Having found a good airfare deal from Portland to Phoenix, Shirley & I fly in Friday night after work. A quick two-hour drive puts us in Benson, Arizona & an even quicker night of sleep is followed by an early rise. Morning hike up to the Rockfellows Group and once again we are at the base of the classic Endgame…Shirley with her fond memories of leading the beautiful first pitch and I with my less fond memories of popping a shoulder. It is cold and the sky is cloudy. It’s best not to linger too long in such circumstances or there’s a chance that the desire for a hot breakfast in town might win out. Shirley starts up the familiar first pitch. Crimps to first bolt. Slab moves to third bolt. Why is she hesitating so much at the 5th bolt – try slight left, try slight right. No go. “I’m gonna go straight up – watch me!” Shirley yells down. Things look kinda thin above her for a 10-. I yank the new topo out of my pocket: ”Think you’re off route.” I yell before she launches up. We failed to note that in the two years since our last visit to this route, a new 11c branch-off variation was bolted in. A quick lower off and re-tying of the ropes and Shirley dispatches the rest of the pitch without issue. In retrospect, I should’ve let Shirley deal with the 11 variation - not knowing what it was, she might have enjoyed it. The first pitch is stellar – as I follow, I wait for the same side-pull move that dislocated my shoulder two years back. It never comes. Guess I found a different way through. We swap leads and pitches two, three and four go uneventfully. The climbing is stellar though on all of them! An amazing route even if we’re getting blasted by increasing wind gusts! Pitch four puts us on a large ledge below the final summit headwall. We’re directly in line with the somewhat famous runout finishing pitch of Days Of Future Passed, reportedly a scary 5.8 R. I know that the standard and well bolted finishing pitch of Endgame is just around the corner but…screw it, if I get the DFP final pitch done now, I won’t have to deal with it when we come back for that route! I start up. Things are crimpy but mostly straightforward. I clip the first bolts (yes, there are two of them right next to each other – an old and a new one) at about 25 feet above the ledge and continue up. The going becomes lower angle but more slabby. The second bolt is about 60 feet up above the ledge. Focus. Breathe. Clip. I exhale a sigh of relief. The terrain above eases all the way to the summit of End Pinnacle. Runout but mostly straightforward climbing – though I think it’s less secure for shorter folk (i.e. more true slab moves vs. reaching high for crimps). Shirley comes up and we’re trying to decide which way to descend while freezing in the constant wind: the standard way via the N/NE side of pinnacle or down the SW face and DFP/Jimmywacky lines. The wind is coming from that direction and so we opt for the former. Indeed that side of the pinnacle if much quieter. We do couple of raps (per mountainproject beta) which put us in a deep groove/chimney. This then turns into a true cave and we belay a short section of bouldery spelunking to the final rappel. FUN stuff and all the rope pulls are easy & smooth! Definitely should descend that way at least once. Not a soul in the East Stronghold all day long as far as we see and hear – a great (if cold) day. On the hike down, we discuss what we will climb the next day and finally zero in on coming back for the classic DFP just around the corner…with the worst-reputed pitch out of the way, how bad could it be? Our main concern is that we are light on big gear but we figure we’ll make do.
Knowing that we have to be driving by 3pm to catch our flight home that evening, we wake up extra early. The sky is clear (unlike Saturday) but the wind is noticeable even at the trailhead. We’re at the base of Days Of Future Passed on the west side of End Pinnacle by 8 or so and are shivering in the shade and the blasting wind. The line looks spectacular. I rack up and start up the first pitch before my mojo leaves me. I A0 the improbable “5.10” traverse (looks a lot more doable from below!) and am shivering the whole way. Shirley complains that she can’t feel her hands while belaying me….Shit, perhaps not the best conditions for it. I climb up as high as the slung chock stone in the OW & we bail. The sunlit east face of Cochise Dome across the way looks so much more appealing! We make the short hike and start scrambling up to the start of the classic What’s My Line route. The approach from our packs to the start of the line via the 4th class chimneys is more strenuous and probably takes longer than the line itself! Finally, I start up via the A0 penji/lower out to reach the start of the famous “chicken head highway”. It’s amazing – like an exposed ladder of granite chicken heads. There’s not too much pro on the first pitch (most of the chicken heads are not positive enough to hold a girth hitched sling reliably). I enjoy myself so much that I screw up the route finding (going up and right vs. the more correct right and up) and find myself with a section devoid of chicken heads (or much pro) and a mandatory slab/crimp move (not 5.6) to the belay. Shit! Some mumblings of profanity & I finish the pitch. The rest of the route goes uneventfully though it’s super fun all the way and there’s a cool slung chicken head belay in the middle. Very unique climb IMO – and very worth it even if the 5.6 grade (5.6 A0 to be specific) does not inspire you. We rap off and quickly hike back. Make Phoenix airport by 7pm and are home before midnight. One of our funner outings to the Stronghold. With so many more classics – both new and old – to tick, we’ll be back.