Trip Report
SABER RIDGE - obscure gem? or new classic in the California alpine
Wednesday June 7, 2017 9:56am
Saber Ridge (FA: Scott Thelen & Justin Dille '08 / Brandon Thau & Chris LaBounty '09), for whatever reason- became both a rallying cry as well as a distant goal- for myself and my friend Gil, somewhere along the road of the sweet summer of 2016. It was more of a faint hope to help get us through the complete lack of rock we would be seeing in CA's snowy months, after some of our most active yet in our personal climbing journeys. Both Gil and I managed to get after it a few times in winter, reaching mountaineering objectives here in CA, but made plans for SABRE as we yearned for the dry, velcro-like granite of the CA high country.

In all likelihood, Saber leapt into our thoughts after climbing Charlotte Dome in a smooth & fast send that had us psyched for more. We wondered what else out there might have a LONGER approach than Charlotte (10mi + some gain) that would require actual pitches of climbing... and figured whatever that might be would result in a grand adventure in our home range.

'The Saber' became an idea and an obsession probably also equally as much because we came across this article & writeup from Sierra Mountain Guides ( http://www.sierramtnguides.com/new-routes-in-sequoia-national-park/ ) that described the route and the area, and had us blown away.

' This ridge is the premiere attraction in the area at this point. That it was apparently not climbed before 2008 might be one of the eternal mysteries of the High Sierra. Nevertheless, it does live up to its beauty and reputation. It is a ridge traverse as much as a climb, in the style of Matthes Crest in Tuolumne, only better. The rock is of equal quality to Matthes, but the Sabre Ridge is longer, more dramatic, more committing, and with better climbing. In any case this climb is by anyone’s measure certain to be a 5-star classic.'

We are also both of course bigtime fans of Peter Croft, and hearing his positive stoke on the route and the area was also another factor influencing our decision to make visiting the area our Memorial day weekend priority for 2017.

The FA was also supposedly relatively recent, and this AAJ article from Neal Harder about the Saber contained the names of more legends, and more positive hype ( http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12201109300/Tamarack-Lake-Area-New-Routes )

the route's mountainproject page had some majorly helpful photos, and Gil had been through the High Sierra Trail years before. We figured the climbing and the approach wouldn't be too much of an issue for us, but having the opportunity (family, work, life) to spend two nights out would be. For this reason, it was set.. Memorial Day, opening weekend of permit season- would be our window.

As this beast of a winter settled in on the Sierra, Gil and I started realizing that it was highly unlikely that the area would be snow-free by the time our trip arrived. We always knew we could push it back, do it in summer... or move it by a few weeks. But we had seen reports from trips as soon as early-April that looked semi-dry.. and figured late-may with some snow on a big year would be fun, if not simply much more of an 'alpine' experience, in the best way possible.

I only had the heart, or managed the strength really- to tell my wife about the trip about 72 hours before we left.. and let's just say that there was substantial strain on the relationship for those few days before and after, and I'm sure many other ST patrons have felt in their personal climbing and travel histories. The raw beauty of the alpine, the rare chance to achieve something substantial with a very capable partner, and the lure of an early-season visit to the Saber were all factors at play, and It did mean a weekend at home alone for my loving wife.

The mileage was severe, the scenery and the views were pristine, and the mettle of each of our core-being was tested on the 3-day, 2-night trip. We didn't realize how legitimate the recommendations were to use pack-mules if you were pitching it out (as opposed to soloing it!) and so we knew it'd be a bit rough being our own human pack-mules. We chalked it up to early-season training. Gil even brought two cameras (a DSLR and a film camera) against my repeated requests for him not too for weight-wise. We also carried a tagline that was going to be our emergency stream-crossing / tyrolean line if needed, which we of course ended up leaving at camp on the day of the send.

I'll keep the photos section of the TR as condensed as I can, but please enjoy the plethora of images, and the video (sorry its long, skip to minute 4 if you just want to see the ridge : ) and enjoy an armchair trip along the HST's early miles, to a blessing of a ridge that gifted us with lasting memories.

