I awoke ten minutes before the alarm was to go off. It was 4:50 in the morning. Pitch dark.
Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat!
Aw geez, it’s raining. We were all set for a day on Fairview Dome, but rain was going to be a problem if it kept up. I went outside for a recon. Not a star in the sky. Back in the tent, Brian and I had a short conference: should we get up and head for the route on the off chance that this would pass, or go back to sleep? It was not a hard decision.
It rained on and off the whole friggin’ day. The only highlight was breakfast at the Tioga Pass Resort. The rest was just an exercise in frustration and killing time. It was still raining when we went to bed. I didn’t have high hopes for the next day.
Surprise! At 5:00 the next morning I was almost disappointed that the sky was clear. I could use another good morning of sleeping in.
Brian was keen to get going. He hates the thought of being behind another party. I didn’t like it either, but damn that sleeping bag was cozy! I also need to eat something substantial before starting the day. Brian doesn’t. The turkey caught a few more ZZZZ’s while I ate a bowl of cereal.
We arrived at the wide spot in the road where the climber’s trail starts. There was already another car. “Hurry!” Brian kept urging. What’s the point? They’re already ahead of us… We hurried as best we could, but alas the other party was on the route, with the second just starting up the first pitch.
They seemed to be moving slow, which caused Brian no end of grief. We hung out for a while until it seemed there would be no danger of climbing past the follower.
The first pitch was my lead. The rock had dried out except for some seeps that unfortunately followed the crack and corner system of the first two pitches. Halfway up the first pitch there is a short, slick section of 5.9 that is the technical crux of the route. By the time I reached it my feet were wet, and the finger crack in the corner was a slippery mess. There was decent pro, but I didn’t feel like starting the day with a lead fall. I took my time figuring out the best strategy. I think this section is more like easy 5.10 when it is wet.
The party ahead of us had moved thirty feet up to a ledge by the time I reached the first belay. I thought that was pretty considerate of them. When Brian joined me it looked like we would have to wait again, so we spent a few minutes consulting the topo and strategizing. Our goal was to link as many pitches as possible. We had a 70m rope, which should allow us to cut down the number of belay changeovers considerably. We saw that the other party had stopped at the tiny ledge shown on the topo as the standard belay for the top of pitch three. Judging from the amount of rubber we could see from below, this didn’t seem like a good place to belay. The topo mentions a big ledge about thirty feet higher, that is supposed to be two hundred feet from the standard pitch two belay. We were thirty feet below that. But a 70m rope is 230 feet right? We decided to go for it, even if it meant a bit of simulclimbing.
We needn’t have worried. About reaching the belay, that is. The water was even worse on the lower section of pitch two than it had been on pitch one. The climbing was fun, but it would have been even more fun if we weren’t constantly trying to dry our hands and feet, and making the climbing harder than necessary by avoiding wet holds.
We were now part way up the fourth pitch, as described in the Supertopo guidebook. Again consulting the guidebook, it seemed feasible to reach the top of pitch five on the next lead. At that point the difficulties would more or less be behind us, except for a 5.7 roof.
The roof indeed looked intimidating as I approached it from below. But reaching up and feeling around soon located the fabled jug, and I pulled over it whooping with glee. I ran up the next hundred feet of terrain and soon found myself on a huge ledge with the other two climbers.
I introduced myself. David and Craig were two guys like us, on leave from work for a few days of climbing. They graciously allowed us to share the ledge. David lead off as I worked on the anchor. Craig was accommodating to my efforts: they had used the most obvious crack for their anchor, so I was forced to string some scattered placements together in and around theirs.
I brought Brian up on autolock, which allowed me to snap a few pictures of David climbing the final roof. It looked exhilarating, but David didn’t hesitate long, and he was soon over it. Craig and I chatted some more as we belayed our partners. I mentioned that I had taken a few pictures of them climbing the pitch below. They had done the same, and promised to take some photos as we came over the roof above.
Craig took off about the time Brian arrived. Another quick changeover and strategy discussion ensued. Could we make it to the top of pitch seven on this lead? It seemed likely, so that became the plan.
The next pitch started off with an easy ramp the lead into a steeper section that first followed a short arête, then ducked under a big right-facing corner that arched above into the final roof. To my surprise, Brian began to slow down at the arête. When it was my turn to follow I discovered that it was indeed a bit trickier than it seemed from below. The pro wasn’t always the best, either.
The roof itself is really easy. Big holds are everywhere, and all you have to do is muscle yourself over it. I let out another serious whoops and hollers as I pulled through it. Man, This was some of the best climbing I’ve done in years!
To my surprise, I found Brian belaying at the top of pitch six. He explained that the other guys had been on the ledge at the top of the next pitch when he arrived, and it didn’t look like there was room for both. No worries, pitch seven was short, and after that it was simply pitch after pitch of fourth and third class with a few spots of easy class five here and there. We set up to simulclimb the rest of the route.
In contrast to the two previous days, this afternoon stayed warm and dry, with only a few scattered clouds here and there. Though it wasn’t cold on the lower part of the face, climbing in the sun felt really good for a change.
I could hear David and Craig up ahead, but couldn’t see them until I’d gotten a couple hundred feet farther up. As I approached them from below I decided to stay to their left so that we wouldn’t get in each other’s way. The top half of Fairview Dome is easy climbing everywhere, with cracks and corners in abundance. You can go almost anywhere you want without getting into trouble.
After another hundred feet or so of climbing I pulled abreast of the other two. I traversed a thin ledge towards Craig, aiming for a crack about twenty feet to his left. He was standing at the start of a left-facing dihedral looking a bit worried.
“How’s it going?” I called out.
“Sketched,” was his brief reply.
David was already providing ample beta from below, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. The belayer was well anchored, and it looked like he had good opportunities for pro, so I wasn’t worried about their situation. I continued on. We reached the top shortly thereafter. David and Craig topped out soon afterward. We had been about six hours on the route.
The views from Fairview Dome are incredible. I changed into my approach shoes and sat soaking in the rays and the scenery. To the south, seeming almost close enough to touch, was Cathedral Peak and Eichorn Pinnacle, the scene of a much different climbing experience two days before. But happily, one doesn’t remember the actual cold of a hailstorm or the fear of being struck by lightening; one only remembers that it happened. And those memories couldn’t compete with the satisfaction of having finished one of the best routes either of us could remember in a long while.
"As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life - so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls."