2015 Fourth of July Finger of Fate

Sunset over the alpine lake we camped at.

July 3-4, 2015

Over the long weekend Carly and I headed to Idaho and the Sawtooth Mountains, something I did a couple years ago as well.  This time I had a more modest objective called the Finger of Fate.  The name is ominous but our intended route is only 5.8, but an old school 5.8 put up in the late sixties I think.

We woke up relatively early and drove up Friday morning.  Unlike our last drive up in these parts for Aaron and Tina’s wedding we head good weather and clear skies.  The first crux of the route is the dirt road into the upper trailhead at Hell Roaring.  From all the beta I could find online the road was a heinous jeep trail only surpassable by 4x4s and monster trucks.  Ok, well I’m being a little facetious, but it was described as high clearance and four wheel drive only.  Naturally we took Carly’s CR-V for this task over my Subaru.  The road turned out to be not too bad.  Definitely very rocky and in two places a little difficult, but overall I’d give it a 5.9 compared to what I expected to be a 5.11 passage to the upper trailhead.  I did take some smug satisfaction that when we arrived at the end of the road of the dozen vehicles there, we were the only one not in a full size truck or SUV.

The trail is primarily flat for about 4 miles as it winds through the pine forest, which has certainly been affected by fire recently.  The tall narrow pines offer little shade unless right under them so we were hot on the approach.  At Hell Roaring Lake we skirted to the right shore and along the climber’s trail that heads up the last mile and 1100 ft of elevation gain.  Overall, not a difficult approach and it took us a little over 2 hours.

The Finger of Fate from our campsite alongside the unnamed lake at its base.  Notice the daylight under the summit block which we tunneled through for our last pitch.
The Finger of Fate from our campsite alongside the unnamed lake at its base. Notice the daylight under the summit block which we tunneled through for our last pitch.


Our campsite for the night was at the shore of a small unnamed alpine lake.  Across the lake our objective loomed over us.  After we set up our tent and a quick dip in the lake we studied the Finer and noticed that we could see daylight under the summit block.  This wasn’t completely surprising since the topo for the route described tunneling under the block.  However, it was a little unnerving that we could see the gaps even from half a mile away.

The next morning we set off for the climb.  Thankfully there weren’t any other climbers in the area so we didn’t get as early a start as we might have otherwise.  The approach trail around the lake spit us onto the talus and skree field below the feature.  This portion of the approach kind of sucked because every 3 steps forward involved one backward.

Arriving at the base of the climb we were glad to be in the shade.  The aspect still holds a small snow field at the very base.  The route follows an obvious 90 degree corner on the north east aspect of the Finger.  While granite of some flavor, the rock is very different than Little Cottonwood or City of Rocks, the other two granite areas I frequent.  The stone is heavily lichened and much more splitter rather than flared.

The first pitch ramps up some easier terrain to a splitter crack in the corner.  There’s a tricky move below the corner to pass a bulge.  Above that there’s some good jams that get a bit wide getting toward the belay.  Pitch two was the best climbing in my opinion.  Awesome jams and passing roof which required a smeary reach to good holds.  Above that were more jams and a widening crack that I ended up butterfly hand jamming.  Feet were a little tricky but not terrible, though Carly’s smaller hands and feet made this section tougher for her.

During the belay for P2 I got cold as we were still in the shade.  I figured that the wide crack just had cold air blowing out of it and didn’t think much of it.  However as I started up P3, which would bring us into the sun, I notice that the large chimney that the crack turned into still held a considerable amount of snow.  After reaching the top of P3 and the terrain flattened and we enjoyed the sun.  Carly lead the next pitch, which transitioned the belay under the next vertical section.  Double cracks lead into a single crack with great jams.  These then topped out at the base of an unprotected slab.  A fall on the slab would be serious because of the angles of the rock and where the protection was.  Luckily we didn’t find out first hand and we were deposited just under the summit block.

View from the top of the 5.5 runout slab.  Beautiful country up here.
View from the top of the 5.5 runout slab. Beautiful country up here.


Tunneling through the other side spit me out to what is called the “Leap of Faith” and much like in Indiana Jones it looked quite improbable.  The gap is about 4 ft across and 10-12 up-not really steppable as I was hoping.  The landing zone is about 2.5-3 ft deep flat rock.  Not too much of an issue when on the ground, but when 500 ft up it was more than I was willing to tackle.  I skirted around to the left along and slopey hand traverse which wasn’t all that fun either.  The final pitch is a boulder problem to surmount the summit block.  After much debate we opted out of finishing the last 20 ft of the climb.

