2017 July 4th in the Tetons

Making dinner with a view.
Making dinner with a view.

July 1-4, 2017

We spent the extra long weekend in the Tetons.  While the weather was generally good it was a bit hot and we didn’t climb much.  What we did climb we bailed 1.5 pitches into because of a thunderstorm.  Still a fun trip and was able to explore some areas we weren’t familiar with.

2017 April Fools

Carly admiring the views.
Carly admiring the views.

April 1-2, 2017

Just a quick post to share some images from a recent ski/climbing trip to the desert.  Yup, the desert for climbing and skiing.  Outside Moab, UT are the La Sal Mountains, with many peaks topping 12,000′ they are even higher than the Wasatch outside our front door.  We gambled on the weather and got some fresh snow in the La Sals and enjoyed ourselves exploring a new area.  That day after skiing we camped in Moab and enjoyed a desert sunset.  Awesome place this UT.  

Best Photos of 2015

I’m not going to spend time waxing poetic on 2015 and all the enjoyable times, places, and people that I’ve experienced in 2015, even though I had all of those.  New Year’s resolutions are typically not my thing, but I will try one in 2016–more time outdoors and less doing everything else.

Here’s ten of my favorite shots from 2015.

In January Carly, Eric, Matt, and I went up to the North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn. Unfortunately the splitter conditions seen in this photo didn’t persist and we ended up bailing, though unnecessarily. This mountain still has an amazing look to it in winter and summer.
Fighting to see through the sprindrift.
Carly fighting through the endless spindrift on the Ribbon (WI4) in Ouray, CO. We were suckered into this climb on a bluebird and warm day in February. We didn’t pack super warm stuff and Carly didn’t have sunglasses. It turned out despite the mild conditions on the other side of the canyon we were in for a true alpine day.
The early May weather in Salt Lake wasn’t looking great so Carly and I took the opportunity to be Utah National Park tourists and visit Bryce Canyon NP. We were lucky to get some snow overnight making for amazing vistas the next morning.
The distant mountains had more snow all day.
Another shot from Bryce. The distant mountains got hammered by snow squalls the entire day making for very stark contrast in the desert landscape.
Great sunset over the valley.
Another visit to the Pfeifferhorn. The heat in the valley drove Carly, Matt, and I up to the mountains for some cooler air. The fires west of the city created particulates in the air that made for a really pretty sunset. We just barely were able to catch this view as we were on the east side of a small ridge and desperately hiked our way up to catch the last rays of the sun.
Finishing up the Golden Staircase pitch on the Upper Exum.
Carly’s first foray into the high alpine. We did a three day trip up the Gran Teton in August in really hot conditions. There were no altitude problems and we had a great time. I’m looking forward to doing another route with her next summer.
The Friction Pitch yields some unprotected but fairly easy climbing for a little way up a rounded arrete.
A month later I was back on the Grand, but this time with Patrick and Matt (pictured). This time we blitzed it and did a sub-12 hour Upper Exum Ridge climb. Patrick lead the whole way as it was his first time on the peak.
On the ride home from a great weekend in the City of Rocks we had one of the best sunsets I've seen in a long time.
A late October trip to the City of Rocks with Carly had some good climbing, including her leading all of Theater of Shadows (5.7) on Steinfell’s Dome. It was a great time seeing her lead. On the way home we had one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Thanksgiving brought us to Indian Creek with Matt and Patrick. Here Patrick is battling it out on a long, sandbagged, steep #4’s crack in Donnelly Canyon. Despite the sun it was windy and cold. Ultimately we left the day after Thanksgiving to escape the snow in the desert and to do some skiing. Ah the benefits of living in Salt Lake City.
We conicidentally got to the base of the climb a few minutes before the sun poked around the ridge and we were basked in warmth for about an hour or two.
Despite getting a really good capture with my Canon G10, I was really missing the quality of my 50D on this day. Doug, Matt, Matt, and I headed up to Killer Pillar (WI5) on a splitter day during the Bozeman Ice Festival. A few minutes after getting there the sun poked up over the ridge. The glow created some awesome light when Doug lead the difficult pillar. One of my most memorable shots I’ve taken in a long time.

