Trip Report
The Evolution Traverse: another story
Wednesday September 21, 2011 1:47am
The Evolution Traverse
Day 1 August 28, 2011 into Darwin Bench
Day 2 August 29, 2011 to Summit of Mt. Darwin
Day 3 August 30, 2011 to saddle south of Wallace
Day 4 August 31, 2011 to Huxley and back to Darwin Bench
Day 5 September 1, 2011 OUT!!!
View of Darwin and Mendel from Lamarck Col
View of Darwin and Mendel from Lamarck Col
Credit: Alex Few

Jed Porter and I climbed the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak together at the end of June and that went pretty well so we figured we were ready for the Evolution Traverse. After a little more thought we decided some preparation might be prudent. Not being much of a soloist myself, I thought our strategy should include a rope and gear. As long as I've known Jed he's been sneaking some kind of rope into his pack for even the most mellow mountain adventures. Our perspectives on ropes easily aligned (with a little beta we decided on a 30m single and 30m tag line). In mid-August we packed up all our gear and carried it over Mt. Winchell to work out our rope systems and packing plan. A few more last minute adjustments were made, which included leaving the rock shoes in Bishop and REI-ing and then modifying a special sleeping bag.
Preparations...every good expedition starts with the right foam for th...
Preparations...every good expedition starts with the right foam for the job.
Credit: Alex Few
The rack...more than we needed.
The rack...more than we needed.
Credit: Alex Few

As we packed up our packs on Friday night actual rain poured out of the Bishop skies. This did not set the mood we were looking for…things got tense. After much debate we settled on a plan and then promptly changed it first thing Saturday morning, delaying a day for a bomber forecast.

We hiked into Darwin bench on Sunday where we planned to cache some food, a sleeping bag, and tent to make the journey out less painful. We started climbing at 7:30 Monday morning far right of the central gully with a combined weight of 45 pounds between our two packs (including rope and rack). Our route finding was eased by Jed’s scouting mission to Mt. Darwin a month prior. Easy scrambling up sandy vegetated ledges brought us quickly, more quickly than we’d hoped, to 5th class climbing. We took out our rope and after some time, found a rhythm that allowed us to move relatively quickly through the terrain. Sometimes the rope was out for belayed climbing or simul-climbing. Often one or both of us carried kiwi coils. Overall, we used terrain features more often than gear for protection. After moving, up, over, down, around, and sometime through the rock, we found ourselves at our planned bivy site on the summit plateau of Mt. Darwin with two very memorable cruxes behind us. Each were about 40 feet in length; the first being beautiful twin hand cracks about 5.7 on section of red rock between Gould and Mendel. The second was a steep 5.8 hand crack also between Gould and Mendel. To add to the fun both of these difficulties involved climbing up. After dropping our packs, finding running water, and scouting the route for the morning, we tagged the summit pinnacle. Being 5’2” this proved the most difficult climbing of the entire traverse for me. I have since learned of a much easier way on the far side of the pinnacle. I guess we were too lazy to walk that far.
The Red Roof Inn
The Red Roof Inn
Credit: Alex Few

After waking up to warming alpenglow, the second day started slowly moving through rock that was uncharacteristically loose compared to the previous day’s climbing. Time moved slowly, more slowly than we were comfortable with, as we completed three rappels and a series of traverses to move down the ridge.
The start of the technical and loose bits past the summit of Darwin.
The start of the technical and loose bits past the summit of Darwin.
Credit: Alex Few
Credit: Alex Few

With these difficulties behind us, back on solid rock, our friend Ian, who was soloing the route, snuck up on us. After a quick chat and gear exchange (long story—Ian, I still owe you beer) we continued on keeping an eye on Ian’s ever increasing progress ahead of us. After reaching point 13332, we cruised along easy 2nd and 3rd class until reaching a brief 5th class step before Mt. Haeckel. The ridges leading to the tops of Haeckel and Wallace both provided nice scrambling, and the flat saddle just south of Wallace had nearby snow as we anticipated. We were done for the day with hours of daylight to spare which we used to melt snow. Each night we remarked on the civilized nature of our chosen style. Climbing only in daylight with long nights to relax, our planning seemed to be paying off. Our only mistake was miscalculating our fuel allotment. We ran out of fuel promptly upon filling all our bottles at the second ridge top bivy. This made for a cold morning for our last day on route.
Just chillin' in the evening light.
Just chillin' in the evening light.
Credit: Alex Few
Credit: Alex Few
Brrrr.....
Brrrr.....
Credit: Alex Few


