Trip Report
The Obelisk : Handle With Care / SE Buttress
Thursday October 11, 2012 12:34am
The Obelisk (9705') is a chunk of knobby granite which marks the westernmost point of Kings Canyon National Park. Secor lists numerous climbing routes on its north, west, south and east faces. The easiest way to its summit is 5.6. The nearest trailhead is about ten miles away, and the trails are poorly-maintained and hard to follow. I've wanted to climb this thing since 2006, and got a brief taste of it on Hoffman Mountain last year (trip report). I wanted to take four days to visit this place, so as to climb several routes and enjoy it.

So on Saturday, the 29th Bill McC and I set out from the Crown Valley trailhead (~6800'), just up the road from Wishon Reservoir. The forecast was for flawless weather, warm and sunny. We trudged about 4 miles on good trail to Statham Meadow and had lunch.

Private cabins at Statham Meadow
Private cabins at Statham Meadow
Credit: rhyang

From here the trails got harder to follow, mostly due to downed trees. We managed to miss a couple of trail junctions, but got back on track with the aid of map, compass and GPS. There were also ducks in places, but we did some amount of cross-country walking anyway. By mid-afternoon we got to the lower of the Geraldine Lakes and called it a day.

Lower Geraldine Lake (~8700')
Lower Geraldine Lake (~8700')
Credit: Bill McConachie

We decided not to get too early a start, and began heading up to the 9300' ridge between the lake and The Obelisk around dawn. A lot of the way was on slabs, so it was fairly easy going. About 7:30am we got our first glimpses of the north side.

approaching The Obelisk
approaching The Obelisk
Credit: Bill McConachie

Getting closer ..
Getting closer ..
Credit: Bill McConachie

We decided to check out Handle With Care (5.8), on the northwest corner of the formation. Secor mentions that approaching from the west is a major bushwhack, but we found that angling in from the northwest wasn't so bad if you look for use trails. By 9-ish we were roped up; I took the first pitch.

Me on first pitch of Handle With Care
Me on first pitch of Handle With Care
Credit: Bill McConachie

We swapped leads on our 60m double ropes for about three pitches. The rock was featured and positive, with lots of plates and chickenheads.

Me on second pitch of Handle With Care
Me on second pitch of Handle With Care
Credit: Bill McConachie

I traversed right, away from the side pinnacle and stemmed into a chimney / gully. Secor described the fourth pitch as having a beautiful hand crack, with 200' of fun climbing.. give me that :)

Me on fourth pitch of Handle With Care
Me on fourth pitch of Handle With Care
Credit: Bill McConachie

Looking down halfway up fourth pitch of Handle With Care
Looking down halfway up fourth pitch of Handle With Care
Credit: rhyang

In places where the crack closed up or was otherwise not amenable to jamming there were lots of chickenheads and knobs for the feet, and for pro. The last half was steep and featured, really a lot of fun.

Not all the chickenheads were solid -- Bill knocked a few off :) You know what they say .. if it looks too good to be true, it probably is !

The fifth pitch put us back in the sunshine. There looked to be a couple of ways to go.

Bill on fifth pitch of Handle With Care
Bill on fifth pitch of Handle With Care
Credit: rhyang

This looked like it would have also worked for the fifth pitch
This looked like it would have also worked for the fifth pitch
Credit: rhyang

The final pitch was described as fourth class, but what a great place !

Last fun pitch to the top of the Obelisk
Last fun pitch to the top of the Obelisk
Credit: Bill McConachie

Massive knobs !
Massive knobs !
Credit: Bill McConachie

Almost to the top !
Almost to the top !
Credit: Bill McConachie

Looking east from near summit
Looking east from near summit
Credit: rhyang

Hoffman Mountain and Finger Rock, in the distance
Hoffman Mountain and Finger Rock, in the distance
Credit: rhyang

We took our silly summit pics, ate a snack, and started looking for the famed and dreaded rappel. The first rap required only a single rope.

First rappel
First rappel
Credit: Bill McConachie

The second rap required two ropes, and apparently a number of parties have had stuck rope epics. I went down first, then scrambled up and east a bit so I could get a shot of Bill rapping into the void.

