North Arete 5.8

 
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Bear Creek Spire


High Sierra, California USA


Trip Report
Bear Creek Spire after a 26 year hiatus from High Sierra peaks
Saturday August 9, 2014 5:45pm
Carl and I had been talking about doing North Arete of Bear Creek Spire (BCS) for a couple of years. I had not climbed any backcountry rock climbs with a summit over 11,000 feet in the past 26 years. Turning 55 two days before our planned climbed left a huge question mark in my mind: could I complete the North Arete of BCS without blowing a gasket and ending up in a local news newspaper about some stupid hiker that cost the taxpayer’s sixty grand? But I had an ace-in-the-hole, Carl was 37 years young, motivated, confident, solid trad climber and a physician to boot. I still don’t know why Carl asked me to join him ….was I the only one who volunteered?

Little Lakes Basin with BCS just left of puffy clouds
Little Lakes Basin with BCS just left of puffy clouds
Credit: Quasimodo

Just a few weeks ago, Carl and I were having an enjoyable day on Tahquitz’s West Face when a very unluckily climber pulled a large block off of Sahara Terror. We talked to the Sheriff’s recovery team as we descended at the end of the day. It was a sad end to a wonderful day of climbing. I had more than a few near misses with rock fall, one avalanche, many thunderstorms, and hypothermia since 1978 when I started alpine and rock climbing.

My only child was two weeks away from leaving home and attend engineering school in Minneapolis. What was I thinking? I needed to be responsible. Any rational father would keep his nose to the grindstone to support his only son rather than being a selfish jerk by trying to prove himself on some chunk of granite. Then I realized who of my climbing friends would be motivated to climb a 13,700 foot peak in the Sierra? If not now when?

I fell in love with the Sierra when I was eleven. My dad, brother, most of Troup 542 and I tried to complete the Rae Lakes loop over Kearsarge Pass. My dad barely made it over Kearsarge Pass with his two pack a day Camel cigarette habit robbing his stamina and shiny brand new leather boots. I never made it to Rae Lakes but I was hooked for life.

People grimace when I politely ask for a belay. I am about as far away from being Alex Honnold as LeBron James is from Lynn Hill. That is a bad analogy considering I don’t make anything close to $30MM a year and I don’t possess a small fraction of LeBron’s athletic ability. At 6’-4” 225 pounds there isn’t a chance I will be out climbing Adam Ondra before he turns 100 and I return to age 30.

BCS from Little Lakes Basin
BCS from Little Lakes Basin
Credit: Quasimodo

Carl wanted to do BCS in a day car to car. I thought that sounded great but I came to my senses and negotiated a late walk in to Dade Lake followed by a partial round trip back to the car the next day. Carl spent a lot of time back country skiing, hiking and climbing in the Sierra as well as seeing his patients’ fulltime during the week. I spent a lot of time at work sitting at a desk starring into a computer, climbing plastic at the local gym and doing yoga with my wife two days a week. I felt strong but had serious doubts about my overall conditioning.


Carl was getting married in November so this trip was especially important to him. I was hoping I would not let him down. For weeks prior to our trip, I schemed of the most creative ways possible to bail on Carl. I could simply lie about a fake injury. I feared I would collapse halfway up the climb leaving Carl to carry my rather large derriere to trailhead. If I died, at least I would be spared the embarrassment of being rescued.

I don’t know why I was so anxious? Norman Clyde did a new route at age 60 in the Sierra. I watched Bob Kamps onsite-flash a thin and technical 5.12 climb in Apple Valley when he was 68. The only problem with my logic was Norman and Bob weighed about 100 pounds less than me and were exponentially more talented. My only weapon was stubbornness. I refuse to grow up and play it safe. I watched my dad take the safe and responsible route in life. He died at age 46 when I was 19. I only remember three real family vacations growing up. I was determined to go no matter what the outcome.

Long Lake at the end of the day
Long Lake at the end of the day
Credit: Quasimodo

The end of Treasure Lakes. Carl wondering how much more talus to Dade ...
The end of Treasure Lakes. Carl wondering how much more talus to Dade Lake.
Credit: Quasimodo

Ally standing watch at Dade Lake as Carl fixes a leak in his sleeping ...
Ally standing watch at Dade Lake as Carl fixes a leak in his sleeping pad.
Credit: Quasimodo

By afternoon on Friday, August 1st, smoke from the Yosemite fire filled Mammoth Lakes. I was bummed. We came all the way up from LA to breathe smog in the Sierra, how ironic. Luckily, Rock Creek looked fairly clear at 5:00pm. The farther we hiked up Little Lakes Valley the more the sky cleared of smoke. Carl frequently brought his seven-year-old dog Ally on trips. She would stand watch over our camp at Dade Lake while we climbed on Saturday. Ally moved over talus like she rode on a magic carpet. She likely ran over thirty miles constantly circling us as we walked the six miles it took to reach Dade Lake. That dog never got tired.

