The Timex Route - IV, 5.9+
(Variation: Casio Traverse (pitch 3), 5.10a R/X)
May 29, 1996 (Roger Hayashi and Dave Daly)
Report by Dave Daly
The goal for 1996 was to find an obscure route in Sequoia National Park. One that had a nice rugged backcountry feel yet wasn't too far off the beaten path. A route that had limited beta. Just enough to scare yet entertain my adventurous soul. Having climbed for just 2 years, it was due time for me to get on the sharp end and come into my own. After much debate and several false starts, I gamefully employed the use of my long time climbing partner Roger Hayashi. We settled on giving The Watchtower's Timex Route a go. We poured over the few photos we managed to scrounge up and scratched our heads, for curiosity sake, upon reading the only route description in Greg Vernon's SEKI guidebook: "The first free route on the tower. Good rock, enjoyable 1000-foot route." It was then that I sensed a grand adventure unfolding before us. Our minds were made up and the plan was underway to take on this "enjoyable 1000-foot route". The countdown had begun....
Roger and I decided to get up to Lodgepole campground the night before, in order for us to get in our torturous fill of "tourons" and RV minions. Even as we arrived at 10:30 PM, the 40 foot motor homes were still lit up, TV sets aglow. Our closest neighbor was up, 9 kids to boot, belting out the Gilligan's Island theme song......verse after verse after verse! Did anyone have a chalkboard to scratch fingernails across? OK! The war was on! After spilling the camping and climbing gear to the ground, we countered with annoying belches and gregarious flatulations. I knew Guinness had other useful purposes. Getting the tent set up (in noisy fashion no less) and our mischief was out of the way, the campground was falling silent. All of the denizens of Coleman defeated! We gabbed away on who was going to lead what pitch and how to attack the approach. It eventually came down to playing "Odd -N- Evens". As the greenhorn, I secretly wished that I wouldn't draw the crux pitch and squash any lurking fear that remained. BAM! "You got evens", Roger proudly announced. All the lurking fear and whitewash anxiety left quietly. The crux laid waiting on pitch 7. Earlier in the week, I had received gouge from one of the climbing rangers. Sour gouge at that! "That's one of the chossiest piece of crap pitches I'd ever had the chance knowing!" I'm sure he was just toying with our inquiring minds. (Pause for effect)........That was it! This one is going down and in good style no less. We finally settled in, joking about who had the foulest belch and what all the "hoplah" was about regarding Guinness anyway. "It's overated", we chimed in unison. But my sleeping habits weren't! I soon drifted off to sleep, assisted by the gentle breezes whispering throught the Jefferey pine branches above. I knew it was going to be another fine day ending in the Sierra Nevada.
The day began with a nudge and the sour smell of hops. Roger had already began to organize gear and tear down the tent......with me in it! Our manna for the morning? Roast beef sandwiches and YooHoo. I looked skyward and was rewarded with a crystal blue ceiling. How reassuring! We gandered at the topo one more time, packed the gear and off we went. The initial approach began by starting down the Tokapah Valley trail and heading to trails end, next to Tokapah Falls. We paused there to take photos and admire the slender tower above. The valley was alive that morning. The shrieks of the Stellar's jay and the high pitch warning chirp of marmots greeted us upon arrival. The penstemon and Indian paintbrush were just beginning to bloom. Each tucked neatly around the water's edge of the flowing Marble Fork River. The morning sun provided great shadow reliefs for all the corner systems and possible belays. We rock hopped over to the south side of the river and followed it downstream for 150 yard before cutting up the initial section of the Watchtower gully. Mostly stout 2nd class, we ended up backtracking from a few manzanita "barricades" and managed to get back into the gully as it snaked up to the base of The Watchtower. Near the end of this gully, the ground began to steepen and terrace out a bit, leaving us with a stair stepping affair. "Doesn't this feel like 3rd class to you?", I ask Roger. Then I notice his focus is not on the soft and often collapsing terraces but the initial "jungle" pitch at the base of the tower. It was then that I fully took in The Watchtowers grandness. Overhead loomed huge dihedrals and several roofs. The granite faces appeared clean and inviting, offering loads of options to forge new routes.........!! What was I thinking?!?! I was here to get in my first challenging mulit-pitch lead. The glorified "notch-in-the-belt", so to speak.
