Climbing in the High Sierras

I have just come off a climbing trip in the High Sierras of California with my friend Jack. It was a great trip, full of adventure and wild places.

We loaded up the truck and took for the west coast. We made it to California in about 4 days.

A highlight of the cross country drive came in Joshua Tree where we stopped for an overnight. In the morning we caught a spectacular sunrise before carrying on to the Pacific.

We drove up to Yosemite Valley along Highway 1. Upon entering the park we were both startled by the concentration of people. Quickly, we took to the hills. For a few days and nights we caught our bearings by hiking to the high points of Yosemite Falls, the summit of Half Dome and Glacier Point.

Even in a season of low water levels, Yosemite has impressive waterfalls. Above is Vernal Falls.

We left the valley for more quiet locales. For a few days we climbed in Tuolumne Meadows. Our first night in the meadows we slept by a serpentine creek and awoke encrusted by frost. A herd of deer grazed not far away an felt although out of a dream. From there, we carried on south to the town of Bishop, to stock up on supplies on our way to Mt. Whitney.

With an alpine start on the North Fork trail we caught the early orange light covering Mt. Whitney. We could only avail ourselves of a day permit and had to make an 18 hour push on Whitney’s East Buttress. It is a pretty line up to a less than impressive summit.

Next time we got lucky and drew number 1 for the permit lottery at the Lone Pine Range Station. With a multi-day permit we could camp out by Iceberg Lake, near the base of Mt. Whitney. Our eyes were set on Mt Russell, however, particular the routes Fishhook Arete and Minthral.

Here is Jack on the dihedral of Minthral, 5.10a.

A post summit photo, still around 13,000 feet. From Whitney and Russell, we worked our way back toward Tuolumne and the Valley. We spent three hot days sport climbing at Owen’s River Valley Gorge and then took a stab at Charlottes Dome.

The approach to Charlotte’s Dome is a beautiful 12 mile hike through amazing bio-diverstiy. With emerald alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, jagged peaks it was great simply by itself.

We awoke under ominous clouds when we took to the base of Charlotte’s Dome. To save time we simul-climbed the first few easy pitches but found ourselves off route a few hundred feet up. With clouds gathering, wind rolling in and uncertain of where on the wall we were and wanted to go, we chose to retreat. A few rappels off hollow flakes, leaving a few nuts (a form of protection, not anatomy) behind, we were back down on the ground.

Here is the profile of Charlottes Dome, the one that got away. Fortunately it is not going anywhere. Especially given how beautiful the surroundings are, I plan on returning.

The Bucky, back in Tuolumne Meadows. From the Cathedral Lake trailhead, we hiked in to climb an 18 pitch traverse called Mathes Crest and a 5 pitch classic, West Pillar Direct on Eichorn’s Pinnacle.

Mathes Crest is a wild spine of rock that one traverses from South to North. It was like nothing I have been on before, at times, a knife blade ridge.

On our trip I repeatedly wondered why or how I deserved to be in and witness such splendid places. After climbing Eichhorn’s Pinnacle we descended with this view and with a great deal of gratitude.

Jack on the descent from Eichorn’s Pinnacle.

Looking back up at Eichorn’s, with a Norwegian party on the summit.

Back in the Valley, Jack and I climbed an easy but exposed route on Half Dome called Snake Dike. The rounded dome at the top made for a long and leg burning 4th class finish.

Those are pretty much the highlights, at least the ones that I have photographs for. Once back in the valley I decided to sketch and photograph for a few days and to give my knees a break. Through the Ansel Adams Gallery I did a casual photographic walk that I would recommend to anyone visiting the park, even if you are not a photographer. It is a great way to see the park through the eyes of a visionary. At the visitor’s center I saw a one act play on John Muir and a film on the climbing legend, Ron Kauk. A 54 year old Ron Kauk, in fact, introduced the movie and fielded questions afterward. Meanwhile Jack found a Czech partner in Camp 4 to climb the South Face of Washington Column, which they did successfully. I met up with a tired but happy Jack a couple days later for a few moments before parting ways. His plan was to find a quiet lake to read alongside and then head back east. But with Jack, one never knows what he will do next.

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