Starting at 6:00AM up to the base of the North Arete.
Starting at 6:00AM up to the base of the North Arete.
Credit: Quasimodo


Carl at the base of the first pitch
Carl at the base of the first pitch
Credit: Quasimodo

Carl linking the first two pitches
Carl linking the first two pitches
Credit: Quasimodo

Taking the 5.9 variation instead of the 5.7 flakes out right
Taking the 5.9 variation instead of the 5.7 flakes out right
Credit: Quasimodo

The approach from Dade to the start of the North Arete of BCS was deceptively long. Hiking up the talus and loose moraine was punishing at 6AM at over 12,000 feet. The last section of hard snow was scary for me in approach shoes. Carl linked the first two pitches. The rock quality is excellent. The next 5.7 pitch was mine. We saw big flakes angling up and right. Straight up was some face to a nice hand crack. We agreed that straight up looked best. Less than halfway up I realized that the crack was at least 5.9 and my expectations for a 5.7 pitch quickly vanished into self-doubt. The sparse single rack with an assortment of Hexes did not help my confidence. The last time I placed a Hex was in 1982. Looking at the perfect hand crack I realized our anchor below had our only number 2 Camalot. I would have felt better if I had doubles of number 2 and 3 Camalots on the lead rack. I looked at our assortment of Hexes with confusion. I plugged in our only number 3 Camalot into the perfect crack and asked Carl to lower me to the belay. His eager and confident countenance was a relief. Carl would bail us out.

Top of pitch three
Top of pitch three
Credit: Quasimodo

At the Key Hole with Little Lakes Basin beyond. Thunderstorms were bre...
At the Key Hole with Little Lakes Basin beyond. Thunderstorms were brewing in the Owens Valley.
Credit: Quasimodo


Coiling the ropes for simu-climbing the ridge above.
Coiling the ropes for simu-climbing the ridge above.
Credit: Quasimodo


Looking north from pitch 5
Looking north from pitch 5
Credit: Quasimodo

Looking back on the Keyhole with Carl simul-climbing behind me
Looking back on the Keyhole with Carl simul-climbing behind me
Credit: Quasimodo

Following the 5.9 or 5.9+ pitch was not that bad. The crack has really nice crack climbing and stemming on great rock. I could have lead that pitch …….with an Indian Creek rack of six or eight hand sized pieces and some Peruvian marching powder for insurance. We simu-climbed the next two pitches. The original North Arete 5.8 crux pitch looked clean and well protected. I again made the generous offer to let Carl lead. I used the excuse that the 5.9 pitch stripped my confidence. The 5.8 pitch was fun but much easier than the variation we climbed below. We avoided the funky chimney left of the belay stance by climbing a variation slightly right and then joining the crack fifteen feet higher. We ate lunch at the Keyhole. The view was breathtaking.

Looking back down the northeast ridge at Little Lakes Valley
Looking back down the northeast ridge at Little Lakes Valley
Credit: Quasimodo

Credit: Quasimodo

I lead the rest of the easy 5th and 4th class climbing along the long ridge while Carl simu-climbed behind. About a hundred feet from the summit I got off route. From my perch on the ridge I saw my blunder and directed Carl to swing around down lower on the ridge. Carl took over leading as I reversed an easy mantel on the ridge. We made the summit by 2:30PM. We enjoyed the view for 30 to 45 minutes and then headed down the easy descent. I was so glad the descent route was free of snow. I was getting tired.

Credit: Quasimodo

Carl just below the summit block with the East Ridge below
Carl just below the summit block with the East Ridge below
Credit: Quasimodo

We headed left once we negotiated the short third class section down from the first col between BCS and Mt Dade. Loose slopes ended on a grey moraine below. The golden talus on the left side of the valley was much more stable than the grey moraine that runs straight down to Dade Lake. The talus seemed endless.
The moment we made it back to Dade Lake to greet our canine companion and base camp liaison Ally the sky opened up. Rained turned to hail as thunder rumbled all around. We pulled everything into the tent and repacked. After an hour the rain slowed to a shower so we packed up the wet tent and started down to Treasure Lakes. We originally planned to walk down the easier rib just south of Treasure Lakes but the threat of lightening made us seek low ground right away. The steep and wet talus down to Treasure Lakes was challenging. Ally bounded down five hundred feet of wet talus in less than fifteen seconds. She was beginning to piss me off.

