The Trip Report for the Spire
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Text only version...
I just read in Roper's green guide...
The approach involves an elevation gain of about 4000 feet.
Good grief. It's any wonder that today I fell asleep for the 2nd time in the daylight hours. My body is wrecked. Dave's is too.
How did we do it, I ask myself without ego, just sheer wonderment that the body can go where the mind wills itself?
A couple moderate climbers beat the odds. It's not that we did it in any great style, but on something with this kind of, um, let's call them "logistics" it is a wonder we made it back at all.
Let me back up and then I'll get to the objective hazards part, though I will say at the outset that I used to think that Tahquitz kept the tourist climbers at bay with it's approach. I now have a new definition of approach.
Back to backing up... this all started with an email from Brutus 5/19/2009...
Dave Daly and I have a weekend set aside for the Regular route on Castle Rock Spire:
Friday 12 June (drive) Saturday 13 June (hike in) Sunday 14 June (climb) and Monday 15 June (Hike out and drive home)
Interested in joining us?
I was psyched to have been asked. And I had originally seen this formation from a top Moro Rock when I was a teenager. I asked myself then: how do you get over there? Those are really big!
But later as I matured in my climbing I learned about the issues with getting up there. In particular, the SEKI guidebook would scare anyone off.
The approach to Castle Rocks has been said to be the most difficult part of climbing at the Castles...no maintained trail...One party made three attempts before actually reaching the base...five miles...gully below the spire is steep and loose...4,000-foot elevation gain...poison oak and ticks...
And Summit Post just reinforces this notion...
The Legendary Approach
Arguably the hardest peak in the High Sierra, Castle Rock Spire goes free at IV 5.11 by its EASIEST route
Consequently it was with some trepidation that I tried to commit to going, but failed miserably before I had even left the comfort of my easy chair. I replied to Brutus...
I might be able to swing a couple days off, but won’t know til practically before that weekend in June. CRS would be awesome so yeah, I’d be interested, but how in the hell do you get to the base? Have you guys already recon’d?
Is odd numbers going to slow the process too much? I’ll be in the Valley all next week, then back in the office, at which point I can test the waters. Given that I will have just come back from a week off, not sure I swing it now that I think about it.
Better write me off so you can get clear on planning, but thx much for the invite!!
Mind you I had asked about the recon before and got reminded that Brutus had established lines back there.
I guess. But not for a few years now.
I've put up two FAs on the Spire... Spike Hairdoo (IV 5.10 A3) and Cinco de Mayo (V 5.10d C2)
One of 'em during the first winter ascent of the peak.
But, come to think of it, I still get lost going in there, so that was a pretty perceptive question after all.
We'll keep shopping for a third member, then, but keep you in mind if we strike out.
For the regular route, 3 is reasonable, especially with the "improved" descent rap route Coomer and I established down Spike Hairdoo. (3 raps vs. 9-10 for the regular route with rope-eating flakes as an added bonus)
Sadly I would never hear Brutus and Dave's intended trip and trip report.
Don’t worry about calling. I saw the post. I couldn’t read the whole thing I started to tear up. Started to call Em and teared up. And that after an entire day of trying to rationalize the call I got from Salad that it had happened.
I’ll call you later when it’s not so fresh in my mind.
I’m so sorry. Take care bro.
I miss you Brutus
Brutus died en route to this climb. He was to meet up with Dave. An unfulfilled invite. An unfulfilled approach. An unfulfilled ascent. http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=876255 An unfulfilled trip report.
I think that is what cemented hanging with Dave and scheming to get back on this climb. To not forget, but to close a chapter. The set things even. To round out the sharp edge. Well, maybe I better say it like Brutus might... at least, duct tape that edge a little so we don't get a core shot on the cord of life.
Consequently, we made plans and did a recon of the approach. Mapping the "trail" with cairns and some hiker tape to, hopefully, prevent getting lost. But we barely saw the Spire. It rained and hailed on us as we got to the main gully and did a gear cache of tequila, beer, and ice gear. It was spooky. The signs started to point to not such a smart idea.
Very active bears with tracks from the same day...
But also a wild beauty. A sense of adventure and complete lack of knowing if we would ever touch that lofty summit.
Only real climbers had been up there before us. The first ascent by Bill Long, Allen Steck, Jim Wilson, Will Siri, and Philip Bettler in 1950 was preceded by several attempts in the prior three years. In fact, we actually came across a summit register on the Gendarme in the notch that had a date of 1948, but the names and writing were mostly illegible with the passage of time.
