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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!




Incredible Hulk Double Header!

13 08 2009

Although Luke had already climbed on the Incredible Hulk twice with his friend Konstantin, he wanted to go back with me so I could experience the wild alpine granite and so we could do Positive Vibrations without getting lost. I was a little nervous, but I’ve done some alpine climbing before – in Tuolumne and the North Cascades – so I wasn’t too worried. Maybe I should have been a little more concerned…

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Crossing the creek on logs.

All worries aside, we woke up early on Saturday morning to drive up to Twin Lakes, where we’d ditch the car and start hiking with our big packs. The drive was uneventful and we made it to the campground/parking after a rather disappointing lunch (at least on my part) at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. Luke worked on packing all our gear (rack, slings, QDs, tent, sleeping bags and pads, food, JetBoil, etc.) into our packs, while I added a middle mark to our rope (because Luke’s beloved Sterling ropes don’t come with middle marks, for some reason that I still don’t understand).

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Looking up at the Hulk from the approach.

We set out on the Barney Lake trail, stopping a couple times to apply bug repellent and adjust my pack suspension, since I hadn’t worn this pack for over 6 years (but, thanks to Lowe Alpine’s nifty adjustable torso length, still fits me!). After the first ~2.5 miles, we left the main hiking trail and started winding our way up the climbers’ trail that heads up-canyon towards the Incredible Hulk. We’d started hiking at about 7,000ft, and were steadily gaining elevation toward the base of the Hulk, which is at about 10,000ft. The elevation hadn’t initially bothered me, but as we got higher, I definitely started to feel it. I live in Pasadena, which lies a whopping 864ft above sea level, so I am essentially a huge altitude wimp. Especially with no acclimatization, I was definitely suffering my fair share on the latter part of the hike.

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Hiking up the talus.

However, we made it to the flat below the Incredible Hulk talus field in time to see the lovely evening light on the Hulk, having completed the hike in somewhere around 5 hours. We set up the tent, pumped some water from the stream, and quickly retreated into the tent to escape the mosquitoes while we boiled water for dinner in the vestibule. We were hungry after the long hike, so we stuffed our faces with Mountain House Chili Mac and a packet of tuna before drifting off to sleep. Our sleep was disrupted in the middle of the night by some heavy-sounding footsteps and heavy breathing. Terrified, and holding our breaths in our sleeping bags, we waited for the whatever-it-was to pass. Luke had thought it might be a bear, but I was pretty sure it sounded like it had hooves, and the breathing sounded like a horse’s heavy breathing. We laid there, wide awake and hearts pumping, as the possible-small-elk-with-breathing-problem ran by a second time. It took us a while to calm down and fall back asleep.

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Sunset on the Incredible Hulk.

Sunday morning, we’d planned on sleeping in and taking a slow, relaxing start to the day to minimize our time on route before it got in the sun. We ended up waiting a bit longer than we’d originally planned because the other party hadn’t started super early either and were moving a bit slow on the first pitches. After soloing up to the first 5.8 bulge, we roped up and Luke led up to the base of the Red Dihedral while I shivered below, nibbling on a Mojo bar and trying to recover from the nausea I’d developed while hiking. Again, huge altitude wimp…

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Lizzy leading up the Red Dihedral.

When it was my turn to climb, I felt off. My fingers and toes were numb and the backpack was quite heavy – food, 2L of water, and both our pairs of approach shoes. Plus altitude. I was feeling discouraged by the time I got to the belay, but it was my turn to lead next (no pack!) and Luke convinced me I wouldn’t want to have to do the next pitch with the pack. So, with that, I reluctantly set off into the “money pitch”, the namesake “Red Dihedral” – a sustained 5.9 left-facing corner to some crazy 5.10 stemming moves at the top. Not the most awesome pitch I’ve ever done, but pretty good.

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Luke is psyched after leading the 10a mostly hands splitter.

After this, we stepped around the corner for the remainder of the wandering, mostly easy pitches. Although the position was great, the route was a bit wandering and the heavy pack made following not-so-much fun. Also, it was really cold. Even after the route came in the sun, there were many clouds and it was pretty windy, which prevented me from ever warming up. A little bit of simul-climbing took us along the traverse to the last 2 pitches to the summit, both of which would have been cool if they weren’t so dirty. We paused on the summit (over 11,000ft of elevation) for some snacks and a few quick snapshots before carefully down-climbing to the rap station. After rappelling, we began the long hike down the West Gully on talus and scree. This was no Stawamus Chief descent trail, ladies and gentlemen.

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On the summit of the Incredible Hulk.

Back at the tent, we pumped some more water and had more Mountain House food and another tuna packet for dinner, along with some chocolate cheesecake in a packet (mmm, chocolate…). I was exhausted and very apprehensive about the next day. The Red Dihedral had been hard, maybe not technically, but definitely physically, and Positive Vibrations is much harder. There isn’t a single pitch easier than 5.10. I was worried about being able to get myself up the harder pitches with the pack.

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Looking out at the Hulk from inside the tent.

The next morning dawned warmer (even before the sun) and Luke dragged a very not-excited me back up the approach talus to the base of Positive Vibrations. I was tired and sore and was still suffering from the altitude. I have no future as a high-altitude climber and that’s ok with me.

