Sunday, September 28, 2014

Naked Edge Training with Stefan

Yesterday Stefan texted me asking if I wanted to spend a few hours on the Edge. He's in the midst of a very entertaining battle to own the speed record on that route. This has to be the friendliest speed battle ever. This is not a Hans vs. Dean situation. I agreed because it's fun for me to even be peripherally involved with these incredible athletes. As satisfying as it is to help out a friend, I was also being helped out. Anytime I can have a rope-gun help me dial in the Edge, I take it.

We met Mike Schlauch just below Genesis. He was going up to work some heinous route. Stefan had tried it. I didn't even recognize the name or remember it. We chatted with Mike a bit too long and another party had started up the Ramp Route, headed for Anthill Direct. I figured we'd just wait, but when the belayer didn't even have his shoes on and the leader was placing a piece on the 4th class ramp, I knew we didn't have the patience. Stefan suggested we do Touch and Go and that sounded like the best solution, but then he said we should just solo by these guys and rope up later. The climbing up to the Cave is only 5.6, but it is quite steep in a couple of spots. I'd never soloed this approach before, though it should be in my comfort range. I agreed and the leader nicely let us by. I felt comfortable sans rope and we went clear to the Cave pitch. I didn't want to solo this pitch,. Though I've never fallen on it, it involves an awkward move to get out from the cave and I didn't see much to gain by adding this stress.

Once at the base, Stefan led the first pitch up to the anchors. He moved smoothly and placed three pieces of gear in 70 feet. After I lowered him back down to the ledge he casually said that had taken him 2m33s! You'd think a guy who can climb this pitch this fast wouldn't need to practice further, but the record is so ridiculous now that the teams are concentrating on trimming seconds.

Stefan then led the first and second pitches as one and I followed. I got the first pitch clean again, with a very tight rope from Stefan, but fell off the 10b section at the end of the second pitch. Ugh. Every hold felt desperate here. I think I was just pumped/tired. I then lowered Stefan back down to the start and the TRed the first and second pitches in 3m27s. Impressive. At this point even Stefan was complaining about about the very painful fingertip jamming on that first pitch.

Stefan led the third pitch, placing a single piece of gear in 140 feet. I followed. Stefan led the fourth pitch, the chimney pitch, and then lowered down from the anchors at the top. This is unusual for him to stop at this point, but he was here to practice and the next pitch traverses even more to the right, making lower down problematic. He switched the way he does the lower dihedral, using what he calls "the Hans Method", since I told him this was the way that Hans did it.

I TRed the pitch up to the belay. I climbed it clean, but it took me a good while to complete the moves into the chimney for a couple of minutes I was stuck, pressed into the chimney, but unable to move up because my feet were too low and my hands/arms too weak. I eventually made something work and got to the belay. Stefan climbed the pitch again and led up the crux pitch through the boulder problem and overhanging hand crack and then set up a belay right there, without doing the 5.6 climbing to the top. This was mainly for me - to give me a tighter rope while I flailed on this pitch - but also in case he wanted to lower down and go again. The weather was threatening, though, so he didn't do this.

I used Stefan's beta for the boulder problem and got it clean. Sweet. I rarely get this clean, but Stefan's method seemed pretty reasonable. I went up the ramp and on the duck-around move I really stressed my left knee and it still hurts. I must have twisted it while under pressure from squatting so low. I hope this doesn't linger.

All I had left to do was the final hand crack, maybe 20-25 feet of hard climbing. While I have redpointed the Naked Edge, I feel only my closest friends would believe that after watching my performance on this crack. The only positive thing I can say is that I didn't aid any of the moves. And that's only because Stefan only placed one piece, a #2 Camalot, and it was above the hardest climbing. I hung all over this section and only made it up because Stefan made sure I didn't drop at all when I weighted the rope. I think this was the hardest he worked all afternoon.