A list of climbers attempts and ascents is being collated these days, a copy of which was put in the new summit register that was provided to us. Not too many take two days to do an ascent. Ours did. The definition of a valid Epic tale in my opinion. But most certainly not the best possible style. http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1066638/Castle-Rock-Spire-with-Roper-and-Powell-1962 Others have gone before and we stand on their shoulders to make the next reaches of our own. Most recently Bill Sherman and Jordan Ramey made a valant effort and even left us a gift that they couldn't use when http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1188447/Yet-another-Castle-Rock-Spire-Attempt Bill broke his leg after a boulder rolled onto it in the main gully a weekend ago.
The SEKI guidebook sums it all up as to why these relatively few individuals go to the "still seldom-visited" summit...
Few summits have comparable exposure and airiness-- it is places such as this that give rock climbing meaning.
So it was that Dave and I went back up after our recon for more suffering. On the drive there, the comparison of my skills to our objective was well captured...
But Dave had scoped the approach Thursday and found a mostly PO free initial gain to the ridge. Which there is still PO up high, but this was a huge help. Bunny suits, now de rigueur, were still used. Temps were a bit warmer, the grass a bit drier, but still very reasonable. The, yet to come, debilitating heat wouldn't hit us til we tried to leave.
It took most of the day Friday starting around 7am to gain the gear cache, and ascend the final forest slopes to the boulder campsite, where three tiers of bivi shelves make for comfortable accomodations.
That night, calories were needed. And also some festivity to break the somber mood brought on by the rain.
Gatorita quick batch was made and laughs and sleep came early despite the nagging mosquitos...
Saturday morning we got stuff together and hit the snow tongue in the gully. This gully rises 1000 feet, so not only did we do a rock climb, we also did a snow climb. Maybe it should be labelled a Grade V? ;)
This was my first time doing such a long snow climb without ropes. Eye opening. But the temps were ok. The sounds coming from the gully the prior night were minimal and the snow bridges seemed in good shape. This one here that allowed us to get around huge boulder chokes ended up being gone by Sunday afternoon when we came down. It was all good. We had our Hawaiian shirts of invincibility on, so we couldn't get hurt, right?
Soon we ended up taking off our (in my case borrowed) crampons in exchange for rock shoes to do the fourth class up to the notch on the South side. The original line cuts across the face using the ledge system in the middle of the pic, and then goes up a wide crack to the back of the black tower seen on the skyline.
We decided to start on the lower horizontal seam that leads to the ledge system, rather than go up the "5.5 offwidth" show on the topo Brutus had sketched that resides on Summit Post...
This "4th class" traverse is a serious undertaking, with exposed downclimbing to reach the 2nd belay. Protecting the follower on stuff like this is mandatory, or the swing into the dihedral if one were to fall would be deadly given how far from a rescue one is.
The 2nd "4th class" pitch leading down to the base of the wide crack...
At the end of the belay Dave got swarmed by biting red ants. With our hesitation on the 4th sections, the slow snow gully, and redoing the belay away from the red ants, we definitely were late in the day, but what is your option?
It was during this time that the storm clouds built up. Skies were dark. I was ready to pack it up. You don't want to bother being on top of this thing in a storm. It's a lightning rod for sure. We decided that at a minimum we had to get behind the tower and see what we couldn't see.
I got the next pitch and managed to avoid a short offwidth section (as OW is still a struggle for me despite some practice in recent years). Fortunately, the face to climber's right had some sporadic gear on otherwise thoroughly enjoyable climbing. Maybe 5.7ish til I stepped back left into the main chimney 20' or so below the stacked blocks nearly dislodging a loose block onto Dave...
Dave following on this pitch...
The skies started to open just a tiniest bit that made the difference in going up
or behind really and then down for a full 100' pitch if truth be told. The topo mentions moving the belay. Not like Royal Arches 'move belay' but more like downclimb blocks and corner.
This puts you at the base of the oft aided corner...
Really nice colors. Dave lead this one. I followed by yarding on gear and yelling take quite a bit, but I made pretty good work of it. Stepping right from the roof, instead of going left of it using a bolt. This puts you right below a free move over a roof on the next pitch if you belay where we did.
I got the next one, pitch 4, where it was easier for me to aid the moves than free through it. By the time I reach the belay in this pic, you can see it is late and we are tired...