Zion National Park


September 28-29, 2013

I guess I never posted these pictures.  Things must have gotten busy and forgot to.

Aaron and I headed to Zion for some climbing but the trip turned out quite differently that we expected.  We needed to get more proficient in aiding before attempting our objective.  Instead we just enjoyed one of the best National Parks out there for its scenery.

Dirtbag Visit to Utah

Catching some speed to roll through the next bit.

October 26 & 27, 2013

Drew and Carly came to visit me in Utah and enjoy their recent entrance to the dirtbag lifestyle.  While they aren’t travelling the country for climbing destinations as I would be in their place, they are out travelling, living, hiking, biking, and just enjoying life.

I found a good BLM campground about 10 miles from Moab and gave them the info to meet me there.  It turned out to be a little difficult to find especially at midnight like when they rolled in.  The campground is the last one on the 10 mile dirt road.  While there’s nothing too tricky to cross there are two stream crossings which I wasn’t sure Drew would be able to get through because of his trailer.  Everything turned out fine and they finally made it to my site around 1am.

Saturday we headed, late, into town to figure out some mtn biking, which Moab has plenty of.  Moab could be compared to Yosemite as far as their respective sport meccas go.  We found a decent trail with the help of a bike shop and had a fun ride.  Well mostly, Carly had some technical difficulties and she wasn’t able to experience a bunch of the trail.  Next time right!

Rolling terrain on the return stretch of trail.

This was my first time actually mtn biking in a long time, probably since high school.  Bikes have changed a lot since then and they are quite fun and comfortable.  I was able to borrow my buddy Matt’s and it was plush.  I was able to roll through stuff and at speeds I would never have thought possible back when I was on my red GT hardtail.

Strange lanscape mixes.

Sunday we enjoyed a little bit of climbing and normal tourist sightseeing in Arches National Park.  As usual the desert landscape didn’t disappoint.  It wasn’t hard to understand why it is a National Park.  Delicate Arch is well worth the hike out, despite the large numbers of people.  Truly a Martian landscape!

Hope you guys can come back soon.

Mtn Biking

Arches National Park

Indian Creek with a Big Crew

From thin crack to face with a slight rest in between.

October 19 & 20, 2013

A couple weeks ago I headed back to the desert for some time in Indian Creek.  The Creek never disappoints: splitters–check, lots of them–check, great weather–check, good friends–check, demoralizing smackdown when trying to lead routes–check.

Luckily in our crew which totaled seven for climbing, and eleven at our camp at Superbowl, we had a not so secret weapon named Alex Baker.  Alex is 5 foot 6 inches and 120 lbs of crusher and was our rope gun for the weekend.  He was also able to slay two of his projects, Less than Zero (5.12+) and Burl Dog (5.12+).  Coppi and Pat were also stepping it up and putting up some hard lines too.  On Sunday my attempt at leading was ill placed and ended up French freeing up just to get it over with.  I’ve still yet to get a route clean on lead in the Creek that I’m proud of.  I think I’ve only lead 1-2 actual climbs down there successfully.

One route I’ll be interested in getting back to is Pente (5.11-) on Reservoir Wall.  This amazing route stretches for 150+ and needs two ropes to get down.  However it can be split into three routes.  The first section is steep, the steepest of the whole route through a 15 foot #1 crack into a big detached block that affords a generous no hands rest as Kim shows.

Milking that rest at the base of the long #1-#2 splitter.

The next part of the route is the money business.  It is a perfect splitter for 80 ft of wide #1 to #2s.  At the top of that there is another awesome no hands rest.  This is really where you need to get it all back.  The rest of the route is annoying #1 and #.75 in a left facing corner in mostly less than vertical terrain.  The crux of the upper section is where it gets a bit steeper which of course is near the chains.  Best route in Creek I’ve climbed thus far and I’ll have to try and lead it when I’m at this wall again.

Castle Valley and Jah Man

Jon starting up the second pitch. You can see the squeeze chimney below.

