Land of Little Rain
by Alois Smrz
NEW ROUTE ON SOUTH FACE OF LONE PINE PEAK.
LAND OF LITTLE RAIN V, 5.10 c/d, 16 PITCHES
Miguel Carmona, Jim Mathews, Alois Smrz, June 22-24, 1996
As you sit by the STONE HOUSE, an old building at the end of Tuttle Creek trail, the huge South Face of Lone Pine Peak looms above you. This over a mile wide, and 3,000' high wall is one of the many great Sierra sights between Mt. Langley and Mt. Williamson. When Miguel Carmona and I climbed Lone Pine Peak by the Winter Route in February 1984, we couldn't help noticing the steep wall to the left of our climb. Miguel was sure that "one of these days we would climb a line on this face". Over the years we came back to Lone Pine Peak for other routes, but our conversations always turned toward the center of the face... One day we should come back to climb it....Then in 1995, American Alpine Journal came out with description of new line on the ridge above Winter Route (SUMMER Ridge,V, 5.9, Bruce Bindner and Patrick Brennan- first new line on LPP since the 70's) and we knew that our time has come!
When we showed slides of the face to Jim Mathews, he immediately signed up for the adventure. The three of us hiked up the canyon in May of 1995 and carefully scouted the face with binoculars. The wall looked very smooth and steep. There appeared to be face climbing pitches connecting large roofs in the center of the face. Our estimate was of 9 pitches on the face, 4 or 5 pitches on the ridge, plus 4 pitches on the upper buttress, which was climbed by Fred Beckey and Eric Bjornstad in 1970. Miguel and I climbed a cleaner variation on the upper buttress in 1984 and we hoped to follow our variation to the top. The total climb called for fourteen hundred feet of scrambling up the initial gullies and short cliffs, 16-18 pitches of technical climbing, and three or four hundred feet of 4th class to reach the summit plateau. It looked to be a multiday proposition with fair amount of drilling and aid climbing.
In early June of 1995, the three of us scrambled up the initial ledges to the start of a steep, intimidating crack. Jim led this crack in impeccable style while Miguel and I marveled at the super-wide stem maneuvers that were needed at the top (5.10 b/c - wild ). Right from the start, the rock turned out incredibly solid, smooth, Yosemite like. We secured a rappel station at the end of the first pitch and went down knowing the route would go left and up over roofs ( Aid ? ). First week of June 1996, Miguel and Jim carried many gallons of water from Tuttle Creek to the start of the climb. Next weekend, Miguel and I carried three ropes, a free rack, aid rack, Jumars, bolt kit, hammer, sleeping bags and bivy sacks to the starting ledge. These two weekends included some of the hardest work any of us have done in a while as the temperatures were high and our loads monstrous. After Miguel and I delivered the gear, we reclimbed the first pitch and added two pitches of great 5.9 face and crack climbing. The next morning we jumared our fixed ropes and Miguel led a spectacular, thin crack/dihedral (5.10c?), followed by an upward traverse under a large roof. This pitch at least from my belaying position, looked awesome. The most interesting thing was, that all the steep, spectacular climbing went free. Two weeks later, all three of us returned to reclimb the pitches, and follow new ground to the summit plateau. The upper part of the face continues with quality climbing, easing through a sea of pockets on pitches seven, eight, and nine. An excellent bivy site was found at the end of the 8th pitch. We bivied there. Next morning we got on the Summer Ridge and climbed four airy pitches of fifth class (up to 5.7) to reach the notch of Winter Route. We rappelled the notch and followed the ledge to our 1984 upper buttress variation. On the last pitch of the buttress, Jim in the lead discovered a long, steep 5.8 off width which thoroughly trashed me when I followed it with full pack.
Some three hundred feet of fourth class led to summit plateau and the end of the climb. The regular East Slopes descent was followed back to our car.
Several things need to be said about the route. Even though we did not expect it, it goes free. There is no need for hammer or any special hardware. The key pro is fixed. The initial nine pitches are very esthetic, the climbing is varied and steep, but not extremely difficult. The rock is solid and on the upper face so pocketed, that climbing becomes vertical fun class.... Standard rack with three small TCUs and many slings is all that is needed.
This route, if discovered, could become popular as it combines an alpine start and finish with steep, clean, pure rock climbing pitches plus sufficient length to keep even the really strong climbers interested. And it might offer the best free climbing yet done on the true South Face of Lone Pine Peak.
Two weeks later, the three of us returned up the canyon to pick up some equipment left behind. After we brought all our gear down to Tuttle Creek, we decided to climb the prominent NORTH FACING buttress across the canyon from "Land of Little Rain" route. It took us some 6 hours to climb ten pitches of 5.7 to 5.10a crack and face. The route which more or less follows the prow of the buttress, turned out somewhat uneven in terms of difficulty, having two pitches ( 1st and 3rd ) of 5.10a crack climbing and the rest of 5.7. The rock on this north facing buttress is somewhat less solid. We encountered couple of loose areas and at least two pitches of typical alpine character. But the ten pitch climb, III, 5.10a is worth doing especially if one has extra time on his/her hands. The descent down talus fields at extreme right (facing up) took two hours. This is most likely first ascent as well.
P.S. This trip report was originally written for and published by the SCMA's newsletter "Cliffnotes" in 1996.
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