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Video By: Myles Moser
Write Up By: Amy Ness
I had just fallen over, again. This was nothing new. The giant haulbag weighed nearly as much as I do and coupled with the less than optimal snow conditions, I found myself in such a state several times since we had begun our descent. Myles couldn’t do much…his bag being even heavier than mine. But then, as I struggled to make my way out of my snowy entrapment, I heard voices.
We had just finished Windhorse, a 21-pitch climb on the south side of Lone Pine Peak, and hadn’t seen anyone for a week, yet here, on the summit are two fellow climbers joining us just in time to see me in my pathetic state! As it turned out, we had met one of them in the Whitney Portal last summer…small world. They had just soloed the NE Ridge of Lone Pine Peak, and Myles couldn’t help but notice their small packs. He convinced them to take some of my load- making me slightly more mobile for our long descent. Angels! Thanks again Ian and Dale.
We had brought an extra haulbag to fill so that we could jettison our large, orange piggy down the gully with the soft goods…we just had to make it to there first. The lack of winter snow this year has actually made our hiking to and from the route a total nightmare: a thin sheet of hard snow covers 1-3 ft of sugar, making post-holing inevitable.
We hadn’t intended to free the route. Our bags were loaded with everything the 1st ascentionists needed: hooks, copperheads, pitons, hammers, gear to 12”, etc. We had finished carrying our final load to the base exactly a week beforehand- one of several shuttling missions. Although abound with ledges, we decided to do a first winter ascent capsule style, with our double portaledge and 4-season rainfly…after being stormed off our first attempt, we came back just 3 days later with everything we might need for another such event.
I had already led the first two pitches the last time and was able to pass the 5.10 roof more easily this time around. Myles quickly led up the chimney pitches that followed now that the snow had mostly melted out. We camped at Weakened Worriers Ledge the first night, 5 pitches up, and just underneath the crux and most beautiful feature of the climb- a 3 pitch, left-facing dihedral.
Waking to a beautiful, sunny day, I led up the 5.9 loose section to a 2 bolt anchor. There was a slight moment of hesitation when I turned the corner and realized the dihedral, flanked by crumbling rock, had no chance for protection before reaching the bolts…about 20 feet. I stepped lightly, and waited for Myles to join me.
His pitch, the 5.10 A3, lie ahead. The idea was that he would free-climb until he couldn’t anymore, and then he’d call down for whatever he needed. His fall zone during the steep undercling at the beginning of the pitch was on top of me, which is probably why I didn’t realize he had forgotten the tag line until he clipped the 1st bolt about 25 ft. up. It didn’t matter. The rope kept feeding out. Bolt #2, bolt #3, “off belay!” He had freed it. I followed up placing my hands into the slots-much better than they looked from below! I got to the 1st bolt and he yelled down to treat it like the hills (our playground in the desert which requires a slightly different touch). I met him at the anchor. What a great pitch! We experienced our 1st flawless haul from there…the A0 or 5.11 crack lie ahead.
Although I tried to take it from him, our previous agreement was that he was going to free it, which he did. An overhanging crack to and off-width sent him over the lip. He credited his success that day to the 13-yr-old Sapporo I had found in a crack the night before…Good ol’ Brutus!
The next day the moment I’d been both anticipating and dreading arrived- the 5.10 squeeze o/w. Em Holland had informed me that this is were the gear to 12” would come in. Grades are funny things in climbing…I really couldn’t imagine what a 5.10 squeeze o/w would be like. I began up the 5.9 chimney pitch excitedly, although the large gear slowed me a bit. I passed the bombay chimney belay and all of the sudden, I was stuck. My helmet restricted me from turning my head; the extra gear got clipped to my last piece, as my feet frantically shuffled back and forth attempting to find a space small enough to span across…no luck. The squeeze constricted towards the top and I used all of my might to chicken-arm and knee scum. One move up, one move down. Finally, after all the energy I had left was about to dwindle away, I managed to move up enough to gain momentum. After what seemed like a lifetime, I reached the anchor. Pulling up the extra rope and haul bucket made me want to throw-up. Only the next day would I see the damages to my knee and elbow! Myles joined me and it was time to haul. All the while I was contemplating why I do this- why don’t I live a normal life, with a normal job, and normal hobbies? Who in their right mind looks up and says, “Oh, it would be so much fun to see if I can wiggle my body up this granite gap”?
