Southeast Buttress 5.6
Trip ReportTR - Needles, Courtright Reservoir & Tuolumne Meadows...
Our initial plans were to head to Tuolumne Meadows (in Yosemite National Park) to climb, then head to the wine country to meet to supertopoians and road bike. Following the ride, we were going to head to Courtright Reservoir to climb based on the beta gained here (thanks again everyone).
Two days before taking off though, a big fire broke out near Yosemite Valley sending smoke into Tuolumne and surrounding areas. After burning for more than a week, it appears the fire is finally contained, but only after destroying 28 homes and 90 outbuildings. Very sad.
So, the day we were to leave, we changed our plans completely because of the fire. We ditched the bikes and drove through Vegas heading to Southern California to climb at the Needles instead. En Route, we stopped and visited with Loomis and his friend Helena. It was a great time sitting on the porch, snacking on yummy food and drinking some tasty adult beverage.
Part I: The Needles
The Needles are gorgeous in the midst of the Sequoia National forest. The granite is as white as I've seen and streaked with lichen the color of a yellow highlighter. It's really striking.
I found the fire watch tower to be pretty cool too. That thing was built in 1937/38. I am continually amazed that the roads in even exist since they were built before. We went to the tower twice – once just to look around, and the other time to get cookies on Sunday. Yay for cookies for climbers on Sunday!
The first day, we hiked into the Needles and climbed Airy Interlude. Next up was the Howling. Day Two included the additional classic of Thin Ice which is located on The Sorcerer. What a great climb though I could have lived without the flaring offwidth! This portion of the climb was a complete grunt-fest for me. I did not feel elegant or graceful. Instead, adjectives such as thrutching, dry-heaving, and desperate clawing describes it better. :) Next we rapped the notch between the Sorcerer and the Charletan to climb Spooky. A climb to the Needles would not be complete without the photo of us atop the wild pinnacle. This combination of climbs offered a variety of features: off widths, lay backs and weird fluted "things" to grab onto. All very cool.
After a rest day (I excel at these), we hiked in and headed to the Warlock formation to do two routes recommended by Herb Laeger who was there climbing. I think one was called Moondrops and the other The Flying Warlock (though I could be wrong). One was a 10a, the other a 10b. Not much to say about them except that they were fun. After lunch, we hiked down a bit and climbed the first two pitches of Fancy Free. The second pitch of this route was especially fun - a really great finger crack. Unlike flaring wide cracks, I really like finger cracks. It was really great. It was an excellent way to end the day.
While hiking in for our last day of climbing at the Needles, I heard the sound and saw the shake of a rattle. Instantly I flew through the air exclaiming "HUGEST SNAKE!!!!" That is not a typo. That is what I actual said. Hugest snake? Dave immediately followed with an elegant flying leap and odd noise. We looked back and almost on the trail was a huge rattlesnake. In the shade. And it was cool. He was not where we'd expect to see one. Ick. Can't believe I didn't see it before hearing it. It was right in front of us.
Our last day at the Needles was a short climbing day since we needed to get some driving done. We did one route called Spook Book. The climb was fun and hard. The slab was as heinous as I feared it'd be. I just hate hard slab – what can I say? The rest was just hard and fun. And it seems to go on and on.
Topping out, we saw the worst weather of the trip - some clouds and a few rain drops. This was unfortunate since the descent off the top of this route was by far the scariest part of the entire trip. One move and I’d be a smear mark only marring the beautiful white granite.
Part II: Courtright Reservoir
Courtright was pretty much everything described to us. Driving in, one is greeted with many beautiful views. Of course, there are the trees. Big trees. Very cool.
We pulled over at one viewpoint and who is standing there? None other than the Taco’s Jody. Great to meet him in person finally. He was there with his children and a niece for some climbing and fishing. After some yapping, we continued in toward where we wanted to set up camp.
The next amazing view is Power Dome – the “prize” of Courtright. The wall was big. Really big. Very cool.