We arrived next to a large lodgepole and considered the best options for making our way up through the brush entangling pitch. 'What on God's green earth was this all about?" Images of a prince thrashing and slashing his way through thorns and briar, heading up a lone tower in order to rescue a sleeping beauty played out in my mind. Poof! Back to reality. Then before I could lock my biner and tell my partner he was on, the manzanita and chaparral were shaking as he yarded up through the network of branches. Amid the blur of obsenities and painful outbursts, Roger made his way up a shallow, debris filled crack and on up to a stately ledge. "Looks like this ledge heads on over to the right.......maybe to the start of that right facing corner we spied." "Yup", I confirm, trying to peer through the foliage. A couple of minutes later rolled by and I get the green light to follow-up. Sure enough, there was the corner! Time to rack up and get out into open terrain (thank God!). Ahhh! Clean rock with nice pro. Pitch 2 turns out to be an enjoyable 5.7 lieback with a few face moves in between. Most of the corner eats up small to medium nuts. The topo showed that the pitch was 5.8 but it never materialized. At the 150 foot mark, a small ledge appeared, comfortable enough for a standing belay. I soon brought up Roger and took a 'look-see' of what lay ahead. Again, the topo showed Pitch 3 was 5.9+ but the overall character of the rock above told a different story. Why would Herb Laeger throw numbers around so loosely or was I just overly confident about the "This one is going down" comment I made the night before? As Roger got situated, I passed gear and "sprayed" my two cents about the pitch above. I had also checked out that the right facing corner presented a cleft break next to out belay. From the break, a quartz dike appeared and snaked left and upward. It cried out, "Follow me......I'll deliver the goods!". Man, my imagination and curiosity was getting the best of me! We discussed possibilities of a variation, knowing we felt good that the original pitch was heading where we needed to go for the next belay. I goaded Roger enough to get him spun up to take on a new variation of Timex. That was it! We were determined pioneers to spoil the unspoiled.
"Yur on.......send it, dude!", spoken in my best slow motion drawl of "Berklese". Roger stepped over the cleft and padded out onto the dike. It looked fairly light, at first. But as he pressed further out, the features became fewer and fewer. Thirty feet out from the belay with no pro, Roger was finessing and milking out each balancy step. I asked him if there was any pro ahead but all I got was a "Hmmmmm...". A tell-tale sign that he was pushing into 5.10 mode. "I think I see a small sloping ledge near the end of the dike." Seeing Roger at 60 feet with no pro provided snap shots of a skin-ripping pendy. "Can you see if it forms a seam or something?", I state. "I'll soon see!", he calmly answers. I saw Rogers eyes shift back down the dike then turn back up, steely eyed and determined, with the ledge in sight. Upon reaching the sloping ledge, he steps onto it, making a highstep mantle move. It looked awkward, especially with the ledge sloping down and to the right. I can't imagine what he was going through his mind. "I think some pro will go into this thing." I pass onto him that it would be in his best interest to get in the gear ASAP! It seemed like a minute strolled by. "Found a home for this small cam", he yells back. Phew!! I watch him continue up and around a subtle corner, out of sight. A faint yell drifts over to me, "How much?" I pause, "You've got............Damn!.......TWO FEET!" Way to go, Dave! He's probably stranded out in No-Man's land with no belay in sight! "Alright, I'll set up camp here.", Roger calls out. Two tugs later, it's the greenhorn's turn to have a go at the variation. Crap! I realize that I've got 60 to 70 feet before the first gear placement! And I certainly wasn't in the mood to play "Tarzan Meets the Crash Test Dummies" today. Time to get my best game face on. I step out onto the dike. So far, so good. A few crossovers to make it looks fancy. Twenty feet out, I sense that play time is over and the work is just beginning. I pass the remaining quartz crystals and friction on the evermore sloping dike. Ten more feet pass by as it starts to get thin and slick. Well, at least I'm 30 feet from the gear. Must.......friction.......confidently.......quiet feet.........quiet feet. I reach the sloping ledge. I wonder, "How in the world did he pull this off?" After a few step up and step downs, I pull of a shakey mantle and onto the now present ledge. Low and behold, there at my feet, is the first piece. Holy crap! The #0 Metolius cam is placed in a shallow seam. With a light pull, the piece comes out in my hand! "You there?", Roger yells. I yell back, "Dude, you're nuts!" "It gets better!" What was that?.......encouragement? or Jedi mind tricks? I pass around the rounded corner and see that the terrain is casual. I notice Roger is tucked under a 3 foot roof, sheepish grin spread across his face. "How was it?", he says. "What do you mean...."How was it"? My sphincter is still trying to relax!", I belt out. He chuckles. I get up to the belay and present him with the M.O.T.S. (Misfits Of The Sierra) double fisted "ego-tap", congradulating him for his outstanding lead. "I scoped the terrain above. It looks like it will go." I wonder where and what he's referencing. All I see is the roof, with about 300 feet of solid exposure. "Looks like we can jam the crack in the roof.......easy money!" Yellow-feathered and pale faced, I exclaim he can have the pleasure of leading this next pitch. Yeah......that's it.......that'll start me back on the even pitches of the original route. Nice excuse, huh?!? Roger gears up and plugs a #1 Camelot into the crack. Faster than I can say "flashy pink lycra", Roger has slipped over the roof and out of sight. Heck, five minutes go by and I hear, "I'm off!". I break down the "cave" and prep for my