Saber Ridge - 5/27 - 5/29

Colin Video: https://vimeo.com/219595499
Gil Video: https://vimeo.com/219950099

Credit: Yinzer
Thanks Dad for the awesome hand-me-down backpack. Oh yeah and half my trad rack : )

Credit: Yinzer
The falls at our first moment-of-truth point on the HST. Mehrten creek. The rangers told us 'people have been getting turned back at mehrten for weeks'.. We were ready to ford a massive stream or attempt to rig a tyrolean up in the woods above the falls... It turned out to be a mild hop over a tounge of water... and yeah, well in my experience rangers like to hype stuff up a bit.. but they are cautionary for good reasons. We've all seen how wild the stream-crossings got in the high country as the melt began.

Credit: Yinzer
Gil contemplating Mehrten creek. Castle Rock Spires (I believe) in the distance

Credit: Yinzer
first peeks of the still-snowy Great Western Divide coming into view

Credit: Yinzer
Love me some Panos. Don't have my info totally down but I know you can see Angel's Wings there.. and I think the higher peaks/features are (from left) Mount Stewart, Lion Rock, Black Kaweah, Red/main Kaweah?, (anyone fill in the comments at will.. cant figure out what the peak between lion rock and black kaweah is.. maybe 'picket gaurd?')

Credit: Yinzer
first glimpse of the actual Saber Ridge ... the bright and pale tounge of granite sitting above the snowfield in this shot.

Credit: Yinzer
We're so thankful for the blessing of all this precipitation. thin streaming waterfalls were everywhere, and the heavy flows were creating the ever-present roaring soundscape that eminated off the valley walls and rose into the sky above.

Credit: Yinzer
Gil crossing a snowfield around mile 13. the HST makes its way up to Hamilton lakes in the ampitheater to the left.

Credit: Yinzer
Heavy flows on Lone Pine Creek coming out of Tamarack Lake. The water was insanely cold when we were filling our bottles, and getting near the edge instinctively felt quite dangerous. Aside from the freezing temps, a swim would mean being whisked away underneath snowbridges pretty quickly. Saber looms above, giving us confidence in the send- seeing it dry, and having so much light so late in the day.

Credit: Yinzer
Views from camp, near Lone Pine Creek & Elizabeth Pass. Chilly, beautiful, with the land showing signs of a rough winter.. avy debris littered most of the trail from well before bearpaw meadow.

Credit: Yinzer
Beautiful Sierra-Westside colors that just sing 'coastal california'

Credit: Yinzer
God's land

Credit: Yinzer
Just a couple of mountain-loving dweebs with a penchant for mileage, a love of film... and some semi-serious facial hair. My ski-touring beard has been a staple since the Penguins 2016 cup run (I'm from Pittsburgh) and Gil's sending 'stache has been around since... well, when I first met him.

Credit: Yinzer
you cant make this stuff up. end of day rays, the last of the violet scraping the low-hanging clouds above an impermanent waterfall.

Credit: Yinzer
look deeper, and tell me what you really see.

After settling in to our camp for the evening, we found it extremely easy to zonk out after hauling our heavy gear (even though we try to swear by the UL approach.. we just often fail to achieve it) for the 13+ miles to our little bivy near the river. If we had gone 300 yards further we would have found softer and more protected ground with some established-ish sites under massive trees.. but we liked the view and were content just starting off from there in the morning. To be fair we kindof dropped everything to be sure we could shoot some through sunset : )

The day of the send was a calm, focused, and very happy outing. We kept quiet, saved our energy, inhaled deeply the dry yet snow-moistened and still sierra air. Good choices were made pretty much the entire way. We made the very n00b like error of not bringing enough water, (even though we drank as much as we thought we could during the approach and re-filled from a falls right before the send) and of course the send took much longer than the sandbag-ish quote of 5.5-6hours camp-to-camp as mentioned by the Sierra Mountain Guides crew : ). with lighter packs and a camp at tamarack I could see 6-7 hours being easily achievable though, as mere mortals & off-the-couch'ers.. if you can get there.

