Hike: Rae Lakes Loop

We looked for a little backpack for the summer and finally settled on something I’d done before, but knew was worth the repeat: the Rae Lakes Loop.

My previous trip was counter-clockwise, beginning from the West-side approach. This time, Jenna and I also began from Road’s End but took the trip clockwise.

We were up at 4 to drive from SF to the Road’s End permit station in SEKI. Take note, this is a reasonably long drive. You MUST call to let them know that you will not be there by 9 to pick up your permit – otherwise they will release it to any random fool who walks up looking for last-minute availability. The 50-60 y/o female ranger at Road’s End is awesome. The 20 y/o female ranger at Road’s End is lame.

Also, FYI: despite the fact that Carl’s Jr. will SELL you a cheeseburger at 7:30am, you may not wish to PARTAKE of said foodstuff.

Our original itinerary was much more interesting than what we ended up doing (including cross-country travel from JMT in to 60 lakes basin and one night at Dragon lake), but the mosquitoes on the stretch from Dollar Lake to the southernmost Rae Lake were absolutely obscene, so we cut out a day and a half plus one night. Total time: 72 hours almost to the minute.

Final analysis: views are better going counterclockwise, but the hiking is easier going clockwise.

Having done it twice, I’d do a four day loop with the following counterclockwise itinerary:

D1: Road’s End to as high as you can make it (Vidette Meadow, ideally)

D2: Vidette Meadow to Rae Lakes

D3: Rae Lakes to Upper Paradise Valley

D4: Upper Paradise Valley to Road’s End

Additional days are best spent in 60 Lake Basin or as layovers at the Rae Lakes (and it pains me to say that, given the amount of impact the Rae Lakes watershed sees…).

——————

Day One: Road’s End // Paradise Valley Trail // Upper Paradise Valley (camp)

Looking down Paradise Valley

Upper Paradise Bath – Only the towel reveals the presence of the secret bathing compartment…

Day 2: Upper Paradise Valley // Castle Domes Meadow // JMT Intersection (Wood’s Creek Crossing) // JMT // Baxter Creek Crossing // Arrow Lake (camp)

Jenna, dropping in to Upper Paradise Valley

Jenna, doing the Wood’s Creek Crossing

JMT – South of Wood’s Crossing

Day Three: Arrow Lake // Rae Lakes // Glenn Pass // Bubbs Creek Trail // Vidette Meadow // Junction Meadow (camp)

Jenna, at a mandatory creek fording near Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes Scenery

The Painted Lady

Approach to Glenn PassUpper Glenn Pass (traffic jam)

Nearing Glenn Pass (North)

Day Four: Junction Meadow // Bubbs Creek Trail // Road’s End

This crossing is VERY close to the car…

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Climb: Snake Dike in a Day

The tale of the tape

Total hiking (approach plus descent): 14+ miles // 4,000′ vertical gain/loss

Total climbing (roped and final 3rd class slabs): 1,400′

This climb is often called Snake Hike, and for good reason – you spend a lot more time walking than you do climbing! Going car-to-car is a long day on your feet, and a great way to tune-up for longer days in the mountains.

The approach is found in plenty of guidebooks and websites, so I’ll spare repeating it. The only piece of advice I’ll give is the final bit: walking towards Little Yosemite Valley (perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 mile before the LYV sign), there is only one place where the trail meets/crosses a solid granite slab descending from the small ridge on walker’s left. Turn left here, slip through the notch, gain a highpoint, and sight Lost Lake. Work towards Lost Lake – in general losing elevation before you begin to traverse. From Lost Lake the trail becomes more distinct until you hit the talus. For my money, the slabs are the way to go from here. If you’re wearing approach shoes, just pick a low-angle-looking section and gun it. If you’re wearing boots or trail runners, it’s worth putting on climbing shoes.

Half Dome from Lost Lake - Approach slabs are seen on left

At the top of the obvious slabs, choose either a leftward traverse on a well-defined climber’s trail, eventually turning back on itself to gain the final 100′ or so to the base (easily sighted from a distance as the cluster of trees on the shoulder of the dome) – or climbing some easy 5th class ledges directly up and towards the aforementioned trees. The start of the route is obvious as it has a few trees on the right side and a small (2′) roof.

The route itself is straightforward except for one section: the 5.7 friction stepacross. At the second belay, you need to gain the LEFT dike – DO NOT continue straight up towards the right dike. There will be a very small dike about 15′ above the belay moving up and left towards the BIG dike you obviously want. This small dike, as a further enticement, has a bolt quite near it. DON’T get suckered in to clipping this bolt and taking this dike (that is if you want to climb the 5.7 – feel free to go for it if you’re feeling frisky). Instead, stay well below the dike on semi-obvious small dishes for a friction foot traverse. There’s a bolt about 1/3 of the way across to the big dike that’s easily missed, so keep your eyes open.

Runouts? Honestly, I’m no hero, and I never noticed them in the two times I’ve done this climb. You would have to be totally inattentive or actively let go in order to fall on any of the dike pitches. Pay attention and don’t let go.

Seconding up Snake Dike

From here on out you’d just about have to try to get off-route. Follow the dike up. Efficient parties will unrope after the first seated belay – your feet/achilles are likely to be screaming and this will be a MAJOR milestone on the climb.

After this, all that’s left are several hundred feet of seemingly endless 3rd class slabs to the summit. I think this is the crux of the whole day! People seem to talk a lot about wether to stay right or left, but I just go with whatever looks low-angle and it’s always seemed to work out well.

3rd class slabs above Snake Dike

View downvalley

We were lucky enough to hit the summit just after the cables were closed because of rain/lightning danger and literally had the whole summit to ourselves.

From here, you take the cables down – totally surreal to be the only person on the cables when the number is often >100 – and start the knee-brutalizing trip back down to the valley.

View down Half Dome Cables

Questions?

Climb: Mt. Whitney – East Buttress

Mt. Whitney from the Portal Road

Mt. Whitney from the Portal Road

Best laid plans and all that… The trip was slated for Mt. Russell’s Mithril Dihedral. Day one was the LONG drive from SF to Lone Pine’s multiagency center to secure (we hoped) a much coveted Whitney zone permit. Fortunately my luck with walk-up permits continued and we were set.

After picking up the new(ish) Bishop area guidebook, we walked in killed the rest of the day with¬† our first climbing at the Portal. Short story: not much easy rock in these parts. The majority of the routes come in at 5.10 or better, so buck up. Afterwards, we headed back to the car to sort gear, thankful for late light, eventually bedding down in the Backpacker’s campground at the portal (elevation: 8,300′). For the first time, I heard no sign of bears during my stay here – they’re notorious in this area: blame it on a steady supply of ma and pa kettle backpackers coming to “do the big one”, lax with their food storage practices.

Without any interruptions I felt almost rested when the alarm went off, and a 5 AM start had us on the trail at 6.

We shouldered packs, mine coming in at 45 lbs. This weight would be terrible if I was just backpacking, but was actually pretty reasonable considering it included half of our rock climbing gear: twin ropes, full rack of protection (including triples of .75-3.0 camalots for the neverending handcrack of Mithril Dihedral, and harnesses, helmets, etc.), 1.5L of water, and I even had the tent – hey, I AM getting more efficient.

White Montains Sunrise

White Montains Sunrise from Whitney Trail

The trip starts along the main Mt. Whitney trail – the superhighway to and from the summit, but pretty quickly branches off to follow the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek (note: this junction is now signed). This year’s snowpack was huge and the river/stream crossings of the North Fork were BANGING. Mandatory shoes off stuff, if you were interested in dry feet, and the infamous waterfall was going to get you no matter what you did to avoid it. Up higher, the Ebersbacher ledges were well clear of snow and and routefinding continues to get easier above the ledges these days as the Forest Service consolidates various use trails. Snow was intermittent from Lower Boyscout Lake to Upper Boyscout Lake. From upper Boyscout we were on continuous snow. Fortunately, the snow was solid and we avoided postholing. No crampons needed, but the ice axes were useful in two places: the ramp up (SW) from Upper Boyscout and the final steep incline to Iceberg Lake. I wear trail runners for 90% of my approaches (which is a big step – I used to wear Chacos on everything up to a few miles), and got VERY tired of having cold wet feet on this trip…

Ryan on the North Fork Trail

Ryan on the North Fork Trail

Day one was to be a bonus climbing day, but the effect of the 6 hour walk in dampened spirits somewhat, and I resigned myself to a day of reading under the incredibly clear and sunny skies. Iceberg lake, our solitary camp, sits at 12,700′, which isn’t exactly the top of the world, but plenty high if you live most days at sea level. I had the benefit of having spent a fair number of nights at elevation this season and felt great.

Ryan Running Barefoot

Running barefoot through the snow (time to quarry some snow to melt).

The sun sets behind Whitney at about 6:30 during June, which makes for a long, cold, dark spell if ambient temperatures dip down. We had no reason to be out and about, and shut ourselves in for the night at 7:30 after running our stoves in a head-to-head race for dinner and snow melting. Iain’s MSR Windpro was the clear winner over my Jetboil (for those that care about such things), which I attribute to the Windpro’s ability to run in liquid fuel mode (inverted). In any case, this was the LONGEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE, laying in my bag, letting the minutes tick by during hours of the evening that most geriatrics would be embarrassed to find themselves in bed. Low temperatures were probably in the low to mid 20’s overnight.

We both awoke to voices at 5 am – basically one phrase repeated over and over: “is your carabiner locked? Yes. Is your carabiner locked? Yes.”… after hearing this five or six times I came to two realizations: 1) this was a guided group and 2) they had left someplace at some ungodly hour to arrive at the base of the mountaineer’s route at 5am. Sadly 5 am feels like time to get up when you’ve been in your sleeping bag 10+ hours, and I once again dug in to my book, desperate to kill time until we had sun on our tent and all of the warmth that would come with it.

7:30 ended up being the hour of salvation, and we made a slow morning of it – boiling water, sorting the rack, etc., as Mithril Dihedral is well known to be a cold route – we wanted every bit of sunlight we could get while climbing.

After weighting the tent, we set off for the Whitney/Russell pass with both crampons and axes. This section is mellow snow climbing, ending in a large windscoured col where one immediately gets a full frontal view of Mt. Russell.

Mt. Russell from the Whitney/Russell Pass

Mt. Russell from the Whitney/Russell Pass

Awesome. Mithril dihedral looked… well, very vertical, to say the least.

Mithril Dihedral

Mithril Dihedral

Our first thought, though, was the incredible wind. Back at camp there was little to no wind. Up here on the pass it was whipping – probably gusting to 40-50 mph. The rest of the approach is easy, crossing talus and a well-tracked scree field. Closer to the base of the route, we agreed to stop and take shelter behind a huge boulder, waiting for the route to come in to full sun. 20 minutes later, we stood back up from behind our improptu shelter and were nearly blown over. The wind, if anything, was picking up.

Still, this is why we had come here, and we decided to make the last bit of the approach before making a go/no go decision. In the end though, our fate was sealed. This would be a tour de suffer – we were both wearing plenty of insulation, hats, and gloves while moving. Sitting at belays would have been miserable at best and dangerous at wost. It was decided: we’d go for the fallback route – the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney.

We tucked our tails and headed back over the Whitney/Russell pass, dropped back down to the tent, dropped off 2/3 of our rack (bringing singles of BD 0.3-3.0 and a single set of nuts), and began the climb up the snow finger leading to the roped first pitch of the East Buttress.

East Buttress, Mt. Whitney

East Buttress, Mt. Whitney

For some maschocistic reason I volunteered to take both ropes (2 x 70M 8.8) for this approach – probably thinking I was tough and wanted the conditioning. Oops. The approach to the base of the route proper honestly felt like the hardest part of the whole trip for me, and Iain agreed. Just a sloggy bit of vertical gain, I suppose, but it had us both sucking wind.

After a short discussion about how best to approach ropework – we decided to pitch it out with simuling when it looked favorable – Iain was off. I love alpine climbing because you’re lucky to see ANY of the features noted in the topo, and this climb was another great example of why an adventurous spirit is required to go beyond cragging to alpine rock climbing. Iain said a number of times, “this isn’t in the topo”… and each time after noting that, simply kept going. In the end, this is one of those routes where, once the grade is established (5.7), the guidebook might simply say “don’t climb anything that’s harder than 5.7”, because the possibilities are endless. I imagine there are places you could get yourself in to trouble from a routefinding perspective, but we quickly abandoned the topo in favor of discretion and judgement.

The one section that felt, to me, sketchy, is the section marked “tightly packed cracks” in supertopo. There is a LOT of very loose rock in this section, all sizes – a veritable sampler pack of lethal gravity’s rainbows waiting to rain granite on you, your rope, and your belayer. Avoid this in favor of the alternate path noted in supertopo (to climber’s right, I believe). Otherwise the route is casual, with as little or much difficulty as you choose. The final two ropelengths (200+ feet) were the only place we asked aloud: “where do we go”?, as we were getting a bit of summit fever. Why? Not because of any particular yen to stand atop the highpoint of the lower 48, but because we were FREEZING OUR ASSES OFF.

By the time we had finished our Russell out and back, touched base, and made it to the base of the East Buttress, it was noon. My one piece of advice, and you’ll find it in all the guidebooks, is to start the East Buttress early. The upper half goes out of the sun at around 4pm in June, and it is a cold, cold, little slice of the world once in the shade. It’s been a long time since I’ve shivered uncontrollably. I was glad to have most of my insulation and wind layers with me, and would have brought a full-on belay parka if I’d known what the overall feel was going to be, with wind and ambient temperatures combining to be, well… low.

Being cold adds a dimension of “epic” to a climb in the high and wild. Big wind (it was catching up with us) always ups the perceived drama of a climb. We had both in spades.

We summitted a little before 6pm (not terrible for 1400 feet of roped climbing), realized we were really the only idiots up there in those conditions, coiled ropes in the now gale-force wind, and started walking around the perimeter of the summit looking for the entrance to the Mountaineer’s route: our descent. After one false alarm, we found it.

Ryan on Summit

Ryan on Summit of Mt. Whitney

Whitney Summit Plaque

Whitney Summit Plaque

Entrance to Mountaineer's Route

Entrance to Mountaineer's Route

Iain, being British, is always describing routes in terms I don’t understand. His accent lends an incredible amount of credibility to whatever he says, though, and this first section was apparently Scottish grade II… whatever that means. What it meant to me is that I wouldn’t have minded a second ice tool, given angle and conditions (quite firm at this relatively late hour).

The upper third of the mountaineer’s route was snow, the middle third (including the notch crossover) was dry, and the bottom third evil, evil, evil, suncups and old postholes. It sucked.

On the descent, as much as I was not enjoying myself, more than anything I was just glad that I wasn’t going to be in bed as early as the night before (seriously, it was grim being holed up for so long. I do NOT know how mountaineers can deal with being tentbound for days on end). And after another stove race (again, the MSR killed the jetboil), we were off to bed with a good long day behind us.

The wind continued to pick up overnight, with big gusts (the NOAA had a ridgeline gust advisory that night, apparently)… the kind that tries to flatten even a burly mountain tent to your face, but I think we were both sufficiently tired enough to basically sleep through the straightline hurricane. Bummer, though, the next morning I awoke to many small holes in my beloved Awahnee tent. Off to Black Diamond – hoping their customer service lives up to their reputation and my expectations.

The descent from Iceberg lake to Whitney Portal was the only reminder I’ll ever need to NEVER again forget trekking poles, but otherwise uneventful. We did meet a number of parties headed up for Iceberg lake, but gave each of them our personal opinion: with the kind of winds we were feeling at the lake that morning, there is NO way that we would attempt for the summit. Something felt deeply unsettled in the weather, and our suspicions were proven when we saw that Mammoth Mountain, north of Whitney, got 3-6″ of new snow that day (June 30th!).

Climbers: Bring an incredibly light rack. We were glad to have brought the #3 BD, though, as there were numerous obvious and helpful placements for it. Overall, we averaged 3-4 pieces of protection placed per 200-250 feet of climbing – less a testament to our climbing (we are both low 5.10 trad leaders) than the nature of the route. There’s tons of 5.5-ish climbing with occasional 5.7-5.8 cruxes throughout.