Fortunately (although I didn’t think so at the time), the first pitch was mine to lead, which forced me to get my rock climbing face on and helped me warm up a bit, which managed to help me stay positive for the rest of the day (that, and eating more food). As Luke had suggested, I linked the first 2 pitches, with 2 5.10 cruxes, onto a nice ledge below the first 5.11 pitch. The next lead was Luke’s – the climbing was pretty easy for most of the short pitch, with some crazy, balance-y stemming towards the end, which I was able to follow without falling even with the pack on! Thankfully, since we were planning on rapping instead of hiking off, the pack was much lighter today because we didn’t have to bring the approach shoes. The third pitch (Luke’s again) was some crazy stemming up a corridor, finished by some hard, awkward moves getting over a bulge. Again, I was able to follow without falling, although I was tired by the time I reached the belay.

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Lizzy leads up the first pitch of Positive Vibrations.

The next pitch was supposed to be mine, but I told Luke I really needed to rest longer and I wasn’t having too much trouble with the pack. So Luke lead again (and ended up leading the rest of the route, too, which was just fine with me…) up some awkward cracks to the base of the crux pitch. He decided to break this pitch up into two, since the hard part (which he hadn’t done before, due to he and Konstantin getting a bit lost) was at the very end. The crux was a hard reach after some tricky thin cracks and a couple of crimps that weren’t quite as good as they looked from below.

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Taking a break to make silly faces on Positive Vibrations.

After that pitch, Luke and I were both getting pretty tired, but we forced ourselves to keep drinking water and eating our snack food to give us energy for the last two long 5.10 pitches. The last pitch was probably one of the better pitches of the route (although I was too tired to fully appreciate it) – never-ending jamming.

Once at the top (not the summit, since you can’t rap once you traverse and climb up there), we immediately started focusing on rappelling (forgetting to take the summit photo) so we would have enough energy and light to get back down safely. With our single 70m rope, we were able to make it to the ground in 12 rappels, mostly rapping down the anchors for Venturi Effect, and getting a little confused about which anchors to use closer to the ground. It only got dark for the last 2 rappels, but Luke had wisely packed 2 headlamps in the pack, so we were ok. (Update:  The best way to rap with a 70m rope from the 2nd pitch ledge is as follows. Rappel down to the optional anchor (P1 in the Supertopo), slings and maybe a rap ring on a horn but don’t stop.  Go down about 5 more feet and swing left 10+ feet to bolts. From here you should reach the ground in one rappel ~35 meters. With a 60m rope you have to use the sling anchor and then do a short 40+ foot rappel and  swing right to the bolts atop the Power Ranger start.)

Back at the tent, we devoured Mountain House pasta primavera with some tuna added in (SOOO GOOD) and laid in the tent, sore and tired but unable to fall asleep for a while.

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It sure is Incredible and Hulking.

The next morning we scraped out tired selves out of our sleeping bags, packed everything up, and hiked back to the car in a little under 3 hours. We opted to make our hungry stomachs wait a little longer and went to the Mobil Station Restaurant A.K.A. Whoa Nellie Deli instead of the Burger Barn. The fish tacos are SO GOOD!

It was an exhausting weekend. The whole Incredible Hulk experience made my other alpine climbing experiences, like Washington Pass and Cathedral Peak, seem like cragging. I mean, the approach was short, the altitude didn’t kick my butt, and the climbing was easy… Luke had taken some altitude pills (Diamox) his last couple of alpine climbs with Konstantin and thinks that that could have helped us. Although I didn’t enjoy the Red Dihedral a ton, Positive Vibrations was actually quite good – mostly crack climbing with much better rock and position.

Luke still wants to climb all the harder routes on the Hulk (there are quite a few) and I haven’t decided yet whether to go back. I guess I’d want to be in better shape so the hiking doesn’t destroy me as much and so that climbing an entire day of 5.11 (which would be the easiest of the harder routes) wouldn’t be hard. Yeah, I’m not there yet. I guess I’m a bit spoiled and I like the lack of additional mental challenge that comes from being at a high, remote climbing area (as opposed to, say, the Chief in Squamish, which is pretty much at sea level and not at all remote). But at the same time, Positive Vibrations forced me to push myself harder than I usually do – I was really fatigued on the last couple pitches, but just kept jamming.

Anyways, the Incredible Hulk, what an experience.

Mutli-Pitch Bliss at Mount Charleston

12 08 2009

Most of the time I think of myself as a sport climber but I really enjoy being high above the ground. Mutli-pitching takes one beautiful places but it is usually reserved for trad climbers. Two weekends ago we indulged and brought only quickdraws and slings while climbing Cathedral Rock at Mt. Charleston.  Despite the many other cool climbs we did during the weekend the three pitch Cathedral Route was the highlight for me.

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3rd classing up some loose choss.

Our weekend started on a negative but enlightening note. Despite arriving Friday afternoon and driving around for more than an hour to the five campgrounds we were unable to find an open. Most of the sites were empty but reserved for that night. In the future it seems that reservations are a MUST HAVE for the the summer at Mt Charleston. We pitched our tent at the free area near Mary Jane falls and took the short walk into the Mary Jane crag since we had lost so much time driving around.