The third day on route we kind of sandbagged ourselves. We found more technical climbing on outstanding rock than we anticipated. We ticked off summit after summit and eventually found ourselves on Mt. Huxley.
Heading up Fiske
Heading up Fiske
Credit: Alex Few
A little rope work up Warlow.
A little rope work up Warlow.
Credit: Alex Few
A sweet short crack!
A sweet short crack!
Credit: Alex Few
Still on Warlow...
Still on Warlow...
Credit: Alex Few
Headin' towards Huxley and the end of the route (and the end of th...
Headin' towards Huxley and the end of the route (and the end of the camera--"we" dropped it, but recovered the card).
Credit: Alex Few

A late afternoon exit through the Evolution Basin brought us full circle, literally. We arrived at our gear cache at the start of the route just as the sun set. A quick dinner and a fitful night of sleep have proven to be the beginnings of a long and strange recovery process. Peeling fingers a month later are just one end of the small, yet strange physiological reactions.

It was a journey rather than a singular mountain adventure. The Evolution Traverse has been almost a community endeavor this summer with several friends preparing, attempting, and succeeding http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Evolution-Traverse-How-I-Owe-it-All-to-an-Apple/t11143n.html. It was great to share part of journey with these folks and now to pass along our story to you.

  Trip Report Views: 6,097
Alex Few
About the Author
Alex Few is a trad climber and bighorn sheep biologist from Bishop, CA.
Jed Porter, also from Bishop, spends a lot of time in the mountains both for fun trips like this and for work as a mountain guide.

Comments
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tahoe523

Trad climber
Station Wagon, USA
  Sep 21, 2011 - 02:06am PT
If you were to do it again, which pieces would you take out? And what percentage of the traverse do you think you guys pitched out, simul'd and soloed?

Thanks for sharing the dream adventure. Congrats to you both!
Alex Few

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Author's Reply  Sep 21, 2011 - 02:23am PT
We used a rope on approximately 25% of the route. We did about 12 short pitches, 6 rappels, and the rest of the 25% was other rope stuff. We moved a lot with 20-30 feet of rope between us using terrain belays or running belays when difficulties dictated.

Fletcher

Gym climber
A very quiet place
  Sep 21, 2011 - 03:01am PT
Awesome! Loved this TR...thanks for posting up!

Eric
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
extraordinaire
  Sep 21, 2011 - 03:22am PT
Robust applause.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:31am PT
NICE WRITE UP!!! Will have to try this traverse sometime, looks great. Did you guys think it was good enough to have a 30M and a tag line?

This last weekend I traversed NW ridge of North peak, North ridge of Conness, dropped down and climbed West ridge of Conness in a day. How much climbing (about) do you think that would be if I was on Evolution?
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:11am PT
Nice! Looks like you're now ready for the Cascades and Rockies. :-)
Cain J Waters

Mountain climber
Ithaca, NY
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:26am PT
Nice read! Thanks for the write up. Cheers, CW
O.D.

Trad climber
LA LA Land
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:37am PT
Outstanding, in every way!
cleo

Social climber
wherever you go, there you are
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:46am PT
THAT looks really fun!!!

Nice job.
JerryA

Mountain climber
Sacramento,CA
  Sep 21, 2011 - 12:36pm PT
Great ! You are ready for the Palisades .
franky

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  Sep 21, 2011 - 12:44pm PT
Nice TR Alex!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:35pm PT
F'ing sweet job alex!! Tfpu!!!
Dapper Dan

Trad climber
Menlo Park
  Sep 21, 2011 - 11:45pm PT
Thanks for including pics in your report . I don't care how good the writing is , pictures always describe things better than words .... for me .
jedster

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  Sep 22, 2011 - 07:15pm PT
Thanks Alex for posting, and all for the accolades. We had a sweet time.

Here's some more spray
and a photo album
Zander

climber
  Sep 22, 2011 - 06:10pm PT
Woo Hoo!
noriko nakagawa

Trad climber
the bubble, co
  Sep 27, 2011 - 12:33pm PT
Nice write-up and photos, Alex. We should have an E Side celebration with all the great sends this year.
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Sep 27, 2011 - 01:49pm PT
Woo, wild and great. You're making us all green with envy!

If you were to do it again, would you bring the ropes?
mtnspice

Trad climber
berkeley ca
  Sep 27, 2011 - 02:09pm PT
awesome TR! haven't been to evo basin for a decade, your report makes me wanna go back....
howie doin'

climber
Bishop, CA
  Sep 27, 2011 - 03:55pm PT
This is a good example of "punctuated evolution" in the development and popularization of classic Sierra alpine traverses. Alex and Jed's achievement is a milestone in the history of this soon-to-be-ultraclassic ridgeline route, pioneered by one of the great visionaries of rock climbing history. Several have followed in Croft's footsteps to experience this terrain in a similar style - ropeless, or with only a small cord used for a few rappels, and without bivy gear.

