Trip Report
Bear Creek Spire (E Ridge) - An Overlooked Sierra Classic!
Friday February 7, 2014 8:46pm
Nearing the big notch, where we couldn't resist cutting right again, b...
Nearing the big notch, where we couldn't resist cutting right again, but could have had more fun staying on the crest. I think the official crux of the route is somewhere up there.
Credit: PellucidWombat

The East Ridge of Bear Creek Spire has long been on my list of 'to-do' climbs in the Sierra. There was so much that added to its intrigue and appeal, yet there was very little information around and no one seems to climb it even though it is a 'Sierra 100 Classic' and is right next to two other popular rock climbs of the Sierra (The N and NE Ridges). One can't help but notice this ridge when first seeing Bear Creek Spire. In profile it is quite the impressive sight, a long, sheer ridge, covered in dikes and capped by towers and gendarmes of many sizes.

Secor called the route IV, 5.8, A0, 22 pitches, but only had one vague paragraph describing the entire ridge. Talking with Michelle Peot I learned that the aid wasn't necessary, and that most of the ridge is moderate, so the 22 pitches length was likely conservative and without much soloing or simul-climbing accounted for. Still, I had trouble finding people interested in checking it out. The lack of certainty of a rack, topo, time to climb, or star quality rating turned a lot of people off to the idea.

If it's on a beer can, you gotta climb it! Now I need to visit Colorado's Wilson Peak for the Coors can tick.

2012-06-23 - Bear Creek Spire Approach Attempt

Scott Berry has always been a good partner for doing more obscure Sierra climbs, and he is one of those climbing partners who is just as happy hiking all day as climbing, so he's been a good companion on nore exploratory outings. Naturally, this climb was big on his list, so as per usual, we met up shortly after work Friday, drove through the night, slept a couple of hours at the trailhead, then took off into the night, aiming to have the 5 mile and 2,500' gain approach out of the way by sunrise.

Bear Creek Spire at sunrise.

Bear Creek Spire E Arete at sunrise.

Bear Creek Spire

Timing was perfect. We had great energy and momentum, and we weren't that far behind schedule! I stopped to take some photos of the beautiful alpenglow, and Scott offered to run ahead and meet me at the col, a short distance above. He was a little too excited to run up the icy slabs, though, and held too firm of a grasp on his trekking poles. His experimentation with a new form of 'face climbing' led to a broken nose, realigning of said broken nose, and a trip to Mammoth for breakfast and an ER visit (breakfast came first). Unfortunately there was nothing more to do this time around but to drive home and heal. The East Ridge would have to wait.

Scott retelling the tale of how he broke his nose.

Scott with broken nose sad face.


The true victim here - Scott's sweet glasses.

2013-10-06 - Bear Creek Spire via East Ridge with Nic Risser

I persisted on doing the climbg through 2013 and I had a fewn'near attempts' in the Fall, but either partners or weather didn't quite come together at the last minute. By October the weather was stable, conditions good, and Nic and I were positioned and well rested for the climb. The only downsides were the colder temperatures and shorter days. The route is rated IV, 5.8, 22 pitches, but much of the route can be soloed or simul-climbed.

I think we strayed a bit from the proper route, but still encountered some 5.8 and lots of fun climbing, although more cl. 2-3 terrain than we had expected (probably less if we'd stayed on route). The route has fun chimneys, tricky ridgeline climbing, and is about 2,200 ft long! We soloed the first pitch, belayed 2 other pitches, and simul-climbed the rest in a few mega-pitches. Most of the changeovers (or nearly so) were higher up on the "Picket Fence" type climbing, where even 30m was too much rope to have out. We were 15 hrs car-to-car.

East Face of Bear Creek Spire. The long East Ridge is on the left skyline (IV, 5.8) while the NE Ridge is on the right skyline (II-III, 5.5).

Traversing beneath the East Face of Bear Creek Spire.

Looking over at the entry to the East Ridge. Take the left notch in the white rock. According to Michelle Peot, the right notch is harder and much looser.

Projecting block on the East Ridge.

Soloing the first chimney.

Nic soloing up the second chimney (5.6ish?). He was trailing his pack and got it stuck here . . .

And pulled too hard! Goodbye daypack.

