For a couple of seasons of ice and rock climbing Mike Carr had been my go-to guy and we had developed a really solid, fast-moving climbing partnership. Our typical winter outing would find us heading out early and stopping for several donuts each and a thermos of coffee. That would be the sum total of our provisions for the day, as once we left the trailhead for whatever goal we had set, we would stop only to tie in and rack up, or to put in pro. These days yielded many pitches climbed and an honestly acquired fatigue at the end of it all. Feeling frisky, we decided in early July to go into Spearhead and give “The Barb” and “Sykes Sickle” a go. These high quality alpine rock routes were pretty popular so we hiked into the valley below the face and set up camp under a large rock. We had made good time going in so decided to reward ourselves with a lap up the 5.8 III “Ten Essentials” route. This route goes up a series of flakes and dihedrals on the right side of the east face of Spearhead, offering six pitches of interesting route-finding with good protection. Overall, the difficulty increases upward, but we thought it was mostly a real hoot. We speculated on what the ten essentials actually are as we climbed, and concluded that on a good day in the high country we probably had about three of the ten essentials between the two of us. We descended by down climbing the north ridge route, which was a good preview for our following day’s efforts. The north ridge is rated as a 5.6 grade III rock climb in the guide books, and there are probably one or two moves that hard, but we found the terrain to be good going and made good time getting down it. As we returned to camp we noticed other climbers had entered our valley and set up camp, no doubt going for one of our desired routes the following morning.
Spearhead; the horizontal ledge in the bottom ¼ of the face is the “Middle Earth” ledge. Sykes Sickle goes up through the roof demarked by the inverted “L” shaped shadow.
Looking up at “Ten Essentials” on the afternoon of our arrival in upper Glacier Creek. Another part of two is on some route to the left of “Ten Essentials”, which goes up through the series of flakes and dihedrals in the center of the photograph.
Mike Carr moving into the middle pitches of “Ten Essenntials”.
The next morning Mike and I were up as early as we could see and stole a march on all other parties headed for Spearhead that day. We had soloed the two easy fifth class pitches required to get to the large bench, called “Middle Earth’, that traversed the entire east face. As we were first on the rock we immediately roped up and started simul-climbing the lower pitches of the Barb in order to make good time; this entailed two pitches of 5.7 to 5.8 crack climbing in perfect jam cracks. At the base of the first 5.9 crack we started pitching it out, with Mike graciously giving me the first pitch. Two 5.9 crack pitches led to the crux pitch involving 5.10 face moves on sloping footholds to regain a nice finger crack that continued up at 5.9. After that, a short and easy scramble led to the north ridge route, which we rapidly scampered back down due to the previous day’s scouting.
Mike in the lead on our initial pitches of simul-climbing. It is early and we have not yet climbed into the sun.
Mike climbing into the sun. This might be the second 5.9 pitch on “The Barb”.
Mike climbing past the crux of this particular pitch.
Once down we regained the “Middle Earth” ledge and traversed across the face to the base of “Sykes Sickle” at the middle of the face while other teams went after “The Barb”. The lower few pitches of “Sykes Sickle” are pretty easy and we once again were simul-climbing them to make good time. Well protected climbing in the 5.7 range led us to the crux moves through the wickedly overhanging roof. The moves through the gap in the back of the roof was actually some of the most amazing climbing of the day, with reasonable pro and solid holds with outrageous exposure (5.9+ to 5.10-, depending on whose saying). Easy crack and face climbing (probably 5.7) led from the ledge above the roof to the ridge, and a quick scramble deposited us on the summit.
Mike zipping up one of the middle pitches on “Sykes Sickle”.
Mike further up “Sykes Sickle”.
Mike seconding the pitch below the crux roof pitch.
Nick climbing into the crux bomb bay chimney of the roof pitch.
Nick climbing higher into the bomb bay.
Clipping the final piece protecting the crux moves.
Nick committing to the final chimney moves.
The final move before reaching up through the narrow squeeze slot in the roof; awkward and very stimulating!
By noon we were enjoying snacks and the views from the summit. We had climbed two outstanding class III climbs, and connected them by down climbing a third such route, all in half a day. Mike and I had been climbing as well as we ever had together, moving quickly and efficiently, but never really compromising our safety. At that time as well as years later Mike and I would agree that this had been the best single day of alpine rock climbing either of us had ever experienced. Thanks, Mike, for one of the greatest days ever.
Mike Carr on the summit of Spearhead after climbing both “the Barb” and “Sykes Sickle” that morning.
Mike at the base of the mountain after a morning of sterling effort.