The descent
The descent
Credit: rhyang

Bill on the second rappel
Bill on the second rappel
Credit: rhyang

We coiled the ropes and after a short scramble down to terra firma, descended back to Bill's pack near the start of the route. The hike back up and over the ridge to Geraldine Lake was a bit of a grunt, but not really that bad, and we got back to camp well before dark.

What to do next ? We discussed checking out Rock Solid (5.8), on the west face, not far from where we'd started Handle With Care.

Next morning we kept a similar schedule, and got there perhaps a little earlier, having wired the approach. I happened to notice this stuff near the start of the west face - wonder what the story is ..

Golf anyone ??
Golf anyone ??
Credit: rhyang

We looked for Rock Solid, compared the line drawn in Secor with the features and other routes mentioned, and decided we didn't like (or couldn't figure out) what we saw. Fortunately, someone had just written up the SE Buttress (5.8) on mountainproject.com, so we went in search of that one instead.

The southeast side was warm and sunny -- no long underwear needed. Secor's description was pretty short -

This route ascends the buttress to the right of the chimney of the South Face.

The MP description mentioned an offwidth, some face climbing, a steep/overhanging corner, some more face climbing, and apparently a really good third pitch -

The third pitch climbs up through this steep section of rock, passing a slightly overhanging bulge on huge holds, good pro, and bullet rock. This could be the best 15ft of climbing on the whole Obelisk and you'll wish it went on forever.

Sign me up ! I took the first pitch, and gasped my way up the offwidth, which we thought was a little harder than advertised.

Looking up first pitch of SE Buttress
Looking up first pitch of SE Buttress
Credit: Bill McConachie

I didn't like the look of the steep corner -- the rock was a bit loose in places. Fortunately, it was just a matter of turning right, and heading up an arete-like feature on more fun knobs and plates to eventually rejoin the route by stepping left.

Me bailing on the steep corner of the SE Buttress
Me bailing on the steep corner of the SE Buttress
Credit: Bill McConachie

Bill's lead of the second pitch of SE Buttress (variation)
Bill's lead of the second pitch of SE Buttress (variation)
Credit: rhyang

Me on second pitch of SE Buttress (variation)
Me on second pitch of SE Buttress (variation)
Credit: Bill McConachie

There were a couple of options for starting the third pitch, and I headed up a right-slanting crack to more knobs, and then the headwall mentioned above.

SE Buttress, third pitch
SE Buttress, third pitch
Credit: rhyang

"Best 5.8 climbing on the Obelisk", SE Buttress, third pitch
"Best 5.8 climbing on the Obelisk", SE Buttress, third pitch
Credit: rhyang

I have to say, it lived up to the hype; steep, fun and just enough pro. I followed the black streaks basically. Bill seemed to have a good time too -

Bill on third pitch of the SE Buttress
Bill on third pitch of the SE Buttress
Credit: rhyang

The last pitch was a romp, on the biggest chickenheads I have ever seen in my life. Some looked to be the size of toaster ovens. We packed up the rack and coiled the ropes, and again did our summit thang.

Bill on the summit of the Obelisk
Bill on the summit of the Obelisk
Credit: rhyang

Yours truly dorking out on the summit
Yours truly dorking out on the summit
Credit: Bill McConachie

The rappel was just as thrilling as yesterday.

looking towards Geraldine Lake
looking towards Geraldine Lake
Credit: Bill McConachie

The walk back to camp went smoothly and no headlamps were required :)

Tuesday morning we awoke with the dawn, packed swiftly and headed out.

lower Geraldine Lake
lower Geraldine Lake
Credit: Bill McConachie

The trails seemed to reveal themselves a little better on the way out, though we did some x/c walking in the forest again at times. The GPS was helpful of course. We noticed some fall color -

Statham Meadow
Statham Meadow
Credit: Bill McConachie

Bill spotted this bear track -

looked like it came through after us
looked like it came through after us
Credit: Bill McConachie

Not far from the wilderness boundary a cowboy greeted us, beer and smoke in hand.

said he was looking to round up stray cattle
said he was looking to round up stray cattle
Credit: rhyang

We got back to the trailhead before 1pm. Wishon Village was still open, ostensibly for the remainder of hunting season. It was great to be able to take a shower there, and we headed out for spicy burritos at Taqueria Maranatha in Madera on the way home.

