Silver Lining - IV, 5.9+R
June 5-9, 2002 (Andy and Jason Magness, Craig Clarence)
Report by Craig Clarence
(submitted by Dave Daly)
Last year there was some discussion as to what Sierra summit was the most difficult to climb by it's easiest route. My guess was Dyer Minaret but several people came back with Castle Rock Spire. I had never heard of this peak, so I looked into it further and what I found was impressive. Many say it is the best summit in the Sierra and a few vote for it being one of the best in North America.
Guarded by a cross-country approach of many miles through constant poison oak, rattlesnakes, plenty of ticks, mosquitoes, manzanita and assorted other unpleasantries, it has only seen a handful of ascents since its first in 1950. Adjacent to the CRS is The Fin, an impressive 1000-foot sweep of granite that R.J. Secor describes as having some of the best rock climbing in the Sierra backcountry.
Andy and Jason had never heard of the area and did not know about the approach, so they were the perfect partners. We left San Diego early, hoping to walk in the same day. we parked in the Hospital Rock parking lot and walked up the road to the trailhead in the Buckeye Flat campground. A little before the campground, we came upon a big rattler in the road, writhing around like it had just been run over but with no visible wounds. We were to meet his big brother soon after.
After leaving the Paradise Creek trail about 3/4 miles from the car, we were working our way up a steep, grassy ridge. I was moving the grass ahead of me to the side with the machete ($7 at the Bakersfield Wal-Mart, must be 18 to purchase) and was suddenly face to face with a rather large buzz worm! It rattled loudly, but according to my partners his rattle was drowned out by my "girl-like scream". Now, I can't say I've ever screamed before, and I don't remember what it sounded like this time, but its tone may have been a little high. However, it is my contention that even a real man, when surprised at close range by a rattler in tall grass, would scream like a girl. Perhaps I protest too much. Anyway, I passed "Snake Boy duty" over to Andy and we continued. The approach was all we expected and more, because we didn't make it in that day and had to bivy in a boulder field with no water, surrounded by poison oak.
We finally stumbled into our high camp at noon the next day, thirsty, dirty, covered in bug bites and poison oak, but pretty psyched to have found the place. Plus, the itching had not really started, so we had no idea of the hell in store.
Since we had a few days, we decided to start a route on The Fin. The west face of this spire is a magnificent wall of granite, starting out at a relatively low angle but then gradually steepening as many granite domes do. It looked to be about 1000 feet tall. We had a very brief verbal description of the Silver Lining route, basically just describing the number of pitches and where it started. Secor also mentions it has some "serious chimneys".
What we found was a fantastic face and slab route, very runout in places, but never harder than 5.9. It wandered quite a bit to keep the climbing at that grade, which resulted in a few traverses with 50+ foot runouts. Over 9 pitches, there were four protection bolts (extremely rusty inchers!), and most of the pro was small cams placed in small flakes and overlaps found along the way. All the anchors were trad gear except for two. Most of the climbing was similar to Tuolumne Meadows, with plentiful dishes and edges on very solid granite.
It took us most of the day to find our way up the route and by the time we rapped back down, it was past 6:00 PM. By the way, there were NO chimneys on this route or anything that could be remotely construed as a chimney. I suspect that Secor meant the "serious chimneys" comment for the North Buttress route, which the first ascent party called the "North Chimney" route in the summit register.
During the rappels down, we thought we heard voices but figured we were mistaken because the place is so remote. When we got back to camp, whom did we find but Bob Suzuki and Jim Curl (aka "Jack Daniels"...for you SP members)! Not only that, they were planning on climbing the same route on CRS that we were, on the same day. The coincidence was shocking, as this area sees on average about 8 parties every decade.!
We all got up early the next morning and made an uneventful ascent of the Regular Route on Castle Rock Spire. Compared to The Fin, it was casual, with no runouts and very straightforward route finding. We thought the 2 crux pitches were legitimate 5.11, and as I can't even think of a Sierra summit requiring 5.10 on it's easiest route, Castle Rock Spire gets my vote as the most difficult Sierra summit by its easiest route.
It took us exactly 3 hours to get back to the car from base camp that night, and the drive home got us to San Diego at about 2:30 AM, for a very solid 22 hour day. On the way, Jason and Andy were already starting the poison oak process, and by the next morning they had enormous weeping lesions on their arms and legs. Jason also had it in a VERY bad place (a very, very, very bad place!), but enjoyed using the Techu Outdoor Skin Cleanser (Directions: Rub vigorously for 2 minutes). It got bad enough that they eventually had to get prescriptions for oral steriods, which seemed to help.
Overall, we thought the area was fantastic and wild with great climbing, but the approach is destined to keep it very unpopular.
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