The weather was perfect in the shade up at Mt Charleston and it was nice to be a bit chilly in August.  We both tried to warm-up on an awkward 5.8 and then started working our way through to some of the harder routes.  I soon got on the namesake climb, Mary Jane, and it was amazing. I thought that Lizzy might be able to flash it and so as I climbed I tried to let her know what the moves were like and where the holds were.  This added to the pump but I still managed the onsight. With all the looking up Lizzy was feeling a bit off and I’m sure the elevation (7000+ feet) didn’t help.  Lizzy decided to take it easy and we relaxed while I depumped. Up for a bit of adventure I got on a route that wasn’t in our guidebook and it was exciting with an awkward crux and a fun finale at 5.11-. I convinced Lizzy to TR this route which she sent with a few falls even though it was not her style. It was getting late but I had a bit more energy and did a few 5.10b’s at the end of the crag onsighting one and doing the other 2nd try.  Looking at the book  a bit later I realized I had misread the descriptions and the climbs were actually 5.10a (left) and 5.11a (right) which made more sense and I felt silly for misreading the book.

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Lizzy checking out the upcoming climbing after Pitch 1.

One of the big reasons for going back to Charleston was to give Lizzy a crack at her project from last season, Five Finger Discount.  She had done all the moves and linked different sections but could not get through the techy crux from the ground. Saturday we warmed up on an awesome 5.8 at Robbers Roost before I decided to give Future Days an attempt. This was one of the first routes bolted at Charleston and I had previously been too intimidated to try it. I soloed 15 feet to the first bolt doing multiple 5.10 moves on the way. Some tricky reaches got me to the 2nd bolt and the crux. I felt around for a while trying to find holds but eventually gave up, unwilling to set off  into the unknown and the distant bolt.  A few false starts later I figured out the tricky foot moves and made it through the crux and to the next bolt. The rest of the route was much easier than expected though I still hung at the last bolt before a final hard move and the 20 foot runout to the anchor.
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Looking out at the surrounding hills (The hood is just right of center behind an obvious yellow buttress)

With the crux sequence memorized I sent the route 2nd try and Lizzy climbed it on TR only falling at the first crux. With our warmup complete we left the sunny side of robbers roost (it was hot) and went to the main breezy corridor. Fortunately the project draws we had left on Five Finger Discount were still there and Lizzy was all set for the send! The first part of the route went very smoothly and she took at the crux to save energy and remember the complex sequence. The first few tries were unsuccessful but all of a sudden Lizzy found her zone and did the crux move easily, got the tricky next clip and went to the top!! On her next try Lizzy made the bottom section look super casual and sent the route without a problem!! It was cool to see Lizzy step outside of her box and climb a route that required bigger moves on a steeper wall. In between her tries I had given a burn to my project, The Burgler, but the final moves still seemed hard from the hang so I still needed to gain fitness before any real redpoint attempts.

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Lizzy follows the “alpine” like second pitch.

We spent a bit more time after lunch looking for a campsite for Saturday night but no luck! We were really hoping to move from the free lot since we had not slept well the previous night due to a group of screaming crazies from Vegas that were running around at 3am.

We moved on to The Hood which had a few 5.12’s that I had not tried yet. When we got there the first 5.12a, Rappin Boyz, was wet so I attempted what I thought was Jazz Ma Taz. It had fixed chain draws so I knew I could always bail if it was too hard. The moves were really cool and I made good progress bolt to bolt until the 2nd to last bolt. The final boulder problem involved a powerful undercling sequence followed by a huge reach to a decent hold by the anchor. This section was a show stopper and I lowered off not sure what to do.

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Lizzy shoes a bit of attitude.

We found the other 5.12 that I wanted to try, I believe it was called Borne a Snake, and it looked really desperate and there was no chalk meaning it had not been climbed recently. After talking to a few locals I realized the route I  had just tried shared the start with Jazz Ma Taz but had a totally different finish. This explained the chalked 12+ that I had seen on the rock though the local told me he thought it was super hard and likely 13a. The final boulder problem had been really desperate and everything made more sense. With no other routes in mind I wanted to see how far I could link and gave it another go.

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Out of the shade for a summit shot!

My lack of limestone fitness showed instantly as I had to rework the sequence to the 4th bolt on the fly since I couldn’t hold on the same way as my first try. I thruched a bit got the clip and fully committed to the next sequence making a hard pull left to a sinker jug. My fingers stalled on the deadpoint just beyond the hold and I though I wasn’t going to be able to fall into the big pocket. With encouragement from Lizzy I made it a bit further but found another sequence where my beta was too strength intensive for the link. After a few falls I made some good progress on the top boulder problem but still couldn’t work out how to get my right hand in the last undercling.

Lizzy was a bit low on motivation, which often comes after sending a hard project, and we moved on to some easier climbs. I lead a painfully sharp 5.10a slab just left of the Corrosion cave which I knew Lizzy would not like and we decided to call it a day. The night seemed to be going well, at the free lot, until two groups of loud campers showed up and dashed our hopes of sleep. One memorable and loud saying from the group was how it “only midnight” and there was lots of night left (I assume to keep us from sleeping and continue partying).

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Trying not to get too excited by keeping it silly!