October 12, 2013

With the daytime temps dipping into the 60s and the leaves turning bright yellow it is time to start visiting the desert.  Places like City of Rocks are getting a little chilly if you aren’t in the sun, but the Utah desert is just starting to get comfortable.  Jon and I decided to take advantage of this by going after a desert tower last Saturday.  The common objective is Castleton Tower, a 400 ft sandstone tower, but there are other worthy objectives in the vicinity, namely Sister Superior.  This tower is north along the same ridgeline as Castleton Tower.  There are a number of routes on it but the one that everyone goes for is Jah Man (5.10+).  The route goes a little more than 3 pitches up primarily on thin hand cracks (#1 Camalots).

We camped near the entrance road on Friday night and had the place to ourselves.  There is a dirt road, or more accurately there was a dirt road that would bring you fairly close to the base of the tower.  However on Friday night we saw that it wasn’t passable with my WRX so we decided to walk the 2 or so miles in the morning.  To avoid potential crowds we got an alpine start around 6am in the dark.  As we walked along the road it quickly turned from rough dirt road to total washout.  The road appeared and disappeared for the entire way.  In some spots the drop from the road to the wash was a couple feet.  Only a fully prepped Jeep would have a chance of getting back via the road.  Or a couple ATVs.

We had neither so we just walked, as we got to the turn off from the wash there were some obvious cairns leading us left to the tower.  From afar Sister Superior doesn’t look all that impressive.  It is bookended by the Rectory and the Covenent which are two tiny mesa outcroppings.  Their bulk and Castleton’s isolation make Sister Superior seem like a tiny objective.  However it is mainly an optical illusion and the illusion goes away as you get closer.

Amazingly beautiful desert scenery at sunrise.

Patchy clouds which had dropped rain a day or two prior still dotted the sky giving great lighting and depth for the sunrise.  We reached the tower after puffing up 1000′ of rubble below the tower.  Once at the base of the route, and all alone, we decided to take our time getting ready to climb.  The sunrise and location we viewed it from was well worth the early wake up.

Finally we got our act together and Jon picked the odd pitches.  P1 is moderate but has a squeeze chimney to negotiate.  The start of the chimney was by far the hardest point.  The trick was just getting in there and let it swallow you.  Once you can worm your way up about 20′ the chimney starts to widen a bit and it allows more comfortable travel with small ledges and other features inside to use as hand and foot holds.  There’s even protection within in the form of cracks.  Quite fun after the initial bit.

First pitch of Jah Man has a squeeze chimney that was tough to get into but easy and fun higher up.

P1 dumps you on top of a large detached flake.  The space behind the flake is the chimney you come up.  Pitch 2 is the business and that fell to me.  At first glance the tight hand crack is stunning, going up about 40 feet before shooting left under an overhang.  I grabbed the copious amount of gear from Jon and made the first move and grabbed a broken block wedged in the crack.  My plan was to get on top of this block and place my first piece of protection from the stance it would afford.  As I grabbed it it rattled in place.  Probably not enough to come out but it was enough to go back down one move to the belay ledge and place my first piece from the security of it.  Confident I wouldn’t fall onto the belay I went up again.

I don’t typically tape but I decided for this climb, being mostly tight hands, that I would.  It helped a bit on this pitch.  I proceeded upward with the normal amount of pain and insecurity a crack of this size usually gives me.  I placed 2-3 pieces of pro along the way.  Getting to the overhang I reached out left and clipped the bolt, which is at the crux.  I’m not sure why the bolt is there but I wasn’t questioning since I was getting super pumped.  I moved a little more left after the clip and my strength failed and hung on the bolt.  I tried working the tricky sequence traversing under the overhang on thin hands and rattly fingers.  I made a couple of attempts and hangs before I found the sequence and hand holds.  Once passed that point it wasn’t a gimme getting around the end of the overhang and up on the 5.8+ ramp.  Once I finally did it wasn’t too bad getting to the next belay ledge.  Jon was able to get through the crux a little easier than I did but still had to hang a couple times.

Tight hands on and on.

