Some 25 years ago, Miguel Carmona and I (Alois Smrz) attempted the Swiss Arete on Mt. Sill in winter. While skiing by Temple Crag, I had the foolish notion of mentioning the Moon Goddess Arete as yet another possibility for a winter climb. We dismissed the idea right there and it remained just another crazy thought which would never see the time of day. But about three years ago, Miguel brought up the climb again. The approach was reasonable, we knew the route from climbing it in the summer and if the conditions were absolutely perfect, we could attempt it. So for the last three years in the winter months, we have been eyeing the weather, packing and unpacking gear and failing to anticipate the perfect weather window. Every year this mad idea seemed further from coming to fruition. It was with some desperation, that we finally decided to just go for it last week.
Miguel Carmona and I starting from Glacier Lodge Road 3-18-2010.
Penelope May kindly helped us with our heavy carry to the Third Lake and from there Miguel and I started at 4 AM on March 19, 2010. We had two thin ropes, rock gear, helmets, winter boots and rock shoes, spare heavy gloves each, one pack, slings, harnesses, down jackets, Gore-Tex tops and bottoms, short ice tool and crampons each. Miguel secured some 20 Power Bar Gels for energy and we had one quart of water between us.
Penelope May carrying our heavy gear below Temple Crag.
Approaching the Third Lake.
We snow shoed to the base of the route and had to rope up right at the start of the traverse. The snow was unconsolidated, deep and our steps very insecure. The severe wind that was blowing all day made for very cold climbing. We roped 10 pitches just to get to the 1st Tower and reached the Ibrium Tower by 1 PM.
Miguel at the starting traverse at 6:00 AM
On the initial ridge below the 1st Tower
Mixed rock with a couple of long snow fields
Full winter conditions and a strong wind on the Arete
Still low on the Arete but finally on dry rock
Climbing up to the 1st Tower
On the short traverse to the base of the 1st Tower
The 1st Tower traverse
There, prudent thinking could have dictated a quick retreat, but we both felt we needed to keep going. Another 6 pitches of good rock got us to the short rappel at about 7:30 PM. The daylight was gone at this point. Two large towers above us remained to be climbed in the total darkness of a moonless night. Miguel did some outstanding work, weaving his way up the towers illuminated by his headlamp while I struggled with the technical terrain and the 25lb. pack. We reached the top of the route at 11 PM some 17 hours after we started climbing. The steep snow field dropping down to Contact Pass was frozen with sections of a deep and unconsolidated snow. It took us hours to down climb it. Finding the elusive and tiny rap anchors in a sea of snow and rocks just above Contact Pass was our goal. We belayed the last 300 feet or so of the steep mixed terrain. With Miguel’s good memory, a lot of searching, and some luck, we found the rap anchors, down climbed to them and then spent what seemed like an eternity setting up the rap. The wind was so bad that our ropes kept flying all over the wall and the tangled mess made us re-do the set up several times.
Miguel is climbing up to the Ibrium Tower
Miguel on the crux 5.8 section of the Ibrium Tower
Looking down the start of the key section of the Ibrium Tower
Miguel starting the Tower traverse
Climbing back up to the Arete
The last few moves to reach the Arete
Miguel leading below the crest of the Arete
But eventually, we rapped safely down to the Pass and from there, with crampons and ice axes descended to the Third Lake. We reached our tent at 6 AM Saturday, some 26 hours after we started. All in all, we roped 21 pitches of technical climbing and several hundred feet of roped descent.
Penelope, who snow shoed up very early in the morning from Glacier Lodge, thinking that we couldn’t have gone up there in the horrible wind, woke us up with much appreciated offers of food but unfortunately after only three hours of hard sleep.
We must have done something worthwhile to end up looking like this.
After snowshoeing down to the end of the road by Glacier Lodge, an afternoon was spent there by our vehicles chatting happily and consuming incredible quantities of food, coffee and fruits. Thank you Miguel and Penelope for yet another marvelous trip.
This could be the First Winter Ascent of the route. I don’t know of anyone who climbed the route in the winter prior to our ascent and the various High Sierra Guidebooks do not show a winter ascent of the route.
Sam, on the Ibrium Tower, there are several ways to go. The way we went, we encountered one 5.8 section on the tower, a left facing hand crack (see Miguel's picture leading it) and another 5.8 section with a short 5.8 offwidth you mention. The climbing in boots, in winter, with a pack and in the dark (on the offwidth)was just plain hard.
Thank you guys, it was an awesome trip. Miguel, who has done just about everything in some 38 years of climbing, said to me Wednesday evening, wasn't that a great trip? Maybe the best for us?
We all think that the last climb was our best, and, sometimes, it's true. This one really was.
Hi Misha, It was very cold on the Arete. The wind was the worst thing, chilling us to the bone. I read your note about the E. Butt., a damm good show by you guys in the winter. Sun Ribbon Arete was done years ago (in the early 80s?) by George Lowe and Brock Wagstaff. They both had a bit of frostbite after the climb.
The Venusian Blind Arete was (to my knowledge) not done in the winter.
"No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he’ll keep coming back and back until one of you is dead."