The next day I was not feeling up to trying any more hard climbs and Lizzy was not ready to start climbing on the hard routes at the Hood. I wanted to climb either the Imaginator (of which I had done the excellent first pitch) or the Cathedral Route. Lizzy chose to go to a new area and after a bit of a long hike for Charleston (45mins) we found our self at the very chossy base of Cathedral Rock. A few loose rocks fell from the summit while we were racking up and I was a bit anxious that I had left my helmet at home.  After some exploring the multiple ledge systems I found the bolted starting belay so Lizzy and I got ready to climb. The Cathedral Route is on a north facing wall and we both changing into pants and Lizzy brought her R1 and light windbreaker.

Cathedral Route TopobA topo I made thanks to Beta Creator.

The book noted the route could only be rapped with two ropes so we brought our shoes to walk off on the hiker trail from the summit. The book also said the last pitch was 120 feet which we though might be workable to rappel with a 70m rope. The first pitch was the crux and a brutal warmup. The start seemed steep and I had to fight the pump on the many reaches between flat edges.  A little over halfway up the holds ran out and I was faced with sharp quartz bands running across the limestone face. I was right next to the arete and had to make an off balance move to get established on the slab. The next 25 feet were full on and I thought I might fall off at any point. Luckily I made it, passing a sporty runout in some bad rock, to the final crux before the anchor. I must have spent 20+ minutes at a good stance trying three different variations before discovering a small sidepull. This tiny hold helped me get my feet up and I made a few laybacking move to the anchor.

Lizzy followed with only 2 falls some how avoiding the flash pump that plagued me. The 2nd pitch was much easier since the dark bands now stuck out a good ways from the wall leaving one to two inch edges. Pitch two was almost vertical and I thought it felt more like 5.10c/d compared to the 10b given in the book.  I made it to the anchor knocking off only one rock from the chossy corner that led to the anchor. Pulling hard got me through the funky first 2 bolts of the final pitch. The next section, to the 3rd bolt and above, was so fun with perfect jugs appearing at the limit of my reach. An exciting slab move with my feet noticeably far above my last bolt had me yelling with joy. A nice rest set me up for some more steep jug pulling and the crux of the last pitch. I struggled to hold on to awkward underclings while reaching as high as I could search for the next hold. A small crimp gave way to a series of triangular flat ledges and more slabby limestone. The last part was a bit less feature and I was moving as fast as possible pinching large limestone features trying to avoid the pump.

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Luke cleans up some trash from Cathedral Rock

At the anchor  the middle mark of our rope was at the 3rd bolt so Lizzy decided to carry our shoes on the final pitch. I confirmed her decision when I pulled up the rope and the middle mark was almost 10 feet below me.  For convenience someone could easily double up the final protection bolt to create a rap station which would allow the whole route to be rapped with a 70m rope. Right now the final anchor is in a very logical place since it allows you 3rd class access to the summit. We strolled down the hiker trail and then I hiked a very direct route back to retrieve our packs. On my way back  I filled  my crampon pouch with bottles and cans and saw so much trash that still had to carry the final cans to the base.  Check out those old Budweisers!!

We had a great weekend but it will sadly be a long time before we go back to Charleston.

– Luke

Discovering Alpinism, Dark Star Car to Car

15 07 2009

I thought I knew what alpine climbing was about. I thought that Dark Star would be a walk in the park surrounded by hours of hiking.  Boy was I wrong!!

The description for Dark Star includes around 17 pitches with a bunch of 4th class and only two pitches of 5.10.  While the base of Temple Crag sits just above 11,000 feet I was confident that we could make good time by simuling much of the climb and soloing the easiest pitches.  The goal was a sub 24 hour which was a pace our friends had done the year before.

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Rushing to Big Pine to get as much sleep as possible.

After a five pm departure from San Diego we made fairly good time and were at the trail head in big pine by 10:30.  We set our alarms for a mind blowing 2:15 am and went to sleep as fast as possible. After 3+ restless hours we awoke filled with psyche and were met with a practically full moon. Konstantin had been to Temple Crag before and lead the way as we hit the trail at 2:50am. The next 6 or so miles passed fairly easily as we gained a few thousand feet of elevation towards a set of three alpine lakes.

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The blurriness of this picture shows what it feels like to get up at 2:15 am

We crossed the river on a crappy log bridge just below Third lake and hopped across the talus field towards the base of the very imposing Dark Star. It was getting light out and I was happy with our timing thus far.  However I forgot to fill a water bottle at the stream crossing which stung us later on.

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~5:30 am below the massive Dark Star

After a bit more hiking and a scree approach we dropped our packs and went in search of the spring that usually runs all the way down to the base of Dark Star. With no sign of flowing water we mixed snow in with the water in our nalgenes and set off with two liters of slush and a half liter of Gatorade. Looking up at the first pitch I noticed the obvious difference in the granite from the weekend before. As I had read the rock was much more featured and was filled with bands of Quartz. I felt the crux of the entire route was about midway up the first pitch.  Some tricky stemming and use of poor face holds gave way to a good fingerlock and then better foot holds.  Following with the full pack was a bit tricky and was a harsh warmup.

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Looking up from the base at the first pitch dihedral

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Konstantin right before the hardest moves on the whole route (pitch 1)

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A successful onsight for Konstantin of the first two pitches!

