North Buttress 5.9

  • Currently 3.0/5

Mt. Goode

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
North Buttress of Mt. Goode, with a detached retina

by Trad
Wednesday October 9, 2013 9:55pm
Credit: Trad Muenter

"Mr. Muenter, the bubble is your FRIEND!" encouraged my ophthalmologist (with his distinguished Indian accent).

It was Monday in late August and I was in disbelief; only days earlier I looked out from the Mt. Goode summit imagining a late-summer full of more high-Sierra dreams.

Credit: Trad

But now there was a bubble of C3F8 gas in my right eye to repair its detached retina, exiling me to life at sea level for 6 to 8 weeks.

How my detached retina was treated
How my detached retina was treated
Credit: American Academy of Ophthalmology brochure

The bubble was NOT my friend. I'm no Homer Simpson and acceptance was not easy.

My favorite stages were denial and bargaining (hence my doctor's statement) but deep down inside I knew the risk.

Abstract representation of a gas-filled eyeball at 6000 ft elevation.
Abstract representation of a gas-filled eyeball at 6000 ft elevation.
Credit: Trad Muenter

Thank god for that Mt. Goode trip. At least it was something on which to reminisce while staring at the floor for 10 days. (You have to keep your head pointed down so the bubble holds the retina in place.)

The idea to climb the north buttress of Mt. Goode was Aaron's and I jumped at the chance. He's a solid, safe, and strong partner. He once demonstrated the risk of rapping off old slings by ripping them apart with his bare hands!

In early July there was a sudden increase of 'floaters' in my right eye but I convinced myself it was somehow 'normal' aging. A few weeks later a small ambiguous blind spot appeared but it was subtle and easy to put off. (It was like this: put a finger on the bridge of your nose and look straight ahead. You can still see the tip in the corner of your eye, right? I couldn't.) In retrospect, it's possible I might be partially responsible for requiring the bubble by procrastinating nearly 2 months but, if 'if's' and 'buts' were candies and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas as my old college roommate used to say. So far it seems to be working out OK except for the mountain withdrawal.

(In all seriousness, don't put this stuff off. With no treatment there's 100% chance of eventual blindness.)

Regardless, the bottom line was that the Mt. Goode trip was scheduled for before the eye appt although whether we'd actually CLIMB it was in doubt as we drove down 395 towards Bishop.

Mono Lake
Mono Lake
Credit: Trad Muenter

Sure enough, just as we got to the trailhead the skies let forth with torrential rain, thunder and lightning. (On the plus side it was easier to get a parking spot.) We sat in the car contemplating the options, from bailing entirely to coming back tomorrow for a car to car, but by 5 pm the rain eased up and we decided to go for it. By the time we set up camp things looked promising.

Credit: Trad

The next morning was beautifully crisp and clear as we hiked to the North Buttress base. Unfortunately there's no pictures because it was cold and I didn't want to stop to get the camera out (and I was sucking air).

Eventually we arrived at the base and after some checking and re-checking of topos found the start of the route. (2013 conditions beta note: the final approach was doable - scarefully carefully - in FiveTen Daescents but I wish I'd taken up Aaron on his offer to loan me his spare pair of strap-on crampons.)

Earlier we'd settled on each leading one of the 5.9 pitches and Aaron got the traverse so that meant that I'd start the route. The original plan was to link the first two pitches but given some details I won't go into here (OK, I will: It was cold and I was nervous) it got split it into 2 pitches anyway.

Some views of Aaron coming up the first couple pitches:

Credit: Trad Muenter

Credit: Trad Muenter

At that point Aaron took over for the traverse.

Credit: Trad Muenter

He was moving at a steady pace until going out of sight, after which the rope movement slowed almost to a stop. Hmmm. But just as I was starting to worry came the "OFF BELAY" after which I had the opportunity to discover the source of the time dilation which you already understand if you've climbed the route, or will learn when you do. Nice lead, Aaron!

The next pitch was easy (but chossy) and I got a little confused by the topos (we had three: ST, MP and Croft, all of which are slightly different), but in the end it's pretty obvious where NOT to go and eventually I made it to the notch and set an anchor.

I stared up at the next 5.9 pitch. Intimidating! Fortunately, to quote Croft (The Good, The Great and The Awesome), "...great protection, solid moves, nothing to worry about." Looking down the pitch:

Credit: Trad Muenter

Aaron led the next pitch, up the fun chimney.

Credit: Trad Muenter

We were moving at a good pace and having a blast, but always *just out of reach* of the sun. FINALLY, on that next pitch I reached out around the arÍte into the brilliant radiant energy of that magnificent star that bathes our cold rocky orb with light and warmth (cue the 'angels on high' chorus). It felt great!

Credit: Trad Muenter

The summit was close enough to taste! The next pitch had a cool tunnel-through and you would see Aaron leading it here if my camera had X-ray vision. (Do X-rays penetrate rock? Maybe not. Gamma ray vision...?)

Credit: Trad Muenter

He was planning to top out but rope-drag insisted otherwise so with one more quick swing of leads we topped out with plenty of time to check the summit registry and enjoy the views.

Credit: Trad Muenter

Credit: Trad

We to headed back to camp in the fading light, tired but content with the fine day behind us.

Credit: Trad Muenter

The next morning was glorious, with Mt. Goode and setting moon to greet the day.

