Trip Report
West Face of Isosceles Peak - A Great Backcountry Wide Climb in the High Sierra
Wednesday October 2, 2013 9:17pm
Nearing the start of the West Face of Isosceles Peak.
Nearing the start of the West Face of Isosceles Peak.
Credit: PellucidWombat

Monday, September 23, 2013

For all of you wide climbers, here is a great climb that I found in the High Sierra in Dusy Basin. #5 and #6 C4 cams are a must, and the crux pitch had some sections reminiscent of Gripper. All of the pitches were sustained, and mostly continuous chimney or OW. While rated II 5.9 in Secor, compared to other OW that I have done, including the SW Face of Conness, I think this route warrants a 5.10a rating, and a grade II+ to III- rating for how slow the pitches go with all of the wide. The rock was mostly pretty good, and I think we cleared out most of the loose blocks (intentionally or not).

Jared and I went out for a last attempt of the season to do Winchell's SW Ridge - the route requires a long day and early start, so warm weather and long days are helpful. We left the Bay Area a little before 4am, drove straight to the TH, hiked in fast and set up camp beneath Isosceles . . . and decided to do the II 5.9 route that splits the triangle as a quick approach day climb. No information was given on the route except the FA, rating, and vague description. While is is called the West Face, we felt like West Face 'Bisector' was a more appropriate name - especially that now it is one of 3 routes on the West Face.

Unfortunately, the climb took us into the night, so we arrived at camp too late and trashed for Winchell. No matter the time it took us. I think the route trashed us physically enough that Winchell would have been ruled out even if we had gotten back to camp before dark as planned :-)

The South Lake Reservoir was shockingly empty when Steph Abegg and I passed by at the end of June. There was still some water left in it, but it was significantly lower than when I had last seen it, and it was significantly lower now. The water stops well before the dam.

North Buttress of Mt Goode. It snowed the day before - pretty early for the season!

Bishop Pass. 2 hrs 10 minutes in. Not bad with overnight packs and a heavy rack.

Mt Winchell and the Shark's Fin (right).

Lake in Dusy Basin beneath Isosceles Peak (right). Thunderbolt Pass is on the left.

Nearing our campsite, looking out toward Mt Giraud. 3:15 since leaving the TH.

Lakside campsite in Dusy Basin.

Iscosceles Peak seen from camp. The West Face route that we would climb ascends the continuous, dark crack, in the center of the face.

Iscosceles Peak seen from camp. The West Face route that we would climb ascends the continuous, dark crack, in the center of the face.

Nearing the start of the West Face of Isosceles Peak. Most climbs tend to be lower angle than they appear from the distance. This one turned out to be steeper.

Cool overhanging buttress and cracks on the West Face of Isosceles Peak.

At the base of the West Face route. We soloed some cl. 4+ terrain up to the base of the chimney to start P1. As it turned out, 3:00 pm was a tad too late to start this climb this late in the year . . .

Looking up the steep W Face. The flare capped by a roof had me concerned, and turned out to be one of the cruxes of the route. You had to stem and jam wide until your feet were just beneath the roof before you could step over onto a tenuous, detached flake.

Starting up the chimney.

Higher in the P1 chimney. This chimney had good rock on the outside, but mungy, loose, lichen-covered rock dripping with water on the inside.

After the chimney on P1, I was faced with some runout slab climbing made more interesting with the snowcover (left). I belayed on a ledge in the shade just to the left of the crux flare. The ledge had a large, loose block balanced on it, but don't worry - we trundled it for the sake of future parties.

Looking down P1. The cam for the red rope was in a flaring seam, so the last good pro is in the chimney. This section would probably be significantly easier if the shallow groove weren't wet.

The P2 crux flare looks steep to start!

Looking up the P2 crux flare. Break out that #6 cam and struggle! It seemed harder to me than the crux OW on the SW face of Conness. About halfway up it finally opens up enough to slide inside and climb as a squeeze chimney. Climbing out left of the roof was memorable.

Looking down the P2 flare once I reached the squeeze section. Whew!

Reaching the roof. I needed to step left to the ledge on the left (above the loose flake), but this turned out to be trickier than it first appeared.

Looking down from the stepover after I changed directions in the chimney. Time for some wide stemming and jamming.

Looking down P2. The upper sections wasn't wide, but it was still somewhat burly and tricky. I couldn't help but stand on a loose chockstone, which I accidentally kicked down as I started the next pitch.

I belayed Jared up P2 from the little alcove at the base of the OW that begins P3. It turned out to be a lot tougher and steeper than it looked. To me it seemed harder than Pratt's Crack.

Looking down the OW for P3. This one wasn't as technically difficult as the first one, but I was gassed, so I plugged in and rested more.

Looking up more wide for P3 if we had continued up. It was getting dark, so we needed to get off! I stepped right into blocky terrain to speed things up.

Mt Winchell seen after sunset. The W Arete that we had hoped to climb is prominent. Another time!

Looking up from the top of our P3 deviation. From here we continued up and right to intersect the SW Buttress Route.

We made it to the summit late and enjoyed the summit register, which went back to 1988 and included some FA info on new routes on the West Face. Surprisingly, no one had claimed an ascent of the West Face. Considering the route was first climbed in 1978, that means it sure doesn't get much traffic! After resting up a bit we traversed east near the ridge crest and made a gradual descent to the basin below, simul-climbing through cl. 4-5 terrain that was occasionally loose. We collapsed at our tent around midnight. So much for our planned 3am wakeup! We slept in and hiked out the next day.

While we hadn't done the climb we had wanted, we both felt like we had stumbled across a forgotten gem, that provides full-value wide climbing in the High Sierra.