Jon’s pitch was also a money one.  This probably clocks in at 5.10 or .10+ as well in a similarly sized crack.  The differences is there’s no traverse under an overhang.  Jon did a great job leading it and was able to protect it well from the few stances it allowed.  Definitely a sweet pitch, perhaps a bit steeper than the one I did too.

At the top of P3 I racked up for the 5.9+ face climbing that lay ahead just before the summit.  From our vantage point and the book’s info it was unknown if there were just bolts or natural protection as well.  I scrambled on top of a block to the right and got hit with a nice dose of exposure.  At this point the tower was tapering out and this move right put me on the arete of the thing giving me a greater than 180 degree view of the valley below.  I reached up and clipped an old 1/4″ bolt and made a delicate boulder move on top of a small ledge.  From here another reach clipped a solid looking drilled piton.  This move proved to be a bit harder and was a definite boulder move to get up a little higher.  Turns out after making that move you are essentially on the top–only 30 ft from the belay.  Guess I didn’t need to take all that gear after all.

We lounged on the summit which is about 8-10 feet wide at it’s widest and about 20 feet long.  The sun, warm breeze, and 360 degree views were awesome.  We ate lunch and waited for the French couple who’d showed up behind us to arrive so we could combine ropes for the way down.

While we’d been on route there were five other parties that showed up so rapping down was a little bit of a pain since the belay ledges aren’t all that big.  Eventually we got back to our packs and walked out.  Jean-Jacques and Martine were super friendly and had been climbing in the States many times before.  They had wanted to climb in Zion but the government closure nonsense kept them away.

We chatted the afternoon away back at the car with them and a couple of girls from Bozeman, MT who were serious crushers.  They could out climb me and Jon on their worst day.  Over beers Martine and Jean-Jacques told us some of their stories from their many years of climbing.  They have been to Denali, Yosemite, Pakistan, Morroco, Madagascar, Himalaya–seriously well traveled climbers.  Martine is also the first woman to have been certified as a guide in Europe!  After a few beers, some of which were mixed with Sprite for Martine and Jean-Jacque, we parted ways but it was nice to make some new friends.  Hopefully I’ll see them again sometime soon.

Cirque of the Towers and the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head

On the approach up the Grassy Ledges approach.

August 30-September 2, 2013

Over the long weekend Matt, Jamie and myself visited the Wind River Range for some alpine rock climbing.  Our objective in the Cirque of the Towers was the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head (12,165′).  The route is one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America.  While it is only 5.6 is difficulty it is one of the headiest, most exposed climbs of any grade, anywhere.

Matt, Jamie and I headed out after work on Friday and toward the Wind River Range in Wyoming.  The drive is only around 5 hours but the last hour at least is on dirt roads.  Some of them are good and as you approach the trailhead they get a little bit worse.  Still very passable by normal cars but just a little bumpy.  About 10 miles from the trailhead we decided to stop to sleep for the night.  The National Forest land out where is so much better than back East since you can just park and camp without any trouble.

As we arrived at the trailhead we were astounded by the number of cars which were parked–there must have been 150 cars in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  It was Labor Day weekend so we shouldn’t have been so surprised.

Heading in on the 8 mile approach we made good time.  This was due in part to the minimal elevation gain or loss.  While our eventual camp would be around 10,300′ the trailhead starts around 9,000′.  The main elevation came in the last 2 miles.  The landscape along the way changed from forest and plains with lakes and rivers to high alpine lakes and tundra.  As we topped out the Continental Divide and dropped into the East side, we were welcomed with a great view of the Cirque of the Towers.  Pingora (11,884′), towers over Lonesome Lake and a beautiful alpine scene.

However, very quickly this idyllic scene was tarnished by the number of people we saw.  Cirque of the Towers has no permitting system or what even seemed to be enforcement of basic rules of alpine environments.  We saw lots of tents, some less than 200 feet from water courses.  There were perhaps 50 tents, luckily not all in the same spot, but there were few places you could look that didn’t has someone stating there.  Many of these visitors were probably not climbers, but some were.  The lake of knowledge or regard for Leave No Trace had prompted people to bring their dogs.  I saw at least 6-8 different dogs.  While I’m a big fan of dogs I think people are trending to bringing their pets into many places that should not have dogs.  Restaurants, retail stores, airplanes, and alpine environments.