We arrived back at camp a bit tired and around 7:00, leaving about 2.5 hours until sunset.  We had planned for a single night and so our food supplies were down to a couple bars and some jerky.  I gave Carly the option of either filling our water bladders or striking camp, she sluggishly took water duty.  In about 30 minutes we were able to start hiking back to the car.  The hike out didn’t turn out to be all that much shorter than the way in owing to the flat terrain once at the lake and that we had been on the move for 10 hours already.  Finally after what seemed like and interminably long walk we got back to the car.  Heating up our dinner and drinking beers was satisfying, but the bugs were also out in force so we didn’t stay up too long.

Sunday the weather turned cloudy and our beach day at Redfish Lodge turned into just watching people, drinking beers and catching up with Roxanne, Marmar, Jeff, and Jessa on what they did in the area that weekend.  Good weekend overall.

Summer Ascent of Pfeifferhorn North Ridge

Carly and then Matt following after the upper crux on the North Ridge.
Carly and then Matt following after the upper crux on the North Ridge.

June 27-28, 2015

The weekend temperatures were predicted to be the first in SLC of 2015 that broke the triple digits.  Despite the cool and rainy May we had June came back with a vengeance.  As I write and the final hours of June 2015 come to a close the record for the average temperature for June of 75.7° (1988) will be broken, with something around 77°.  Doesn’t sound so bad but check whatever your average June temps historically are to compare.

So to get out of the oven in the valley Carly, Matt, and I decided to make a summer ascent of the North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn.  The three of us along with Eric attempted the route back in the winter, when it is more traditionally done.  That outing was a disappointing one to say the least.  This time we were sure inclement weather wasn’t going to cause any issues, nor was lack of daylight since the sun sets at 9 pm this time of year.

Matt met us at our house around 10 am and we got moving.  We were a little behind schedule as was Matt since he had to get some food for lunch/breakfast for the weekend.  It wasn’t a big deal since, again, there is plenty of daylight for the 4 mile hike in and the climb.  We planned for an overnight in Maybird Gulch to enjoy the cool fresh air and the alpine environment.

Approaching the White Pine trailhead we were dismayed that it seemed the entire city of Salt Lake had decided to hike the trail that day.  Parking overflowed onto the road for a hundred yards before and after the entrance to the trailhead.  Feeling lucky that our alpine start of 11 am would score us a spot in the lot we ventured in.  We were rewarded with a spot only one over from the start of the trail.  Score!  Who’d want to walk an extra hundred yards before their 4 mile hike right?

Setting off it was hot in the sun and we wandered up the trail heading towards Red Pine.  The Wasatch is unusually green and lush this time of year despite the heat.  The May rains really made all the plants pop.  Numerous little spring and runoff crossed the trail.  Despite the low snow the creek draining Red Pine was flowing swiftly and strongly.

Heading up towards Maybird reduced the number of people we passed significantly.  I say passed since no one ever passed us to my recollection on hour hike in.  It seems as though my training during the fall-winter-spring is still paying off.  Matt is still is good shape, when not injured.  Running near marathon trail runs will do that though I guess.  Carly on the other hand hasn’t had much time to workout with school and work duties.  Regardless she kept up really well.  I don’t really remember having to wait for her much at all.

Pulling into Maybird we were greeted with alpine sounds of birds, gentle wind through the tall thin evergreens, and the distant sounds of a cascade.  Maybird has two small ponds of snow run-off that we passed before entering the talus.  Only ever being here in the winter before I wasn’t expecting the vast expanse of talus that there was.  Maybird Gulch is rimmed by the Pfeifferhorn’s East Ridge to the south, North Ridge to the west and another unnamed ridge to the east.  The whole area is about 1/2 a mile deep and 1/4 mile wide.  This entire area is granite blocks of talus–making for slow walking as there’s no trail.

The choss pile that is Pfeifferhorn.  The North Ridge follows the ridgeline from lower right to the summit.
The choss pile that is Pfeifferhorn. The North Ridge follows the ridgeline from lower right to the summit.


Scoping a good camping spot on a grassy spot not too far from a stream we ditched our overnight packs and headed towards the low end of the ridge.  A lot of blocks and boulders and a little bit of snow later we got to the ridge.  The first bit of the climb is a fun scramble with low difficulty and commitment we did in our running shoes.  As the ridge went on though we needed to switch into our climbing shoes and get the rope out.  The lower crux of the ridge is probably the hardest overall.  There’s a fairly unprotectable slab which really isn’t too difficult in rock shoes.  I did wonder how it’d be in mountain boots–I’m sure I’ll find out this winter.

Simul-climbing on a single rope we made better time than if we’d pitched it out.  As we got to one of the first actual belays we all remarked at the large, and growing, black cloud to the southeast.  Since I was confident there wasn’t any weather forecasted and that we couldn’t hear any thunder I wasn’t too worried, but I, along with Matt and Carly, kept a close eye on that cloud.  Eventually when the cloud reached us it just started disappearing with nothing to show for it.  Our luck held.