I led the last section to the top and we headed down the slabs. I was really tried from the climbing and moved at a glacial pace on the descent. I marveled that Stefan and Jason can descend from the top of the Edge to the bridge in just six minutes! I probably took 20 minutes.

It was a really fun afternoon and I learned some new tricks from the past (and future?) Naked Edge speed record holder.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fatiron/Maiden Figure Eight

My buddy Mark was taken a friend up the Maiden and offered me a free ride up this iconic Boulder-area spire. I couldn't resist that. All the fun and none of the work of carrying the gear, because he also suggested I climb the Fatiron first and then just meet them at the Crow's Nest. don't have to twist my arm.

They left the trailhead at 6 a.m. and I left at 7 a.m. I trotted, laboriously because I feel like I either have no fitness or weigh a metric ton, or both, up the Homestead Trail to the Mesa Trail to the Bridge Trail en route to the Fatiron. The brush at the start of the Fatiron trail looked so thick that I headed up the Maiden approach trail until the off rock road and then went cross-country, mostly on talus, to meet up with the Fatiron's climber's trail. I was happy to leave the main trails and switch to hiking. It was already warm and I was sweating up a storm.
The upper section of the Fatiron from the summit of the lower section. You can see my shadow at the bottom of the photo.
I got on the rock after 43 minutes and scrambled up this fine rock. The climbing here is really fun and it provides tremendous views of the north side of the Maiden. I yelled over to what I thought was Mark getting to the Crow's Nest and he waved back. This was Mark's friend Dan who hiked in with Mark and Eric and then just soloed to the Crow's Next and rapped off. He had an appointment he needed to get to.
Looking over at the Maiden from the Fatiron. Mark is standing above the bump on the right. 
I did the overhanging downclimb that connects the lower section of the Fatiron to the upper section. I felt strong and solid and the holds were good. Easy Peasy. I scampered to the top and then decided to try the overhanging downclimb down the southwestern prow. My last time up this, when I linked all the Classics over Labor Day weekend last year, I balked on this downclimb. I didn't feel solid and did the longer downclimb off to the north. This time I went right down the prow and it felt pretty casual. It is quite steep, but the holds are good. The last section is overhanging, but I had a really good hold to lower myself down.
Eric finishing the first crux pitch

I picked my way through the boulders down to the start of the Maiden's super cool and super circuitous North Face route. I climbed up the initial 40-foot face and met Eric on top. He was belaying Mark as he climbed to the Crow's Nest. I put on my harness here and then followed Eric, still unroped, to the Crow's Nest. Mark decided it was quicker for me just to lead on, so I tied in, grabbed the rack and led the usual crux pitch across the north side to a huge ledge.

Eric followed next, belayed from both sides, and he cruised it. Mark soon joined us and I proposed the Walton Traverse (5.7) instead of the usual route, as it doesn't involve any more downclimbing and is more direct, though more difficult. Mark was okay with that and I led it, trying to place as much gear as possible, though there are a few sections where you have to just run it out. This was primarily to protect my seconds, though I didn't mind the gear either.
Mark finishing up the Walton Traverse

Eric cruised across once again, only pausing at two sections to decipher the best moves. Mark did the same but paused a bit longer at the last dicey section, since he'd have to do it after pulling the last piece and face a nasty fall if he peeled off. Of course, he didn't fall and was just being 100% solid.

