Moon Goddess Arete 5.8
Trip ReportTemple to Thunderbolt Traverse (5.9 V?, C2C) | Finding solace in plan B
Dedicated to my friends and fellow Sierra aficionados Gil Weiss and Ben Horne (who said I didn’t write enough trip reports). RIP.
It was June when I received a job offer for a remote gig at at an open source database startup. I managed to negotiate three weeks of time off between jobs and had already finished all of my projects at my current employer in anticipation of ditching. There was no question where I would be spending my month off. The High Sierra was calling me.
It was early for my alpine season and I worried that I wouldn’t get in enough training to do anything big, especially given that this time of year is notoriously stormy by Sierra standards. I had been toying with the idea of soloing the Minarets Traverse as my summer goal; word around Bishop was that it was the next big traverse worth doing after Evolution. Word was also that it was scary chossy and atypical of Sierra routes in terms of the type of climbing and route-finding.
And so it begins
I set out on an every third day climbing schedule starting with the Harding Route on Conness (10c, IV). Despite residing at ~5500 ft in Colorado I was dragging on the approach with a 70m rope in my pack. This was going to be an uphill battle.
As usual the first pitch was wet, but I found a slightly runout start to the right that avoided most of the slime. If there’s anything that in Eldorado Canyon teaches you, it’s how to keep a cool head leading runout sketchy rock. I was glad to have Mike along to lead the offwidth pitch, grovelly enough without the 12,000 ft of elevation. I was also not disappointed when he became impatient and asked to lead the 10b pitch, which turned out also to be wet, but this time with few alternatives.
Tidying up loose ends
Three days later I set out to address some unfinished business, the E Arete of Bear Creek Spire (5.8, 22 pitches). I had attempted to solo this aesthetic line in September of 2008 with Jascha, but had hit that point in the season where I needed a mental break from soloing. The rock quality was nowhere near as good at the N or NE Arete and there were sections of verglas, which gave me yet more reasons to bail.
This time I knew to avoid the crumbling chimney, which I had previously used to gain the ridge. The first portion of the climb was familiar from before (minus the verglas). I passed the first crux and our previous bail point, and headed into uncharted territory. I avoided the crumbling towers to the right and made it to the second crux a very exposed improbable “5.8” headwall (I later read that Secor calls this 5.8 A0 and that Bob Harrington hadn’t done the direct line when he soloed the route). I went to the right here and climbed up a face to the right, which I would rate in the 5.7-8 range. After this it was Sierra class 4 picket fence to the summit.
After some cragging in Pine Creek my next alpinish objective was the Tenaya, Matthes, Cathedral, Eichorn (5.7, IV), a link-up for which I was long overdue. Matthes is one of my favorite climbs. I met up with a group of three college friends half-way through Matthes who had a similar agenda and we continued on to Cathedral and Eichorn. They opted for the shuttle back to Tenaya Lake, missing what I thought was one of the best parts of the day, the descent down the drainage from Cathedral Lake.
I returned back to Bear Creek Spire for a solo up the N Arete (5.8, III). I was moving fast, and was starting to feel like I might be able to pull something bigger off before I had to return home.
A glutton for more wide punishment I let Nathan talk me into doing Steck-Salathé (5.10-, 14 pitches) on the Sentinel. I hadn’t been to the Valley in 10+ years and what better way to reunite? Other than the Narrows, whose polished walls kicked my ass, it went pretty well mostly thanks to Nathan’s wide skills but partly to my ability to select leads that climbed like Eldo (Wilson Overhang) or involved slab.
Somehow I managed to stay awake to make the almost three hour drive back to Bishop.
Then on July 5th I learned that Michael Ybarra had died while soloing the Sawtooth Traverse, and I started to question whether I was in the right headspace for the Minarets Traverse or any traverse. As soloists we realize that the stakes are high, but for some of us the rewards are even greater, whether that be the meditative state that comes with the intense focus or freedom of movement or self-medication. It's easy to be dismissive when someone falls soloing 5.12 or half a world away, but when it happens on one of the Sierra traverses that hits home.
