We're the Fuquarwhee?TR: LUCIFER'S HAMMER, THOR PEAK
September 1997 III, 5.10
It's a typical Thursday night. My partner is enroute
and I haven't started packing yet. Mad scramble
through the Catacombs for hammer, rack, ropes,
where did I put my helmet? Chalk? harness? Can't
forget the bolt kit! Gawd, where'd I put the bolt
Now for the other supplies... In go three muffins
I scarfed from a business meeting today at work,
leftover Clif Bars from the last trip, frozen chicken
tits and Degnan's condiments, T.P., stove, sleeping
gear. I'm almost finished getting things together as
Nurse Ratchet drives up. She's hammered from packing
and organizing most of the previous night. This climb,
she will jug and haul and play sherpa as Pat and I play
Mad Bolt Fiends.
I tackle the first leg of the drive. Somewhere (Manteca?
Oak Flat? Yosemite park Entrance on Highway 120?
... it's all a blur from too many of these commutes)
we play leapfrog and I snooze in the camper shell
while Ratchet and "The Cave" negotiate Tioga Pass.
Bishop. Back at the wheel again, I fire up the
afterburners, crank "The Cave" up to 75 mph and
claw to finish this drive.
3:30 am, Friday Morning. Lone Pine Ranger Station. No one
sleeping on the porch, yet. I take the place of honor,
and do the homeless thang the remainder of the night,
squirming and restless, battling the uneven cobbles and
a small nest of ants. Every two minutes or so the
thousand-candle-power porch light blasts on, as if to see
if I am still there, then after several seconds, sputters
back into darkness. Ratchet takes the cush bivy on top of
the mounds of hardware in the cave.
Just as I finally start to drift off to sleep, the
usual motley batch of backcountry hopefuls arrive.
I give up on the idea of slumber, as the sky lightens
over the Inyo range to the east.
7:00 am Friday Morning. Pat Brennan, the third member
of our team, has arrived. We are startled by a video
which seems to spring to life of its own accord, out
here on the ranger station porch. Don't we get to talk
to a real person??? I'm in no mood to stand and see the
T.V., and spend my time intently studying a hole in my
sock as the USFS video-image tells us important information
we never would have though of on our own: Don't crap in
streams. Don't let critters eat all our food. Don't cut
switchbacks. Don't get rescued.
Video over, a hyper little twit of a ranger steps out
of the door and delivers the same lecture in person.
It is absolutely amazing to me how someone can be so
enthusiastic about proper disposal of toilet paper
("Pack it out" he says. "I carefully burn mine" I mutter)
Eventually (several years later to my sleep deprived brain,)
we get permits and head up the trail after a huge breakfast.
2 pm. Finally our objective is in sight: a set of
discontinuous, bottomed cracks on the South Face of
Thor Peak. The wall looks huge. I've forgotten how big
an unclimbed 1,000-foot line looks from the bottom,
especially when I don't know if our proposed route will go,
or at what level of difficulty.
Ahead of me, Pat and Ratchet are sprinting up the Mt.
Whitney trail through the thin air, while I chug, huff,
and retch. We locate a bivy site in a secluded spot near
the stream at the base of the face, have a late lunch,
Evening: I finish leading the first pitch of our proposed
route, belay Pat and Ratchet, cache gear, and rappel. We
reach camp at dark.
Saturday morning: All three of us are groggy. It takes
an hour and a half to get the luggage packed, slug down
some coffee and hail a cab.
I re-lead the first pitch just as the sun peeks over the
Inyo range to the east. Far below, the town of Lone Pine
still slumbers in pre-dawn gloom. Shortly Pat is on lead
on the second pitch, hammering in a bolt 30 feet above the
belay ledge. It's his first protection. While Ratchet
jumars the first pitch, Pat continues up the rock.
What appear to be deep cracks are in fact bottomed grooves
nearly useless for protection: Pitch three consists of one
bomber #2 camalot, several two-cam alien placements, two
completely useless stoppers which barely support their own
weight, and a bolt. For 130 feet the pitch is indistinguishable
from a 5.9 free-solo. The pitch ends when I run out of rope.
Two more bolts and a single cam placement create a belay at a
Pat flies by, and I again take the front row seat as
Ratchet jugs with a huge sack of goodies, freeing the
haul pack as she ascends. The ground slowly recedes below
us, yet the overhanging finish to the climb seems no closer
Pat's pitch starts out as poorly protected thin face, and
he soon sets another bolt. Here, in the middle of a blank
wall, he finds a rusty 1/4" rawl splishaft with a spinner
hanger. Most of the split is visible. Evidently a retreat
bolt: several years back, Pat found ancient rap webbing
when he was traversing the ledges below, during the first
ascent of Odin's Wrath. Another hugely runout section follows,
and then Pat slots his body into a bottomed groove, wriggles
up, and sets a hanging belay.
I play the part of the unkissed prince, and leapfrog onto the
front of the rope. 168 feet later, above a wild ofwidth
roof/squeeze, with no valid anchors to be found, I drill
yet AGAIN, fire in a 2-cam friend, and belay. Jugging and
hauling here is spooky. To ease Ratchet's fears as she
jugs, I have her stop at a tiny 2" stance 15 feet below our
hanging cluster-f*ck, where she waits until Pat has finished
the next lead. Only then does she get a look at our belay
Pat has the penultimate pitch, a series of slightly rotted
finpulls into another roof, and finishes the crux with an
easy stroll up loose ledges.
What can be said about the last of this first ascent?
4th class pitch... Loose, unclimbed, lichened rock
ending in a squeeze chimney piercing the crest... The
three of us climbing the false summit of Thor Peak,
even though Pat and I had been there before, had made
the same d*mn mistake before, then laughing like kids at
our error, scrambling down and around to reach the true summit
as the distant sun drops toward the crest of Mt. Whitney...
Wandering down the scree slopes, we eventually intersect
the trail, cache our gear (for retrieval tomorrow on our
hike back out to the truck)
At pizza in Lone Pine, we draw the inevitable route
topo, and look in awe at the sunburned hides of hardcore
hikers just down from Whitney. Their eyes shine with
their accomplishment. Inside, we smile, sharing their
joy in our own small way, remembering our own adventure
in the high peaks of yesterday.