Final analysis – yes, it’s a long walk for a rock route, but it really is a great package: high-quality rock, lots of it (1,4,00 feet of vertical gain on 5th class rock), and you get to touch the highpoint of the lower 48. I’d go back and do it again without reservation.

Ski: Bloody Couloir

The alarm was set for 4:10, but it never went off. I was up at 3:59, having heard Mark’s wake-up call beat mine to the punch. I felt strangely awake and ready to go – equal parts full-moon-so-bright-you-could-read-at midnight and never having really gone to sleep.

I love sleeping out. With no tent between you and nature, you’re exposed (literally) to the side of the world that wakes up when you go to bed. And sure, you get the normal nocturnal fauna – the sound of a jackrabbit near your head is terrifying until you identify it, BTW – but this night, I was also visited by a lesser-known species: the truck RIPPING right past your bivy site at 40 miles an hour! Wow! I went to bed sure that I would hear anything coming from a long distance (wheels on dirt/gravel, all that), but I didn’t wake up until this vehicle was literally passing 8 feet from my head. I was terrified!

Anyway, back to 4am. It was warm – warmer than it was a few hours earlier, for certain, and I was worried that we hadn’t gotten a hard freeze. We were still about 6,000 feet below the high point of the day, so our weather wasn’t necessarily indicative of what we’d find above, but it still concerned me. The full moon sped the final packing of the bags, we were soon on our way up the Laurel Lakes road, en route to the day’s objective: Bloody Couloir.

Progress is quick on this old mining road. Sure, it’s even faster if you are able to drive some or all the way up it, and many do – at least those with high-clearance 4WD – but even though we were probably taking the longest of all approaches (ever), the miles were coming relatively easy.

As the sun came up over the White Mountains behind us, the world began to awaken, and we came around a bend to our first view of Bloody Couloir. It looked downright close!

looking upcanyon to the couloir

The road was used for mining in the distant past, but it now serves outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe: skiers, hikers, fishermen, and those that just like ruining a perfectly good vehicle suspension.

Eventually arriving at a few large switchbacks, you too may find yourself having to convince your partner that these switchbacks, while yes, technically “longer” in distance, are a sure thing. He will counter that the (still frozen snowfield) that cuts them is shorter. Ensure that you persevere in this debate. While no doubt a viable or even preferred route in the winter with good snow conditions, the road is clearly the way to go in spring.

After crossing a few snowfields, the largest of which necessitating a change to boots and use of axes, you’ll come to the gate. Now, if you’ve just walked nearly 5.5 miles and more than 4,500 feet of vertical gain with skis on your back, seeing the gate is kind of a conflicting experience. On the one hand, the gate means that you’re at the base of the couloir. On the other hand, the gate means that some people are able to drive here, and you’re kind of an idiot for having walked it. Or at least that’s the way I felt.

We planned to take the line to looker’s left of the vertical rock pillar in the couloir and set out. The snow was still firm and had clearly gone through a hard freeze the night before. Bonus. It was also clearly warming – fast – and we could see remnants of a wet slide higher up, and a big rock release near the middle of the apron. Negative bonus.

The whole apron is skinnable, and has a great mellow angle for making good time. Things were looking up. Or rather, I should have been looking up more often. We’d seen small (golf ball and baseball) sized rocks careening down the apron past us since we’d started, and occasionally heard the sound of rockfall, but it had never risen above a level of nuisance. That is, until the time I looked up while making a turn in my skin track and literally shouted “OH SHIT!”. There was a desktop PC-sized (strange reference, I know, but it works) sized rock FLYING towards me, and I had only looked up in time to see it in its final 50 feet before it intercepted my elevation. I knew in an instant that I could not dodge it effectively and simply tried to crouch. The rock whizzed past me, missed Mark, and continued down to the base of the apron.

I was spooked. Some trip reports had talked about rockfall in the sub-couloir to looker’s right. Yeah… I could see why. If that rock had made contact, it could have been fatal, simply owing to the incredible speed it had acquired by the time it reached us. I decided it was time to stow the skis and boot up, thinking that it would allow me to keep my eyes ahead/up more often than skinning. The tactic seemed to work, though while there were more small rocks, we saw only that one killer missle.

