Saturday, January 14 – Sunday, January 15, 2012Locations:
Peak 12,542 and the Northwest Ridge of Four GablesClimbers:
Jon & NickPhotos:
As noted (with some processing edits on a couple of Jon’s shots from Nick)Synopsis:
With Tioga Pass continuing to remain open, the lack of snowfall this year continued offered a unique opportunity to those so inclined: access to long, granite alpine rock routes with minimal amounts of snow in otherwise “Winter” conditions. By “Winter” conditions I mean (i) very short days, (ii) very cold temperatures and (iii) very strong winds.
Jon and I were itching the entire week to undertake a true winter alpine route that would involve a bivy at a high altitude. We combed through the Secor Guide looking for route descriptions. Our search had a couple of parameters. First, since we were coming from the Bay Area on Friday, altitude was a key factor. We were hesitant to bivy up around 13,000 ft. + on Saturday night for fear of getting absolutely worked by the altitude. Second, the weather report was not looking promising. While Saturday day and night called for great conditions, Sunday was anticipated to deteriorate rapidly with a very strong wind event moving in (with Sunday night expecting sustained 100+ mph winds along the High Sierra Crest).
On account of the above, that ruled out some notable options such as the full East Ridge of Mt. Humphreys or the full North or Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak.
After diligent research by Jon, we stumbled upon a very rewarding route that seemed to offer everything we were looking for: the Northwest Ridge of Four Gables (V.c.5). A long Grade V route, easier climbing (due to the need to take packs, wear gloves and climb in winter boots), and altitude hovering around 12,000 ft – 12,500 ft. This route appeared to be rarely climbed and very little info out there on it.
There was a sense of adventure to this route – and I would like to keep it that way a bit. The endless pros and cons of Internet Trip Reports – sharing experiences and real-time beta to assist other climbers in objectives, whilst keeping certain info unknown.
Therefore, I am really going to try and keep the actual beta on the route, descriptions of route finding and climbing routes and packing/gear lists basically non-existent. The pictures can offer a glimpse into what this route is like in the Winter in a very low snow year. However, you need to figure out the route yourself! Going into this near blind is half the fun.
After a night at Hotel Subaru at Tioga Pass, Jon and I approach the trailhead in very cold temps, catching the last shades of the setting moon. Photo: Nick
The only beta I will offer on the approach is that it is deceiving: as the crow flies it is short, as the switchback runs it is excessively long and steep. En route, you encounter the remnants of old mining artifacts, including an abandoned cable car. Photo: Nick
As any approach in the High Sierra, you move out of the desert and up into alpine, greeted by the giant peaks of the Eastern Sierra. Photo: Nick
The route starts at the top of Peak 12,542 (the prominent peak in the center) and travels along to looker’s left amongst the various spires of the Northwest Ridge of Four Gables.Photo: Nick
Further along the approach, with a lot more to go to get to the start of the route at the top of Peak 12,542. Photo: Nick
The Northwest Ridge of Four Gables – Jon and I were excessively pumped at this point. Photos: Nick
Peak 12,542 offers some great views. Photo: Jon
Jon taking in the views. Photo: Nick
After the long approach, Jon and I continued to move through the easier terrain un-roped to try and gain as much of the Class V route as possible in the fading daylight. Photos: Nick
Nick moving along. Photo: Jon
Jon pushing along the route. Photos: Nick
The climbing was always varied an interesting – with an abundance of route options and decision making possibilities. Jon pushing on. Photo: Nick
The High Sierra in cold temperatures and fading light. Nick moving along. Photo: Jon
As the light slowly faded during the first day on the route, the temperatures quickly plummeted as well. Nick with some cold hands, contemplating the awesomeness that was this day. Photo: Jon
Even the rock along the route is varied in texture and quality. Photo: Jon
Alpenglow beginning to hit the more technical portions of the route. Photo: Jon
Jon working through the high terrain. Photo: Nick
As the climbing became more exposed, the daylight also started to wear thin. We roped up on pushed on, in quest for a comfortable bivy spot. Photo: Nick
Jon staring down some exposure. Photo: Nick
Back on the ridge crest, we were washed in the glowing alpenglow of the sunset – with Jon visible on the far micro summit. Photo: Nick
Pressing along in what I can only refer to as “The Zen Hour.” Photos: Jon
The sunset to the West was amazing, as we came upon a great bivy spot along the route. Photo: Nick
The bivy was a great spot and a comfortable ledge to sleep. While the night got very cold (single digits), we were spared by the wind which did not arrive until the following day. I actually slept better this night than I did in my car at Tioga Pass the night prior. The stars were in full force and it is calming sleeping on the side of a route at 12,000 ft. in the cold, clear nights of the Eastern Sierra. Photo: Jon
Sunday morning the winds started and gradually continued to pick up. We awoke and set a pre-determined bail time at 2 PM – as we did not want to get caught up high any later than that given the weather forecast.