There are a number of reasons why I don’t think dogs belong in the alpine.  Dogs do not understand Leave No Trace.  They run and defecate anywhere, including through or near water sources.  They are not natural inhabitants, not that humans are either, of this area.  Humans can avoid disturbing natural wildlife, like pikas, as little as possible.  Unless your dog is very well trained or on a leash, can you keep your pet from going after a pika.  While the dog probably won’t be able to catch one, it certainly keeps a pika from gathering food.  Dogs are pets, but they are not 24/7 companions, especially in a delicate environment where small amounts of damage take a long time to be repaired.

The other major problem that I saw were fires.  Fires are more egregious than dogs.  There are few trees and those that do exist are only 20 feet tall because of the short growing season.  Snow covers the ground for a long portion of the year.  Dead wood isn’t very available.  A fire, even a small one takes an extremely long time to be absorbed in the cold environment.  Especially when you build it on rocks.  We did see a Ranger, but it doesn’t appear that he could prevent people from making fires.  It is too bad that the Cirque doesn’t have similar permitting and enforcement rules to the Tetons.

Sunday we got up early to do our climb, we were on our way out of camp at 4:30am.  The early start was to make sure we could get on the climb first.  Because of the moderate difficulty and number of people in the area we figured that getting on the route first was prudent.  This turned out to be a good idea.  We had a little bit of route finding problems on the approach before the sun came up.  After we figured out our problem we waited at the start of the technical climbing until there was enough light to see.

Wolf’s Head’s East Ridge is a knife edge climb.  The first crux of the route is what is affectionately called the “sidewalk” a 1.5 ft wide, 30 ft long, 30 degree angled slab.  While the low angle doesn’t seem all that imposing and were it only 5 feet off the ground it wouldn’t pose much trouble for most climbers to just walk across it.  However the section is hundreds of feet off the deck and the valley sweeps away from the approach ledges down another thousand feet.  It is one of the most heady sections of climbing I’ve done.  There is some protection, a good cam at the start, a small horn that can be slung, and a good cam at the end.  Great climbing for sure.

Just after this pitch a party of two passed us by simul climbing by.  This didn’t pose much of an issue for us since they were moving much more quickly than our party of three.  Jamie led a few pitches of simul climbing until reaching the first of numerous knife edge climbing which found us hand/foot traversing on one side of the ridge or the other.  A soloist passed us as well.  While passing us he mentioned to Jamie that though he’s solo’ed the route many times he’s never been able to walk across the sidewalk, he’s always crawled.

We finally summited in mid afternoon.  The descent wasn’t too bad but there was a bit of route finding to contend with.  The main thing was to traverse all the way across the saddle between Wolf’s Head and Overhanging Tower.  15 hours after leaving the tent we arrived back and made some dinner.

The hike out Monday was uneventful with a few rain showers.  Our fun alpine climbing weekend was shattered on our ride out upon news of the death of one of our friends and co-workers.  There are many things I would like to write down on the matter, but I am not at a point to do that, nor do I possess the ability.

Fourth of July in the Sawtooth Mtns

The backcountry camping below Elephant’s Perch is along three alpine lakes in the hanging valley.

July 3-7, 2013

As the Fourth of July fell on a Thursday, my work had an unpaid shutdown day on Friday since most people would be taking it off anyway.  I took advantage of this four-day weekend to travel for some climbing.  I had thrown around the idea of climbing at the Incredible Hulk in the Sierra’s of California with Matt and Eric.  However as the weekend go closer Eric dropped out and I really thought that it would be better to not drive close to 10 hours and do a substantial hike.  My friend Mark of Coffin Roof fame, suggested Elephant’s Perch in the Sawtooth Mtns of Idaho. He described long alpine routes and an idyllic setting of jagged peaks, aquamarine alpine lakes, and uncrowded climbing.  I had to look up the Perch as I’d never heard of it before; from the pictures it looked like Mark knew what he was talking about.

