A Less Than Perfect PitchCold breezes of October’s last moments cloaked the Silent City under iron grey horizons. Plumes of ghostly snow extinguished the views of the Inner City’s granite formations and the skies drifted about, dousing us with a variety of transitional snows somewhere between slush and bee-bee sized styrofoam hail balls. After eleven years, I was back at the Dome for just the second time and my partner, a retired Coast Guard serviceman, questioned my inability to locate the route. With a bit of searching, we found the lead out bolt; one of four on the first pitch and the only unnatural protection on the route. FS1 Dezek led out and nabbed the first two bolts with ease, but the snow flurries picked up for a solid twenty minutes, sabotaging the dry granite and rendering the 5.8 moves as slippery as 5.10s.
FS1 veered off to the left, skipping the third bolt to work the blocky arête suitable for a weird angled camming device in a sketchy crack below the second bolt. I watched aghast and astonished as the sharp end of the rope crept up and away from the arête and back on to the face of the 70 degree ramp that led up to the first belay station. From the belayer’s perspective, the route lightening bolted in a zigzag pattern. Down and left from the second bolt and then back up to the right for a clip at the fourth bolt. (Back in 1995, I accidently skipped a bolt up on a 5.8 climb at Parking Lot Rock. I peeled off just to the right of the anchor and ended up with a 40’ whipper and although I walked away with nothing more than a butt skid, I now highly recommend the use of helmets at the City.) On this evening, the direct route up Stienfell’s first pitch was compromised by the flurries, which deposited puffs of snow that softly consolidated atop the route’s features. The quality of the Dome’s Precambrian granite quickly dissipated and appeared to leak with small trickles like a porous limestone cave.
I clambered up the dripping wet rock, trying to keep my fingers and toes out of the nesting piles of snow. After unclipping the second bolt, I called for enough slack to climb up and clip the third bolt before down climbing to the cam in the arête. At the third bolt, I yarded off the slack Dezek fed out and backed down to the cam still plugged into the corner of the rock. Releasing the #2 Metolius, I waited nervously for Dezek to pull out the extra 20’ of slack. Pealing out and slipping, Ray literally yanked me up to the comforts of the belay station. We reminisced over the pitch and watched the snow showers blow away to the east. As the sparrows returned to buzzing the skies with their chirps and cheeps, we wiped off the soles of our shoes and contemplated the moves ahead.
Armed with a cute little rack of pro, I popped over a cruxy face move at the belay station and left Dezek to feed me line through the horizontal chimney that covered a full rope length. Our long ledge system skirted a tougher route which ventured out on the huge exposed face of the dome just above us. We traded leads one more time and free soloed the last two pitches on belay while scrambling to the summit. The wind picked up momentum on the peak and as the light faded, so too, the temperature dissolved away beneath our gasping breathes. Before us, under the 10,000 skyline of Cache Peak, Castle Rocks jettisoned out of the valley to the north. The ridge we were on petered out to the east within a mile or two, swallowed up by a vast expanse of open range beyond Almo. Darkness was upon us as we reached the car and we camped in the valley disturbed only by a few yipping coyotes.