Merriam Peak, North Buttress Free Solo tr


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Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 18, 2012 - 03:35pm PT
If you’re looking for some useful information to climb the North Buttress of Merriam Peak I’ll save you some time and give it to you right now, here it is: Turn around. Go back to The Hulk, or better yet Tuolumne. The Pine Creek trail is the most brutal trail in the whole eastern Sierra. I live about eight miles from the trailhead and have walked up it five times this summer. I know every one of the 945,318 switchbacks by name and they have given me nothing but sore knees and a blister on my soul. If that’s not enough the hike is twice as far as The Hulk with an additional 2300 feet of gain. By the time you reach the elevation of the summit of The Hulk you will still be two miles from and several hundred feet below the bivy. Once the bivy is reached you will be greeted by a population of marmots that are closer to wolverines in size and temperament. I think most have rabies. And even if you survive the trauma-stomp in and the inevitable attack of the rabid marverienes there’s still the rock, which looks awesome but in reality has that disconcerting, crunchy, exfoliation that adds confidence to every smear. Add to that the lack of people climbing twenty feet away from you on every side. On a normal day there’s just nobody around to see how bitchin’ you look and rescue is not an option. Isn’t Fairview looking better all the time!

Ok then, last spring I came up with this plan: climb a peak a week all summer, get skinny, climb 5.12 and get some cute girlfriend to keep me warm all winter. That is the way it works isn’t it?

Anyhow, I’ve been right on schedule all summer. Ahead of schedule actually. Until this week that is when the apocalypse rolled in on those big grey clouds, storming across the sky like battleships on the warpath. But still, a plan is a plan and the only valid excuse to deviate from the plan is a trip to the emergency room, or a trip to the jail. I’m kind of old-school like that. I try not to let common sense play too much of a factor in the reasoning process. All week I’d been throwing angry glances at the sky and checking the weather in Marty’s office every fifteen minutes. Marty is my neighbor/landlord/buddy and I live in my camper behind his garage. I know its not real conducive to getting a cute girlfriend but I hope to make up for that with the whole peak a week, get skinny and climb 5.12 thing.

On Tuesday Marty asked me if I needed anything from town.
I looked at the angry sky, “Yeah, get me a 10X12 ft tarp.”
I could see what he was thinking just like we were in a comic book and he had one of those thought bubbles over his head. Marty’s thought bubble looked something like this: {what an idiot, you’re gonna die for sure.}

So Wednesday morning, with the chance of apocalyptic rain down from 40% to a comforting 30% I began slogging up that awful trail with my dog, my shoes and chalk bag, my bivy gear and my new tarp.

In the interest of full disclosure I should say at this point that the month before I had done the North Buttress of Merriam peak with my friend D.
We hiked up there, thought we had the place to ourselves, got the crack of 8:45 start and low and behold, there were these two f*#kers on our route! Unbelievable! We passed them by the second pitch and they were really nice but still, the only thing I hate more than inconveniencing some one by passing is someone inconveniencing me by not letting me pass (see- st climbing the hulk tr / roadie).
So D and I did the route, got down and had dinner. Clouds were starting to build and I was reading my book while D was doing a crossword, “What’s ‘those guys’ twelve letters, two words?” she asked. Just as we heard a tiny voice from far above “dude, I think we should start simul-climbing!”
I looked at D, I looked at the peak shrouded in clouds, “um, twelve letters, ‘they’re f*#ked’”
I thought it was funny, D hit me. In the end everyone survived and I made them pancakes in the morning and they were psyched.

I digress.

Where was I? yeah 945,318 switchbacks later there I was, stringing up my new tarp on a boulder in the howling wind while Oula the dog was fending off an army of vicious, rabid marmots. “Maybe I am an idiot,” I thought “But I’m here so at least I tried. If it rains like crazy tonight and its too wet to climb I can do the class 2 on Royce and maybe not get hit by lightening….. As long as I don’t freeze to death… or get eaten by mutant marmots…”

Sometimes when heading out to solo a real route I question my motives. I’m not talking about Cathedral Peak or the West Ridge of Conness, those, in my mind at least, are just, I don’t know, like play solos. I don’t mean to take anything away from anyone, they’re fun and cool and all but, lets face facts, if you fall while soloing the West Ridge on Conness or whatever you’re going to stop before you die. Sure you’ll be scraped and bruised and you might break something bigger than your ego but in all likelihood you’re not going to die. I restate that difference because it’s a big one.
So I sometimes question my motives. I hope I never do this sh#t because I want to hear my name ring out in some dusty parking lot. I hope no one does. This is serious sh#t.

I woke up at dawn to a blue sky, a few wispy clouds far, far away, its going to be a brutal day. I’m not sure if anyone’s ever free soloed this route before. I asked Croft last week, he said no. I can think of a handful of others who might have, in the end it shouldn’t matter.

As I said earlier, sometimes, when a mistake could kill me, I question my motives. All those questions go away the moment I pull on that first jam and my feet leave the ground. Its difficult to explain to someone who’s never been there. The closest approximation I’ve ever been able to come up with is this: Its like stepping outside of time, its like being balanced on this razor-sharp edge of the electric NOW, the taste of life is large in your mouth.

Does that make any sense? I hope so because it’s the best I can do.

There is a move on the second pitch I’d forgotten about, a weird tib/fib bar between a dimple and a sharp arête, crunch! Yikes! Wipe choss from foot, replace, move on. The double cracks: as awesome as before but better with the volume turned up. I move left lower than before, trying to avoid an awkward transition, oops! Not gonna work, reverse
it, find a better way. Two super cool 5.9ish pitches to the crux.

