One of my friends suggested I should travel more often. “You been in US for more than three years now, why not visit a different place? You had a lot of fun in Asia, Middle East, and Europe before!” Simple words and my limited vocabulary cannot explain why I would rather drive close to 16 hours every weekend to and from my favorite spot on Earth- Sierra Nevada.
Sierra is a massive range with huge granite peaks rising above scenic valleys filled with lakes and streams. In the last few years I was able to explore quite a bit of it. Rugged peaks in Palisades, perfect granite in Whitney area, marmots around Tuolumne Meadows, flowers in Sawtooth range, granite monsters around Clarence King and a lot more.
One of the things I noticed is that although I am drawn to explore the whole range, there are places I like to visit more often. One of these is Rock Creek area. One does not have to walk far from mosquito flat trailhead to appreciate a variety of outdoor activities. This area has it all- scenic alpine lakes, fishing, bouldering, peaks that could be done by scramblers, technical trad routes, granite spires, streams, well maintained trails, and a lot more. One could camp or do majority of the climbs in a day. So far I was able to do all climbs in a day or less. Another benefit of starting early is watching Bear Creek Spire, Pipisque Spire, and Mt. Dade getting first rays of sun in the early morning.
During early summer mosquitoes are terrible and there seem to be as many people as mosquitoes on the trail, but once you pass Ruby Lake both mostly disappear. For those who can’t handle much of both (mosquitoes or people), winter is a great time to play. Aside from absence of humans, winter provides a different playground. Lakes are frozen, peaks are covered in snow, skiing is fun, and scenery does not get much better.
Rock Creek area has such a high concentration of things to do, that you could literary spent your whole summer there and not be bored. My first trip there was up Mt. Abbott (summer of 2010) which offers a short snow climb and a straight forward 3rd class climb to the summit. When I was a kid my teachers gave me sh#t for always looking around and paying much of my attention to things around. When I am out, it is no different.
On the way up to Mt. Abbott I noticed Bear Creek Spire, to the south. I knew that North Arete was one of the most classic climbs in High Sierra, but at the time I was getting more comfortable with cl. 3 scrambles, leading 5.8 on trad was still a fantasy. Just to the North of Abbott I noticed a striking spire- Petit Griffon. At the moment I had no idea what it was, but if I told my mother that some day I want to climb it, she would most likely faint.
Summer was coming to an end, and I started focusing on trad climbing more than before. Going to Lovers Leap during autumn, Sugar Loaf, Cosumnes River Gorge, Yosemite during winter, and gym climbing most of the week days after work improved my climbing skills and confidence quite a bit.
Having friends with similar interests helps. We drove up to attempt Petit Griffon as a dayhike in winter. After an 11 hour drive we got to the trailhead around 3am. During winter the trailhead is significantly further- at a SNO Park. After getting to the TH, we gathered our stuff and left the car by about 4am. We got to the base of the spire, but for different reasons the climb went to sh#t from there. Everyone survived and we were back at the TH defeated about 14 hours later. This day reminds me that I need to get into AT skiing- I was the only one on snow shoes that day. The hike out was fairly long and annoying. Breaking own trail was not that enjoyable neither.
Petit Griffon also survived, and I was able to come back with couple of good friends during summer- Bryan and Chad. Starting from Mosquito Flat after a good night of sleep, was real nice compared to our winter attempt. The climb went very well-- table sized summit, great view, good company, big exposure, and being the first party in 2011 to sign the old register was a great experience. If memory doesn’t fail me, we were able to make it to Mono Cone (Lee Vining) for milkshakes and burgers. Life doesn’t get much better.
As the summer progressed I continued to climb. At one point I felt confident enough to suggest a friend of mine that we can attempt North Arete of Bear Creek Spire. Things aligned well and we drove up to climb it on Saturday over the Labor Day weekend. To our surprise we were the only party on the route that day. On the hike out after the climb we met couple of people that were camping, with an intend to climb it on Sunday.
North Arete was one of my favorite climbs this summer (along with Dark Star, Charlotte dome and Third Pillar of Dana), especially due to my inability to route find. For the 2nd pitch I pointed to a 5.9 handcrack as the 5.7 (that way looked like the ‘dirty’ variation to by-pass slower parties).
For the 5th (crux) pitch I took the 5.10 variation (my first 5.10 on lead) up the arête proper. Thank god I did not know it was a 5.10 before starting up it, since at that point 5.10a-b was my onsight grade, on top rope. It went well, with upper crack widening but offering some good hand jamming in a corner. After this pitch I was so happy that I decided to climb over the ‘tunnel through.’ We simul climbed the rest to the summit, and enjoyed awesome alpine-glow on the way out.
Mt. Dade is another nice looking peak I came out to do. With prolonged dry spell in the end of 2011, my friend and I decided to attempt North Face couloir- rarely done, but included in 100 Best Climbs in the High Sierra.
We were happy we did, because it had some water ice in it. Although not really steep or challenging, we simul climbed the route without much difficulty. Class 4 rock at the top was a bit loose, but views from the top made up for it. We were the last people in 2011 to summit (December 31st). Since an idea of being the last ones in 2011 and first ones in 2012 was quite interesting, we did NE couloir on Dade a week later.
On the approach to NF it looked steeper with a lot more ice. I was a bit disappointed since it had only one section that was steeper, and pure blue. Rest of it was mostly loose rock and neve in a couloir. We simul climbed through another cl 4 rock variation to top out on the right side of continuation couloir. Scrambling in crampons is fun.
Hoping that some day when I ‘grow up,’ I will be able to do striking lines up Ruby Peak, but till than I will still find a way to have fun in one of my favorite parts of Sierra.