Still, the winds were calm, and none of the precip that was slated as possible for saturday and sunday afternoon seemed to be present. We were starting to believe.. know now really- that it would go off without a hitch.

Credit: Yinzer
heading off into the morning, avy debris refreshing the local ecosystem.

Credit: Yinzer
pristine Sierra alpine scenery as we walk towards Tamarack. Prism and Saber on the left, Stewart on the right. Suncups that seem to speak to sacred-G starting to form ...

Credit: Yinzer
I composed this as a beta photo... First real good view of the line. You reach that left-facing dark corner near the start of the actual ridge. the slab 'crux' (5.6 unprotectable nobs) is somewhere near the mid-left of the sunny-spot.

Credit: Yinzer
approach slabs, wetslides, big mountains, and a scenic ridge climb awaiting us.

Credit: Yinzer

At this point, we were feeling a little bit of the work that we put in to finish the last 2ish miles to the base, (heavy, having both crampons and axes in our bags, just in case... ) and knew there was already more sunlight on the route than we wanted... we had hoped to be roped up at 6:30 am, but with the longer approach, ledgy and waterfally terrain that had us climbing fourth-class moss lumps and bushes.. then into snowfields again- we were a tad delayed.

Credit: Yinzer


What really took time though, was the '3rd class approach slabs', which felt like they had more than a few moves in the low-fifth range to us, and were a bit heady to navigate with mountaineering boots on. Gil had switched to climbing shoes at this point.. I was hoping to get higher before doing an equipment & backpack changeover, so ended up keeping mine on, regrettably.

Credit: Yinzer
Peter Croft 3rd

Credit: Yinzer

It was Gil who ended up wanting a hip-belay for a cruxy slab move on the approach, me above him, having passed it in my boots. It was a left-to-right crawl of sorts around a bulge, with serious exposure below. From there we followed a tounge / right facing blob up to where the ridge emerges from the mass of granite slabs.
Credit: Yinzer

Credit: Yinzer
Moments of success, happiness, and fear happen as we finally gain the ridgeline. You can see the faint falls on the approach slabs where we got our first water. I had a 1 Liter bottle, (already small, usually i'm 2 1L's) and Gil's container was less than one-liter. We had stayed beyond-hydrated on the way in, but the air was dryer than I thought, and the ridgeline more physical. Usually I keep a second 12 or 16oz 'emergency' extra water in my climbing day-pack, or a custom vitamin & juice mixture.. and this reaffirmed that idea to me.

Luckily I also had some riccola cough drops and energy gummies that held off thirst for bits at a time.. I love having eyedrops, lip balm, and lozenges for the dry sierra air. Washing your face in the snowmelt streams having a similar and more low-tech affect. But we were high up riding the ridge at this point.. about to get some of our first simul-climbing experience in.

Credit: Yinzer
Can you find Gil?

After riding the ridge for a few pitches, and gaining the ridge-proper (the 'flat' part) via the dark 5.7 corner, we found loads of 3rd class, and occasional fifth. What had really spooked me was the slab crux past the first headwall, far above my gear and with a heavier-than-usual backpack due to the snow.

We didn't shoot so much from the ridge, of the actual climbing moves or changeover stations, but everything was very straightforward, and really a gift of a line from God above. The importance of protecting for the second through downclimbs became more critically clear after passing the first steep and blocky downclimbing of the ridge. Beyond that there were a few 'knife edge' moments and boulder-problem style lowers that require alot of commitment, but still exist in the V0 / 5.7-range moves-wise..

There many ways and styles to get around cruxes and moments of exposure, and the variety of choices made it a pleasant and stress-free endeavor from a leading perspective.