Unfortunately we had a slow start to the climb. The chimney pitch was cold and a bit tricky due to the snow and wet rock. There was one squeeze chimney section where we had to trail packs, and Nic got his stuck. He tried to just climb through it, and the pack strap broke! Sometimes some finesses needs to be mixed in to that brutish chimney climbing . . . I soloed down to retrieve the pack while Nic burnt off steam, and after climbing through the last corner (crux) we reworked a strategy in the sun. Nic's pack would be combined with mine, which he got to carry, and I carried the hood of my pack, with my day supplies, strapped on like a fanny pack.

The next section of the route traversed cl. 2-3 ledges behind the lower towers, then steepened into real 5th class climbing that was quite interesting. The best way I could find to do this pitch was to face climb up a tower, then climb in to a chimney to tunnel through to the other side of the ridge crest, where I could step into and ascend a loose gully (5.7ish?) that led to another chimney, split in 3 voids by a leaning block.

Reaching the first belayed pitch, which climbs the tower on the right and threads into and up the chimney, and into a narrow gully behind.

Looking down the tower.

Threading the chimney.

Threading the chimney, climbing above the chockstones inside to reach the gully.

After the gully, I climbed this second interesting chimney. Back-to-foot one way, then switching 90 degrees to use the pillar.

After pulling the awkward bulge atop the second chimney, there is a nice belay on the ridge crest, with nice views of the climbing ahead. Here the rock is a bit rotten but not too bad, and the climbing stays easy enough for an extremely long simul-climb.

Nic riding the rib belay as I lead out on the first long section of simul-climbing after the first pitch.

Looking back at Nic following along the knife edge. Lots of running pro!

Mark running it out on one of the headwalls we encountered. (by Nic Risser)

I downclimbed into a large notch and found the imposing headwall across the way to not be as intimidating as it first appeared. This led to a nice series of ramps that continued for a long time on the south side of the ridge crest, just below the crest. In many sections it seemed like we should have unroped, but every now and then there would be an unexpected, short 5th class section, sometimes loose. So we mostly simul-climbed with very little pro (mostly placing it at the cruxes.)

Reaching the headwall. You climb out and right onto broken ledges the work back left on a bit of a ledgy ramp system. It is easier than it looks.

Traversing back up and left on the ledgy ramp system.

At last the terrain along the ridge crest opened up as it cliffed out ahead, and we picked our way back onto the direct crest. The first real obstacle of the day was ahead. It looked REALLY tough for 5.8, and there was an absurdly easy walk around to the side that appeared to go beside the headwall, after which we intended to pick out way back up and left. We did so, but found that this bypassed the lower fin . . . although even if we had gone right over the fin, we would have had a tricky time downclimbing into the significant notch that we encountered, rather than doing a gradual ascent into it. Although maybe not as pure, I'd say our line was a smarter line, much less contrived.

First big tower along the ridge. I was looking for a way to climb up it when Nic suggested just traversing around right on the cl. 2 talus. That seemed so easy it was hard to pass up! I think for more brownie points we should have stayed closer to the ridge crest here.

First big tower along the ridge. I was looking for a way to climb up it when Nic suggested just traversing around right on the cl. 2 talus. That seemed so easy it was hard to pass up! I think for more brownie points we should have stayed closer to the ridge crest here.

Traversing around right on cl. 2 boulders. I did a short bit of low 5th class up the slabs on the left before it eased back to cl. 2-3.

Nearing the big notch, where we couldn't resist cutting right again, but could have had more fun staying on the crest. I think the official crux of the route is somewhere up there.

Nearing the big notch, where we couldn't resist cutting right again, but could have had more fun staying on the crest. I think the official crux of the route is somewhere up there.

Unfortunately, once we reached the ridge crest again at the next big notch, we were faced with the same predicament again: climbed along the ridgecrest on terrain that looked way too hard to be 5.8, or just traverse to the right on easy ledges with the aim of doubling back left to regain the crest after the headwall. Considering that one of our main goals was to avoid nightfall on the route, and knowing how much time we could waste trying to find a '5.8' line closer to the crest, we decided to opt for the line of least resistance, and correct our route line as much as possible.

After the big notch, scrambling back up towards the ridge crest, which kept climbing above us! This part was mostly cl. 2, with a cl. 3-4 headwall.

