Sunday, October 23, 2016

Winter fun in Tioga Pass

Sometimes things don't turn out the way planned, but it can still certainly be fun! 

Last weekend the first winter storm blew through the mountains, followed by a week of sunny weather. Highway 120 was closed, and then opened again. I knew that my chances of climbing mountains up near Tioga Pass were passing quickly, soon the road will be closed for the winter. 
Winter is coming......
Garrett and I have not climbed together in about a year, our last trip together was to climb Golden Pillar Direct . He has been busy with life (i.e. he found a nice lady friend), so when I was able to drag him out of climbing retirement to hit an alpine climb, I was stoked. 

Mitchell (who I previously climbed Moro rock with) was also stoked to come along. We planned to climb the NW ridge of North Peak and then the North ridge of Mt. Conness. This did not work out as planned, but we still had a good time

1st (failed) objective - NW ridge North Peak.

We met at my fav. ninja bivy spot near Lee Vining on Friday, and had a chilly night camping. We woke up at 5 am, and were at the trailhead by 6ish. The large snow banks on the road were an indication that my dreams of the snow melting off the rock might not be correct. Turn out the week of warm weather was not enough to clear the snow. Its going to be full-on winter up there once another storm passes through.

The boys ready to start

The first part of the approach is easy, a few miles of relatively flat ground past some alpine lakes. There was a fair amount of snow, and with warm temps in the day, and freezing at night, the snow was very hard. Making it relatively easy to walk on. 

Approach in a winter wonderland
We walked under the face of North Peak, I saw the ice couloirs that Michael and I climbed a month ago and they were now snow filled, that beautiful blue ice hidden by a foot or two of fresh powder.  

Ice climb Michael and I did a month ago (right most couloir) - buried in snow.

Garrett on the approach to the ridge

We stomped up some slopes, then were onto the ridge. Then we hit a very icy snow slope, that blocked our access to the main rock ridge. Dang, I wish I had packed an ice axe and crampons, because the slope was not very steep, but very icy. A fall on would send you down a cliff, being fatal.

Mitchell went as high as possible on some rock steps but was blocked by the icy snow. I had mountaineering boots on, so I started kicking steps up the slope. Although we probably could have gone up the slope by kicking steps, the situation was making Garrett very uncomfortable.

Looks benign. But this slope was super icy. I wish I had brought an ice axe!

I don't like to push people into situations they feel are dangerous, so we backed off the ridge. Those low angle icy slopes can be fatal.

 I was kicking myself for not packing an ice axe, then we would have flown up that slope. However, the mountain is not going anywhere, I can always try the link-up with Mt. Conness some other time. 

We regrouped at the base of the ridge. It was still fairly early, so I looked around, saw a choss-pile mountain a mile away or so along the same ridge line. It was south facing and snow free, so I suggested we climb it instead! We all set off along the top of the col towards the other peak.

Lets go hike up that choss pile!
We traversed across the class 2 ridge line, to make it interesting we stayed fairly high on the rock, so we could bust out the occasional class 3 move.

snowy tracks
We arrived at the base of the other peak, then headed up class 2 talus towards the summit. Classic Sierra choss pile, beautiful solid granite talus. 

Mitchell chillin in the talus
We found our way to the summit, the register said the mountain was Shepherd's Crest (12,015'). Very nice. Great views from the summit.

Garrett approaching the summit, awesome!
Mitchell enjoying the stellar views
We lingered on the summit for a while, soaking it all in. This is the best part of alpine climbing. That feeling on the summit, there is nothing quite like it.

I was super proud of Garrett. Although he has not climbed in a year, and is not in "mountain shape" he pushed through to the top without a single complaint. I have huge respect for those qualities, always willing to push his limits, and respects that its the difficulty of the endeavour that gives it meaning. 

Mitchell was also a badass, obviously a super-fit driven alpinist, but at the same time modest and easy going. I could not have asked for better partners on that day. 

Group summit pose!
Blocky summit ridge
We then headed back down the talus, then through some 3rd class to descend a col

3rd class descent

After couple of hours of hiking through the snow, now wet so some post-holing here and there, the sight of the dam across Saddlebag lake was a welcome sight.

Finally, the way to the cars
We said our goodbyes to Mitchell how had a wedding to get to in Three Rivers. Garrett and I headed over to the Mobile for a super-yummy meal. We headed home that evening. Despite not climbing what I had planned, we still managed to turn it around, bag a peak and have a great time doing it. 

It was great to see Garrett again, and also great to get to know Mitchell a bit better. I think him and I have more mountains to climb!

P.S. -- Post climb activity

Since I had no climbing partner on Sunday, I decided to bring my little buddy for a hike up near Huntington lake. Great active rest hiking with my canine friend.

Best hiking buddy

No comments:

Post a Comment