Following Myles up the next pitch of weird, snakelike, bulbous grooves reinstated my love for climbing. I took the next short pitch up to the top of a detached, knobby pinnacle where there was supposed to be a bolt marking the beginning of the double tension traverse. Myles found it on the facing wall and we rappelled back down to the anchor of the o/w to set up camp…all I wanted was to be away from the heinous thing, but it was our best option for a bivy. On the way down, we noticed something curious…the tension traverse where the piton was placed looked freeable. By skipping the short pitch up the detached pinnacle, a short downclimb to climber’s right led to a tree belay where a thin undercling led out to the fixed piton. After clipping the piton, a downclimb on slab looked possible to get to the 3-bolt anchor on a giant ledge. That night we discussed the possibility. Regardless, we decided our best option for hauling would be to cut our bags from the o/w to the 3-bolt anchor at the end of the tension traverse…we would just have to wait and see what the rock gave us the next day.
We jugged up our lines in the morning and decided to go for it. It was my pitch. I racked up plenty of small gear and took off. Both the climbing and the protection were awesome! I clipped the sturdy piton and downclimbed placing another cam before reaching the ledge…that was it. We had freed the entire route! I made some pitiful attempts to gorilla call. Myles was ecstatic. He met me at the anchor and we rejoiced briefly before cutting our haul bags.
The 4th class section that followed ended up being about 500 ft. We fixed our lines with several anchors breaking it up so we could shuttle loads with our ascenders, Everest style. It was exhausting, but better than hauling on 4th class terrain. We came to the base of the 5.7 dike, a beautiful ledge with trees and a view. We set up camp on the slabs below and awoke early the next day to a double sun-the sun rising over the Inyo Mts. being reflected upon the Owens Lake. We were waking earlier and getting sun later now that we were high up on the wall…I guess that’s the key to getting more daylight hours in the winter!
Myles went up the wet, icy dike. The hauling, once again, was horrible. We had become accustomed to using our lead line as a fixed rope during hauling because nearly every time one of us would have to rap down to free the bags and then jug back up. It took hours. Exhausted and not looking forward to more wide climbing, I went up the 5.8 chimney filled with rocks, snow, and ice. I placed a purple TCU just before I found the fixed piton at my back. I turned the lip and brought up Myles. We looked at the 5.6 gully filled with snow and rocks ahead, Myles detoured right to find us a good bivy and a much easier haul. We decided it would be better to spend one more night on the wall rather than be forced to set up our rainfly as a tent on the snowy, windy summit. The night before on the slab, neither of us got more than a few hours sleep due to some fierce winds, and we seemed to be in a wind block where we were.
The next morning, Myles climbed a cool flake to splitter cracks linking us to the final 4th class summit push. We hauled and fixed lines on the 4th class again to get just below the summit plateau. Upon reaching Myles with the final load, we celebrated for just a second before realizing what lie ahead: our bags were very heavy and the descent was covered in enough snow to make the journey down miserable. I had never carried something so heavy, and I pitied Myles who, being the man had to carry even more.
Bringing us back to the beginning of my story…
After splitting ways with our Angels, we continued to descend in the dark. Finally, it was too hard to see the saddle we were aiming for, and we decided to spend one last night on the mountain. Correlating with the story of Bruce and Em (the first ascentionists), we found ourselves missing a sleeping bag on our last night. It had exploded from the orange haulbag that was thrown down the gully. Luckily, Myles had his homemade 1-piece suit and we were much lower in elevation so the night wasn’t too horrible. Myles hiked back up and recovered the bag in the morning while I continued toward the saddle wearing one bag and dragging another behind me. Finally, the 8th day since hiking up, we arrived at the Stone House. It had begun to snow about an hour beforehand, and we were both running on autopilot- grateful that we knew the trail well. The entire experience was one of the most difficult and rewarding I have had yet. Can’t wait to see Em and give her the Sapporo can that her and Bruce had
left for us to enjoy!