Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak in Winter
by Alois Smrz
In July of 1990, Miguel Carmona and I spent thirteen wonderful hours climbing this long ridge. In Miguel's words "we just managed to do it without using rope"! In Cliff Notes #35 (September 1990) we wrote about threading our way among the many towers (in climbing shoes) up the three miles long and over a mile high ridge all the way to the summit. My feeling upon returning from the trip was, that if you rope up on this line, it becomes an endless Grade V! When R. J. Secor's new Sierra Guidebook came out, we noted in amazement the rating of III, 5.5 for the climb. It somehow didn't match our efforts and recollections of the huge amount of climbing up there.
Looking for some good training ground for our upcoming Himalayan adventure (1994 Southern California Dhaulagiri I Exp. Ed.) Rich Henke joined me in ascending the ridge in winter. On March 9, at 6AM, we left our car at the end of Olivas Ranch Road (off the Whitney Portal Road) and started to hike toward the ridge at 6,000 feet. Rich brought his trusted THOEMEN altimeter, so we were able to note the elevations a bit more accurately. At 7PM we found ourselves caught by darkness, one pitch below the crest of the first tower at 11,150 feet. The climbing up to that point was anything but easy. First, deep snow, then snow and ice covered slabs made the thousands of feet of scrambling and six roped pitches mostly unprotected and nerve-racking experience. At least two of the roped pitches were in the "bad anchors, couple pieces of pro" category and pretty stressful.
For the last few pitches,we were unable to find any decent ledges. Rich finally found a couple of sloping spots behind some small boulders and a miserable night was spent there, sitting in our bags. 7AM start got us on the crest of the ridge. Eight more roped pitches, ton of scrambling and two rappels brought us to the exit gully by 3PM. The gully, an easy jog in the summer, was a scree slope covered by snow. In some places the snow cover was deep, in others only less than a foot. When the snow cover thinned out, climbing the scree slope became dangerous game as the whole thing could slide with us. We took three and half hours to climb the gully (self belayed by ice axes) and finally reached the summit plateau (12,900+ ft) at 6:30PM. A suitable flat ground was quickly found and we were in our bags by 7PM. Strong winds buffeted the plateau at night, but at 7:30AM the temperature was balmy 10F with wind gusting to 20 MPH. The descent from 12,900+ feet to our car (a drop of 6,900 feet) took us three and half hours.
To sum this all up, the ridge is over 6,900 feet high and well over three miles long. We roped fourteen pitches (5.5-5.6) and spend 25 hours climbing, 2 bivouacs and 3 1/2 hours descending. How is that for Grade III scramble?
Lone Pine Peak ranks among the best of Sierra's Peaks in terms of quality and variety of climbing terrain. There are at least 14 routes (as of 1993) on the Peak from Class 3 hikes to serious big wall climbs. The mountain is 4 hours away (from West LA) and hiking approaches are rarely more than couple of hours. Most of the lines are well suited to weekend climbing. I have never had a permit, nor have I ever seen a ranger there....
Equipment: 1 - 8.8 mm rope which was not safe enough (bring 10 mm in winter), 1 set of stoppers, 4 medium hexes, 2 knifeblades, 1 ice hammer for the party, 1 short ice axe, winter mountaineering boots, 1 small stove, -5F Gore-Tex sleeping bag and pad, food for 3 days, clothing. We didn't bring them but 2 large Hexes or #3 and 3 1/2 Friends would have been useful in winter. Total weight: Less than 25 lbs each. GO AS LIGHT AS POSSIBLE!
Approach & Climbing: Leave your car on North side of Tuttle Creek at the end of "Olivas Ranch" Road. Climb the first tower mostly on the North side and the second tower on the South side. The exit gully follows the "right" side of the upper NE Ridge.
P.S. This report was originally written for the SCMA newsletter "CLIFFNOTES" in 1994. It was added to SP in 2005.