Jascha's announcement that he no longer wanted to solo 4th class+ with fatal exposure put a major damper on this year's alpine climbing plans. The season had already gotten off to a slow start with busy work schedules and lingering t-storms, but now I had to either quickly round up partners or adjust my wishlist.
Having soloed Venusian Blind last summer with Miguel, Moon Goddess didn't seem totally out of question. Granted it was a grade higher (5.8 versus 5.7), but like most High Sierra routes I knew it wasn't sustained. I was familiar with quality of rock on Venusian (just one arete over), so I took reports of horribly loose rock with a grain of salt. I also knew that there was a gully to the left of the route into which one could bail if things got too sketchy. My main concern was getting off-route on more difficult terrain, but I figured between the detailed route descriptions from summitpost and Supertopo I'd figure it out.
The night before the weather report daytime max temps in the high 40s, but I hoped it would likely be warmer as it was the weekend before on Spire Col. I gave myself an extra hour of sleep to let things warm up and left the trailhead at 6:10 am. It was 42F. Fortunately, as I got into the sun things started to warm up. There was one other party on Dark Star, but amazingly no one that I could see on Venusian or Moon Goddess. Last July there were at least 3 other parties on Venusian on a Wednesday.
I made good time to the bottom of the snowfield, reaching its base in little less than 3 hours. Unfortunately, no parties ahead of me also meant no steps kicked into the snowfield and I hadn't bothered to bring crampons or an ice axe (I realize this happened last year as well). The snow was too firm to kick more than tiny ledges with my approach shoes. I grabbed a sharp rock and stepped from sun cup to sun cup. At the spots where the sun cups ran out I chipped out handholds and gingerly traversed the slope. This whole exercise added at least 20 minutes.
The first part of the route is shared with Venusian and consists of heading up a series of 3rd class ledges. The next six or so pitches were 4th class and provided the perfect warm-up for the exposed 5.7 traverse I knew would come when I reached the first tower. At the bottom of the tower I changed into my climbing shoes and peeked around the corner. For once the descriptions were accurate when they said exposed. Granted the holds were positive, but the wall was completely vertical and it was a long way down (more descriptive photo courtesy of Miguel here). The thing I find so satisfying about soloing it that once I'm on a committing section my mind is completely clear to focus only on the task at hand. Even doubts about my ability to complete the moves or concerns over holds pulling out completely disappear. Other than lane-splitting on my motorcycle it's the only activity I've found that truly frees my mind of its usual thought storm, the same storm that has cursed me with too many sleepless nights.
With the traverse past me I climbed into the notch that leads up to the Ibrium Tower and the crux. From the cushy belay ledge the crux looked somewhat intimidating, a 5.7 lichen covered chimney followed by a 5.8 dihedral. I could see a reasonable escape route into the gully, but decided that I might as well give the route a go since I was here. The chimney was fairly easy and despite the two desperately placed cams jammed for eternity in the dihedral, the crux wasn't too bad. I scrambled up to the white marble belay ledge and around the corner to the narrow 4th class ledge system. I could how other parties got sucked into the harder terrain above, but with Dave Daly's excellent route description routefinding wasn't an issue.
I easily found the "diving board" chockstone (as described by Dave) that marked the top of the next pitch. The 5.7 gully took me up the back side of Ibrium tower. The 5.7ish downclimb into the notch was more like 12 feet than 20. I approached my final challenge, an exposed 5.7 crack requiring committing lieback moves. This section wasn't as steep as I expected and although it did require a few lieback moves, there were large intermittent footholds and it wasn't sustained. With that behind me I knew I was home free. The final 5.6 tower was uneventful, and before long I was on the class 2-3 terrain that led up to the summit. It had taken me 3 hours, 30 minutes to climb the route. In another 30 I would be at the summit.
The Final Crux
There were still no signs of other parties once I topped out. The views of the Palisades were spectacular as always. After the requisite summit register session I headed down, hoping I'd easily find the Contact Crack downclimb. The route was well cairned and I remembered that the crack lay to the left of the usual rap station. Once at Contact Pass I made the mistake of descending too close to Temple Crag (hoping I could get in a glissade) and traversing the loose moraine debris to reach more stable ground. I was happy to be back on the more stable talus field and even more so back on the trail. I cruised back down to my car stopping only to take a photo for some guys from Bakersfield. They asked if I'd been hiking. I pointed to Temple Crag and said "See that ridge in the middle. I just climbed it." They were shocked. I hurried back to the trailhead, hoping to get back close to our Temple Crag time. I clocked in at 10:55, just 6 minutes short.