Wednesday night I headed up with my buddy Joe from Salt Lake on the 6 hour drive.  Joe has what some might consider a dream job.  He works remotely as a software engineer for a regular 9-5 type job.  But since he’s hooking in remotely he can travel the country and work from anywhere that has a decent internet signal.  This freedom allows him to chase the warm weather and climb year round while visiting friends.

We wound our way northward on largely empty roads into the southeast corner of Idaho.  Around dinner time we stopped in Twin Falls for some food and decided to eat at a middle eastern fast food joint.  The owner, Joe, waited on us and proudly joked that “if you don’t like the food, I’ll shut the place down.”  With an endorsement like that how could we go wrong?  After ordering Joe proceeded to talk our ears off through a thick Arab accent while we ate.  He traversed many topics from the difficulties of hiring reliable workers, cost of living in San Diego versus Twin Falls, legal issues with contractors, not suing people, his alarming disdain for blacks, him personally speaking with God (not Allah, he’s Christian), and finally leaving us with driving tips such as keeping a bucket of ice in the front seat and holding an ice cube to your forehead to remain alert.  We spent nearly an hour there and closed the place down.

Moving along we finally got of the interstate and headed on the side roads to Sun Valley and Ketchum, ID.  Desert turned to high desert and faintly as night descended we drove into the forests of the Sawtooths.  As we neared Stanley, our entrance location to the climbing, we pulled off a dark dirt road looking for a place to camp for 6-8 hours.  We found one and pulled into a good spot.  Opening the door my nose was filled with an overwhelming smell of pine and freshness.  While there are pine trees in Salt Lake, it is so dry that they don’t have much aroma. Here it was an amazingly welcome change.

The approach to Elephant’s Perch can be cut from 8 miles into just three with a cheap boat ride across Red Fish Lake.

The next morning we headed, with some confusion to Red Fish Lodge to pick up a boat ride across the clear and deep Red Fish Lake.  This quick and cheap, $16 round-trip/person, ride cut 5 miles of hiking off our approach.  The ride got us some great views of the jagged granite peaks and spires.  Only one looks was needed to see why they’re call the Sawtooths.  As we de-boarded we headed out on the trail through the picnic area on that side of the lake.  Hiking deeper into the woods we were a little surprised at the terrain.  Based on the crude maps we had available to us (we hadn’t seen any at the trailhead) we should be on the right side of the river flowing from the mountains; however our trail put us on the left side.  Continuing to a small pond and waterfall we ran out of trail.  At this point we realized that we needed to walk the mile or so back to the picnic area as we must have made a wrong turn.  This was just one instance of getting off route on this trip.

Finally back at the picnic area we found the quite obvious main trail and map at the trailhead.  This trail wound through the woods, fields, and meadows on an easy trail.  All the while we got great views of the Grand Mogul, the peak at the end of the lake.  Snow still clung to the deeper couloirs and gullies.  It was quite obvious this might be an interesting winter objective.  None of the information I found on the area discussed pure ice routes but a number of moderate snow climbs are established in the area.  I might have to come up here this winter for some moderate climbing, but likely cold conditions.

We pulled left off the main trail at about two miles in.  Here we crossed the river via some logs spanning the flow.  While not very deep it would not have been a fun drop into the white water.   Across the river the trail became less obvious and much steeper and more rugged.  The trail lead us upward to the hanging valley the Saddleback Lakes are nestled in.  These lakes are three small lakes formed by the rocky terrain, past glaciation, and the snow melt coming from the mountains towering above them.  After a mile (and some debate as to the correct trail) we arrived at three aquamarine, clear, alpine lakes in perhaps one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited.  The sun shown through the thin pines and reflected off the clear water welcoming us to our home for the next few days.

The lakes are amazingly clear and cold. That didn’t stop Joe from taking a dip after our hike.