In the end though, it proved enough to be our undoing. By the time we reached the base of the pillar, we surveyed the totality of the situation. The rockfall had freaked us out, and would likely intensify in the right sub-couloir along with the temperature. The left sub-couloir was filled with large, ulgly, wet slide debris. Not only not fun to ski, but clear evidence of a propensity to slide. The snow, while still in good shape, was going to be subject to rapid warming from the ambient temperature rise.

It was a tough decision, but we knew that this wasn’t the day to take it to the top. We paused at the foot of the pillar dividing the two sub-couloirs, ate and drank a bit, and pulled the skins off our skis. As we fueled up, we saw the guys we KNEW were somewhere behind us (they were in the truck that woke me up, and we had passed them, still sleeping, on our hike in) hit the bottom of the apron. We went through the drop-in rituals: boots to ski mode, bindings locked down, poles lengthened, and cast lots for who got to go first. I dropped in a little aggressively – the angle was mellow at about 30-35 degrees, and I expected the snow to be much softer than it actually was, but it was a fine wide-open line… all 60 seconds of it.

A long walk for a short, mellow, ski for sure, but one that remains on my tick list – to be done from the top.

Postscript: the walk out kinda sucks. That is, of course, if you’re like us and had to walk ALL THE WAY back out to the turnoff for the Laurel Lakes road. Fortunately, a kind soul let us jump in the back of his pickup for about the last half of the journey. Absolutely spent, we headed for Mammoth, visions of a shower and pizza dancing in our heads.

Beta:

It pays to take a high-clearance vehicle to cut out some/most/all of the approach. I will never again do this with the approach that we tried (park at the Laurel Lakes turnoff and walk…. walk…. walk…).

We both agreed that this would probably be an awesome two day tour in the winter, given the ability to ski back out to the car on day two.

Rockfall in the couloir is very real.

Postscript:

The next day we went to extra innings and hit Mammoth. Absolutely UNREAL corn conditions from 8a-11a.

Yours Truly, in Hangman's Hollow

Rain. Rain.

Woke up at 5:!5 yesterday to drive up to Bishop and do a 3 day ski tour. Things started good across the Antelope Valley.

rainbow in the antelope valley

rainbow in the antelope valley

5 hours later I rolled in to Bishop CA, pulled into Wilson’s East Side Sports and asked about conditions. Basically they told me that everything depended on where snowline was for the storm currently underway. Bishop is at about 4K’ in the eastern rainshadow of the Sierra. Walking out of lunch, there was not a drop of rain coming out of the sky. I jumped back in the car and headed up towards the Lake Sabrina trailhead. Rain started around 6K, and it was pouring. The trailhead, though sits at 8K, right where snowline was forecast. I drove through the tiny burg of Aspendale at 7,500′ with some trepidation – still rain, and about 30 seconds later (said it was small), pulled up to the access gate. Uh-oh. The road you see is where I was supposed to be skiing. Seriously.

Lake Sabrina Trailhead

Lake Sabrina Trailhead

Ok. I’ll just drive _further_ north to Mammoth Lakes. Back in the car and another hour later, I step out at 8.5K’ to…. rain. Fine. June Lake looks a littlle higher. I’ll try that. Another 40 minutes in the car and WHAT? It’s raining even harder here. I turned it back towards Mammoth =, now having driven about 450 miles, including my little backroad detours. It’s 3:30 and I can’t fathom doing the ride back today. I drove so far for this! So I found a coffee shop with free wifi in town, posted up, and began to look for BLM or Forest Service camping in the area. No dice, at least not in winter. The ranger mentioned that they prohibited it because of snow and mud on the roads. Screw it, I figure, I’ll just go up some FS road and throw the tent up – they’ll never find me tonight.

Well, mission accomplished. I had myself so scared that I would be stuck that my chest was tight with anxiety. I drove half an hour out past Owens River Gorge on some godfoorsaken road (home of a supposed incident where a Bigfoot killed a person!) road, so soft and so slick that I was four-wheel rally drifting the turns just to stay afloat. By the grace of god, full time AWD, and plenty of tread left on my tires, I made it out of there but was absolutely burned out. I was defeated.