Gear notes:
 8.1mm x 60m half ropes
 cams from 0.5 to 3 inches (plus green/yellow link cams)
 set of nuts
 10-12 trad draws (shoulder length)
 3-4 double-length slings (lots of knobs and chickenheads to sling)
 two cordelettes

  Trip Report Views: 2,374
rhyang
About the Author

Comments
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Captain...or Skully

climber
in the oil patch...Fricken Bakken, that's where
  Oct 11, 2012 - 12:50am PT
Good stuff, Rhyang. That Obelisk is 1 incredible stone.
I can dig it.
eKat

Trad climber
  Oct 11, 2012 - 12:54am PT
WOW. . . neat place. . . TFPU!
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:06am PT

OMG, I'm jealous beyond words!


The truth, and a good climb or two, is out there.
Thanks.
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:07am PT
Sweet! Glad you still made it out there this year after I had to bail. The worst part is that I didn't even get the job that I bailed on you to interview for!

Makes me want to go back out there, it looks as fun to climb on as I remember
RP3

Big Wall climber
Twain Harte
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:17am PT
Inspirational! I wanna go!
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:32am PT
another place I need to climb
skywalker

climber
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:37am PT
Damn, those knobs look fun. I bet cool exposure to boot!

TFPU!

Cheers!!!

S...
Enthusiast

Sport climber
Port Townsend WA
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:39am PT
Some great rock features, fun trip
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
  Oct 11, 2012 - 03:30am PT
Nice write-up and choice of pics. Perfect weather, beautiful location, and good rock. Those chickenheads really were amazing.

Great fun climbing with you again, Rob!
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
  Oct 11, 2012 - 04:13am PT
That third pitch on the SE Buttress was even more fun than advertised. I wish that pitch could have gone on and on.

Here's another shot looking down the second pitch of the SE Buttress with it's countless knobs:
Rob cruising up chickenheads on the second pitch of the SE Buttress of...
Rob cruising up chickenheads on the second pitch of the SE Buttress of the Obelisk.
Credit: BMcC

Such fun.

Rob - thanks again (!) for bringing the maps, navigational tools, and navi-skills to make the hiking in and out more effortless.
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Oct 11, 2012 - 12:15pm PT
Rob and Bill…… very nice TR, Thanks for taking the time to put it together.
How many climbs would be on the Obelisk if it was close to a road?

In the 4th photo, just above the top of the pine tree on the right, you can see a small line.

That line is the BEST 5.8 climbing on the Obelisk, IMHO.

Its’ over 200 feet long and it is a hand and finger crack.

I climbed it in 2003 with Jason.
We started on “Rock Solid” …. Hard unprotected start and after about 3 pitches we tunneled to the left, 4th class, and arrived on a large sandy alcove ledge. The crack starts here.

The view from the summit is wild.

Almost as cool as the rap.

Did you check out the Gorge of Despair?

You need to go there.

Thank you again for putting this up, beats a political thread hands down.
Brandon-

climber
The Granite State.
  Oct 11, 2012 - 12:25pm PT
God, that looks like a fun place.

In one picture, you wrote this; 'Looking east from near summit'.

I'm wondering what the prominent face (buttress?) is. Any idea?
karodrinker

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Oct 11, 2012 - 12:53pm PT
Wow Rob! those knobs look incredible! Is there a route up through the roof on the rappel route?
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:58pm PT
I'm ashamed to say, I still haven't been to the Obelisk, even though it's in Fresno County and the trail head is less than two hours from my house. This TR settles it -- next year for sure!

Thank you very much for the excellent TR and pictures.

John
goatboy smellz

climber
लघिमा
  Oct 11, 2012 - 01:58pm PT
Hog knob heaven, looks like a great day out!
miwuksurfer

Social climber
Mi-Wuk
  Oct 11, 2012 - 02:27pm PT
Man, that place is awesome. My buddy and I did see a momma bear and her cub on the way in.