Nearing the ridge crest, where the rock became sustained low 5th class with occasional harder bits.

Unfortunately the more expedient way kept us mostly on cl. 2-3 terrain, that gradually steepened into cl. 3-4 or 5, but it was not quite a ridge climb . . . and it was on the cold and shady side! We kept adjusting our line to traverse less and ascend more, but the ridgeline did so as well, so we kept finding ourselves about 200' below the crest.

Almost back on the ridge crest! But immediately we reached another impasse that forced us out right.

Finally I saw another notch coming where it looked reasonable to attack the crest directly. I really wanted some knife edged ridge climbing, so I made a hard effort to climb straight up to the crest, rather than following the easier tiered ledges lower on the face. I'm glad I did as the final 'Picket-Fence' portion of the ridge was surprisingly long and tough, but very fun and easy enough to feel like the best way to go.

Looking back at Nic following through low 5th class terrain a we simul-climbed. The occasional snow and loose rock, coupled with the exposure, made the rope nice even though it was mostly very easy.

Back on the ridge crest at last! This last part of 'Picket Fence' climbing was difficult to keep easy, and to manage rope drag.

This last part of 'Picket Fence' climbing was difficult to keep easy, and to manage rope drag.

Looking back as we simuled to the right of the ridge crest again on 5th class terrain. It was tough staying on the crest!

A note to those climbing this route. We did see a couple of spots where climbers rappelled along the crest, and we had to do a tricky downclimb. On at least one spot, there was no pro that could be left for the follower . . . fortunately Nic likes spicy climbing, so this worked out well. If a weaker climber is following, they might not like a few of the downclimbs, which might make the rappels a better idea.

Also, it was still extremely difficult to actually stay on the ridge crest. We rarely were on it for more than about 50 ft at a time before we had to traverse around an impasse or downclimb into a notch, so the traverse had lots of ups and downs and mostly did awkward, ascending traverses just below the crest, rather than being right on top. The climbing was fun, routefinding challenging, rock good, and we were close enough to the ridge crest to feel on route.

Final ridge section to the summit.

Nic following the final part of the East Ridge as we neared the summit.

It's hard to really put a rating on the upper ridge, but it was enlightening to compare it to the summit block, which is a short 5.6R section that I used to find really intimidating. This time, it didn't stand out at all compared to what we had been climbing continuously the last few hours . . . in fact it was easier than many of the cruxes. So maybe the 'Picket Fence' portion is tricky 5.6-5.7?

Nic atop the 5.6R summit block. After all of the 'low 5th' simul-climbing that we did on the ridge, this didn't really stand out - I wouldn't have noticed it in comparison to a lot of other moves!

The pacing of the day went perfectly. We enjoyed the summit, and had a continuous but leisurely descent. Cox Col sucked a bit more than usual, but otherwise things were non-eventful, and we turned on our headlamps just before we finished the cross country section back to the trail.

Overall the climb took its toll on Nic's clothes and pack, but otherwise it was a great day out!

Big Nic sporting his alpine chimney trad pants look.

2010-08-21 - Pyramid Pk and Bear Creek Spire seen on a traverse from Rosy Finch to Pyramid Peak. '?' indicate where we took what seemed to be the most rational route, but perhaps had then been 'off-route'.


This is a fairly solid Grade IV route, especially if you factor in the approach and descent. I think it is a good idea to aim to be at the start of the NE Ridge by about sunrise. If you stay on the ridge crest better than us, expect an even longer day.

Much of the climb could have been soloed if I knew better what lay ahead, but the continuous exposure and occasional loose rock seemed to make staying roped up a good idea for much of the route, even though most of it is low 5th. In light of that, no special rack was needed. I think we brought some doubles and cams to #3 Camalot. Nothing larger was needed, and more cams makes it nicer for longer simul-climbs, but we rarely did changeovers for lack of gear . . . usually it was to communicate, or drag became an issue and the rope needed adjustment.

While the rock isn't perfect throughout, and many pitches are mild, I still think this is a great route that has been overlooked. Frankly, I liked it better than the NE Ridge and N Ridge routes . . . it is far longer and is much more 'alpine' in length, characteristic, and spirit.

