Moonage Daydream – 1984
I made an early ascent of this route with John Paul Hudson on February 19, 1984. Presumably, this was the second ascent as he told me he made the first ascent one week prior. I always knew it as the Watchtower Gully, but John named it Moonage Daydream. I believe I climbed it with a new set of Lowe Hummingbird tools (ice axe and north wall hammer) as well as Foot Fang crampons. That outfit was high-tech back then.
John called early Saturday morning and asked if I could leave Southern California and meet him in Lodgepole that night. He had been watching the Watchtower ice form all winter. The prior weekend, he climbed the first pitch to an alcove where he placed two bolts for belay. When we climbed this pitch one week later it was all verglas. Except for the snow bowl on the third or fourth pitch, the climb was on ice from top to bottom. In a rare year, a curtain of ice may extend to the ground to the left of the mixed first pitch.
The second pitch gives the climb the WI4 rating. From the belay, you go up and left to the ice curtain. After pulling over, you climb more moderate ice to the snow bowl. I remember wading through snow up to my waist. There is real avalanche danger here and the run out is over the edge. Make sure your belayer is off to the side.
John and I ate lunch at the top of the snow. Some cross country skiers on the trail below hollered at us. It was a beautiful cold clear sunny day. California ice climbing doesn't get any better than this. But due to the northern exposure, we didn't climb in sunshine until the last pitch.
The last pitch is memorable. You just keep climbing a sheet of blue green ice until the gully, more like an ice-covered slab here, tops out. The descent is off to the west and does not involve down climbing or rappelling if you don't descend too far too soon.
John understood the significance of the route better than I did. Just as in the Bowie original, the climb only forms during the ideal synthesis of light, water, and temperature. I was very lucky to be there with John. The climb was in prime condition. The day was perfect. Although John and I never shared the rope again, the memories of that day are still strong more than thirty years later.
Beautiful and long climb.