Konstantin lead the first two pitches and then I lead the next three. The third pitch was my favorite of the route with exciting step across to a hollow flaked followed by cool moves up to a lazer cut thin fingers crack in a left facing corner. The rock was perfect and the crack was just thin enough to make it exciting.  The end of my three pitch block put us at a chockstone belay inside the “intimidating” chimney.

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Luke trying to keep the sun off his neck with his  new Buff

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Second (closer) and first lakes. Such pretty water!

It seemed that the best thing to do was tunnel through the chimney and Konstantin made his way up and after no gear for the first 15 feet he placed a cam and stepped out around the corner into the light.  He made it a long pitch and ended on a very comfy belay in the sun. After exiting the cold chimney it seemed we may have been a bit off route but we continued on very easy ground up the ridge. After reaching the belay and snapping a few photos Konstantin set off again and we simuled a long block to the top of the first tower over fairly easy ground.

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Sun is shining life is good!

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Konstantin searches for pro as he exits the chimney.

After a downclimbing and making an exposed traverse we were at a set of ledges below the next tower. We couldn’t quite figure out what the topo mean for the first pitch on the upper tower and nothing seemed obvious. There was a bit of a trail further across a ledge so Konstantin and I moved the belay and set off into the unknown. Konstantin followed some chalk up the next loose pitch doing an excellent job by not dropping any rocks on my head. It was a long lead and I was happy to rest since I had not had enough sleep the night before.

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The cave monster escapes!

I lead another loose pitch to reach the ridge which hopefully got us back on route. The altitude had not been too bad thus far as we approached 12,000 feet and I had been able to eat enough food only feeling like I wanted to vomit once. Back on the ridge we simulated until the ropedrag became really bad. In retrospect we should have either been soloing or have tied back in at the halfway point to simul on 30 meters of rope.  I lead another block of simuling along the ridge that ended in a rap anchor.  We tried to line up this with the topo and guessed we were near “pitch” 14 meaning we would be rappelling again shortly, however the next bit of climbing convinced us otherwise.

The weather for the day had been amazing so far and I could see my arms burning in the sun since I had been expecting to be wearing more than my T-Shirt. I tried best to keep my Buff up over my neck and ears to keep off the sun. There was practically no wind and few clouds and we had only seen one other party at Temple.

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Celebrating the perfect day and the six amazing pitches so far!

I was getting worn down by my belief that we were lost and it was eating into my psyche. The climbing was not hard but it was just challenging to have no idea where to go. I suppose my lack of alpine experience made it seem that the obvious route (the easiest line) was not the right way. I am far more comfortable when there is only one “possible” line.

After rappelling Konstantin started off around the next tower on the right side on a set of 3rd class ledges. The climbing became 4th class and we simuled a little until having to stop again due to bad rope drag. This belay was on top of a very pretty tower and a jagged line of spires were between us and a large red tower shown in the topo.

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Riding the spire! How could it be so warm above 11,000 feet?!?

Konstantin lead off again on easy terrain only to find a rap station about 150 feet later. I thought this meant we were back on track and told him to stop. After find the belay and the kind of odd rap station I was not so sure so I kept going and downclimbed about 50 feet (5th class for sure) and did a bit of traversing to reach a better looking rap station.

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The Big Red Tower from the topo can be seen in the back left of this photo.

This rap put is in a gully that I believe is described in the Croft topo. We opted for the easy and obvious 3rd class way on the left side of the next tower. This took us past a bit of snow which we happily ate to stay hydrated.  16 pitches completed the next belay put us back on track with a very obvious rightward ledge traverse following yellow lichen. This was at the base of the large red tower and concluded the technical section of the climb. I was mentally exhausted and wanted to be moving as fast as possible. I was worried about time it would take to  climb the remaining 500 feet to the summit. Konstantin kept good spirits and helped me calm down and stay safe.

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Konstantin makes his way across a ridge of chossy spires.

Turning the corner we saw a large section of ledgy terrain that I insisted we solo. I wanted to be moving faster and was confident that we would save time (speed = safety in alpine climbing) by moving at the same time. At above 12,00 feet there was no way I could move too quickly but putting away the rope sped us up and we were in the top in no time. The temps quickly shifted as we entered the shade and the wind picked up. We both happily donned our jackets for the first time since the chimney belay.

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5 Hour Energy Summit Celebration!

At the summit it was 6:30 pm and we had been on the go for over 15 hours. Konstantin had brought a couple of the 5-hour energy drinks which we happily finished hoping they would keep us energized all the way to the car.  A few summit shots later we started working our way down the talus to the final rappel.  With the summit in the bag I was feeling better since the way down was obvious.  Konstantin, having found the way down in much worse conditions, led the way and in no time we were in Contact Pass hiking towards our packs.

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Good thing it only took us 4 hours to get back to the car!!

I chose to take the faster, yet more exciting, way down the snow filed while Konstantin stuck to the talus. I got a bit wet but was down in time to find the spring (which was still running but just didn’t make it all the way down to the base of Dark Star), fill up our water bottles, and sort all of the gear I had. The mosquitoes were out in full force and despite putting my Buff over my head I got many bites on my scalp. Once Konstantin arrived it was 8:15 and we still had 7 miles to go!