Personal Website
Picasa Album - 2012-06-23 - Bear Creek Spire Approach Attempt
Picasa Album - 2013-10-06 - Bear Creek Spire via East Ridge with Nic Risser

  Trip Report Views: 7,893
About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

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this just in

Justin Ross from North Fork
  Feb 7, 2014 - 08:53pm PT
TR mastery, thanks pellucid. Those chokestone and chimney shots are awesome.

Big Wall climber
Twain Harte
  Feb 7, 2014 - 08:52pm PT
Fantastic always! Thank you for the psyche.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 7, 2014 - 09:30pm PT
Nice trip report. Back on the 4th of July 1980 I wandered up onto the east ridge to free solo the thing. I had no idea that it hadn't been climbed yet, it just looked GROOVY. I had a very frightening time up there. There was one section that I climbed and then down-climbed about 4 times before I finally bailed. That section was a great personal struggle for me, an epic battle between bravery and self-preservation. I want to say that it was at the big notch in the E ridge, but it's been over 30 years ago and my memory ain't so good anymore. I do remember descending the snow chute from the big notch (steep as hell, vertical at the top) and wandering over to the NE ridge instead (successful). If I had been successful on my attempt on the E ridge, it would have been the first ascent. But, alas, I'm just another loser.

Sport climber
Sands Motel , Las Vegas
  Feb 7, 2014 - 10:02pm PT
Is that in the Dolomites and i recognize the Shell parking lot....

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Feb 7, 2014 - 10:08pm PT
Beautiful shots Pellucid!

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  Feb 7, 2014 - 10:27pm PT
Did that back around 2000 with Petch.Good climb. I remember the first pitch being good for the grade(5.8) and the rest being fun and fairly easy. I think we did it in 4 long pitches and got back to camp around 1:00 or 2:00. I remember staying pretty much right on the ridge the whole way when we did it. Being in the 100 sierra classics, I wouldn't call it obscure, but it doesn't seem to get done as much as it should.
Good job. Nice write up.
-Eric Gabel

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Feb 7, 2014 - 10:50pm PT
Yeah, I'd meant obscure in terms of there being surprisingly little info or traffic on a route so close to such more frequently traveled terrain. It's so much in plain site ... plenty more obscure routes out there than this one!

Hearing that you stayed closer to the crest, I might have to return when the days are longer and try harder to stay more on line :-) I wonder about starting lower, including Peppermint Peak, maybe more?

Trad climber
Living Outside the Statist Quo
  Feb 7, 2014 - 10:47pm PT
Beautiful, bravo and well done! My thanks for offering us a sample.


Trad climber
The fake McCoy from nevernever land.
  Feb 7, 2014 - 11:01pm PT
mmm, cheers

  Feb 8, 2014 - 01:35am PT
Always wondered about this one. What a line!

Great TR & photos as per usual!

Was this a Rowell FA?? What year did it get done?

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Feb 8, 2014 - 02:55am PT
According to Secor, Sheari Taylor & John Vawter made the FA in July of 1977. Rowell made the FA of the South Face, which forms one side of the E Ridge.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Feb 8, 2014 - 07:53am PT
Another great day in the mountains,
Thank you!!!!
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 8, 2014 - 09:50am PT
According to Secor, Sheari Taylor & John Vawter made the FA in July of 1977

My Secor guide says the first ascent of the E ridge was July 1981. Maybe this was updated in a later edition?

Mountain climber
San Francisco, California
  Feb 8, 2014 - 10:12am PT
I missed a good one, clearly - great report and pics :) So it goes; maybe I'll get back on there this spring. Those are some of the mste beautiful towers I've seen in the range

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Feb 8, 2014 - 10:15am PT

You had a topo-less, guide-book-less adventure!

Looks like a lot of fun!

  Feb 8, 2014 - 11:08am PT
Jim Pinter-Lucke and I did it in '81. At the time we assumed it had been done before, but no one seemed to know by whom. When Rowell claimed to be the first in '82, I think, we let Roper know and he turned the info over to R.J. We saw a cigarette butt and a pin lower on the route. It was one of those great long days in the Sierra where you find yourself on the summit just as the sun is going down for good and you have that deja vu feeling of "Sheeit, why are are always descending these things in the dark?" I love that feeling.
noriko nakagawa

Trad climber
sin city
  Feb 8, 2014 - 12:19pm PT
Sierra Ledge Rat, I feel your pain. I also bailed on my first attempt to solo it, though I went back in 2010 and took care of business (;. The 2009 ed of Secor has the 1977 FA. Nice TR, Mark, and glad I could be of help.