turn. "OK.....it's all yours!", Roger calls back. I'm off. The moment I reach out to the edge of the crack is when I get my first full taste of exposure. The Watchtower gully is staring me right in the face. With a lump in my throat, I get in a solid hand jam and lift my left foot to seat it at the base of the crack, the rest of me hanging freely. Aw, this feels better now that I'm jamming this. Maybe two moves and I'll be over this roof. Up comes the right foot to a small chickenhead on the outside face of the roof. Up comes the left hand for the final jam and then I'll........POP!!.......Whooaaaa!! I feel the weight press upon my back. I open my eyes, with my right hand still in the crack, and notice both feet dangling above the gully!! Thank God for 'Johnson & Johnson' or my hand would resemble hamburger meat! Without skipping a beat, I launch into crank mode and motor the remaining 50 feet to the belay. "That's the funkiest shade of green I've ever seen.", Roger chuckles. I take a moment to place my heart back into its original location and get some SA ("situational awareness" for you non-military types). We consider what was behind us and label the 3rd pitch variation as the Casio Traverse, a spooky, Cool Hand Luke 5.10a pitch and an exposed roof pitch which we rate "5.9ish". The weather seems to be in our favor with only a few clouds framing the Tablelands and Mt. Silliman to the northeast.
It was now 10:40 AM and seven more pitches still to take on. Piece of cake! With my BP back in the green zone, I consider the pitch ahead. Pitch 4 was a nice, upward slanting finger crack that leads out right and onto steep open face. I was told this pitch was the highlight of the entire climb and I would have it all to myself! Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. The crack accepted my fingers up to the second knuckle and the face was nice clean granite. A comparison you say? Imagine a 5.8 version of 'Airy Interlude' at The Needles; exposed, inviting and sucks gear like a $10 dollar.........Well, you get the idea! The route continued by going up from the cracks end and eventually to a vegitated ledge above. Upon reaching the ledge, I noticed some ancient, tattered slings in the alcove behind. It was evident that the route had seldom seen traffic. I cut the old slings off and placed gear and slings for our present belay. "Whoo-hoo!". I couldn't help myself. What a pitch and what a confidence booster! Roger greeted me with a long face, wishing he'd cornered the pitch. "Thief!", Roger joked. "Dude, it's all in the technique", referring to drawing 'Odd -N- Evens' the night before. Pitch 5 and 6 would be strange. The route now moved right along the ledge for 15 feet and then ascended a steep, off-width crack (5.9). Sure glad it was Roger's lead.
Rpger Hayashi heads up the second crux (5.9 off-width hands) of The Timex Route on Pitch 5.
But like a true champion, he finished the 5th pitch with amazing speed and skill.....not a single grunt! As I followed, I took a look down upon the Tokapah Valley trail. At trails end, the place was crawling with tourons. It appeared that the interpretive rangers were performing their circus act. A few elephants, a couple of sloths and several clowns. Nice.....dinner and a show! "The show" would soon begin as I worked my way up into the off-width. And just like a circus clown, I was performing well. Feet cutting loose every now and then. Whimpery grunts and oozing hand placements were a few of the highlights. The grand finale: Dave's fat clown foot cutting loose a football-sized rock! I gave it my best effort to stop the rock from rolling out further by using my other foot but it was to no avail. That rock must have gotten 10 seconds worth of air time before exploding on the apron slab below. CAHBOOM!! With the sound of a .50 calibier Hawken gun, the calamity echoed around the valley and the surrounding walls. "You OK?!?!", Roger calls out. "Holy shit, I just knocked out a chockstone down here. I sure hope no one was in the approach gully!". Never once did I yell out, "ROCK!". I guess I was shocked and fascinated at the same time, just watching something that large plummet to the ground. I make it up to the belay and we talk about the whole fiasco. Then from out of now where comes this booming voice....."Climbers on The Watchtower, are you OK?". My thoughts: "Is that you God? I'll repent, I'll repent, I'll.......!!". Roger squints to the falls area and spies a ranger (bullhorn in hand). We pause and look at each other. We pass on to him that all is well and we express our apologies. I half expected we'd get applause from the "spectators". I turn to where we were positioned and notice we are in a steep, terraced rock gully. Up above us is the large square notch we spotted on our approach. At the top of this notch is a monster roof, speckled with black lichen. "No thanks, you don't have your 'Welcome' mat out", I state nervously. I launch off onto pitch 6. This has to be one of THE dirtest pitches on The Watchtower. Based on Laeger's topo, it was straight up but that would take us to the huge notch above. I opted to climb up and slightly right, crossing small overlapping corners as I went along. Most of the pitch was 5.7 until the last 30 feet. A nasty lichen covered overlap blocked the way to a nice stately ledge. I dropped in a medium sized Alien due to the flairing nature of the crack, under the overlap. I could see I would have to use the shallow left corner to get past the "potato chip zone". I brushed a few spots of dried lichen for foot placements before heading on. I tell myself, "Man, this thing is stout! Sure hope the gear holds." Step after cautious step, I make it just above the overlap and then finally to the ledge. I notice that my arm is covered in small flakes of lichen, stuck to my sweating arms. It was making me itch something fierce. I couldn't imagine what my face looked like. My question was answered upon Roger's arrival. "Camoflaging for the next Marine recon exercise, are we?". We laugh as I attempt to wipe the stuff away.