Working through some blocky terrain with ominous clouds in the distance on the lower North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn.
Working through some blocky terrain with ominous clouds in the distance on the lower North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn.


Reaching our high point from our winter attempt, I grabbed the meager rack and started climbing, taking over for Matt.  Our three cams and set of nuts went quickly even though I rarely placed them and after about 300 feet of climbing I stopped at a logical belay to bring them up and collect more gear.  Along the way we were able to see some mountain goats hanging out in the gully next to the ridge.  Along with some rather interesting “climbers” that decided to ascend the gully in their Tevas.

Moving on I ran the next “pitch” out and went through all the slings, all the cams, and all but two of the nuts.  At a certain point I realized that Matt, at the other end of the rope and Carly in the middle, probably had taken everything out that I’d put in.  Given that we were “unprotected” I found a decent rock and just threw the rope over it for a terrain belay.  Perfect alpine style.  By this time the terrain had slacked off quite a bit and it was mostly scrambling on loose rocks and sand.  We all met up again and shortened the rope to about 15 ft between each of us.  This allow us all to be within visual and still provided some amount of protection as if one of us slipped the other could snug up the rope and help us regain our balance.

Finally after 5 hours on route we summited around 7:30 pm.  Weather was great, just warm enough not to be chilly and not hot enough to be sweaty.  We enjoyed the view for a bit, packed up our stuff and switched over to running shoes again.  Carly complained of being a bit loopy–probably a result of the long exposure to the sun and the 11,000′ altitude–so we decided to head down to camp.

Unfortunately the logistics of a summer ascent with an overnight are exceptionally poor.  As my friends to the north say, “ya can’t get they-ahh from hee-yahhhh”.  The descent off the Pfeiff is to go down the East Ridge, which is the normal “hiking” route.  While it is a hiking trail it is scrambly in parts over some boulders and talus.  We did this and once reaching Red Pine we ducked behind the ridge separating Maybird and Red Pine.  Our though here was that we could contour along something besides talus back to just over the ridge from our camp.  Once lined up with our camp (verified by GPS) we’d pop over the small ridge via a weakness and stroll into camp.  This plan only half worked.  There was still considerable talus and some snow (which was the easy part) to deal with.  Just as we popped over the ridge via the aforementioned weakness, we were greeted by an awesome sunset over the Oquirrhs (thank you copious SLC polution for making it so red).

Great sunset over the valley.
Great sunset over the valley.


And so came the best part of my day.  Carly and I had each carried up two Fat Tire cans with us on the hike and stashed them in a snowbank only 50 yards from our campsite.  I’m not going to say these were the two best beers (bee-ahs for you Mainers out there) I’ve ever had, but let’s just say they are very much in the top 5.

Sunday we headed back to the fork between Maybird and Red Pine.  There we dropped our packs in the woods.  Matt made a trail run from there up to the summit of the Pfeiff again via the East Ridge.  Carly and I decided to to do something similar, but just up to the lake.  The trail unfortunately was a bit steeper than either of us could really run and so we mainly did a power hike for the steeps and some light running on the flat sections.  Once at the lake we enjoyed the cascade, cool breezes, and birds singing while we waited for Matt.  Luckily Matt had brought his little walk-talkies and we were able to keep in touch for most of his run.

We eventually met back up and started back for the car.  As we descended the progressively thicker and hotter air became apparent.  In the last mile or so to the car we wondered why we’d “escaped” the heat and gone to the mountains since much of the trail is in the sun near the end.  While the average temps here are higher than in the east where I was, there is everything to be said about altitude.  It makes the sun hotter, the shade cooler, and the lungs burn a bit more–and all of that is just fine with me.

2015 Memorial Day Weekend in Red Rocks


May 22-25, 2015

The week before Memorial Day I was in Baltimore for a conference on composites.  I returned late Thursday night and had pre-arranged to take Friday off of work.  Carly luckily had her 9-80 Friday off on that day as well.  We had hoped to go to Colorado to visit with Dave, Phyli and friends, but wet and cold weather plagued the entire West Coast.  Steamboat was forecasted to be in the 40’s and rainy, not much fun.  The Denver crew decided to bail and so Carly and I made a decision to head towards Red Rocks as it was the only place that potentially didn’t have 50% chance of showers.

We decided to stay at the primitive camping area I found during the last time I was in Red Rocks.  This turned out to be really nice as we didn’t see anyone else camping nearby.  While the drive to RR loop road is 30 minutes or more from the camping, it allowed us to access some of the southern end climbing much easier.  Since we figured there would be a lot of people around for Memorial Day we decided to hit lesser known crags and it worked well for us as we didn’t see any other climbers on the two days we climbed.

Unfortunately the rain even got to Las Vegas and we had it rain fairly heavy over Saturday and Sunday nights.  Sunday we got rained off of a climb and ended up heading back to camp and having some beers and playing on the slackline.

