Friday, July 8, 2011

Anniversary on the Moongoddess Arete

Moments of uncertainty - miles from the trailhead.  High up on a route with the mountain all to ourselves.  Casting about in loose, vertical terrain looking for the supposed 3rd-4th class ledges.  A striking alpine arete, towers of granite, wildness - the John Muir Wilderness.  What better way to celebrate our 7th Anniversary?  The Moongoddess Arete.  

Each year, by the end of the Spring, I start to daydream about long, alpine routes on granite peaks - remote objectives offering solitude, altitude, and vertical terrain.  I'll lie in bed, rifling through guidebooks looking for promising route descriptions.  Ideas get passed back and forth with friends.  Prior failures push back into my consciousness, tempting me with redemption.  Motivation.  Anticipation. 

 This year, Kristin and I set aside a week of vacation leading up to our July 4th Anniversary.  We had no firm plans - no plane tickets - no reservations.  We were headed wherever the conditions were good.  Heavy winter precipitation left much of the the granite in the Cascades under a deep blanket of snow and ice, and the weather pattern was still unstable.  Where should we go?

We finally settled on the Sierra Nevadas in California.  I had originally wanted to sample the iconic alpine domes of Tuolumne Meadows, but record snowfall meant that Tioga Pass Road opened only a few days before our trip was supposed to start.  The bigger and more remote routes seemed unlikely to be in condition.  We were worried about long, snow covered approaches, wet slabs - or being limited to roadside routes.

But the Sierras are a big range with lots of options.  The Meadows were still snowed in, but I spent a few days in April on the east side of the range.  I got a sneak peak at some granite spires in the Sawtooth Range, and a couple of weeks later, some friends spent Memorial Day down near the Pallisades.  I knew the long routes on the east side would be mostly dry by the end of June.

And, best of all, I had always fantasized about climbing the long aretes of Temple Crag.  An objective.

Temple Crag Towering Over the First Lake
With a plan in place, Kristin and I left Portland on Friday after work and then drove through Yosemite from the west side on Saturday afternoon.  After spending more than an hour in a National Park traffic jam, we finally managed to get into the park and then up into the Meadows.  By 2:30-3 in the afternoon, we finally pulled up to Stately Pleasure Dome with the intent of climbing West Country, a moderate, 4-pitch route on bomber Tuolumne granite.  Feeling like pent up animals, we screeched to a halt, jumped out of the car, and started flinging climbing gear in all directions.  An old timer walked up and asked us if we were headed up on the rock in the afternoon - "lots of people die every year up there."  Ok thanks.  That's helpful.  I offer up - "yeah, that's what the ropes for."  We get racked up in 10-15 minutes and then we're on it.

The climb goes well, and we're back at the car in 3+ hours and headed towards Tioga Pass.  We drop down the east side towards Mono Lake, hang a right on 395 and jet towards Big Pine.  We drive through Bishop, the sun drops behind the peaks to the west, and we finally roll into the beautiful campground at the end of the road in Big Pine canyon.  Ahhhh ... exhale ... peace.  A hectic 24 hours.

The next morning we load up the packs and start the 5 mile walk up to Temple Crag.  We planned a pretty leisurely schedule - one day in - one day to climb - and a day to walk out.  The walk in was sublime.   The mountain offered us a magnificent greeting upon our arrival at the Third Lake.

Temple Crag and the Dark Start Buttress
We fell asleep with the anticipation of a big day on a big mountain.  We woke up the next morning to more amazing views.

Alpenglow on Temple Crag
We got a fairly leisurely 6:30 am start from camp, headed up the remaining snowpack towards the route.

Kristin on the Morning Approach
The Moongoddess Arete
The route gains the rock from the big snow tongue on the left.  We then traversed ledges around to the left until out onto the nose of the buttress.  From there, we climbed about 1000 feet, passing the first tower on the right and then down to the notch behind.

Kristin with the First Tower Behind
Kristin Barely Visible at the Notch Behind the First Tower

Once past the first tower, things got a bit more interesting.  We attempted to pass the second obstacle - the Ibrium Tower - on the right.  We had a difficult time finding the supposedly easy 15-20 foot downclimb to 3rd and 4th class ledges.  Instead, we puzzled over steep, imposing terrain with gut wrenching exposure between us and the neighboring ridges.

Looking Over at the Sun Ribbon Arete
I knew the climbing was supposed to be technically easy, but the rock was loose, the route was inobvious, and we were in no fall territory.  After a couple of false starts, I paused for a moment to consider our options.  Bailing from 1000' up would be a humongous, time consuming and dangerous ordeal.  We were slowly starting to run out of time.  Up was the best option - but first we had to go down - and then sideways.  So off we went.

After a deep breath, we pushed on and gingerly picked our way around the imposing tower on down sloping holds on questionable rock with even more questionable protection. We were clearly off route, too low and below the traverse, but I could see what had to be the third class ledges above us.  Ten feet of vertical, run out climbing and I'd be there.  I paused in the middle of the moves - pulling sideways on a crumbly rib of rock - checked my feet - and pulled through.

After another loose pitch of rubble and a scary belay perched on the very top of the arete - but completely buried under a giant chockstone - we finally unlocked the route and continued up the ridgetop.   After a few more wandering pitches, we finally topped out.

Kristin Topping Out on the Moongoddess Arete
With time and daylight running short, we passed up the summit and instead set off down the mountain with the hopes of reaching safe ground before nightfall.  But we did get some nice views.

The Pallisades
It only took an hour to scramble down to the one rappel, where we were promptly greeted by howling 50 mph winds.  A difficult rap landed us at Contact Pass, and then we were finally able to relax and enjoy soft plunge steps in the fading light.

Kristin Descending from Contact Pass
More Plunge Steps
After another hour, we were only 300 ft from camp.  But after 14 hours on the move, a twilight stream crossing presented the last obstacle.

The Stream Crossing
A test for tired legs.  We cleared the logs and finally lay down in the safety of camp.  The next morning we packed it up and walked our way back to the car - happy and at peace in the playground of John Muir - the wilds of the Sierra Nevadas.         

On the Descent


A Final View

Back at the Car

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