Mark led the last pitch and I soloed up it just above him to take some photos. Soon all three of us were on top and I rappelled first. Mark wanted me to give Eric a fireman's belay, just in case, on the massively exposed and intimidating first rappel. This turned out to be a very good idea. Eric didn't seem to like the prospect of leaning out over 200 feet of high and lowering into empty space. It appeared that he balked at least a couple of times at the lip and that isn't including the FaceTime call he got from his wife after already clipping in to rappel.
Mark on the final pitch of the Maiden
Finally, he went over the edge and promptly flipped upside down! Yikes. I had my hands on the end of the rappel line and had tied a knot in it, as well, but the knot wouldn't have saved him from a fatal impact with the rock rib, if he fell. He didn't panic though. I was pretty gripped watching this and ready to tug on the rope for all I was worth. It took him probably 30 seconds or more to right himself. He failed around for awhile, unable to turn upside right. He finally had to rappel a couple of feet upside down before he had enough separation from the rock to get sorted out. It was gripping to watch from below, but both Mark and Eric stayed completely calm.
Eric on the summit
Once right-side-up, Eric was back in control and slid down the rope in a nice controlled manner to the Crow's Nest. I clipped him into the anchor and said my goodbyes. I didn't want to stick around for the work of packing up the ropes and the gear and hiking out. What a lazy bastard I am...
One airy rappel!
I slid down the already placed second rappel rope (thanks, Dan!) and then trotted back to my car and got home around 10:45 a.m. Derek was still sleeping. Teenagers...
Eric at the Crow's Nest at the bottom of the first rappel
Fun way to start the day! Thanks, Mark and Eric!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Naked Edge Record Trades Hands...Again!

Scott Bennett and Brad Gobright - new Naked Edge record holders
The battle between the teams of Jason Wells/Stefan Griebel and Scott Bennett/Brad Gobright for the title of Fastest Edge Climbers rages on.

Wells/Griebel set the record of 26m33s about a month ago when they broke Bennett/Gobright's record of 29 minutes and change. These teams have continually one-upped each other, but tonight it was in doubt.

Bennett and Gobright arrived in Eldo this afternoon and took a warm-up lap on the Edge. EpicTV had a couple of cameraman out to capture the action. One was stationed on a fixed line near the top of the route. The other was on the ground with a $30K digital camera writing to a 128GB solid state drive at the rate of a gigabyte a minute.

The team didn't get started until 6:50 p.m. The light was so dim that I couldn't shoot anything at all. They soloed up to the Edge with Bennett leading the way, as he would for the entire climb. Brad has climbed the Edge sans rope a number of times, so he's a good guy to anchor the team - he's not going to fall. While that is probably true, the team used a couple of Ropeman devices this time to add some additional security. Wells/Griebel use three of these devices.

Scott started leading the first pitch 6m10s after leaving the bridge, putting them 10 seconds behind the record pace. I thought Scott was a bit slower than normal on the first pitch, pausing for seconds to place two pieces of gear. Still, he polished off the 75-foot 11a pitch in 2.5 minutes. He accelerated from there and both climbers topped out by 19m30, a minute ahead of record pace now.

As Scott topped out he was breathing so hard that he warmed the cameraman to give him some room or he'd hurl on him. I didn't think they'd break the record at this point. I didn't think they'd be fast enough on the descent, despite the cushion. I was wrong. These guys can fly and they are seriously fit.

The hit the middle of the bridge at 26m16s. They didn't break it by much, but they are the new Kings of Eldo. Congrats, guys.

I have it on good authority that this war isn't over... Stay tuned.

Tour de Flatirons: Stage 1

The 2014 Tour started today with a great linkup on Dinosaur Mountain. We had a great turn-out with ten scramblers showing up to hurt. The course started and finished at the NCAR trailhead and covered the TipToe Slab on the Front Porch to the East Face, South Side of Dinosaur Rock to Sunnyside II on Der Zerkle.

We started a bit after 5 p.m. and the front runners were established early. Stefan, the veteran and multiple Tour winner, went to front, but super fit newcomers Matthias and Ryan went with him. Trailing them were Jon Sargent and Dan Mottinger followed by Tony Bubb and myself. Trailing were Willie Mein, Adam Massey, and Stuart Paul. Paul, also a Tour virgin, was in long pants and carried a pack with his climbing shoes. Switching to climbing shoes at the base of each route is a wise strategy, especially if you haven't done these routes before. Many of our veterans started this way and isn't unwise to continue this way.

