previous ascensionists of Mt Langley, we crossed the stream and headed up the talus making sure that our water source was still flowing. Eventually the sound of the gurgling stream died out and we bivyed 10 minutes or so above where the creek went underground.  On our descent we realized that we could have camped over an hour further but likely at the cost of a good nights sleep. The stream had  gone underground for a half mile or so and appeared in full force higher up the drainage.

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Shay looks sharp as we trek on past the Keyhole wall.

Leaving from Pasadena by 10:30 am we made great time to Lone Pine and up the trail to our bivy. There was still daylight but it seemed prudent not to go too far above 10,000 feet. Fresh stream water was easily retrieved unfiltered due to our remote location. A dinner of packet food was sufficient and we opted for an early bed time due to our impending pre-dawn start.

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Looking back down canyon from our bivy.

The ridge in the following photo was visible from camp and  our information led us to believe the north face was just around the corner. Hiking up endless talus warmed me up but as soon as dawn broke the wind started and chilled me to the bone. I had to layer up,  very unusual for me while hiking, and we made our way up trying our best to guess the right way.  We second guessed our decisions and likely lost a bit of time traversing a steep slope instead of staying low in the main gully.

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Our first look at Mt Langley

Beyond finding the NE face we needed to spot a doable climb and get to it as fast as possible. There was only so much day light and this 2000 foot face would require a lot of pitches. Around the right of the prominent ridge we spotted what looked like a 500 foot long crack system that would give us access to a higher ridge line.  At the time I assumed all of the towers connected to the top and when this route looked too chossy we too easily decided to climb another line.

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The wind was killer and I was happy to have a jacket.

We found an easy looking crack system that appeared less choss-tastic and I started up the pretty green and yellow granite. Leading in my jacket with a pack was a bit tricky at first but once I got a few pieces in the climbing started to be fun. I had to be careful of small foot holds since they often were barely attached but I slowly made my way up to the ledge below a wide crack seen in the upper right of the photo below.

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The start of the tower we chose to climb.

Shay had the next pitch and decided not to go up the wide crack. We only had a single #3 and the largest BD hex. His lead followed a chossy pair of seams which took the occasional gear and then traversed right to the crack above the offwidth. This was low end 5.10 but very scary and insecure especially with cold fingers on even colder rock.  The next pitch was mine and featured the hardest climbing of the route. I was faced with  splitter finger crack providing the only passage to the top of the next tower.

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Heading up the fun first pitch in chilly weather.

I did a bit of cleaning to get out the lichen and loose rock, down climbing to the ledge each time, before committing to the finger splitter. The locks were excellent and the feet exciting (i.e. a bit loose) as I slowly made my way up. It was over before I knew it and I was hugging a leaning pillar making my way past many loose blocks to the next ledge. I saw a scary looking next pitch and happily belayed to give Shay the next lead.

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Shay leads an exciting ridge traverse! Notice the awesome slung  pro…

Shay gets bonus points for the next  lead with crazy exposure on both sides of the ridge. He climbed about a 60 meter pitch requiring a bit of simul-climbing on our short 48 meter rope. I took the next pitch and downclimbed into a chimney, which was semi bottomless with 300 feet of air on my left. Squeezing behind a leaning flake our Nuts somehow detached from my harness and fell into the void.  I continued with some easy downclimbing into the gully below.

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Shay on top of our tower before downclimbing into the gully.

From this position we could see choss and snow going up towards the summit. Our tower had not connected to a main ridge line and the rock above didn’t look to inviting. We decided that it would be best to descend since the gully we were in seemed reasonable. In retrospect we could have climbed back up on to the ridge line but it would have been at least another 15 pitches to reach the summit. We had gotten a bit of a late start (climbing wise) and it was already noon so we took the safe option, not wanting to get benighted.

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Luke descends back to the base.

With 5 new pitches established it wasn’t a waste of a day and we took our time back to camp. We found the upper part of the stream and hiked down past pretty waterfalls and surprisingly lush vegetation for the area. After some more rest at camp we packed up and relocated to the Keyhole wall. Our next bivy site was not as spacious and level but was a bit closer to the stream and had a beautiful boulder with sculpted holds that I happily climbed.

