North Arete 5.8
Trip ReportBear Creek Spire North Arete
Last Summer, I accomplished a 20 year dream and climbed a mountain that I didn't know was possible to climb when I first decided to do it.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I went on vacation with my friend Noah to Little Lakes Valley, a beautiful little secluded valley in the Sierras, between Mammoth and Bishop. At the head of the valley is the most picturesque mountain I had ever seen. I spent seemingly hours staring at it and finally, after gathering the courage, turned to my friend and announced, "I'm going to climb that someday." "That's impossible!" he responded, "It's a sheer cliff." So for years I hid the desire away, pretending I had forgotten. In the mean time, I took up gym climbing, even got outside a few times up to Lovers' Leap. Then one fortunate day, flipping through the pages of High Sierra Climbing at my climbing partners house, I jumped up and shouted, "People DO climb it!" I literally jumped out of my chair. A deep dream had awakened in me that I had almost forgotten, but suddenly I knew I would climb the North Arete of Bear Creek Spire.
A few months later, we were on the road. We drove from the Bay Area to Mammoth, where we got the wilderness permit, and hit the trailhead at about two in the afternoon. We hiked up to Dade Lake, arriving at dusk, and got things ready for an alpine start for the still long approach and 10 pitches of climbing.
I awoke the next morning with the worst headache of my life. Our trip seemed derailed. My head felt like it would explode with each gentle step as I walked far enough away from camp to relieve myself. We decided that we would take the day to acclimatize, having driven and hiked from sea level to 11,500ft. But by 9am, after a couple Advil an two liters of water, we decided we couldn't stand to wait another day, and we took off for the climb.
The approach took us longer than we expected, but once we got climbing, it was stellar.
Pitch after pitch head up broken flakes on a steep arete. The climbing is mostly very easy. Maybe there is a difference between Yosemite 5.7 and high sierra 5.7, but we cruised it. That said, I learned that day that I needed to lead 5.5 much faster. I was a pretty new leader when we did this climb, and while the climbing is very easy, the exposure is breathtaking at times, and I often led 5.5 as cautiously as I might 5.8, which is just way too slow. The video will speak to the exposure a little, but the views and the summit are just awesome.
We found the descent very scetchy and dangerous on steep, icy snow after dark. I had light hiking boots with heels that would dig in, giving me a little security, but my partner, in running shoes, might as well have had ice skates on. He couldn't get any purchase whatsoever, and our descent felt much more dangerous than anything we climbed.
We got back to camp at midnight. I drank a liter of water and collapsed in my sleeping bag.
There is not much that is sweeter than fulfilling a lifelong dream. I had been told I couldn't do it, and for years I had believed it. But somewhere the dream was burning inside me, and I finally got the chance to stand up to the challenge. In retrospect, the climbing on Bear Creek Spire was dissapointingly easy, and while it was amazing to check it of my life list, it left me yearning for bigger, more difficult climbs. (maybe with shorter approaches)
Only one climbing dream looms larger or longer-standing in my soul than that one. When I was 8 years old my family went on a camping trip to Yosemite and I stood in El Cap Meadow looking up at the biggest piece of granite on Earth...here's to dreaming big dreams.
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