I was also wondering about the golf club. Found a few balls laying around too.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Oct 11, 2012 - 02:49pm PT
i don't know about the golf club at the obelisk, but about 30 years ago, several friends and I hauled ourselves, supplies, prodigious quantities of beer several dozen golf balls and a driver to one of the Dinkey Lakes. One of the activities was the Drive The Lake Contest (several did). We did not, however, have any irons with us.

John
mountain dog

Trad climber
over the hills and far away
  Oct 11, 2012 - 10:08pm PT
Very nice report. I want to climb this.
TMJesse

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
  Oct 12, 2012 - 01:17am PT
Last time I was back there was 1973, I think (who can remember back that far?). Way remote and wild back then. Glad to see it hasn't changed much, if any. That rock is awesome.
nutjob

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Oct 12, 2012 - 07:23pm PT
Man, that thing looks as cool from up close as it does from many miles away. My heart beat a little faster looking at that gorgeous texture.
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
Nevada City
  Oct 12, 2012 - 07:41pm PT
good stuff sir much appreciated.
msiddens

Trad climber
  Oct 13, 2012 - 11:07am PT
Nice stuff Rob
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Oct 13, 2012 - 11:03pm PT
Great TR, Great times!!!
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
extraordinaire
  Oct 13, 2012 - 11:16pm PT
Remember Ishun out there. http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1005732/missing-climbers-at-Florence-Lake
Loomis

climber
  Oct 14, 2012 - 03:44am PT
I believe that you have been in one of the most magic places in the Sierra.
So remote and rarely visited, the views from there are worth a visit, even if one is not a climber.
Great job!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Oct 14, 2012 - 03:56am PT
Who does not like chicken heads, the larger the better to sling!
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Oct 14, 2012 - 01:51pm PT
That looks spectacular! Loved the chickenheads, plates and lichen.
Great write up, Rob.
pix4u

climber
Sonoma, CA
  Oct 15, 2012 - 03:12pm PT
Another view of the Obelisk
Another view of the Obelisk
Credit: pix4u
em kn0t

Trad climber
isle of wyde
  Oct 15, 2012 - 05:17pm PT
thanks for this great TR and awesome photos ... ALMOST as good as being there. 4thumbs up, guys!
mike a.

Sport climber
ca
  Oct 15, 2012 - 05:30pm PT
Thanks for the super cool pix, that looks awesome and super duper fun, going to have to check that out for sure, you guy's rock :-)
Hardrock

Trad climber
San Bernardino
  Oct 22, 2012 - 10:49pm PT
Your pics brought back good memories. When we(three of us) ascended the Big O about 7 years ago in July. The area seemed to be bear friendly from the droppings. The next morning there was no doubt. We did three routes. No one had signed in for about 10 years. On that outing another team showed up. On my lead up the SW corridor things were great until I traversed to the east and crossed over a loose boulder about the size of a compact refrigerator. I passed and had just put in pro above it an zoom the 300 pounder fell out and sent shards out on each bounce down the corridor.
One of the climbers in the other team that decided to follow us got a minor cut from some of the shattered rock. We enjoyed it so much we climbed two more routes during that outing.

Thanks again for the write up. The raps were super!
Osprey

climber
  Oct 22, 2012 - 11:10pm PT
Oh man! Those are the chunks dreams are made of. Thank you for posting.
Jilli

Trad climber
Livermore, California/ Aotearoa/ Planet Earth
  Nov 5, 2012 - 06:38pm PT
Great TR! What an awesome climb :~)
duffer

Trad climber
Sonora, CA
  Nov 20, 2012 - 07:39pm PT
Hey, great trip report. I was lucky enough to have done the FA on Handle With Care with my buddies, Jack and Don, back in 1990. I named it that after Don broke off a couple of knobs along side the long hand crack. Good to see that someone has repeated the route. I was hiking in the Yosemite back country recently with Jon McC, Bill's brother. Small world. -- Dave Harden
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