Add Heading Here"Whose hair-brained idea was this anyway?" I asked Robb as we scrambled up the snowy talus field past Dark Star just as the sun crept close enough to the horizon to see without a headlamp. We were making good time despite the trail conditions on the approach. Sections of ice on the trail combined with plenty of postholing up the switchbacks below First Lake had slowed us down a bit, but we were still making decent time and felt good. It was only 6:30am, but already 5 hours earlier, my cell phone’s alarm had awoken us from our warm slumber in the parking lot. “You sure you don’t want to do Dark Star?” I asked jokingly.
The climbing was tough. Well actually the climbing itself wasn’t really hard, but the high altitude took a toll on our unacclimated bodies, the packs got in the way, and the temps in the teens and twenties forced us to climb with gloves on and kept our toes from feeling any of the holds we were standing on. Still, we made good progress, just not as fast as we’d have liked.
“I remember whose idea this was,” Robb said as he belayed me up to the piton anchor from which we’d be setting up the Tyrolean. “It was you.” Last weekend after ice climbing in Lee Vining, I apparently told Robb that I’d buy him dinner if he’d go do Bear Creek Spire with me the next weekend. Well at least I can say that doing the Sun Ribbon Arete was his idea.
At the cliff band above Contact Pass, we found a set of rap slings that would get us nowhere near the ground with our short rope. This was my biggest concern with the decision to take only a 100’ rope – having trouble with the descent into Contact Pass. After some wavering, we decided we’d try to downclimb the gulley to the South and skirt around the back side of Contact Pass without the rappel. As the last bit of light faded from the sky, Robb downclimbed the last difficult section to the talus just below the pass and we started our long slog back down to the trail.
The next couple of miles were the most grueling part of the trip for me. Descending from Contact Pass is a big talus and scree slog. Combine that with a foot or so of two-week old snowfall in places and it makes it even more fun. The snow varied from soft fluff that postholed easily to a nice crust you could walk right down for 50 feet, then posthole up to your hip, and even some glacial ice. Fortunately, I didn’t find the glacial ice until I had the sense to pull my ice tool off of my pack just-in-case. When I did find it, my feet shot out from under me before I knew what hit me and I slammed down onto the ice hard. Instinct combined with fear for my life kicked in and I dug the pick of my ice tool in as hard as I could. Fortunately I was able to stop quickly and didn't pick up much speed. The ice was so hard that I’m not sure I’d have been able to get a standard alpine axe to bite well enough to stop me. Later on in the car on our way to Bishop, Robb told me he saw sparks fly from the rocks embedded in the snow hitting my pick as I stopped myself. It was scary!
We finally reached the shore of Second Lake and skirted the edge on the snow-covered ice to the trail near the outlet. Luckily some others had hiked in at some time during the day and helped reduced the amount of postholing we’d have to endure on the rest of the hike out. Still, spots of black ice threw me onto my butt multiple times bruising my ego more than anything.
The last mile of that trail back to the parking lot always seems to take forever – even more so after such a long day. The snow falling harder and harder made me glad, though, that I wasn’t still stuck somewhere on Temple Crag.
When we hit the parking lot some 20 hours after leaving the car, we each dropped our packs and sat down, not moving or saying anything for a few minutes. It was such a good feeling to be done. Eventually we scrounged up the energy and motivation to pack up the car and head down the hill to Bishop talking about the day and how we’d feel no remorse in sleeping in and doing absolutely nothing active the next day. “Next time we should do Dark Star” Robb said, half joking and half not. I just shook my head.