The Devil's Crags lies deep in the heart of the Sierra. Foreboding and mysterious, it has been the subject of considerable fear and trepidation from climbers and peakbaggers. There is an abundant amount of loose rock on these peaks. The rock on the Devil's Crag is not the usual white granite that the Sierra Nevada is known around the world for; rather, it is composed of much older volcanic rock that is a lot more weathered and fractured.
The Northwest Arete route seems to be the most preferred route of ascent, and may perhaps be the easiest section (the least amount of steep climbing).
The first register was placed on the third ascent in 1933. The first two ascents (CW Michael, 1913, and Dawson/Eichorn/Olmstead, 1930, respectively) utilized the Michael's Chimney route. On the 1933 Sierra Club High Trip, Glen Dawson and Jules Eichorn agreed to lead a party of "hand picked" climbers. On July 25, 1933, five groups of three each converged in sequence on Crag #1 by three route variations. Led by Eichorn, Helen LeConte and Alfred Weiler made the first ascent of the NW Arete. At the same time, led by Norman Clyde and Glenn Dawson, another group of climbers pioneered the Northeast Face (cl. 4) route to the summit.
The summit register reads like a who's who of Sierra mountaineering, and the sparse entries attest to the difficulty of the peak. Do not underestimate the class 4 rating; the climb is long, sustained, and requires careful and constant focus throughout the entire route.
The Devil's Crags are among the most remote peaks in the High Sierra. The easiest approach is via South Lake through Bishop Pass, down Dusy Basin and further South into LeConte Canyon. At the Southern end of Grouse Meadow, the Kings River must be crossed to gain access to the canyon leading up to Rambaud Pass. The Kings River can be a difficult and treacherous crossing early in the season or during high snow years, so spending some time looking for the most reasonable crossing is advisable.
Do not follow Rambaud Creek; it is choked with much brush and tedious cross country travel. Instead, contour South/Southeast up steep forested slopes to meet Rambaud Creek at approximately the 10,000 foot level.
Continue on along much talus and boulders up to Rambaud Pass (11,600', 0.6 mi SE of Wheel Mtn). The route begins at Rambaud Pass.
From Rambaud Pass, head due East to crest an intermediate point just SE of White Top (White Top is Pt. 12,262). Descend about 150 feet to the sadddle west of White Top. Traverse across the southwest side of the northwest ridge across some class 2 breaks in the cliffs until you reach a prominent notch, where the arete proper begins. It is not necessary to climb White Top to reach this point, and the rock is relatively loose so far.
Crest the arete from the right side, where the angle is less steep (about 100 feet of steep class 3/4). From here, the route pretty much follows the arete proper, and the difficulty continues to be sustained class 3, with an occasional move of class 4 at the walls of the notches. There are lots of ups and downs along the crest, so patience and vigilance are important skills to sustain.
Some landmarks as you follow the top of the arete: you travel right in between a pair of dark black rocks that stick out of the crest ("Black Rabbit Ears"). From here, some more scrambling leads to the crux of the climb: a short (15 feet) and *very* airy downclimb of a knife edge section leads to a notch, marked by steep slabs on each side. If uncomfortable with the exposure, a small rope or a few slings can be looped around an anchor at the top of the pitch to aid the downclimb (it goes free as well, but the holds are not the best). The whole knife-edge section has very solid rock. (Also see Variation below).
After the downclimb, another short 10 foot section of a horizontal knife edge must be negotiated before the terrain eases off. After passing this notch, the route is class 3 to the summit. At what seems like a difficult impasse just below the summit (marked by steep slabs on the North side), one traverses for the first time on the South side of the crest over easy class 3 and then back on the arete to the tiny summit. Congratulations! Enjoy the great views and be careful not to knock any rocks down because the summit rocks seem very improbably perched over the steep abyss on each side.
On the descent, reverse every move.
**** Variation: Before the knife-edge downclimb into the notch, it is possible to traverse around the Northern side of the crest along an ill-defined ledge system. This section is class 4 as well and highly exposed (albeit just on one side), but the holds are much better, and it places you below the first knife-edge downclimb (the more difficult of the two). The rock on the north side is prominently marked by dark lichen.
If confident on class 4 terrain, not much gear is needed. Since the rock is fairly sound on all the difficult sections, a clear judgment, good climbing habits (test every hold, 3 points of contact, etc) can get you up and down the route without a rope.
However, a short rope (30 meters is plenty) would help most people negotiate the most difficult sections. A few fresh slings and a rappel ring will come in handy to replace the rotting anchors (don't trust any of the existing anchors - most of them are years... perhaps decades old).
The descent is much more difficult than the ascent, so most people would appreciate rappels.
A helmet is highly advisable, especially if climbing with a few partners.
All of the following trip reports recount ascents of Devil's Crags #1 via the NW Arete, which is perhaps the easiest route to the summit.
Daryn Dodge - August 2, 2006
Nile Sorenson - September 8, 2000
Reiner Stenzel - July 24, 2001
Doug Jones - August 10, 1995
RJ Secor - July 24, 2001
Steve Eckert - August 26, 1996