But wait! What’s this? A lovely meadow, fairly near the road? It’s beautiful.

where to sleep - outside Tom's Place, CA

where to sleep - outside Tom's Place, CA

Where should I sleep? Oh, probably not here, the whole thing is a STEAMING CAULDRON. The meadow was a huge seep for a geothermal hot spring.

Near Convict Lake, CA

Near Convict Lake, CA

Fuck it. I’m driving home. It’s 7p and 350 miles. I stop at a place called Giggle Springs to fill up and get a Vitamin Water. The ignorant 16 year old girl at the counter enforces their $5 credit/debit minimum on purchases at the counter – even after I explain to her that I’ve just spent $30 outside to fill my tank. (Expletive rant from email to friends edited)

Only one nap stop in a random McDonalds on the way home before hitting Home at 12:30a – about 20 hours and 800 miles after I started.

Climb: Tuolumne Meadows

Nice long weekend of climbing, including

West Country (5.7) – What a fun second pitch that is. I hate liebacks and that thing is still a grin. Too bad that it’s going to have to be re-rated a decade from now due to polish. Somebody tell me what grade the direct 4th pitch goes at. I’d like to hear 10a, but I suspect 9.

West Crack (5.9) РStill probably my favorite climb done in the Meadows. The moves off the deck go (actually worst part of the route for me is that 15 foot runout where the crack peters out just before the first (bolted)  belay), the second pitch roof is awesome, whole thing is fun and pretty continuous, and that fingers pitch is just so much fun.

Supertopo.com

West Crack - credit: Supertopo.com

Zee Tree (5.7) – Don’t bother. The problem with TM slab climbs is that if it’s too easy you’re not interested, and if it’s too hard you suddenly find yourself much more religious than you’d realized… ZT is too easy.

Hermaphrodite Flake to the Boltway (5.10a) – This ain’t TM 5.10, kids, that’s for sure. A bolt at the move? What a joke! This is sport climbing… A worthwhile variation to take a classic climb all the way to the top.

Whatever the easy summit route is on Lembert Dome (5.6) – This is a good sunset route, but you’d have to be pretty novice to find fun climbing here. Don’t miss this if you’re anxious to get tree sap all over your rope, though

Does anyone know if there are any restrictions on bivvying on FS land off on 120 west of Lee Vining?

And finally, an ode to the girls at the Woah Nellie Deli:

Funny. no! astounding.

the amount of nice girls

to be found in Lee Vining

who would have imagined

a gas station with hot food

and quite so much raw talent

but though you’re quite cute

cowgirl shirts (but no boots)

I’m afraid any flirting is moot

as I’m sleeping outside, tired, and dirty

making things tricky you see

Oh, that and my girlfriend would kill me

Climb: Tuolumne meadows

4:43 am, I’ve woken from a dream in which a friend has told a stranger how to get in to my apartment (I have no secret way, no hidden key, nada. but then again, dreams aren’t supposed to be rational).

I like waking up and remembering my dreams. It kind of strikes me as a quaint notion, having the luxury of laying in bed and remembering the virtual reality you were just inhabiting. Most days the alarm wakes you, you know your schedule doesn’t allow for rumination on the beauty or tragedy of the story your brain was just telling itself, and so you get up and move along – that dream lost to the ether forever.

But this is different. It’s still dark out, it seems ea AAAAHH AAAAHH AAHHHH AHHH.

Damn, it was 4:43. My alarm was set for 4:45. Well, there’s nothing quite like spending a Sunday cannonballing it up to Tuolumne. Screw the dreaming – I can have nightmares of runout slabs all day!

Tuolumne Meadows

We had tentatively decided on a late season push for the regular route on fairview dome (.9, 8 pitches). It roughly follows the line of sun/shade in the picture below, cutting up and right once the prominent bulge is gained.

Fairview Dome with Cathedral Peak in the background

So with no other cars at the pullout, we turned up the Led Zep (highschool throwback, anyone?) and started to rack up. Or rather, started to rack up after 2 minutes of just standing there and realizing just how cold it was. The car’s readout said 38. I’d bet it may have been a few degrees south of that – the streams visible on the way through the meadows were all frozen solid.