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The NE face of Langley showing our route, Unstoppable Tower Tango,  on a disconnected ridge.

We hoped to do a bit more new route action on Sunday and choose the obvious splitter on the left side of Keyhole wall. We knew it had most likely been climbed but hoped to find otherwise.  Shay lead the first pitch following good rock to a nice belay. There were just enough loose blocks and lichen to make us think we were in FA mode. We swapped leads and I headed up towards the roof, the feature that drew me to this climb.

After trundling a few blocks I got into a very nice hand crack and motored up to the roof, running it out a little to save my single #3. At the bottom of the roof I was able to place a small cam and then wiggle the #3 deep into the fissure. A #4 would have fit perfectly on the outside (which had better rock) but we didn’t have one.

KeystoneWall

A topo of the our  new finish variation (pitches 4-8)  to Somnambulist

Some how there were some jugs on the right side of the crack and I was able to pull over without OW technique. I heel hooked and then mantled the ledge to get established, taking time to bump along my #3. I had cleaned sand out of the holds and fully believed I was the first one up this crack!! To my great disappointment after the next few moves I saw a pair of bolts. This made things much easier for belaying but ended the possibility of an FA.

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Psyched to pull over the #4 camalot roof. 5.8+ ??

Shay lead the next pitch, a long fun splitter, to another bolted belay where we considered rappelling. I did not want to lose any gear, since we didn’t have the required 2nd rope, and opted to keep going into unknown territory.  I incorrectly choose to go left and had a sketchy loose lead on really bad popcorn granite. I had to excavate placements and wasn’t sure anything would hold. This lead and the next were most likely new pitches but  forgettable. Fortunately  they allowed us to reach a nice shady belay below the upper head wall. It was my lead again and I was in for some adventure.  The next pitch was the the best on our finish variation and the rock quality was awesome. I followed a nice splitter for 20+ meters before it pinched off and I traversed right onto a knobby face. A bit of creative climbing put me into a wide crack and a few moves past trees had me starting to think about a belay.

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Climbing the excellent 6th  pitch on the upper headwall.

My gear was running out and I had to downclimb a little to back clean and re-place a piece. The cracks on the right side were pinching out and I didn’t know what to do. There were a handful of large bushes/trees about 20 feet above me and I knew that should be my belay. With a solid piece above me I stepped down and left to get my feet in a wide crack, crimping on nothing with my hands. I spotted a line of knobs for my feet  and slowly traversed left, hoping they would hold my weight. Gaining a tree I made a few more easy moves and then was able to get in a good anchor. An amazing set of exciting traverses made this a standout pitch. Shay followed clean without the security of the last piece that had essentially given me a TR for the traverse.

Another pitch, some simuling and a bit of soloing led us to the summit and a long grueling descent. After following the gully down we took a risk and choose the left fork. This went down a ways and we did some sketchy downclimbing (we could and should have rappelled using a tree) before another split. Faced with a 30 foot drop we rappelled this time, missing an easy looking downclimb that we saw once we were down. A bit more down climbing put us at another split which we went right. This was our last gully and put us back to the ground. The descent took us between two and three hours and put two very tired climbers back at the base.

Amazing Indian Food filled us back with energy, courtesy of TastyBites, and we packed up and made a quick descent taking less than two hours to get back to the car.

I was impressed with the rock quality on the Keyhole wall and would like to go back with a bit more equipment and check out some of the lines on the face. Even if most of the crack lines have been established there are still many routes to do!

Cheers,

Luke


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4 responses

9 09 2009
Shay

Great writeup luke! What should we call the route on the langley tower? choss-some?

10 09 2009
J V

Cool man – good read

17 09 2009
Josh

L&L I need some motivation… Updates????

6 11 2009
Sweet Gear: La Sportiva TC Pro « Dream in Vertical

[...] take the TC Pro’s crack climbing and the following weekend I got in thirteen full pitches of alpine climbing. On the first day on Mt. Langley I was able to wear the wear the shoes for a five pitch FA, only [...]

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