Signing the summit register
Signing the summit register
Credit: Quasimodo

Carl on the summit block
Carl on the summit block
Credit: Quasimodo

The crux of the route, on the way down, for both Carl and I was the seemingly endless talus until you reach the trail at the end of Long Lake. Walking through the meadow at Long Lake I did not see a small hole covered by the grass. I rolled my right ankle and fell to avoid a serious injury to my ankle. Lucky for both of us it is a mild sprain and Carl did not have to call in reinforcements to get down the last four miles of easy trail. We continued on to rain showers and gusty winds. I was never so happy to see a pit toilet at the trail head. My feet were thrashed and right ankle stiff but I had survived! I would have been impossible to wipe the grin of my face.

My almost fully realized success on the North Arete of BCS made me appreciate the old wrinkled guy in my mirror. I could perform well at relatively high altitude and survive a moderate technical route in the High Sierra at 55. Actually, I was very pleased at my overall performance if you ignore getting spanked on the crux pitch and whimpering later at the thought of leading the second 5.8 crux. This revelation has renewed my desire to train harder for the next Sierra adventure. I plan to be in better shape next summer for routes on Mt Russell and Norman Clyde Peak. Hopefully, I can compel Carl to be my ace-in-the-hole next year on a new more challenging and classic High Sierra peak. Thanks to Carl for making this a great trip!

Carl celebrating success on another Sierra alpine rock climb
Carl celebrating success on another Sierra alpine rock climb
Credit: Quasimodo

  Trip Report Views: 945
Quasimodo
About the Author
More Enthusiasm Than Talent or Skill

Comments
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Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Aug 9, 2014 - 05:56pm PT
Summit sweetness
crankster

Trad climber
  Aug 9, 2014 - 06:08pm PT
Outstanding. Love that route. Nice work.
clinker

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
  Aug 9, 2014 - 06:14pm PT
Great TR. Took the same "straight up" 5.9 last year. Made the normal crux seem easy.
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Aug 9, 2014 - 07:46pm PT
How great that you decided to go, and that you did it. Looks like a beautiful trip.
Thanks for the report.
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Aug 9, 2014 - 11:55pm PT
Sweet. Great pics of a kickass valley. Where are the shots of you, Quasi?

That Ally is a looker.

Your TR has kindled the desire for a repeat.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 10, 2014 - 04:00am PT
Way to go!!!
Hope your son has a good year at school!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Aug 10, 2014 - 05:03am PT
You've made the wee hours of this morning for me with this TR, bro.

Ally is your ally and don't you forget it. She is middle-aged herself.
http://www.dogchatforum.com/dog-age-human-years.htm

I very much liked your first two photos at the top, BTW.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Aug 10, 2014 - 07:40am PT
Thanks for the great TR. Makes this oldtimer feel inspired.
Mark Sensenbach

climber
CA
  Aug 10, 2014 - 08:04am PT
Great TR. Sounds like a great time for both of you. I can appreciate the 'ace in the hole approach'-Mark
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Aug 10, 2014 - 09:24am PT
Nice! Thanks for your story and photos.
johnboy

Trad climber
Can't get here from there
  Aug 10, 2014 - 10:13am PT
Didn't seem like your age held ya back any.
Great pics and TR on a stellar route, thanks.
Mark Force

Trad climber
Cave Creek, AZ
  Aug 10, 2014 - 11:06am PT
Thanks for the inspiration! Being an old fart myself (57), it's good to know that gettin' out and gettin' up high and soaking it all up on some sun bleached granite is still an option.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Aug 11, 2014 - 03:31pm PT
Awesome report! Do not grow up and continue getting out to the Sierra. Best range in the world!
W.L.

climber
Edge of the Electric Ocean Beneath Red Rock
  Aug 11, 2014 - 03:42pm PT
The Sierra Rocks! Thanks for the sweet TR
StahlBro

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Aug 11, 2014 - 03:49pm PT
The ankle rolling thing made be cringe. Great TR and thanks for taking us along.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Aug 11, 2014 - 04:14pm PT
Very nice writeup, ya young punk ya!
The pics are gud, too, except no action shots. ;-(
rfshore

Trad climber
Cali-centric
  Aug 13, 2014 - 06:43am PT
Too much sadness and bullshit on the front page. BUMP for climbing!
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Bear Creek Spire - North Arete 5.8 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route from just above Dade Lake.
Photo: Chris McNamara
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Bear Creek Spire - Northeast Ridge 5.5 - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
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The route as seen from above Dade Lake.