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To Dark Star and its many loose pitches with breathtaking views.

Racing against dusk we slid and ran down the gravely talus as fast as possible.  By crossing near the second lake we could hopefully cut off some time on the decent and we would be able to get back to the car sooner. Reaching the old road and the two nice bridges we were back on the main trail and Konstantin surged with energy. I had been keeping up so far on the uneven ground but I was no match on the main trail. With headlamps illuminating the trail and my trekking poles swinging furiously we tried to make up as much time as possible. Almost running at times we made it back to the car by 10:30!! This gave us a sub 20 hour time (19:40) and we were psyched at our success.  Despite our 12 hours on route (which seemed slow to me despite 17 pitches or ~2500 feet of “climbing”) we had done the approach and decent quite quickly.  I had never hiked so fast and Konstantin made 7+ mile  summit to car push in a speedy 4 hours.

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Luke celebrates his first time to 13,000 feet!

Doing longer routes car to car is an interesting experience and so far I have felt fairly good the day of only to have the fatigue hit me later in the week. On Dark Star I felt the need to rush and was not so sure of where we were going beyond “up”.  I think it would have been a bit more fun if I had relaxed but it was hard due to all of the loose rock. I usually enjoy long granite routes because of the crack climbing which was sadly absent on Dark Star. It was wild to find so many incut holds on granite but the gear placement was trickier and there were many sections where you just couldn’t fall.

Committing to a C2C adventure adds a new twist to any long climb and makes one think about how best to utilize sunlight and good temperatures. As well going for 12+ hours changes the mental game as the mind struggles with decision making while exhausted. So far Dark Star took the longest of any climb I had done to date which is strange since it had the least amount of “technical” climbing.  On Positive Vibrations our 12+ hour time was due mainly to slow leading on the harder pitches not the length of the climb.  On the Red Dihedral our 16.5 hour C2C time was slow mainly due to the wind and cold.  One thing I find similar between Positive Vibs and Dark Star was the confusion and slowness due to tricky routefinding.

Dark Star was an important learning experience for me and makes me wonder about how far I am really interested in taking Alpine climbing. Possible I was spoiled by the splitter cracks on the Incredible Hulk and was expecting a longer version of the same thing on Dark Star. Regardless the climbing was beyond beautiful and it was a good challenge to climb at altitude.

Thanks for reading!

– Luke

A Brief Alpine Adventure in Red Rocks

21 03 2009

Snow crunched under my feet. Where had I gone, the morning had been brisk but this was the desert.  The snow was wet, the temperature was above freezing. I went further  up the gully,  crawling around and through a hole to surmount the final chockstone. Everything was covered in snow now as I went hand over hand up a frozen rope. Were we lost? Could our route be in this frozen corridor. I kicked another step, trying not to slide back down the gully. Ice covered the mossy walls and was slowly melting as the day warmed up. The sun had risen over an hour ago and the upper part of the Aeolian wall was baking in the morning sun.  I stepped up and immediately fell through the icy crust up to my waist, a mix of snow and ice  now filled the narrowing gully floor.   I found a tree and a small  boulder and kicked out a small platform  so I would not loose my balance and tumble down the gully.

Scanning the walls I found our route. A Uristoe bolt followed by a long string of shiny hangers lead up the wally through a large smear of ice to a high ledge.  Lucasz now made his way up to my position; happy the mini cascades of snow and ice, I was causing, had stopped. The conditions were sub-optimal to say the least but the first pitch was mine and I hoped that if I could get up it using a bit of aid we would have a chance at the upper pitches, which should be in the sun and possibly free of snow and ice.

Thoughts of the previous night echoed in my head as I racked for the first pitch. When Lukasz and I drove in from LA he remarked on how much snow was on the mountains. I dismissed this, thinking there was always snow in February and thought nothing of his observation. Now as my hands quickly went numb I wondered why I had been so naive. I clipped the first bolt and thought about the out plan. Inti Watana was long, around 8-12 pitches depending on linking, but mostly bolted and all under 5.10 except for the 2nd and the last pitches. This was to be a recovery climb since my left hand has been functioning at only about 50% of its capacity.  I got the bolt clipped and was standing on good edges as I scraped ice off the rock with my nut tool. I found some decent holds and made my way above the bolt. Without the feeling in my fingers I resorted to aid and stepped on the first hanger but I was still unable reach the safety of the first shiny hanger.

I was warm but my fingers were wet and cold and I couldn’t feel anything. I had to leave my stance on the bolt and move up through a slabby section on some wet edges to get the next bolt. After much hesitation I made the few move sequence and clipped in. Just as the rope went into the quickdraw a loud echoing noise came from above that sounded like rock fall. Lukasz had been hit with small ice avalanches while I had been climbing  but this we though this could be a big one. He hunkered down as I sucked into the wall as baseball sized climbs of ice rained down into the gully.