Still, we’re ambitious, getty antsy as the end of the season draws near, and perhaps just a little stupid. We racked up for the quick approach (under 10 minutes) and were _glad_ that it was uphill.

The regular route is known to be wet. This obviously wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t wet, per-se. More snowy and frozen. The first pitch starts atop some slabs, slabs at this point basically snowed over. The first pitch’s crux is in a seeping corner, a seeping corner at this point more resembling an ice climb.

And I’ve mentioned that we’re stupid, yes?

We were definitely casting verbal dice for the lead.

Bob: soooo, do you want this pitch? I think it’s about 200′ to that tree up there.

Me: hey man, I didn’t really have my heart set on it. I actually wanted the 5.7 fingers to heaven pitch, so I mean, I don’t want to snake this one from you

Bob: Dude, it’s really no problem. Do you want it?

Me: Mumbling and kicking steps in to the snowpack

So the lead fell to Bob.

[Thanks Bob, you’re my hero and always have been]

I got the pleasure, however, of standing in snow for while Bob led this thing. I’m CERTAIN that this is a cruiser 5.9 fingerlocks pitch when it’s not a full on ice runnel. Reality: it was a full on ice runnel.

Holy shit this thing was slick as snot on a doorknob (and how’s that for an anachronism?). I do not hesitate to document the fact that bob stood in a sling to gain a hanging snowfield and then proceeded to cut finger pockets for 8 feet with his nut tool. Grim. Bob gave me a heads up as he began to huck dinnerplates of ice down, clearing the last 30 feet of crack to allow for some semblance of confidence in the gear he was placing.

200 feet and 2 hours later, I was on belay.

The bottom 100′ was cold and not so fun, but it was all there. When I got to the snowfield I was certain that the whole thing was going to sheet off underneath me. I would not wanted to have been on lead with this thought. I too deployed the nut tool in service of upward progress, snagging a bomber hook on a lip. I’ve never done a mixed climb before…

Bob was his usual sarcastic self, but he was still talking in full sentences, so I knew he hadn’t been 110% skeeved. Nevertheless, a 2 hour lead had taken the wind out of both of our sails. Our lack of confidence in avoiding an epic – any snow on the descent slabs would have been less than fun if we summited around dusk – combined with the view of Daff dome baking in the sun, made for a pretty easy decision. We fixed one rope, I passed my windbreaker to bob, rapped, ran to the car, grabbed the second rope, chugged back up to the base, attached the line for Bob to haul, and made my way back to the base to take in the most psychadellic display of aerial spiderwebs you can imagine.

From the Fairview icebox, we made our way to greener and sunnier pastures: the flank of Daff Dome. I’d done some stuff on Daff but never seen this little cragging area.

We finished the day with

Alimony Crack (5.8, 1 pitch): which felt really easy at the grade. Super easy hand jamming leading to a long low-angle finish.

Fingertips (5.10b, right side variation, 2 pitches): Awesome climb. I’ve not done much thin face climbing in California, but this immediately reminded me of one of my favorites: Arctic Breeze at Lover’s Leap (5.10a, 1 pitch). This one will leave dirt under your fingernails for the rest of the week, because that’s all you’re using to hold on. Fingernail crimps and rand smears for 180′, all with 5 bolts plus an intermediate anchor. This is one of those climbs that, to a nobody like me, is a true testament to the guys that bolt these things. How the hell could you do 45 minutes at one of these stances with a hand drill? Incredible.

Great Circle Route (5.9, p.1 / 5.10a p.2): An easy 50′ 5.7 crack leads to 25′ of runout face climbing above, two bolts to an anchor. This is probably a really proud climb for someone who is climbing/leading right at this level. We bagged it without the 2nd pitch to avoid rolling in to SF after midnight, but it looked way polished up there. I was suprised to see that one bolt at the p.1 anchors had been replaced but one old spinner remains. Not a setup I’d toprope off of.

Fantastic alpenglow on the way out, leaving us with a view of another meadows climb nabbed earlier this season: Tenaya Peak.

tenaya.jpg