My time in the Sierra was dwindling and I was feeling physically strong. I deliberated for several days over what route to do and settled on plan B, a link-up of two of my favorite routes, Moon Goddess Arete on Temple Crag and Sill to Thunderbolt. I had done separate link-ups of the Grade IV routes Temple (Sun Ribbon Arete), Galey, Sill and Sill to Thunderbolt (several times) previously but never all at once. I was pretty worked last year on the Sun Ribbon to Sill link-up and I questioned whether I could even finish the whole thing car-to-car, but I knew that I would be on familiar terrain and that if I got in over my head (mentally or physically) it would be relatively easy to escape.
On July 8th with 4.5 hours of sleep I set out from the Big Pine Creek trailhead at 2:30 am. I reached the base of Moon Goddess at first light. I am not big on alpine starts but seeing the rising sun set Dark Star aglow was breathtaking. I spent a lot of time on Moon Goddess last year and the landmarks are engrained in my memory: the super exposed first tower traverse, the Ibrium tower bypass (watch for the loose microwave sized block), the blocky gully to the giant block, and the short but committing liebacks.
The portion I was least familiar with, having only done it once, was Temple to Galey. Unfortunately, it is also the section with the worst rock and somewhat convoluted route-finding. More than once I have stood on the summit of Temple and talked myself out of continuing on to Galey, but not today. I feared that I would waste a lot of time route-finding, but I managed to mostly remember the route we had taken the previous year.
I reached the base of the Swiss Arete around 12:30. I knew that as long as I could get to Thunderbolt and down Underhill Couloir (ideally off the moraine) before it was completely dark I would be home free. I was feeling surprisingly good (far better than last year) and after exchanging some friendly banter with Mike (who was doing T-bolt to Sill) I was able to do the Swiss Arete in under an hour.
I cruised over easy terrain to Polemonium and down the spiraling downclimb into the U-notch.
I headed up the N Chimney and ran into two guys, Joel and Dave from the Bay Area. One of them said, “Aren’t you fossana from summitpost? We have your Thunderbolt to Sill beta. Hey, do you know how to get down from N Pal?” I probably should have sent them down the U-notch, but I told them they could rap down Underhill Couloir after Starlight, which resulted in me having to show them how to get there.
They were very grateful, but it killed at least an extra hour, an extra hour that I would have had to cross the heinous moraine and maybe even get down the tricky section of the Galey Camp trail. I left them partway down Starlight and headed up the Thunderbolt. That summit block definitely feels a lot different with an extra six summits under your belt, but I did it!
Well, almost did it; the biggest mental crux for me is always downclimbing the silty, teetering bowling ball sized rock-filled death gully that is Underhill Couloir. Joel and Dave weren’t too far ahead of me and by the time they pulled their rope we were both standing on the Palisade Glacier in rapidly fading light.
With the low snow year the crevasses on the glacier were as big as I had ever seen. I was happy to have some light for that part. As always crossing, the moraine was slow going and I knew from experience there was no way I would be able to follow the cairns from Galey Camp to Sam Mack in the dark, so I employed my usual tactic of following the sound of running water down the drainage above Sam Mack until I hit the trail. Joel and Dave were skeptical so I left them with their GPS; they ended up staying not too far behind me.
Once I hit Sam Mack Meadow I heard Miguel’s voice in my head say, “You think you are close when you hit Sam Mack, but you still have 8 miles left”. Miguel and I climbed together the first time I did T-bolt to Sill in 2007, and to this day I remember that depressing sentence. On the upside, I was on trail and I know that regardless of how tired I am once I hit trail my autopilot kicks in. I queued up some electro sets on my mp3 player and 23 hours after I had left I returned to my car, not once regretting my choice of plan B.
Rating: 5.9, V?
Peaks: Temple Crag (12,976 ft), Galey (13,510 ft), Sill (14,153 ft), Polemonium (14,080 ft), N Palisade(14,248 ft), Starlight (14,200 ft), Thunderbolt(14,003 ft)
Mileage: ~20 round-trip
Additional route beta/photos available on the embedded urls.
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