We were both fine but decided to reconsider our alpine adventure. There are many other places to climb in Red Rocks and it would be silly to get hit with ice when we could be wearing t-shirts elsewhere. I left a biner and lowered off so we could pack up our gear and do some climbing. Before leaving we got hit with an even bigger ice fall that validated our choice. Back at the car by 10:30 we had taken a bit less than 2 hours each way hiking. The majority of the approach is on the main fire road with a mandatory scramble up a gully on the way in. This is the 2nd gully you pass and is aptly named the white rot gully. It is a steep, narrow and sandy passage (of white sandstone) that ends with a bit of  tunneled under and then over a large chockstone.  We descended via the main Aeolian gully and rapped the final bit  with a 70m rope which just reached. To avoid the rap you must do a  mandatory 5th class down climb which looked bad and was wet. For reference we could have easily gone back down the white rot gully (how we approached) with 3rd and 4th class scrambling but I wanted to check out the rappel option.

This Approach photo is very useful! Thanks to  Eric and Lucie

We spent the rest of the weekend clipping bolts and enjoying warm February weather despite our out of place encounter with snow on Mt. Wilson. I should have realized that the north east facing Aeolian wall would be cold and could still be holding snow.  Despite my injured fingers I stubbornly tried a bunch of routes that ended up making things worse. I manged a few fun onsights at the sweet pain wall and Lukasz redpointed the namesake route. We also spent some time at the gallery where I momentarily dabbled on Fear and Loathing before turning the sharp end to Lukasz for a 3rd try send !!!(6 or so overall). He crushed the route and made me wish that I could crimp again with my left hand.

Overall I had a really fun weekend despite staying mainly at the Second Pullout. We climbed at the Sweet Pain wall,the Tsunami wall,  checked out California 12a, which was wicked steep, went to the Gallery and the Wall of Confusion.  This was only my third time or so solely sport climbing at Red Rocks despite many visits over the last 3 years.  I really prefer the longer routes in Red Rocks and look forward to some warmer weather where you can climb in the shade. Regardless the sport routes are well worth it and are fingery and pumpy though not always on the best rock. I guess I am just spoiled after climbing on the East Coast in places like Rumney, the New River Gorge and the Red River Gorge as well as the Obed in Tennesse.



Sierra Suffering or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Altitude

3 09 2008

After serious sport climbing for the past two weekends I needed a bit of break from small crimps and powerful moves. An early afternoon departure on Friday started the long trip to Tuolumne and the High Sierra. Three accidents coupled with Labor Day traffic delayed our arrival until 11:30 pm. Eight hours on the road was a bit more than we expected but we managed to find our bivy site without a problem and passed out.

Waking at 6am I saw a familiar face of Lukasz who was planning on climbing in Tuolumne that weekend with his friend Troy. After breakfast and packing up we split paths and headed to Tioga Lake. Our first object was to climb the 3rd Pillar of Dana. The trail skirted around Tigoa Lake and led up to the Dana Plateau

The scenery was pretty and it was a shame we did not have a camera. Steep switch backs led up an canyon alongside a gurgling stream. After passing through a few gorgeous alpine meadows we took a gully of orange rock up to the Dana plateau. We missed the trail and stayed on the right side of the gully following the occasional cairn. (We found the real trail on the opposite side of the gully when we descended) Once we gained the Dana Plateau we followed flat terrain for a while and then crossed a large field of small boulders.  The wind had steadily been increasing and I had become quite cold and had to stop to add another layer. I wondered what had happened to the SoCal summer heat? Being cold was quite the different feeling from our heat exhaustion at Echo the weekend before. The hike ends at the edge of the plateau and the top of the route. A steep decent is required before starting the technical rock climbing. We were worried about the wind since both Konstantin and I were wearing all our layers as we racked up. 

A series of steep 3rd and 4th class ledges that go along a ridge parallel to the 3rd Pillar allow passage to the base. The route was quite exposed and exciting and I was happy that there was no snow. It took another 45 minutes to get down to the base and luckily the wind had died down and we could take off a few layers. The first two lead were mine and passed smoothly. I was able to climb fairly quickly and dispatched the cruxy pitch two flared finger crack. Konstantin took over leading and we kept our fast pace and quickly made our way to the final pitch. With the altitude catching up with me I was happy to be close to the top. Seconding with the pack and two pairs of approach shoes was tiring and almost proved harder than leading.

The final pitch was full of variety and spice and we were back on top and in the wind again, 3 hours after leaving the base. Happy with our time and anxious to get out of the wind, which had picked up, we practically ran down the trail. I had a huge shit-eating grin on my face as I tried to keep up with the boyish strides of Konstantin. (I don’t really know what shit-eating grin is but I sure was smiling the whole way down) Our first climb together and my first time placing gear in almost a month was a great success. Little over an hour after summiting and a brief dip in Tioga lake, we were back in the car. Out of Tuolumne we sped, our legs tired, on the way to Bridgeport for our date with the Incredible Hulk.

Taking only 7.5 hours car to car we were ahead of schedule and went straight to the ranger station to secure a permit for the Hoover Wildness where the Hulk is located. When we arrived and inquired about a permit the ranger said “We closed the Hulk about an hour or two ago”. Closed… I thought… must be due to the winds.  So we inquired WHY?!? “Filled up for today” he responded. Few… “Can we get a permit for tomorrow?”  We asked much relieved.  A bit of paperwork later we were back in the car going towards Twin Lakes. 