Credit: Trad Muenter

A final note:

HUGE thanks to Steve, Rita and Liz who drove me to the eye appointments while I was incapacitated.

Double thanks to Steve for loaning his belay glasses so I could look at the computer and TV with my head down. My retina specialist never heard of these and was impressed, so if the Belaggles folks are reading please send me a cut of all your future profits from the ophthalmalogical orders.

  Trip Report Views: 3,660
About the Author
Trad Muenter is a climber from northern CA.

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Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Oct 9, 2013 - 10:00pm PT

  Oct 9, 2013 - 10:15pm PT
Fuk yeah!

Thanks for the TR and stoke man, looks like an awesome route climbed well with a solid partner.

Hopefully ur eyeball is all good to go for Sierra season next year. You've just inspired me to write a TR, I think....cheers!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Oct 10, 2013 - 01:33am PT
I thought I was hardcore when I did Emerson after my crown came off...not so much. Well done.
I loved this climb when I did it last year. Even though it was a little cold on that North face...


The Granite State.
  Oct 10, 2013 - 08:36am PT
Nice! Makes me miss the Sierra all that much more!

Good call with the belay glasses, I never would have thought of that.

Trad climber
Little Rock and Loving It
  Oct 10, 2013 - 09:27am PT
Thanks for the TR. Sierra backcountry is always Goode.

  Oct 10, 2013 - 11:31am PT
Thanks for the report. How did your retina become detached?

Trad climber
Philadelphia, PA
  Oct 10, 2013 - 12:11pm PT
Nice report. Let me reassure you that long term prognosis for the retina is good. Almost 30 years ago, I fell ~10ft and bumped my head, detaching both retinas. I get them checked regularly but haven't had a problem since that wouldn't be happening at this age anyway.


Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
  Oct 10, 2013 - 12:20pm PT
Excellent climb and story. This game is best played with vision in both eyes - full field preferred.

Trad climber
  Oct 10, 2013 - 01:49pm PT
Nice send.....always a to-do list!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Oct 10, 2013 - 09:20pm PT
Great TR, I hope your vision is ok!!!
Not something to take lightly!!!!!

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
  Oct 12, 2013 - 08:10pm PT
That route looks very spectacular. Excellent TR, thanks!
Chateau Rico

Sport climber
Davis, CA
  Oct 13, 2013 - 01:01am PT
Way to go Tom! Love the TR! We old guys must keep on truckin, one way or the other!

Social climber
"close to everything = not at anything", ca
  Oct 13, 2013 - 05:31am PT
nice TR tom

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Oct 14, 2013 - 06:10pm PT
Very nice TR! Now I suggest you go do the 'other' Goode in the Cascades.
It also delivers a worthy experience.

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  Oct 14, 2013 - 06:34pm PT
Scary (the detached retina, not the climb--the climb looks so much fun). I have severe myopia and at increased risk for a detached retina, really hope never to have one.

Trad climber
northern CA
Author's Reply  Oct 15, 2013 - 01:39am PT
Thanks for all the positive comments & wishes, folks. The bubble disappeared just in time for me to make my nephew's wedding in Vermont this weekend. (In addition to the low elevation restriction, you can't fly until the bubble dissipates.)

Thanks for the report. How did your retina become detached?

Apparently it can 'just happen'. My understanding is that as you (yes you) age the vitreous in your eye shrinks and pulls away from the retina. Sometimes it sticks to the retina and causes a tear as it pulls away. In my case, maybe the retina was torn in early July when I first noticed the extra floaters, and then over the next weeks fluid seeped behind the retina and caused the detachment.

At the Vermont wedding I discovered that both a cousin and his father (my dad's brother) had similar problems so maybe there's a genetic component?

(Side note: The nephew who got married was my climbing partner during the Leap East Wall fire incident: )

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Oct 15, 2013 - 02:17am PT
Camp 4 tent tag?

Trad climber
northern CA
Author's Reply  Oct 15, 2013 - 09:20pm PT
Ha ha, yeah sometimes I'm a little slow taking those tags off!

Trad climber
northern CA
Author's Reply  Jan 13, 2014 - 12:20am PT
Credit: Trad

Well shoot, the link for the Simpson's Kubler-Ross 5-stages-of-grief clip got nixed and the statute of limitations for editing trip reports is expired too.

Through the magic of internet searches and pending future restrictions, the 5-stages clip can still be found here (starts about 2:15):
Off White

Tenino, WA
  Jan 13, 2014 - 06:03pm PT
whoops, I'd assumed the wrong Goode.

Detached retina is really scary though! I'm glad to hear all is well(ish), stuff going wrong in the backcountry is one of my nightmares.

Sport climber
Sands Motel , Las Vegas
  Jan 13, 2014 - 08:35pm PT
You've got big balls...eyes that is...tanks for the TR and keeping an eye out...
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
From Panorama City, CA
  Jan 13, 2014 - 09:15pm PT
That's quite a shot of the wrong Goode! Great shots of the right Goode too!

in the land of the blind
  Jan 13, 2014 - 09:29pm PT
Great TR and pics. Brought back memories of climbing that route ~20 years ago, but without that particular eye problem . . .
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Mt. Goode - North Buttress 5.9 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from the final approach to the snowfield.
Photo: Chris McNamara