Credit: Yinzer
I told him to wave

At this point, I was taking more calculated compositions with my 35mm camera, and the iphone became secondary. We also just started needing to move, realizing how long the ridge really was, and even worrying for a few pitches wether we would be benighted. The thought of the sun setting on us was emotional motivation more than anything, but our topout did occur quite close to sundown.

Credit: Yinzer
on lead for one of the knife-edge portions.

Credit: Yinzer
Gil after the 'knife edge'. His body is obscuring it but it's in the video. The smile says it all though

Credit: Yinzer
The wonderful summit views from the Saber Ridge. I won't claim to know the peaks exactly but I think its Black Kaweah, Stewart, and an endless line of peaks heading south... Off to the right you can see the range gradually dip down to the west, the air showing a bit more coastal humidity than it does on the eastside. You can also see the back of Angels Wings (I think) in this one. The shadow of Saber runs along the left of frame, clearly outlining the shape of the route.

Credit: Yinzer
you try to avoid it, but Here is Gil, on the verge of thinking about the walk back tomorrow morning.. really just that moment after one's time on a summit where your thoughts shift to the reality that, well, everything from here is a return trip. A mixture of sadness, and something like the feeling of ones ego leaving for a last fleeting moment of purity. Yet, it's also its own form pleasure, different from the anticipation of a trip, the approach to a climb.. the early pitches. It's a feeling of deep content and fulfillment that the 'objective' you visualized and hoped about for months is now a part of your experience not imagination.

Credit: Yinzer
wild wind-ripples off of the backside of the Saber summit. Deadman's Canyon I believe. Gil was also overjoyed to recognize the steep summit spire of 'Milestone' mountain, a place he hadn't been yet but wanted to visit.

Credit: Yinzer
feeling like a bird. the countless swallows along the route were a good sign and pleasant companions for us during the pitches. Also memorable were the beautiful deer along nine-mile creek, the marmots at bearpaw, and the chipmunks and birds near Tamarack and along the Saber Ridge itself.

From the Summit to the descent, the blocky 4th and occasional fifth was hemmed in by snow and exposure, which added a little bit of spice. We remained roped up / simul-ing until we reached the snowfield that is the descent. It was really pleasant on the knees to be walking down soft spring snow instead of sandy slab and scree. It gave the whole route more of a winter & alpine feel, even though it was quite hot out in the sun. (forecast said high of 48 for the summit. felt hotter)

Credit: Yinzer
Brilliant Sunset hues of pink and orange reflecting off the bright snowfields.

Credit: Yinzer
Saber on the left and Prism in the middle. The light had left us, but the pale illumination eminating from the snowfields was enough to guide us down during our walkoff. I always hold out on the lamp until it's truly needed, to enjoy the relaxing dimness as the twilight fades. We experienced beautiful subtleties of light long after the sun had dipped beyond the pacific ocean. Crystalline and rainbow-lattice electric energy seemed to dance in front of you. It spilling into our eyes in ripples with the purity of its deep blues, and bright magenta-pinks.

Credit: Yinzer
Gil gets upset when I don't wait for him : )

 - -

the walk back was a few miles in the dark, some routefinding through manzanita, and the occasional doubling-back when getting cliffed out near Lone Pine Creek. We were absolutely exhausted by the time we made it back to camp. Gil's Crampons got eaten / removed from his pack by a bush .. (this after I already hammered him on the virtue of clipping any critical gear, when his ice-axe dislodged from its holder and tumbled a good thousand feet down off the saber... making 7 or 8 hops of a 40 or 50 feet in the air, the loud clang echoing around the granite walls. We felt bad for our failure to 'leave no trace' but seeing an axe fall that far was intense, memorable, and admittedly entertaining to the 10-year old inside us.

I fought slumber for a few minutes in bed, watching the night sky open up above us. Holding out for a shooting star, I saw three. All with their own character, angle... speed.. within about 10 minutes. The sky seemed to quiet. We fell deep into slumber, our aching joints anticipating tomorrow's big day.