With our plan compromised, we started talking about alternatives. Should we do the Red Dihedral car to car? Should we hike in some gear and stash it but camp at the campground? We discussed the various plans over lunch at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. A root beer float was a nice reward for sore legs and a great morning of climbing. We got back on the road without a conclusion and made our way to the campground by the Twin Lakes at Mono Village. 

Based on a much longer approach (5 miles) and twice as many pitches (12 vs 5) we estimated that if we were to climb car to car we would take about 3.5 hours to approach, 7 hours to climb and then another 3.5 hours to come back. If we left at 3:30 am 14 hours of travel would put us back by 5:30 pm well before dark (7:30 pm). This seemed like a good option and allowed our legs some much needed rest. We ate an early dinner and passed out by 6pm. 

While 3:30 am might be standard for an alpine start I don’t really do early mornings. Waking up was easy and I felt well rested after almost 9 hours of sleep. With our gear already packed we ate and hit the trail with headlamps blazing. 2.5 miles of easy trail lead to a tricky stream crossing. If we could find a certain boulder we would be able to cross on a log bridge otherwise we would have to walk across a series of beaver dams. After spending about 15 minutes wandering in the dark we found a trail and crossed the stream. Our directions told us to head up stream to find a climbers trail that would lead up into the woods. Another 15 minutes of crashing through trees in the dark yielded no path. Looking at the map and checking with our compass we headed off up hill. We had to keep moving since it was still more than an hour before sunrise. 

Over an hour of bushwhacking in the wrong direction and we were on the west side of slide canyon far from the trail and our objective. With the help of the morning light we made our way to the east side of the canyon and found the correct trail. Another hour and half and we were at the windy base of the Hulk. 4 hours and 10minutes after we left was a bit slower than we expected but pretty good for how far off track we got. 

Despite the wicked cold we racked up and soloed 100 feet of easy 3rd and 4th class to belay below a 5.8 bulge that would be the start of the technical climbing. Konstantin lead the first 3 pitches in one block with our 70m rope to a hanging belay below the Red dihedral. As Konstantin lead the crux pitch I was being tossed around by the wind at the belay. The pitch was of high quality with sustained hand jams to a tricky bulge. Luckily there was a nice rest before the powerful 10b moves. With all the gear and bag and shoes following was even more strenuous than the day before and I was happy to take over the lead. I climbed pitches 5 -8 in 3 blocks stopping at the best ledges I could find. It was so nice when we moved around the corner into the sun. 

My pitches were fairly easy with one short section of 10a and a fun 5.9 finger crack. Despite eating a lot and trying to stay hydrated my arms were cramping and I was leading slowly. Since I could follow faster Konstantin took back the lead and led the rest of the pitches. The next 3 pitches, which gained the 3rd class traverse and lead to the final chimneys, were some of the easiest of the route. In hindsight we both agreed that simuling would have saved time.

The last two pitches were dirty and the final slot was more straightforward than we expected.  Even though the last two pitches were short it would be very tricky to link them due to horrible rope drag.  It had taken 8 hours to get to the windy summit due to the very cold conditions (for the end of August) and the constant wind. The wind was so strong you had to take extra care while leading not to get blown off. A series of 3rd class ledges allowed passage from the summit to the rappel station on the back of the Hulk. Down climbing was slow due to the constant gusts of wind and dizzying exposure. 

The rappel was straightforward and we were happy to have made it to the gully. Unfortunately when we tried to pull the rope it was very stuck. We did not have enough rope to lead back up to retrieve the rope and we had no guarantee if we could free the rope that it would not get stuck again.  We decided the best option was to leave the rope since all other options seemed quite dangerous.  

We descended the loose gully with lots of choss surfing and were back at the base in about an hour. It was nice to have lighter packs without the water or rope and we made good time down the trail. We met a couple of dudes from Colorado who may try to retrieve my rope and hopefully I can pick it up in Bridgeport next weekend. Following the climbers trail all the way back to the stream was much faster than the way we approached. However when got to the stream we could not find the log bridge and oped to cross on one of the beaver dams. This was not a great option since the stream had widened to 500 feet of marshes compared to the 15 feet of where we crossed. In addition to the greater expanse of wetness the marsh had sections of waist deep water. The water we had crossed in the dark was barely two feet deep. 

Wet up to the waist we made it back to the main hiker trail and continued on our way, wet and smelly from the marsh. A few hundred feet later we found the “boulder” in the middle of the meadow with a tall cairn on it that marked the dry crossing. The rock was much further back from the wilderness sign than noted on-line. I would expect it could be as far as 500-800 feet before the Hoover Wildness sign. The boulder is small and is quite far from the trail and would be tricky to locate in the dark. The best way to find it would be to look about 100 feet after a clean boulder on the left of the trail but a good ways before the wilderness sign. 

We made it back to camp in the fading light and celebrated with hot showers and food. Car to car was a good decision and while we were both tired, but far from wrecked. My legs hurt less than the day before and I was happy to be warm again after 8 hours in the cold and the wind on the climb. 

We slept in the next morning and made the 7.5 hour drive back to San Diego. Labor Day turned out to be the most relaxing of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday however were jam packed with over 15 miles of hiking and 17 pitches of climbing.  It was great to be in the Sierra’s and this trip makes me excited to do more long routes!