My High Sierra season started a few weeks ago when my friend James Coburn called to say he had a permit to the Mt Whitney zone and his partners had bailed. Normally I would have tried to con James into doing something obscure, but since it was his permit I let him choose the objective. We hiked up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek early on July 23rd and dropped our bivy gear at Upper Boy Scout Lake. We then continued on to Iceberg Lake and over the Whitney- Russell Col to Mt Russell. We were moving a bit slower than usual and arrived at the base of the Fish Hook Arete III (5.8) at 11:00 am.
I had climbed this route back in 1998 (?) with Billy Mc Cullough, and so today when James and I considered the late hour we opted for the “direct start” to the “prominate notch”. This 5.7 variation avoids some of the wondering lower down and gave us something new to do. We would also do the “East-Side” variant (Alpinist magazine says that “variation” doesn’t sound cool in a blog?) near the top. James and I enjoyed excellent moderate climbing in shorts and T-shirts to Russell’s 14,086 summit. It was a perfect start to the season.
A week later James was at my house at 5:00 am and we arrived at Twin Lakes at 7:30. We had intended to climb a new route (intently vague, Ed.) but after four pitches we were shut down by a thunderstorm. We rapped off and hiked out, arriving back at the car completely soaked. At least we got to eat fish and chips at Pop’s Galley in Bridgeport.
I spent Sunday July 31st in Reno with my family at the Tour De Nez bike race then drove to Tuolumne Meadows the next day. My friend Chris Holt met me at Tioga Pass Resort and we hatched plans for the next day. Chris, who is also known as “C-Lev” as in “Sea Level” because he lives in Santa Cruz and when he comes up to the Sierra he kills it climbing, skiing (even after a 15 year lay off!) and mt biking with seemingly no effects from the altitude. About a week ago I Emailed Chris a list of possible objectives and was surprised when he chose the East Arete III (5.8) of Simmons Peak in the Yosemite Backcountry.
So at 4:45 am the next day we began hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) towards Donahue pass. After three hours of hiking we headed cross country for a few miles until I had to quote Marc Twight “at anxious last I saw it: the East Arête of Simmons Peak (Twight was talking about the South Spur of Nupste) was terrifyingly beautiful. It had the elegance of a Halston dress and the aggressiveness of a metal-studded dog collar. There was a hollow feeling in my stomach. It became an ache; the ache became a stabbing pain. I fell to the rocks clutching my frightened head in my hands....I wanted like I never wanted before”. Chris flashed me a puzzled look and said, “I think I lost my car keys” Maybe the altitude was effecting him.
Black Diamond Equipment now offers a “High Sierra Kit” that cost about $8,000. Our High Sierra Kit consisted of 120 feet of 7mm rope, 5 cams, 6 nuts, 4 draws and 8 slings. The first few pitches, which were as usual, steeper, harder and looser than expected may have gone quicker with a proper rack but the light packs on the 25+ mile round trip hike made it worth it. Before long we were Simul-climbing the “striking arête” that Secor describes in his guide and cruising to the summit. We hurried down the descent and continued on to the JMT were we ate, drank, changed into dry socks (part of our High Sierra kit) and headed out, arriving at the locked car at 10:00 pm. Fortunately, there was a climber in the parking lot who gave me a ride to my car and saved us from a late-night-high-country-hitch-hiking-epic. My right foot felt alarmingly like a stress fracture I once got from running, but we crashed out without eating dinner completely satisfied.
The next morning I felt pretty good which I took as an indication that my training has been appropriate to my goals. Chris and I enjoyed a great breakfast at The Mobil, and then drove down to Mammoth where we needed to buy some groceries and deal with the lost key. I also wanted to check out the Mammoth skate park. Despite my right foot being a little tender, I put in a solid session. But few days later when I returned to the Mammoth skate park I reinjured my foot and was forced to cancel a trip to The Palisades with my good friend Juan so Bold. (photo: East Arete of Simmons Peak)