 -

Monday was Memorial Day. God bless the Veterans. We stomped out through the heat, more stream crossings, butterflies, deer, and the likes. We tried to push the pace and it was still slow-going, especially as we got closer to the westside. Exiting Sequoia from Crescent Meadow was a wild experience, with long lines of visitors near the shuttle pickup, and lotsss of cars coming into the park.

It was already in the 90s down near Lake Kaweah. We had a meal in Three Rivers, hot and exhausted, and made the long drive home in Gil's trustworthy vintage benz. (no AC) We would unpack our gear that night, feeling the buzz of sun energy on our UV-laden skin, and new experiences in the back of our now more veteran minds. It would take us longer to unpack the meaning of the trip, which taught us a few things, including:

believe what they say about pack mules
pack lighter
climb with more water
climb steeper pitches
climb harder closer to the trailhead
don't pump out / take breaks (trail)
there are always logs to cross things, especially after drought then avalanches.

There are many inspirational figures who push us to do more than we might without their leadership, and stewardship. Our trips in the Sierra wouldn't happen without the likes of many. Thanks to our heros...

Norman Clyde, Galen Rowell, Peter Croft, Chris McNamara, Vitaliy Musiyenko, John Dittli, Dr. Dirtbag, Fat Dad, and everyone else out there sending, exploring, sharing, and loving the High Sierra!

 - -

When the rolls of film are developed, I'll add them to this post <3

I wrote this in part for the enjoyment and pleasure of all the ST'ers out there, so thank you for your time, I hope we didn't keep you too long.

-Colin









  Trip Report Views: 2,829
Yinzer
About the Author
Yinzer is a trad climber from Los Angeles, CA.

Comments
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Comment on this Trip Report
ydpl8s

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:02am PT
Nice! I love the pic of the "wind ripples".

It kind of reminds of the pattern of the dead, blown down trees after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Jun 7, 2017 - 10:42am PT
Nice TR, wonderful pics (especially the sunset photos), and a great adventure shared with a good friend. Outstanding way to spend your Memorial day weekend.
cheers
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Jun 7, 2017 - 10:57am PT
Way to Go.

Thanks for the share
skcreidc

Social climber
SD, CA
  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:02am PT
Nice job you two! And a great read. Thanks for posting up!
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:31am PT
Sweeet! The reputation must be true because it seems everyone loves saber. Bonus points for being one of the few willing to walk far to climb rocks, the best kind of trip!

Credit: limpingcrab

There she is on Friday, the day before your walk in I believe. I was thinking it would be cool to climb it surrounded by snow, awesome to read about you doing just that the next day!

thanks for sharing
Gunkie

Trad climber
Valles Marineris
  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:43am PT
Awesome!
dirt claud

Social climber
san diego,ca
  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:49am PT
Great TR, what an adventure, thanks for sharing.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jun 7, 2017 - 11:58am PT
Cool stuff. Makes me want to find another ridge hidden in the folds of the Sierra.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  Jun 7, 2017 - 12:12pm PT
Cheers!

DMT
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jun 7, 2017 - 10:59pm PT
Splendid. Nice work for a couple hipster looking, mustache wearing "film" using wannabes! Did you guys take some vinyls and a turn table back there. Your soundtrack would sound waaay better on vinyl dude.

All kidding aside...way to get out there and get it done. Proud adventure!

really just that moment after one's time on a summit where your thoughts shift to, well, everything from here is a return trip. It's a bit sad, yet its own form pleasure, different from the anticipation of a trip, the approach to a climb.. the early pitches. It's a feeling of deep content and fulfillment that the 'objective' you visualized and hoped about for many months is now a part of your experience not imagination.

I really liked that little bit of writing right there. Thanks for sharing.

Scott

P.s. Looking forward to seeing how the film turned out.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jun 7, 2017 - 01:57pm PT
Cool.