Our attention quickly turned to a dam. A really big earthen dam. According to some sources, it is the tallest earthen dam (315’ by some accounts). The Dam was built in 1958 (and looks like it's had no maintenance since). We had to cross the dam to get to our camping area. It was barely wide enough for one vehicle and had no guardrails. It was very creepy for sure just seeing a HUGE drop off.
The next day, we got up eager to head to Power Dome and climb. We’d talked with folks and had the guide book, so it seemed clear what we needed to do to get to the face of the wall. Unfortunately, even with this information, it was not clear. We hiked up to the top and looked at the scramble down. We poked around and found a bit of a down climb – safe though very exposed. After this small section, Dave located a rap station. From the looks of it, this station has been in the wall for a century.
Okay, maybe not a century. Still, they were rusty button heads. And the hangers looked like someone had tried to pound them flat. Or remove them. Or something bad. Bleck.
We rapped down and found another equally spooky rap station. This got us to a ledge system requiring some 5th class eecking on horizontal traverses for miles (okay, maybe not miles).
Finally, after far longer than we thought it’d take, we managed to get down to the climb we wanted: Little Nukey. It got so many recommendations we felt it’d be a great first climb.
The climb started with some slab moves and offered typical old-school bolting. It was just pure fun. A few pitches up, we commented that we’d not seen any of the infamous Courtright solution pockets. Little did we know when we made that comment that they were right above us. I could hear Dave giggling as he placed tricams and cord into these things.
Check out the cool belay station Dave set up. There is a bolted one above, but he couldn't resist the bowling ball hole belay!
By the time we topped out it was about 4 or 5 meaning a second route was out of the question given the approach. Besides, we were convinced that the approach we’d taken was absolutely incorrect. Where is this easy approach several people mentioned to us?
The next day, we planned to head back to Power Dome and climb Paraclete. Then we wanted to go to Penstemon Dome and do a four-pitch 10a that looked to be a lot of fun. Given the hassles with approaching the dome yesterday (approaching from climber’s left), and additional review of the book, we felt that we’d approached the face of the wall from the wrong side.
Our plan was to hike to the top of the Power Dome and stash our stuff. We would descend to the base of the wall (from climber’s right). While on top, we found that someone left a rock message
Given that we both share the sense of humor of a 6th grade boy, we corrected the sign:
We cackled the rest of the day over our apparent cleverness.
We then headed down the “correct” way to reach the wall. Almost immediately we learned that that getting to the face from the opposite side proved equally puzzling, difficult and more dicey. Yesterday, a fall meant a long pummeling death resulting from bouncing down the rock face many hundred feet. Today one slip on the slabs meant a sliding, scraping fall for about 100’ until plunging into a raging class four river with roiling waterfalls. At least the drowning wouldn’t take long.
After far longer than we’d anticipated it would take, we did finally get to Paraclete. The climb was fun and long. However, given the long approach time, we didn’t have time to go to Penstemon Dome at all.
The next day was a short day so we thought we’d go to Trapper Dome. According to the guidebook, this dome is located ten minutes from the Trapper Springs campground. Unfortunately it did not say in which direction. One would think a many hundred foot dome would be visible, but with the density of the trees, that is not the case. Our ten minute hike turned into an hour + hike looking for this stupid rock formation. I was ready to just leave, but Dave pushed on and found it.
I was not motivated by the time we arrived at Trapper so Dave headed up Nosferata. It looked like fun – sharp edges up a face, then a finger-eating razor-sharp crack up a right-facing corner. After he rapped, we headed out of Courtright.
Courtright Reservoir has a lot going for it – it’s beautiful, there is a ton of rock and it’s very quiet. We didn’t see a single other climber there the whole time we were there. There were many fisherman and many more four-wheelers. Still it was a very quiet place to be with gorgeous views. On the down-side: approaches. Perhaps the reason there are not many climbers there is because it‘s a pain to get to anything…at least anything on Power Dome. It takes quite some time, is dangerous and it could be argued that the risk and time is not worth the climbing. Still, we are both happy we got out there. We wondered why the locals haven’t installed just a single anchor on top of one of the routes to enable a quick and easy rappel approach to the base of the cliff??