One of the hard things for me, when soloing at altitude, is to find that pace where I’m moving fast enough to feel my rhythm without getting out of breath. I stand at the base of the crux and breath, look around, enjoy that taste in my mouth.

“Is this your dog?”
Huh? Jesus Christ! When did the world get so f*#king crowded! “Yeah, she’s fine. Just leave her alone.”
“Are you ok up there?”
“Yeah!” or I was until you blew my f*#king focus.
Ok, back in the zone. Steep hands in a corner, weird heel toe, but good. Oops! Too good, foot pops out of slipper, step down, replace foot in shoe, replace shoe in crack but not quite as well. Life tastes good…

After signing in on top I looked through the register for any prior solos of the route. I found none but it only goes back to 06. Suddenly a shadow moves over me. I looked at the sky, a towering grey wall of doom has crept in as I read. If I look closely I can make out the form of four pale horsemen riding out of its depths. Just wonderful!

I called to Oula when I reached the top of the glacier, she’s playing with her new best friend the dead marmot. I’m always amazed at how fast she can move over steep snow, it must be nice having built in crampons and ice axes. There is no one on the route, no one in the basin, I guess her other new friend, whoever he was, took off.

It started raining when we got to Honeymoon Lake. By the time we got to Pine Lake there was thunder rolling across the sky. We were both soaked by the time we got to the truck. It was a good day.

When I got home I posted on super topo: Merriam Peak, North Butt first free solo? I only got two replies, one was rather terse, from a local guy I didn’t recognize- ‘yeah, its been done by at least two people that I know‘. I emailed him to say thank you and ask who they were but so far have heard nothing back.

I’m glad at least two other people have soloed that route. I want all my friends to have a day like that. I want all my enemies to have a day like that too, lord knows they need it more.

Thank you, Steve Seats


Trad climber
the green triangle, cali
Aug 18, 2012 - 03:42pm PT
i enjoy your sarcasm, that was quite good and entertaining. cheers.

edit, no pics?

Aug 18, 2012 - 03:43pm PT
bump for the east side and a funny story, always liked that peak.

Aug 18, 2012 - 03:43pm PT
Classic as always Roadie.

Good luck with all the summer projects!

The Granite State.
Aug 18, 2012 - 04:18pm PT
You must be a native New Englander judging by the sarcasm.

Good read, any pictures?

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
Aug 18, 2012 - 05:16pm PT
love it
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
Aug 18, 2012 - 05:59pm PT
This sorta opens a can of worms for you -- other high-country tecnical freesolos on the radar? A repeat of Walt's Keeler solo?

Aug 18, 2012 - 06:03pm PT
hahaha this is good.

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 18, 2012 - 06:12pm PT
Hey Biotch,
I always wanted to say that and not get hit. I did the direct start to the thing on Clyde a few weeks ago, on sight and awesome. Most likely Fish Hook and Goode. Did Venusian and N. Butt. of Bear Creek spire, pretty easy, not quite 'play solos' a bunch of easy stuff. Doing Keeler with a rope in a week or two, we'll see.

Oh yeah, nope no east for me, I'm mostly from Utah and Wyoming.

And yes Chief, I did ask Peter, as I wrote, he said no. The Coach I figgured as a likely one. Thanks for your warm feedback

Aug 18, 2012 - 06:52pm PT
i'd not call this spray. although i also wonder why it really matters who else has soloed this route?
it's pretty funny writing about a solo, so what.

the chief, i'd suggest you read this.. interesting article for sure. does bullock spray? nobody would say that i think.

Aug 18, 2012 - 08:04pm PT

Trad climber
Aug 18, 2012 - 09:21pm PT
Awesome Roadie. Respect.

That above photo is why we all do what we do. Breathtaking.
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Aug 18, 2012 - 10:27pm PT
That is a very nice photo Pete.

I just talked to Coach about an hour ago. A while back while working on a nearby trail, he and Jake hung a bunch of ropes on Merriam's NB and did laps after work 'til they had it pretty wired, but neither of them ever free soloed it, and he doesn't know of anyone doing it.
dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Aug 19, 2012 - 11:00am PT
Good job dude!
We were hiking nearby while you were up there. Wednesday was a good choice, Monday, Tuesday or Thurs. could have been a bad scene!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Aug 19, 2012 - 12:33pm PT
Getting skinny wont get you a girlfriend. Get a skate board, couple of tats and a few retarded looking piercings. Hit the gym and hook up with couple of frat boys for a few outings to watch college football. That may bring you something. Getting skinny and climbing 5.12=pathetic.

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 19, 2012 - 11:34pm PT
A few retarded piercing could have saved my all that walking?! Christ Vitality, thanks for the tip!

right here, right now
Aug 20, 2012 - 12:24pm PT
Nice write up.
“Are you ok up there?” ... funny and sorta pathetic on the part of the bystander.
(Okay, maybe just funny).
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Aug 20, 2012 - 01:01pm PT
Hi Steve. I remember you saying that you were going up there. Had no clue that you were going to do it unroped.

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Aug 20, 2012 - 02:10pm PT
What a great story.
I wish you luck getting a beautiful girlfriend with a trust fund. You obviously deserve one. But, and this is just my humble opinion from a woman's perspective, I think that good personal grooming and a decent haircut will get you farther than the whole skinny 5.12 thing.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Aug 20, 2012 - 02:23pm PT
good personal grooming and a decent haircut will get you farther than the whole skinny 5.12 thing

This phylp person obviously is out of touch with modern San Francisco 'scene.' Telling you, a tat and piercings is the way. If you had the style, the 2 Ks on the Hulk would let you pass, guaranteed. No matter if Dave Nettle was their best friend or not.

*just kidding here*
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