Camping here is all primitive and backcountry.  No reservations, assigned campsites, toilets, trash bins, or crowds.  What it did include was solitude, without feeling completely alone as there were a few other parties around the area.  The other, somewhat unwelcome inclusions were aggressively fearless chipmunks looking to steal your food as soon as you turn your back and mosquitoes.  While I’ve never been overly affected by bugs I’m certainly not immune.  My saving graces are that I’m from New England and therefore understand what buggy really means, and that while I may get bitten I don’t puff up for days afterward.  I’m usually hesitant believe someone’s assessment of a place being buggy while I’ve lived here in Salt Lake.  After all there aren’t any bugs here so any little flying thing will be “horribly buggy” to someone from here.  This was my first assessment of our camp, however as night began to fall they really came out in force.  It was truly buggy, even for a New Englander.  Thankfully they were tiny mosquitoes and fairly sluggish at the 8275 ft altitude.

Our planned objectives were The Fine Line (5.11a) and Direct Beckey (5.11a).  These two routes ran up the massive Elephant’s Perch hovering over the lakes.  The huge orange granite bulk is an amazing piece of rock.  It has a much more robust character than many of the jagged spires around it.  Cracks, corners, and flakes spotted it’s surface all the way to the summit, out of view.  The Perch has few routes under 5.10.  From Mark’s description these two were some of the best lines on the formation.

Friday morning we headed across to the base of The Fine Line and arrived a little before 7am.  The cliff faces primarily south and west so it would be after lunch before we were in the sun; luckily it wasn’t very cold overnight.  The first pitch of the route is the crux.  Joe headed up and after getting about 30 feet off the ground he found the death flake that threatens the beginning of this 10 pitch route.  I’ve encountered hollow flakes and things that you didn’t want to grab for fear they’d fall off in your hands.  However this flake upped the game.  The dagger shaped flake, approximately 5-6 inches thick and three feet across at its top, was literally floating on the face.  No warnings are visible until you touch the flake.  It rocked with just the slightest touch.  An enticing .75 Camalot sized crack behind it is quickly erased from the option list for protection and handholds as it nearly swings in the breeze.  It is amazing this flake hasn’t fallen off or been trundled as of yet.  It is good for nothing except scaring the bejeezus out of climbers and their belayers.

Joe worked his way up to the flake and on seeing its condition decided to aid passed it using some ancient bolts probably installed back in the 1970’s.  After trying some more moves and then aiding passed Joe finally reached the belay and hour and twenty minutes after he started–a sign that our chances of getting to the top in a decent time were unlikely.  I followed up and similarly aided passed the flake.  Once at the crux I tried the moves a little and while I can do 5.11a moves, perhaps not clean, but can do them, I decided that this 5.11a was closer to 5.12 than anything–also not a good sign.

Pitch 2, 100 ft of amazing finger crack in bomber granite. It was in the hard 5.10 range and I had to hang a couple times because of how sustained it was.

The next pitch, a long right facing corner of finger size crack was all mine.  While this pitch was great, I’m a fan of finger cracks, it was brutal.  There was only one really good rest.  After about 20 feet up the good feet on the right side disappeared into blank smearing on vertical granite.  The crack took excellent pro and it is a good thing since I probably placed 12-14 placements in the 110 ft pitch and hung 3-4 times.

Joe lead the third pitch which finished with a wide section with a hidden finger crack inside for protection.  By this time our clear morning had turned into a mostly cloudy early afternoon.  The fourth pitch involves a small traverse left and then back right along a flake.  As I headed up the pitch I headed towards some fixed anchors that seemed to make sense.  While on my way to them I had to negotiate a small overlapping flake with underclings changing into a tight finger crack.  I placed a .75 cam and shook out at the rest.  I saw that the next few moves would be difficult tight fingers and few feet.  As I headed up I reached high with my right foot and cranked upwards on small fingers for the next handhold.  All of a sudden I was falling.  My right foot had lost it’s purchase on the high tiny edge it was on.  I’ve never fallen on trad gear before anywhere, much less in the mountains.  Thankfully it was a clean fall on vertical stone and I wasn’t hurt at all–only my ego.