While it wasn’t a super productive weekend climbing the routes we did on Saturday were quite good and I had a blast climbing with Carly.

Tingy’s Terror with Carly

Not many hand or feet on this pitch.

May 3, 2015

Today Carly and I headed up Little Cottonwood to get a little pseudo-alpine climbing in.  We stuck to some pretty moderate lines but still had a lot of fun.  Our day was Tarzan to Tingy’s Terror, both 5.7s.  Tingy’s is about 5 pitches or so.  We did Tarzan as one pitch and Tingy’s as 4 pitches.  We got a decent jump on the day and started from the car at 9am.  This turned out to be good because as we got to the top of our climb we could see some dark clouds coming over the Oquirrhs (not a typo, pronounced like ochre).  Luckily the rain stayed down in the valley and it only dripped few drops while we were walking out.  Fun times on a good climb.  Though the slab at the top of P4 got my attention, perhaps mainly because I decided to make it harder for no reason.

San Rafael Swell Late Spring Trip 2015

Enjoying the "Little Grand Canyon" view.
Enjoying the “Little Grand Canyon” view.


April 11-12, 2015

Carly and I have been super busy and haven’t been able to get away for a weekend of climbing in quite a long time.  We thought about it and we haven’t camped since early November at least–very disappointing.  Well finally we were able to get away over the weekend and went down to the San Rafael Swell in the desert.  It was a great time with our friends Eric and Aleisha and their new pup, Bella.  Weather was a hot in the sun and cold in the shade, typical desert weather.  I felt good climbing and I’m looking forward to ramping up into a climbing specific training plan.

Thanksgiving 2014

Another sunset on the walk out.
Another sunset on the walk out.

November 25-30, 2014

I once again traveled to Red Rocks for Thanksgiving.  Just like last time the shit show went on.  This time it was a full campground and a crazy girl who brought her house cat on a 2 month road trip who let us stay at her campsite for a night.  After the next day when her cat didn’t return (she left it to run free at the campground) she told us we must leave because the cat was scared of us and wouldn’t come back.  Or a more plausible explanation is that you cat got eaten by one of the dozens of dogs in camp or perhaps a coyote.  Either way I’m sorry she couldn’t find her cat, but she was loopy to think that bringing it to Red Rocks and roam free was a good idea.

Moving along to the climbing.  Climbing was good.  Got some fun routes in but my head was all screwed up and I didn’t do much leading.  Need to get back out more and fix that.

Ticklist for the weekend:

Wholesome Full Back (5.10), Our Father (5.10+)

Rock Warrior (5.10)

Triassic Sands (5.10), Sandblast (5.10-)

Ginger Cracks (5.9)

Misc Calico Basin stuff.

2014 President’s Day in Red Rocks

Another great sunrise in the desert. Mt. Wilson to the left.

February 15-17, 2014

Last year Matt, Eric and me headed to Colorado to do some awesome ice climbing in Ouray, CO.  The plan started of the same this year unfortunately the weather around these parts hasn’t been in normal conditions for what seems to be all season.  As the weekend approached the forecast called for warm temperatures all over the West.  While the ice probably could stand the warming, calling for 50’s in Ouray, it was the snow we were worried about.  Rapid heating of snow doesn’t do good things for stability and we were hoping to get after some backcountry routes in Silverton.  As a result we flip plans 180 and Matt and I went to Red Rocks for some desert alpine fun.

Omitting the gorey details since I’m tired and perpetually busy, we climbed near Ginger Cracks (5.9) on Saturday.  We were beat out by minutes by a party of four getting to the base of the climb.  We played around on some other stuff nearby and were able to get a couple pitches on Ginger Cracks but they were too slow to climb its entirety.

Sunday we  did 10 pitch 5.10a called Black Orpheus in Oak Creek Canyon.  The route itself was great.  Lots of varied climbing, cracks, corners, runnout slabs, face climbing, and the like.  It was exactly what I was hoping to get on for the weekend.  When we returned to the base of the climb to collect our bags we found them missing.  Making a long story short, we were able to find Matt’s bag, very lucky for us since his keys were in it.  My bag however was not found and I lost a Nano Puff jacket, glasses and a nalgene.  Super disappointing that some jack-off hikers would do that, but what can you do?

Interesting crux finishing this out. The route escapes a roof to the right but the holds aren’t obvious at first and seem harder than they actually are.

Monday we met up with Mark O. et al, Andy A., and Rob D., at Sunny and Steep crag in Calico Basin.  As advertized it was both sunny and steep.  I lead some 5.10 and 5.11 routes and felt decent so I gave a really fun 5.12a a try and got through the crux on my first try but ran out of steam on the upper section.  I gave it a couple more tries but wasn’t able to quite finish it.  Nevertheless I was happy at how I was able to climb despite not doing a lot of training lately.

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.