The climbing is really good on this pitch, unlike much of the route. Dave did it free following. Features and the crack on the left higher make for kewl climbing. Other pitches have bushes and looseness that detract somewhat from the climb. Obviously not enough to turn us back. The topo is off a bit in the 4 and 5 pitch mark. I think I belayed just below the 5th belay in an alcove. There is no continuous chimney here and the pitch length would be off a bit. Looking up from this belay
Golden light startrd to bathe the upper part of the Fin.
oh sh#t, guess we're climbing in the dark.
At this point, we are both out of water. With a long dry night in front of us. It's not critical at this point. Once down after a couple quick pitches we can get snow in the gully. Well, when dehydrated performance degradation happens, things grind to a halt. Misery creeps up your throat as a cough that doesn't quite clear. The only reason more people don't die from dehydration is that it take a while.
We were at a point that we had to choose either C1 aid or 5.8 face out around the corner, or just stay where we are. The topo says "good ledge" above. Each of us envisioning a shelf we can sit on.
What to do? One way is faster, but one is safer. I've done aid under cover of darkness. You only need to see the next three feet for aid, so after much gnashing of teeth, I set out on a relatively straightforward C1 crack really wishing I had some water. The crack is dirty and in spots bushy. I taste earth each time I dig out a placement. Try to spit it out only to realize the throat is dry and nothing is expelled. Choking it down I move on to the next placement.
Fortunately for us, we came prepared somewhat. Dave wanted to toast Brutus at the top, so we brought a Sapporo gold reserve.
Completely delish. Savoring each slurp and saving some for the summit and the raps.
At this point we settled in for a long night 1am to 5am with cramped toes, hanging in our harness trying not to kick each other's toes as we shift weight. I brought a space blanket. A lesson from Brutus and Em and others, and we wrapped ourselves in mylar trying to stay warm now that the climbing movement had ended. At some point I convince Dave to start racking gear since he was shivering. I worry something might get dropped, but he manages fine. As the sun's rays warm us, we know we're going to be fine.
Dave gets the next dirty pitch in the morning and is completely knackered on energy. We chomped a couple choco covered espresso beans as pretty much the last of the food, but we're feeling it. Yet, I'm still able to free the 10a crack on follow.
One more short pitch to the summit.
The original register was nasty. A 2004 sample entry with mold dollops...
The panties are still there. A funny reflection of climbers. We take our time with a whole day ahead of us to get down now, only thirst and tiredness wanting to get us down. We make our entries in the new summit register, fly a prayer flag from the summit for Brutus.
After drinking our own urine we continue...
ok, just Sapporo, not urine. But the color is spot on.
The last thing to do to get down before the raps is to traverse this amazing knife ridge
From there a downclimb to the block belay on Spike Hairdoo, backed up by a bolt with tat, lets you down in two raps.
Back at the notch, we slurp snow to rehydrate and eat choco covered espresso beans. Sit around enjoying the location and at some point pull the ropes (thankfully no real snags on the gendarme). We descend the real 4th class back to our cramps and axes, and begin a series of rappels. I'm too tired to descend a snow slope by step kicking all the way down. We leave some stoppers to bail off of a couple times. And after a grueling lengthy set of raps, we finally hit camp again. Super tired, but absolutely hungry, we make a meal and top it off with the remaining Gatoritas... This time with snow!!
First, add tequila while sipping your beer chaser...
Then, add ice from snow gully...
Gatorade lemon lime flavored powder...
Shake it like you own it...
check consistency, add lime salt to rim of nalgene...
another sleepness night puts me with sore hips. The thermarest popped a leak on the first night. So that really puts me a three nights with no sleep. But the descent won't walk itself out.
We say goodbye...
Avail ourselves of today's gift sitting in the creek...
and take more time than we should given what temps will unfold later on...
bright and sunny, we scorch on the way down and get lost on the wrong ridgeline...
I know it was hot, because on the way back thru the Central Valley, at 8:30 at night it is still 84 degrees...
That's like Oakdale hot!
I'm probably forgetting a ton of detail, and I'm still working on the topo and beta updates for Summit Post with Dave.
Hopefully, you get a feel for the spirit of adventure. The sheer unknowning and logistical obstacles involved make it improbable. But we perserved in spite of the obstacles, running out of water, sleeping in our harnesses hanging off a 1 x 2 ledge a massive snow gully, bears, ticks, rattler terrain, mosquitos, red ants, each other, and 4,000' of elevation gain inside a few miles. I personally put this trip up there with an ascent of El Cap. There is no finer summit spire that I have done.