Our next stop was Wawona to see Karl Baba. It’s always great visiting with him – good food, great conversation, good wine and hot tub in a most beautiful environment.
Part III: Tuolumne Meadows
Happily, we did end up getting to go to Tuolumne Meadows since the fire had been conquered. It was clear and beautiful in TM. This was my first trip to TM - I’d long heard of how beautiful it was, as well as the fun climbing on ‘peanuts.’ It quickly became clear why this place’s nickname is the ‘granite planet’. There is granite everywhere. And hikers – holy moly, I’d never seen so many hikers in my life. The park was absolutely jam packed with cars from hikers. Crazy.
Our first stop was Lembert Dome to climb “Cry In Time Again.” This 10a multi-pitch climb is best described as sustained face climbing that is a bit sporty at times. In other words, the bolts are a long way apart meaning a fall could result in a nasty whipper. Gack!
The first pitch Dave declared the entry price pitch because of its gnarly slab moves. I hate those types of moves! The top two pitches featured the infamous Tuolumne Peanuts which are feldspar crystals sticking out of the granite. Aside from the few unpleasant slab moves, the climb was great fun and a good introduction to Tuolumne climbing.
The next day we went to Fairview Dome to climb Lucky Streak. By the book, Lucky Streak is a 5.10d 7-pitch climb.
There was one party on the climb when we arrived. We goofed off at the base and tried to stay warm in the sun waiting for them to get higher on the route. Finally, the party had moved up the wall far enough, so Dave started up the route. Dave linked the first two pitches and I started up.
Seems the party above us dropped a pair of Chacos or Tevas. Happily they didn’t hit either of us. The only damage was our being startled and knowing that one of the party above us was going to have a most unpleasant descent scramble in their climbing shoes. Ow!
We goofed off a wee bit at the belay ledge waiting for the party above us to move higher. After a while, Dave headed up the crux pitch. This pitch starts off with an awkward strenuous left-leaning finger crack which leads to a technical continuous left-leaning corner with pesky gear placements. Dave fired it and off I went.
To my left and just below Dave is a big explosion. Scared me to death! Turns out the party above dropped their second pair of Chacos/Tevas. The good news was – as Dave put it – at least they can’t drop any more shoes on us.
A bit more linking of pitches and we were at the top in five pitches. By the time we were at the top, our feet were KILLING us! I was so happy that I had my descent shoes. It was glorious ripping the climbing shoes off my screaming dogs. All-in-all, this was a really fabulous climb.
We had only ½ day to play on our third and last day in TM. So, we decided to do Cathedral Peak.
The hike wasn’t bad at all, and there weren’t too many other parties on the wall. Still, to stay away from them, Dave chose a line to the right of the ‘normal’ route. It was much nicer not worrying about someone above knocking a rock (or shoes) on top of us.
With simul-climbing, we completed the climb in two long and one short pitch. The view from the 10,950’ summit is amazing. One can see Half Dome, Sentinel, and the Higher Cathedral in the distance – these are formations in Yosemite Valley. In addition, one can see Mathes Crest, Echo Peak, Unicorn Peak, Lembert Dome, Pywiack Dome, Fairview Dome, Eichorn Pinnacle, as well as countless others. The weather was very clear and warm. I had worried I’d be a bit cold on top, but that was not the case at all.
We hiked out, and headed out. Our next stop was a place that I’d long heard of and was finally going to get to see first hand: The Lee Vining Mobil Station. We enjoyed a really great meal of fish tacos then hopped in the truck for the long drive home. Great trip! Can’t believe we’ll be making the drive again in a few weeks for the Facelift!
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