Lunch was now on the agenda. I could only take enough Vanilla Bean GU in one day. The sky began to open up again, providing us with an awe inspiring view of Santa Cruz Dome, Mt. Silliman, The Tablelands and Alta Peak. Our sandwiches were squished into unrecognizable figures but we didn't care. We had this puppy to ourselves. Here, on The Watchtower, our surroundings were soreal and timeless. There's absolutely nothing like the Sierra Nevada! It made me wonder what guys like Pete Starr and Norman Clyde pondered during their solo voyages into the wild ranges of the Sierra. Joy, freedom, calmness, peace......a sense of belonging! Fulfilment beyond expectation. Thanks to the pioneers, we were here seeking our own fulfilment.
Time to get going. Supposedly, pitch 7 was to be the crux pitch and Roger had no problems racking up for it. Energized and refreshed, he headed up a featured, small sized buttress to our left. I watched him pause near its end, enough time to take a picture and admire the surroundings. With a wave and a skyward glance, he was off again. He soon passed out of sight. Within 15 minutes, I was heading up the buttress. The climbing consisted of casual face moves on small flat ledges, no harder than 5.7. But as usual, things got tougher as soon as I came to the top of the buttress. The remaining pitch was guarded by a steep ramp heading left to the summit tower and over several steep overlaps. So this is the crux section, I wondered. The ramp (5.8) wasn't too bad but the final overlap was the 'tiger in the road'. Awkward and sustained, I grunted over the sloping overlap, losing all cool points along the way. A few minor slips but nothing to consider a fall. Roger had dubbed me 'Shakey Jake' throughout the time we'd known each other and the nickname was true to its color today. At the belay, the ledge was a big surprise due to its beach like sand and overall width. We ended up simul-climbing pitch 8 and 9 through vegetated and chossy 4th class terrain. Pitch 8 and 9 followed up just right of the summit tower.
Working the upper pitches just below the summit.
The tower itself looked like one tough cookie. On its northwestern side, a 7" crack split its flanks, most of it looking flared and slightly overhung. At the top of pitch 9, we were greeted with segmented rock and more chaparral. I looked down at my watch (being a Timex at the time....pardon the puns), I finally realized we had been milking out these last remaining pitches because it was now 5:10 PM. The sun was behind us and already pushing to the horizon. Only half a pitch remained. Upon finishing pitch 9, our belay put us on the right shoulder of the summit, tucked in a sloping corner. We decided to exit the route to the right by crossing over a wild and yawning chimney. What exposure! Five moves later, we scrambled up 3rd class blocks and onward to the Pear Lake trail. The sun was now beginning to set and the last of the day hikers were leaving from the view point of The Watchtower's southwestern rim. What a pleasure it was to get the harnesses off and gobble down a bagle. Time to pack it up. Before getting onto the trail, we took an awesome photo of the sky after the sun had set. Hues of pink, purples, oranges and reds layered the western sky. What a day! Back to the cars with headlamps. A busted pair of Teva's (Roger's own mini-epic) was the only hiccup of our whole adventure. And what an adventure it was! At the cars, we reflected on the side notes Greg Vernon had mentioned in the SEKI guidebook regarding the Timex Route:
"Though some climbers stated that they would never climb this route again, all were glad they had done it. Sometimes serenity takes time."
Hmmmmm!........Count us in as one of the few who have been delivered into the serenity of The Watchtowers' beauty. Yeah....we knew we had taken a few lickin's along the way. But we still kept tickin'! And we knew that the Timex Route would keep on tickin' for the next set of adventurers who went out to seek the serenity of The Watchtower.