John Fisher MemorialRoute/ first winter ascent tr (with apor

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Roadie

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 3, 2013 - 03:31pm PT
First Winter Ascent John Fisher Memorial Route tr (with apologies to Reinhold Messner, Greg Child, Jim Donini and any others who may have gone before.)


A winter ascent of the John Fisher Memorial Route has been described by many as “The last great unsolved problem in American alpinism.” As with many ground breaking achievements in human history D and my ascent of this monster last week came about in an inadvertent manner.

My time living in my camper in Marty’s pasture is coming to an end. We’re all good and everything, he and his wife are just sick of looking at me and my aluminum ghetto. I fully understand. Coincidentally, my eviction coincides almost exactly with my birthday.

“What do you want to do for a birthday climb?” D asked last week as we were sitting around watching the storm.

For fifteen months now I’ve been looking out my window at The Smokestack Route on the Rabbit Ears and it is with an ever increasing load of shame that I confess to never having surmounted it. “How about that thing,” I said, pointing over my sink.

“Can we do a warm up first?”

As nonchalantly and off handedly as I can, I throw out the JFMR.

“I’ve never heard of that one,’ she says. “Is it good?”

She’s never heard of it. Bingo!

Perhaps at this point it would be useful to enlighten the reader as to the forbidding history and fierce reputation a winter ascent of this line has acquired over the years: In the winter of 1974 Reinhold Messner walked to the base, looked up and fainted. In early 1993 Greg Child, lauded as the greatest all round climber the world has ever seen, braved the approach; scoped the line and threw up on his shoes. Then last winter, a much lighter winter than this one I might add, Patagonia hardman Jim Donini assembled a crack team to attempt the challenge but upon actually seeing the line he moaned, wet himself and fled. (well, I made that last one up because he really pissed me off in Indian Creek a few years ago but whatever, it could have happened.)

Whenever I am considering some previously unmet, potentially lethal endeavor, I find it useful to keep perspective partners in the dark as much as possible. I don’s see this tactic as dishonest or selfish or in any way unethical. I simply choose to dwell on the positive, “just think how cool we’ll look if we actually survive!” and so forth.

The night before our ascent my phone rang. It was D. “Do you think I’ll still be able to do that thing if I cut the end of my finger off?”

Huh? Has she learned something about our objective in the intervening days? I know I’ve done some rather shameful and undignified things in order to avoid some horror show, everything from faking gonorrhea to ’dropping’ my shoes half way up a route, but I draw the line well shy of self amputation. “Did you cut off the end of your finger or are you just thinking about it?”

“No, its gone all right, I just got that new RenCo salad shooter that they have on TV, man, those things are dangerous!”

“Are you sure it wasn’t operator error?”

“No, total design flaw.”

“So, is your finger cut off at, like, the first knuckle of just the tip?”

“No just the very end. Do you think we should still go?”

I think of the crux, 5.10d tips section, wince. “You should be ok, just tape it good.” (more unbridled optimism here)

“Ok, 9:30, see ya then.”

9:30 comes and goes. I’m pacing up and down the lawn, gnashing my teeth.

At 9:33 D pulls up. “Sorry I’m late. I had to wait for the superglue to dry before I could tape my finger.” She’s got the most elaborately taped finger I’ve ever seen but it looks pretty cool. We load packs and dogs and we’re off.

There is WAY more snow on the approach than I would have guessed. I don’t think we’ll need a snowmobile or skies but I’m sure glad I didn’t wear my flip-flops.

After about fifty yards my sneekers are getting damp. I tell D that it’s almost time to start bitchin’

“Yeah,” she says, “notice the lack of surprise in my expression. I was wondering how much peace and quiet I‘d have before you started to cry”

Fortunately, we hit a dry patch that leads almost all the way to the base. The dogs set off a mini avalanche chasing a squirrel or something but the mountain gods are with us and we are spared any additional wetness.

The route doesn’t so much soar as list, somewhat drunkenly, above. After a brief discussion its decided that I’ll take the first lead. The initial slab moves go smoothly and I step left into the low angle, 5.7 hand crack. Choked with snow and ice its much more formidable than I’m making it sound. After a grueling 35 meters I reach the belay unscathed. D follows smoothly. Since she is missing 0.34% of her finger, the days are short and we still have an imposing 800 feet of sub-alpine granite looming defiantly above D says it’d be best if I just keep leading.

Pitch two follows a series of blocky overhangs. This thing didn’t seem nearly so run out last summer when I scaled it in shorts and a t-shirt. After fourteen of fifteen death defying feet I chip out some ice and am content with a somewhat marginal cam. Then, heart in mouth, I launch into the sparsely bolted slab traverse.

Following the pitch D hollers to me, “Why didn’t you clip the first two bolts?”

Huh. “Um, I was trying to save time.”

A few seconds later, “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get this cam out.” And so on…

Mercifully, the crux third pitch is relatively dry. I’m able to reach the safety of the next ledge with only minimal aid and cuticle damage. D uses her superior smearing skills to float through without abusing her damaged digit.

Atop pitch five we are engulfed in shade. We have been moving fast but we can’t outrace the sun. the wind is howling at what I would estimate to be at least seven to ten miles an hour. I suggest maybe we should call this: ’our personal summit‘, or some other lame euphemism for- this sucks! I’m cold! I want to go home!

D fixes me with that look, the ‘we’re not bailing’ look. The same one that has seen us through so many spiritual crises in the past. Deep inside I know she’s right. Onward!

Two snow clogged monos lead to the lip of The Great Roof. D tries and fails, miserably I might add, to conceal her amusement as I employ that classic and time-honored beached whale maneuver to surmount the obstacle.

And then the only thing between us and alpine glory is the infamous, Weird, Flakey, Bulgey Pitch. It falls quickly and we are on the summit. However, as with any winter alpine expedition, reaching the top is only half the battle, somehow we must find our way off this granite behemoth!

What is best described as a pocket glacier cuts loose on the third rap. I narrowly avoid getting swept off the face but wind up with a glob of snow falling right down the front of my shirt. It’s really quite uncomfortable!

A pitch later the rope twists into perhaps the biggest cluster-f*#k in climbing history. D sits on the ledge in the last little patch of sun while I sort and curse and my glob of snow melts and drips down my pants. Frostbite is a real concern.

Our troubles are not over once we reach terra firma. The dogs, caught up in their joy and surprise at our miraculous survival knock us into a snow bank. Its pretty grim. We pack haphazardly and dash for the sun spangled wash fifty feet away.

On the drive home we get to thinking that we should really have a camera to document some of these historic feats and maybe spice up some of my dumb trip reports and I’d just like to take a moment here to remind everyone that my birthday and the Smokestack Route are right around the corner!

Thank you (in advance) Steve Seats








Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Mar 3, 2013 - 05:03pm PT
Forget the photographs!
You don't want to shackle this kind of magic with coarse reality.
Wildincognito

climber
Eastside
Mar 3, 2013 - 06:13pm PT
Nice report- seems fairly accurate. Did this beast yeterday and I must admit- the conditions probably haven't changed much with this unseasonably 'poor' weather we've been having. I'd recommend staying away till mid-summer unless you are a seasoned alpine hardman (or woman)!
Capt.

climber
some eastside hovel
Mar 3, 2013 - 06:22pm PT
Fischer.
Patrick Sawyer

climber
Originally California now Ireland
Mar 3, 2013 - 07:40pm PT
Capt. beat me to it. Fischer.

John, Chris Fredericks and I did my first alpine climb, Swiss Arete, Mt Sill. They were guides for Smoke's Palisades School of Mountaineering.
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