Related TRs:

by Vitaliy:
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Valhalla-Diary-pt-1-FA-Attempt-on-the-Angel-Wings-and-Saber-Ridge/t12805n.html

by Paul Souza:
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Valhalla-Redux-The-Spectacular-Saber-Ridge/t12681n.html

by Ney Grant:
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Saber-Ridge-Angel-Wings-with-Peter-Croft-New-Routes/t12491n.html

Video by Chris LaBounty (RIP):
http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Matthes-Crest-Actually-I-prefer-Saber-Ridge/t11205n.html
splitclimber

climber
Sonoma County
  Jun 7, 2017 - 03:05pm PT
righteous!!!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Jun 7, 2017 - 07:11pm PT
Wow what a great bunch of photos and the report. Must of wanted it real bad if you got out there so early in the season!! Well done. 10+/10
jaredm

Trad climber
Oakland
  Jun 7, 2017 - 08:23pm PT
Great TR and photos Colin. This upped my excitement for getting into the backcountry again this year.

When are we finally getting up BCS?
crankster

Trad climber
No. Tahoe
  Jun 7, 2017 - 08:28pm PT
Nice. FYI, your post has the date as June 27-29.
Timid TopRope

Social climber
the land of Pale Ale
  Jun 7, 2017 - 08:51pm PT
Great TR and photos. Bonus points for not waiting for melt-out.
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
  Jun 8, 2017 - 05:56am PT
Fantastic TR and photos. Getting it done this early on a big snow year adds even more adventure!
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Jun 8, 2017 - 08:20am PT
Glorious!
fear

Ice climber
hartford, ct
  Jun 8, 2017 - 10:57am PT
Bonus points for rocking the 'stache....
Yinzer

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Author's Reply  Jun 8, 2017 - 11:38pm PT
Thank you fellow ST ers for all the support and positive feedback. Some of you guys are our favorites, DMT, micronut, Guyman. The opportunities for these adventures are in part gifted to us by the generation that preceded us, and we thank you. Clint thank you for making the related TR's a part of this thread, and honoring those friends. Vitaliy it brought a big smile to my face to get 10/10 from you <3 Hope to link this summer.

The film photos will be juicy. Honestly I have some issues with the ST 8mb limit per still too. Usually it only takes up to about 5mb anyway before it rejects... even iphone photos go over 5-6mb sometimes now. I'll inquire.

send!

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jun 11, 2017 - 05:29am PT
Awesome TR!
Mike.

climber
  Jun 11, 2017 - 08:13pm PT
Great job on the climb, and thanks for taking the time to create this excellent report.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
  Jun 11, 2017 - 10:04pm PT
hey there, say, yinzer... wow!!! really neat and special share, thank you so much!!!

Beatrix Kiddo

Mountain climber
Durango ColoRADo
  Jun 12, 2017 - 08:01am PT
That's my kind of outing. I like your style!
kingtut

Social climber
carmel, ca
  Jun 12, 2017 - 08:58am PT
Thanks for posting.
Grippa

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Jun 12, 2017 - 10:00am PT
This is what it's all about. Well done gents!
grubs

climber
  Jun 28, 2017 - 11:19am PT
Nice, I think you got the first winter ascent. Oh wait, was this two weeks shy of summer?

On that really knife edge section you're supposed to hand traverse the right side, not the left side :) Let your balls hang out over the void. You guys clearly had balls though, going for it in those conditions!
howie doin'

climber
Bishop, CA
  Jun 29, 2017 - 03:27pm PT
So psyched for you guys and that our post helped to inspire your adventure. Well done in alpine conditions!
Howie Schwartz
Sierra Mountain Guides
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Jul 3, 2017 - 01:30pm PT
I sure enjoyed that. TFPU
Ericbwalden

Trad climber
Oakhurst
  Jul 9, 2017 - 05:09pm PT
Nice write up. I believe it should read: (Brandon Thau/Chris LaBounty '09) on that FA?
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