I gapped Tony a bit before the base of the Front Porch, but Willie closed to within 20 seconds of me. Up ahead, the Stefan and Matthias gapped Ryan a bit, but Mattias missed the cross-country link-up to the Dinosaur Rock. Stefan stopped to call Mattias back since he wasn't sure of the link-up himself and didn't want to take advantage of Mattias mistake. In the 15 seconds he waited, Ryan caught up and they headed for Dinosaur Rock. These two would stay together for the next two climbs and have a brutal battle on the run out. Stefan was able to endure a bit more pain to take the win and remain the King, but he's the first to say that had Mattias not gone off course, he might have taken the win. Mattias ended up in third.
The Front Porch's TipToe Slab - the first rock in the stage
I gapped Willie at the top of the Front Porch and got out of sight on the descent and cross-country section. At the bottom of Dinosaur Rock I saw Jon and Dan above me. I encouraged them to be safe and closed on Dan at the crux crack. I told him to be solid and not worry about me. I figured we'd top out together and his superior fitness would ensure that I'd fall further behind from there. But it didn't go like that.
Dinosaur Rock - the second rock in the stage
Above the crack Dan went straight up a bit, which is one way to do it, but I think traversing immediately left by a few feet is easier. When he balked I told him I thought my way was easier and he moved to follow me. He had lost his scrambling mojo. Dan had only done this climb once before and he thought it was sketchy then. It is definitely key to really know these routes if you want to go fast and be safe. Dan did the right, of course, and was safe first, second, and third. Speed comes fourth in these races, if it comes at all.
Stefan and Ryan downclimbing off the back of Dinosaur Rock

I moved on without Dan and wouldn't see him again until the end of the stage. When I got to Sunnyside II I got another glimpse of Jon and he poured on the gas, because I never saw him again. Just as I started up this last route I saw Mattias run by on his way to the finish. I went the rest of the way solo, hurting badly the entire way. After awhile I wasn't worried about getting caught from behind. When I started the stage I was hoping to break 50 minutes, so I could just back off the pain and jog it in right? Of course not. How could I call myself a Minion if I did that. I thought I had a chance to break 45 minutes, so I suffered. I was a bit embarrassed to be breathing so hard and moving so slowly while hurting so badly.

Shortly after I finished, Dan arrived, covered in trail rash. He had taken a digger running out. The most dangerous part of these races is the run out. The trails are rocky and technical and your legs are tired and you can't see straight. It's less dangerous for me since I can't move fast enough to hurt myself, but the fleet of foot it takes focus and guts.

Tony and Willie had some trouble with the route finding, but persevered to finish, though Willie is pretty sure he didn't do the right route on Der Zerkle, doing a harder, longer route. Tony was followed closely by Adam and Stuart was the lantern rouge.

Full results and times are still pending, but here's what I know now (asterisks are for racers reporting times not from this running):

1. Stefan Griebel, 35:53
2. Ryan Franz, 36:23
3. Matthias Messner, 38:30
4. Jon Sargent, 42:10
5. Dylan Cousins*, 43:27
6. Bill Wright, 44:06
7. Dan Mottinger, 46:59
8. Willie Mein, 49:59
9. Tony Bubb, 57:20
10. Adam Massey, 57:37
11. Stuart Paul, 1:26:14

