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|
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|
|Alpenglow on Temple Crag|
|Kristin on the Morning Approach|
|The Moongoddess Arete|
|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|
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|
|Kristin Descending from Contact Pass|
|More Plunge Steps|
|The Stream Crossing|
|On the Descent|
|A Final View|
|Back at the Car|