My partner, Steve Scandore, and I walked in to Dade Lake via Gem Lakes on the afternoon of August 28. Camp sites at this austere locale are somewhat rare, but there are a handful of good options.
We left camp around 6:40 am on the 29th. We opted to avoid the moraine just below the snowfield, which turned out to be a good call, even though it’s somewhat longer. No scree groveling for us! A talus fan provided a snow-free route from the top of the moraine to the base of the arête. We third-classed it to the big ledge where the route formally begins, although the faint of heart might want a belay, especially for the last few yards.
The first pitch starts out at 5.7 almost right away. It’s great climbing, but the second pitch provides the real treat—a spectacular stretch of steep flakes with awesome exposure and stunning views.
We simulclimbed pitches 3 and 4, which are mostly fourth class. Pitch 5 is supposed to be the crux. I found the 20 feet or so of stemming around the flakes somewhat awkward, but it didn’t seem like 5.8 to me. My partner disagrees. I guess ratings are somewhat subjective…
We stopped for lunch at the top of pitch 5 on a huge west-facing ledge. Unfortunately, it was still in the shade and a stiff breeze kicked up; the two conspiring to make us put on what little extra clothing we brought, and even then we were a bit on the cold side.
We simulclimbed the rest of the route. With the exception of a short stretch somewhere on what I suppose was the seventh pitch, it was mostly fourth and a little third class. A strong party might consider third classing it. Being unroped on the secure but exposed arête would be a treat—freedom of movement plus spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
We reached the end of roped climbing six hours after starting the first pitch. There was still a hundred feet or so of fourth class to the summit block, which we dispatched in a matter of minutes. A rope on the summit block might make some feel safer, but the protection is nonexistent, and a fall would likely have nasty results.
We brought more gear than strictly necessary. A Metolius #8 cam was the biggest piece we used. Plenty of opportunities for small wired nuts and mid-sized cams. I found myself wishing I hadn’t left my mid-sized hexes at home. There are some bomber placements where hexes in the 1”-2” range would have been ideal. Still, the whole route protects extremely well even without the hexes. Long runners for the upper half are helpful to reduce rope drag.
The rock and position on this climb are terrific. I highly recommend it. I can’t say the same for the Northeast Arete. Though I haven’t climbed it myself, a party we met the day before complained about loose rock. Looking down on that route from the North Arete, I can’t see why a party comfortable on moderate rock would choose it instead.
We descended from Dade Lake to the trailhead via Treasure Lakes. This route involves more boulder-hopping than the Gem Lakes approach, and I would recommend the latter.
We managed to hit a window of good weather that weekend. Opportunities for an easy bail are limited once you’re a few pitches up. Rapping the route is probably the best option if the weather closes in, since the gullies on either side seem likely to turn into bowling alleys in the rain. I’d recommend paying attention to the weather and bringing enough extra clothes to deal with contingencies.
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