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tenaya Peak - Minion Style

Sheri and I stayed the night in Oakdale on our way back home from dropping Danny at Stanford. We were driving by 6:30 a.m. the next morning, intent on climbing Tenaya Peak in Touloumne Meadows - the high country of Yosemite National Park. As we pulled into the parking lot at Tenaya Lake a party of three were gearing up. I correctly assumed they were headed for the Northeast Buttress - the route I wanted to climb. I approached them for some…approach beta. Steve Arnold, a very friendly education entrepreneur, appeared to be the leader of the group, told me that we could just go with them. I said we wouldn't be ready to go for a bit and he generously offered to wait, so Sheri and I quickly threw some stuff (water bottle, snack) into a fanny pack and hiked out with them.
High on the route
The other two, Michelle and Kevin, seemed to be inexperienced climbers. They all carried substantial climbing packs befitting a 14-pitch route with 1400 feet of elevation gain. I carried my phone. Sheri was going to try to ascend the hiker's route - the route I'd try to find on my descent. She came with us for the first 30 minutes of the approach and then broke off to the right. I stayed with the other three, mainly to be polite. When Steve learned that I was from Boulder he asked, "Are you one of those guys that race of the Flatirons?" I said, "As a matter of fact, I am." And then he said, "I thought I recognized your name. I read an article in Climbing Magazine about you guys." So, that was cool. Once we hit some slabs on the approach I got into the front and ended up leading up to the base of the climb. As they geared up, I bid them adieu and started up the route.
Super fun climbing!
Tenaya Peak looms 2200 feet above Tenaya Lake and it has been on my To-Do list for decades. it just has never been a destination route due to its moderate difficulty and I'm usually looking at it after doing my main climbing and already heading back home. But after a decade of Minion training, I now view a 14-pitch 5.5 route as a fun lunch-time scramble. I wore LaSportiva Ganda shoes, the same ones I used for the Palisade 14er trip, though a softer scrambling shoe, like my resoled Crosslites would have been even better.
Selfie on the summit
The climbing started with a semi-steep, slick little corner, but that lasted less than a minute and then I was on easy, low-angle slabs. I probably climbed at least 300 vertical feet before using my hands. The climbing gradually steepened, but never got that steep. The climbing was reminiscent of a giant, granite Flatiron. The rock was generally smoother than the First Flatiron and at a more consistent angle, but it included similar hand and footholds occasionally so that the climbing wasn't pure friction. There were more cracks as well and I did probably at least a couple hundred feet of easy cracks. The views were outstanding, despite the haze that hung in the area due to the large forest fire that had shutdown our other plan: a hike to Cloud's Rest.

I climbed easily, in no rush, and stopped to take photos and sips of my bottle. I passed a couple of nice ledges and climbed through some short, cool steeper sections. All the while the steep summit cap loomed above me, worrying me only slightly because I knew there was an easy way to get through it and figured I'd find the way. I did and soon I was on top of the peak. The climbing can end directly on the summit if you exit there. The backside is gentle and I immediately spotted a worn trail heading down and west. I started to trot down this trail, yelling "Sheri" every minute or so.
Tenaya Lake
In just 15 minutes or so I had descended 900 vertical feet and arrived at a cairn at the top of a steep talus field made up of huge boulders. I descended here and picked my way around the biggest ones. I followed cairns further down a faint footpath. It led me across the wooded ledge in the middle of the north face. I continued down, at a trot when the terrain allowed it, and eventually lost my trail. I headed easily cross country toward the approach trail but it wasn't long before I thought that was silly and just headed down. Less than a minute after making this decision I hit the approach trail. I followed it back to the parking lot, arriving there 2h20m after leaving there. I spent 45 minutes on the approach with my three new friends, then 50 minutes climbing the route, and then 45 minutes descending.