Alex and Jed have shown the world that it is not only possible, but not even all that difficult, and also quite enjoyable, to add a significant amount of security to long Sierra alpine traverses that have recently been climbed mostly by those willing to do a very long push of 5th class soloing with little margin for error. Moving as light and fast as possible does help manage overall risk in the mountains, but risks of slipping, loose rock, rockfall, random personal injury, and unexpected mountain weather are poorly mitigated by this technique.

Stylistically, this ascent is impressive. The rope in this case was employed for about 25% of the length of the ridge using a variety of rope techniques. The mental and physical skills required for 5th class soloing with reasonable margins of safety are critical for a long moderate route like this. Arguably though, it is easier for a climber to gain this level of proficiency in movement skill and comfort than it is to become efficient in advanced alpine rope handling skills. Most climbers would likely not have the chops that this team had to employ the rope this extensively without increasing overall risk. In other words, most climbers would be safer soloing with a fanny pack than using a rope. I know of one strong and accomplished 5.12 climber that took a nearly tragic fall while downclimbing a loose 5.9 section off of Mt. Darwin. Slips can happen to even the best climbers, as we have seen in other recent deaths in our community. In a world where higher risk speed and solo climbing get so much media play, it is refreshing to see climbers pushing boundaries in another direction. To boot, these alpinists traversed in an impeccable style, progressing completely self-supported and without prior gear caching.

Each ascent of this route has taught a lesson used by subsequent climbers. I think this one will prove influential for those who wish to climb this route and others like it. Kudos, you guys!
Bela

climber
  Oct 1, 2011 - 02:40pm PT
I agree with Howie’s summation of the style and integrity of Alex and Jed’s ascent of the Evolution Traverse. The “tower topping” Sierra traverses provide fantastic alpine adventure and are just another great style of climbing the Sierra has to offer.

I agree that completing these traverses without or only a little rope use is an incredible accomplishment. I feel completing them with more ample use of the rope is also an incredible accomplishment!The latter brings forth other sets of skills. Excellent rope handling in a high alpine rock environment is no easy task. Application of “the right technique at the right place, at the right time”, including the decision to make quick, spontaneous terrain belays, braced belays, anchored belays or combination belays.

Then, add on top bivy gear and technique. Another – no easy skill. That takes a lot to master. How you can go High & Light with just tiny climbing packs, choosing exactly the right gear, how you get water, pick bivy sites and still cover your butt!

Doing the route in good style: onsite, with excellent rope handling, no food and fuel caches is still truly a form of pure alpinism. One that Alex and Jed and anyone in the future should be extremely proud of.

Bela G. Vadasz

Hoots

climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
  Oct 3, 2011 - 01:39am PT
Nice one! Such a cool place back there, and nice to see that you opted for the slower pace- some of those spots are just too beautiful to rush through.

PS: Are you the same Alex who lugged a (much needed)bottle of whiskey up to Campamento Las Torres a couple years ago?!

Ryan
Alex Few

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Author's Reply  Oct 4, 2011 - 01:57am PT
Thanks for all the praise. A special thanks to Howie and Bela for considering the style of our ascent. I am not willing, at least not at this point in my climbing career, to take on the risk of soloing a route like this. For me the rope added another level of enjoyment, a much more relaxed ascent.

Vitaliy, it was plenty to have a 30m rope and a tag line, might even be possible with just a 30 or 40m rope. The linkup you described, NW ridge of North Peak and N and W ridges of Conness, is definitely good prep for the Evolution traverse, but even 1/3 of the Evolution traverse is far more involved (logistically, route finding, altitude, and length)than the linkup you described. That being said, I did the two routes on Conness the weekend before to train.

Hey Ryan! Yup that was me enthusiastically carrying a bottle of whiskey to you guys in the Paine. Hope you're doing well. Sadly, I did not find room in my pack for a bottle of whiskey on this trip.
michaelj

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  Oct 4, 2011 - 11:43am PT
Nice work, Dr. Few. Now get out there and do that Sawtooth traverse, so I can use you as an interactive good book.
ClimberDave

Trad climber
The LBC, CA
  Oct 4, 2011 - 11:55am PT
Sounds like an awesome climb!!

Thanks for the report and pics!!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Oct 4, 2011 - 01:27pm PT
Thank you for reply Alex. Sounds like a BIG challenge and I am really looking forward to next year. Doesn't matter if I complete it or not just want to get out there and do my best/enjoy the area. Biggest crux will be finding about 5 days to have off from work in a row.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Oct 13, 2011 - 04:09pm PT
Nice job
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