Social climber
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  Feb 8, 2014 - 01:24pm PT
I remember reading somewhere that the first ascent of this route was made by Bob Harrington. Maybe in Moynier and Fiddler's guidebook?

Edit: After looking back at my guidebooks, it appears that this first ascent is debatable.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 8, 2014 - 01:33pm PT
Thanks, Michelle, you are an alpine free-soloing monster

Your photos here show the chute that I used to bail off the ridge:

Pellucid, on the picket fence section, how many of those rocks wobbled?

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Feb 8, 2014 - 02:38pm PT
Not too many, actually. Some of the lower tiered ledges could maybe peel off, but on the actual crest, most of the rock was very solid, or the unstable ones were really obvious & easy to avoid.

You had a topo-less, guide-book-less adventure!

I had a few last summer! Really fun stuff. Since I have ample down time right now, I'll get around to posting on some other cool ones later.

Social climber
State of decay
  Feb 8, 2014 - 03:03pm PT
It is a sexy looking arete when viewed from Little Lakes Valley. Climbing it , well not so sexy. Jim Hefner and I did it C2C.We tried staying on the crest, but it was too tedious. We also soloed much of the upper arete. I think Jim Pinter Lucke and partner climbed this before Harrington. Good job! Nice TR.
Jim Hefner soloing: East Arete , BCS.
Jim Hefner soloing: East Arete , BCS.
Credit: TYeary
noriko nakagawa

Trad climber
sin city
  Feb 8, 2014 - 10:48pm PT
thanks, SLR

Tony, I'm with you. While it's a beautiful line when viewed from afar, it's not a route I'm anxious to repeat. The rock quality is much better on the N Arete.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Feb 10, 2014 - 08:54pm PT
You climb big mountain.
Take good pictures.
Write nice story.
Make Micronut happy.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Feb 10, 2014 - 09:57pm PT
Great TR, what a huge ridge.....very cool looking chimney's, great photo's....thanks!!!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Feb 11, 2014 - 01:38pm PT
Cool TR. I want to check out the south face some day. Seems like there are many routes there already though. :(

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
  Feb 18, 2014 - 06:52pm PT
Mark Leffler and I did a winter ascent on it back in about February 1993, as a shakedown for the Cassin. It's a good route. We found very little mixed climbing on it; pretty much just the first pitch or so while leaving the notch had anything you needed to stick a tool into. Mostly, it gets so much wind all winter that it was bare rock, with a few snowy patches here and there. Yes, those were our crampon skritches you saw up there.

Trad climber
Fresno, Ca
  Feb 19, 2014 - 04:07pm PT

Trad climber
  Feb 19, 2014 - 04:15pm PT
Awesome. Thanks for sharing!

Trad climber
  Feb 19, 2014 - 10:15pm PT

Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
  Feb 19, 2014 - 10:26pm PT
Not so much overlooked but totally fun. Thanks for the memories. There are three ways to go at I believe what you call the Notch, the 5.9 chimney structure, the 5.10+ something overhang thing I backed off of and the 5.7 outer flakes.

Trad climber
Red Rock
  Dec 31, 2015 - 09:54am PT
Awesome TR! Beautiful pics!
Last day of the year climbing bump!
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
  Dec 31, 2015 - 10:31am PT
Sweet report, good fun, enjoyed the pics, and put it on the list. Thanks!

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Dec 31, 2015 - 11:04am PT
Thanks for bumping this superb TR. This ridge remains on my personal hit list. As far as straying from the ridge, I'd always considered intelligent deviations from a ridgecrest to be part of the art of routefinding. The difference in difficulty can be quite dramatic, for example, compare the Firebird Ridge to the NNE Ridge routes on Norman Clyde Peak. The former always seemed a little too contrived for my tastes.


Oakland, CA
  Jan 4, 2016 - 01:51pm PT
Beauty, Mark. Thank you.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Jan 5, 2016 - 03:39pm PT
Hopefully I can start getting back out in the mountains again this summer and post some other nice ones :-)
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  May 4, 2016 - 12:31pm PT
Bump for a great TR
Excellent photos, loved it.
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