I got passed this section and clipped the fixed anchors and moved upwards along secure but detached flakes.  After getting to the pinnacle of these I saw that I was more or less stranded.  It was a 15-20 foot down climb to a crack to the right or a doubtful looking crack to the left.  I debated for a while and looked at the route topo and photo I’d taken the previous day.  Eventually after some discussion with Joe I went delicately back to the fixed anchor and lowered back to the belay.  Joe headed up and did basically the same thing.  At this point we’d been on this pitch forever, perhaps two hours.  The mostly cloudy day turned into all cloudy and dark ones at that.  Joe insisted that the path lay to the left and I disagreed.  Eventually the weather made our decision for us.  The rain we could see off in the distance started falling on blustery winds.  Joe came back down and we headed down.  Unfortunately there are few fixed anchors on the route and we had to leave some of our gear, luckily only nuts to do the three rappels to the ground.  Our spirits broken from getting our asses handed to us on “just 5.10” climbing we did the walk of shame back to camp.

After moving slowly through the first three pitches, we ran into route finding problems and wasted a lot of time. During that time a rainstorm came through and we had to bail off the route.

The rain passed and the afternoon turned nice but we had no time nor energy to go back up the route that day.  We decided that Direct Becky would be a bad choice for us as it is more sustained and 2 more pitches in length than The Fine Line.  Therefore we decided we’d head back up and try to do the route again the next day.

The next morning we headed back.  Opting to swap pitch order I didn’t bother trying to free the first pitch and aided it all just to get it over with.  Joe did the same.  He headed into the second pitch and unexpectedly popped off and fell.  Again it was a steep route and clean fall so we continued.  I was a little worried about the third pitch and its wide section near the top.  I knew the protection was there but I was worried about being in a good stance to place it.  Luckily the pitch protects well below that section and I was able to lace it up and even got the hidden piece in the wide section.  Not my most elegant lead but I got it.

On the fourth pitch, our previous high point, our assessment of the route after we bailed from the ground paid off.  Joe headed directly right and bypassed the garbage I’d gone up the day before.  We were actually making decent time as well.  As Joe reached the top of this pitch he found the thin flake described in the route beta.  It is indeed a spectacular feature and a great lead by Joe.

From this pitch to the top the rock quality deteriorated a bit.  While most of it was still quite solid there were many gigantic blocks that needed to be pulled, stood on, and protection place inside which was a little scary.  Joe lead the traverse below the large roofs to below the Beckey Tree–a large pine amazingly perched on the face at about 3/4 height and has not been struck by lighting.  Getting to this tree proved perhaps the most mentally challenging section.  Joe led this pitch who’s crux is standing delicately on a single right foot on a off-sloping hold, protected only by two ancient 1/4″ button head bolts sticking out 3/8″ out of the rock–oh with home-made aluminum hangers.

Thankfully the weather was holding.  Puffy clouds from the heat of the day and the mountains never formed into anything more threatening.  Above the Beckey Tree I lead the longest pitch of the route at 200 ft.  Unfortunately I headed a bit too much left and while never out of protection or holds I got into significantly stiffer terrain than the 5.8-5.9 terrain I was supposed to be on.  Because of my poor planning I had really bad rope drag too.  Joe finished up the route on some exciting ad hoc route planning to get us on the summit.  My usual on-route camera my G12 malfunctioned the previous day and since I didn’t have my iPhone I have no record of the spectacular view from the summit.  We spent 15-20 minutes on top and enjoyed the view but since it was just after 7pm at this point and we’d been on the move for over 12 hours we didn’t spend too much time.  Thankfully the decent is fairly straightforward.  Once back at camp we feasted on some dehydrated chili I’d brought.

I woke up in the middle of the night to see if I could get some star pictures and was greeted by a perfectly clear sky and no moon.  I was able to see the Milkyway, satellites, and even some shooting stars.  The star pics didn’t come out as good as I’d hoped but I’m still getting better.  Sunday we headed back out but not before I went fishing again in the lakes.  I was able to catch a few small brookies, which was nice since I haven’t been fishing in ages.

There are brook trout in the lakes and I took my 4 weight flyrod and had some luck. While it would have been really cool to fry them up we didn’t have any ingredients.

The Elephant’s Perch and the Saddleback Lakes are a great area for climbing as well as just the alpine environment.  I know I’ve written this in the past but this type of area is why I moved to the West.