The climbing was much more technical in nature on Day 2, but we were up and moving quickly (in all of our layers). Jon checking out the next steps. Photo: Nick
Nick with a lead on a pitch, trying to warm up. The winds were picking up at this point at a steady level. Photo: Jon
Jon pushing higher up as the clouds moved in. Photo: Nick
Notwithstanding the growing winds and extremely cold temps, the climbing was superb and we were moving fast. The scenery continued to be amazing. Photos: Jon
Rappelling from the top of one of the many towers on the route, pushing along in the gusting wind. At this point, if memory serves me correctly, it was at least sustained 30 mph winds and gradually increasing. Photos: Jon
The increasing clouds with the route continuing. Photo: Nick
The climbing was superb, however. The route gained technical difficulties, needing to pitch it out in some spots. We roped up and pressed along the more exposed spots. Photos: Jon
Jon and I took turns swapping leads on the more technical components. Looking back at Jon after a lead. Photo: Nick
Roping up again through an exposed, technical section – looking back at Jon. Photos: Nick
Moving through some of the technical terrain, we would come into gullies that were effective wind tunnels. At this point, it was difficult to communicate when further away than 10 feet and the winds were gale force and cold. Winter alpine climbing at its finest! Photo: Nick
Pushing along, roped up. Photo: Nick
The winds were starting to become worrisome, although it was only noon. We approached the last tower of technical terrain which would give us access to the straight summit of Four Gables. From there, it is a Class 2 descent that climbs up and over another 12,200 ft+ peak.
The “Bail Face” starts to show on Nick. Photo: Nick
A good discussion was had, weighing the pros and cons and risks and rewards. We were at an ice couloir that would offer the last bail option before pressing on to the summit. The decision was made: continue as far as possible along the easier terrain without the use of a rope, but when the terrain dictated the need for a rope due to safety or exposure, we would bail. Going back up and over high terrain that would take time was sounding difficult with the wind. It was at the point where upon ridge lines or in gullies, standing was becoming a challenge.
Jon continuing up the last tower. Photo: Nick
We reached a notch in the tower and realized that we were not comfortable moving forward without roping up and placing protection. This became our “summit” of the route – ultimately it was about 90% through the technical terrain to the end. We were happy with the achievement in the short, cold and windy wintery days.
Fortunately our stopping point proved to be a great photo op. Jon happy with the route, our personal “summit” and ready to get out of the wind. Photo: Nick
Nick next to Jon looking the other direction. Photo: Jon
Looking back up at the last remaining tower. The picture of Jon is from the smaller tower in the foreground, the point we decided to bail given the weather, increasing wind and need to rope up from that point forward. It is funny how ominous this looks now – it really didn’t feel that way at the time. Just the wind was out of control (I don’t even remember the clouds!). Photo: Nick
Because we had explicitly chosen to only climb as far as we could without a rope, it was easy to backtrack to the gully below and our exit couloir. Jon moving down back into the glacier basin. Photo: Nick
Nick following suit, moving onto the glacial ice. Photo: Jon
On the glacier and the entire hike out, Jon and I were super pumped on this route, the conditions and the entire experience. We were also 100% justified in our decision making – as the wind was noticeably increasing and the clouds were starting to rip by the summits. The temps continued to drop and we hiked the entire way to the valley in down jackets.
A final shot of alpenglow for sunset, looking across the Owens Valley to the White Mountains in Nevada. Photo: Nick
As of this writing, Tioga Pass is closed and storms are on the way. Now time to bring on the ski season!