Mt Winchell seen from camp. The SW Ridge that we had hoped to climb is the sinuous line profiled in shadow on the left.

The western flanks of the Palisades seen from Dusy Basin. This palisade is continuously 1,000'-2,000' high.

The jumble of aretes rising up to Starlight Peak and North Palisade. There are two interesting buttresses on N Palisade, the West Buttress (IV, 5.10) and Southwest Buttress (IV, 5.11c OW).

Annotated Photos & Maps

Iscosceles Peak seen from camp. The West Face route that we would climb ascends the continuous, dark crack, in the center of the face.

Iscosceles Peak seen from camp. The West Face route that we would climb ascends the continuous, dark crack, in the center of the face.

Nearing the start of the West Face of Isosceles Peak.

Map of the Dusy Basin Area with Isosceles Peak

Rough Elevation Profile of the trip in and out.


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About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

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Mountain climber
  Oct 2, 2013 - 09:28pm PT
Good job. Does it look easier going straight up from the place you exited?

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 2, 2013 - 09:39pm PT
From what I could tell, it eases up significantly. The wide on the last real pitch was lower angle, with lots of features and cracks to break it up. Could still be 5.8+ to 5.9, but not nearly as tough. After that the final pitch was probably about the same as what we climbed to the top - jumbled blocks at about 5.6-5.7 at most. I really wished we could have finished it properly, but we had decided to speed things up at that point!

Mountain climber
  Oct 2, 2013 - 09:56pm PT
Bump, because it's climbing

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Oct 2, 2013 - 09:59pm PT
Beautiful area to explore! I've only been in the general vicinity in spring with snow shoes, have a hard time relating to getting that far in with a few hours hiking after driving in from sea level. But you are a cardio beast.

Social climber
So Cal
  Oct 2, 2013 - 10:04pm PT
I've always liked that area and the sense of solitude you don't get with the hordes on the other side of the Palisades, but I've always camped just over Thunderbolt Pass and wondered what was on the other side of Isosceles.

Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Oct 2, 2013 - 10:41pm PT
Damn, those photos are so nice....

Oakland, CA
  Oct 2, 2013 - 10:57pm PT

Gym climber
Great White North
  Oct 2, 2013 - 10:58pm PT
good stuff
Delhi Dog

Good Question...
  Oct 3, 2013 - 01:19am PT
That's a great area to explore, easy in and out,thanks for the cool TR.

Came over Agassiz col one time from the east...whoa what a grunt that was with full packs, dubbed it Agony col after that.


Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Oct 3, 2013 - 01:40am PT
That's a dusy of a good story.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 3, 2013 - 02:10am PT
That's a dusy of a good story.

Haiyo! :-)

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Oct 3, 2013 - 11:03am PT
Nice work Wombat!!

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Oct 3, 2013 - 11:27am PT
Pellucid, the TR Master, comes through again with the goods!
I too was shocked at how low South Lk was a few weeks ago. We saw
some retarded fisherman slogging through the muck to wet their lines! LOL!

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Oct 3, 2013 - 12:10pm PT
hell yeah!! TFPU

and dude I dig your topos

nice work!


Trad climber
the Box
  Oct 3, 2013 - 02:29pm PT

've always loved that area and wondered if anyone's ever climbed that crack on that face. Thanks for sharing. *^_^*

>and dude I dig your topos
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Oct 5, 2013 - 08:36am PT
Beautiful pics Mark, thank you!!!
David Wilson

  Oct 7, 2013 - 02:46pm PT
Great you did that one and dragged those cams in there. Here's an old TR from a new route ( we think ) we did to the left. I remember looking over at that system and thinking it looked burly. Thanks for posting !

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Oct 7, 2013 - 03:12pm PT
I'm quite impressed both with the climbing and your hiking speed -- not to mention very grateful for an excellent TR and pictures. Thank you very much.


Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 7, 2013 - 03:45pm PT
Here's an old TR from a new route ( we think ) we did to the left.

Thanks for the link! We saw your entry and nice hand drawn topo in the register, so I did my best to annotate on my photos where I thought your route went. I'll update the images tonight to match what you showed in the ST thread.

Mountain climber
Draperderr, Utah
Author's Reply  Oct 26, 2013 - 02:00pm PT
David Wilson: Here's an old TR from a new route

Beautiful photos! I've updated my topo to better match the line you drew. Next time I'm in the area, I'll have to check out your line :-)

Trad climber
  Oct 26, 2013 - 02:44pm PT
Well articulated and detailed TR. Respect.
Bruce Morris

Trad climber
Soulsbyville, California
  Oct 26, 2013 - 05:02pm PT
Your time of 2 hours and 10 minutes up Bishop Pass sounds like an invitation to cardiac arrest, especially driving up from sea level that morning. What are your times on the 100 mile Tahoe to Sacto endurance run? I've been up Bishop Pass quite a few times: you guys were flying!

Great trip report. Contrary to rumor, I love OW and chimneys. Your TR is a red flag invitation to doing a Dusy Basin beater next summer. June or July thank you with long days and, hopefully, no snow storms.

Trad climber
Nashville, TN
  Oct 26, 2013 - 05:46pm PT
Looks like it should be called the West Chimney. I'll bet it was like climbing next to an open freezer door. Nice job!
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Jun 5, 2016 - 06:37am PT
Bump for climbing content

Social climber
  Jun 5, 2016 - 10:03am PT
Bump for great content!

Social climber
  Jun 5, 2016 - 11:07am PT
Great TR ; missed this the first time around. Thanks for the bump!

  Jun 5, 2016 - 11:53am PT
Looks good and I love your topos too
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