But where was Sheri? I was hoping to see her on the descent, of course, and would have if she had been on the upper trail, but she wasn't there…yet. She traversed west when she left us and got to a steep slab that she didn't like. She sat at the base of it, waiting for me to come down. Eventually, though, the draw of the summit was too strong and the slab was starting to look doable. She cautiously smeared her way up in her vintage Exum Ridge shoes. Above she followed the route pointed out by Steve, which wasn't the one I took on the way down. I suspect when I was in my big boulder field, she was further west negotiating her way to the ridge. She continued to the summit while I waited at the lake, getting increasingly nervous about her. Last year I had worked myself into a near panic when I thought Sheri and Danny were lost and injured on the traverse between Harvard and Columbia (two Colorado 14ers). It was all in my mind then, so I tried not to get too worked up. I walked the road to the lake in case she had aborted the climb and was just enjoying the weather and views. No Sheri. I walked the beach of the lake. No Sheri. I returned to the car. No Sheri. I walked the approach trail until it split into the way we approached the climb and one of the possible descent routes. I waited here twenty minutes and then went back to the car. No Sheri. I thought of how I could find her without missing her again. I decided to wait longer.
Looking down the route from the summit
After nearly two hours I was now extremely concerned and had to go look for her. It was 1 p.m. I had no way to get into the car as she had the key, so I had no food or water to bring her, though I had a spare jacket. If I found her injured I'd probably have to descend for help. My biggest fear was missing her again as I ascended and she descended, because the possible descent routes and ascent routes obviously were myriad. I asked for a piece of paper and a pen from a lady in the parking lot and started writing a note to Sheri. I'd put down the time I left the car and my plan, which was go back to the summit via a possible descent route and then down by another if I hadn't found her yet. I was bent over the hood of our car, writing this, when I heard Sheri call out to me. What a relief! She was a bit distraught, having not found me. She was fine and had made the summit. She got a bit lost on the way down, trying to avoid the slab she ascended on the way up. After some decompression time, we were both fine. As before, the only stress we endured was fabricated and in our minds.

You might wonder why we keep splitting up. I do too. I tried to talk her into the climb with me, reading her all the descriptions about how easy it was. I'd have brought a rope if she had come along, but she was adamant that she wasn't interested in the climb. She ropes up these days only when it is necessary to make the summit. She tried to convince me to hike with her. Perhaps I should have, but I selfishly wanted this climb and convinced myself that everything would be okay. We were both very comfortable with the situation at the start and everything worked out in the end, but it would have been so much nicer if we could have communicated with each other. Perhaps the solution is satellite phones. :-)

I loved this climb. I could easily see myself doing it every time I pass by it. It would be equally fun as a timed, all-out effort, or a casual, eat-a-snack-on-a-ledge trip. Going pretty slow the entire time, this route would go in three hours roundtrip. I should have little trouble doing it under two hours on my next ascent. I might be able to get the roundtrip down to near 90 minutes. Stefan might be able to break an hour. It would make the ideal stage of the Tour de Flatirons if we ever expanded to a nation-wide Tour de Minions. Or maybe just a Tour de Yosemite version. We could do Tenaya Peak, Royal Arches, Snake Dike on Half Dome, Munginella on Manure Pile Buttress, etc. We could invite Hans and Alex to join us, but they'd want to include the Nose as a stage and that would ruin everything…

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Finishing the California 14ers!

On the summit of Polemonium

We started a mini-tradition of climbing some mountains in the Sierra on our way to drop Danny at Stanford. This was our second year doing it. Last year we climbed Mt. Whitney and Mt. Muir is a 12-hour day with nearly 26 miles of travel. That was Danny's freshman year and he needed to be at Stanford by Tuesday, so we only had one day in the mountains before dropping him (Sheri and I climbed Mt. Russell on the way back home). This year, we had some more time and planned on two nights in the North Big Pine Creek area. Our primary goal was to climb Mt. Polemonium - our last California 14ers. There are 15 14ers in California: Whitney, Muir, Russell, Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight, Thunderbolt, Middle Palisade, Williamson, Tyndall, Split Mountain, Mt. Langley, White Mountain Peak, and Mt. Shasta. Polemonium is one of the toughest as it requires mandatory 5.6 climbing and a massive, complicated approach, but the harder the effort, the sweeter the summit.
Hiking into basecamp

The only drawback to these trips is that we must leave Derek behind. He's in his junior year in high school and already deep into his tennis season, where he's playing #1 singles (and was 8-0 at the start of this trip). We filled the hole in our team with the venerable, the redoubtable, the indefatigable, the ageless Loobster. While possessing vast experience and a wide array of backcountry and climbing skills, none are as developed nor as valued as his ability to chatter. His storytelling has whiled away many a boring trail mile. He arrived a day earlier and picked up our backcountry pass and bear canister, which provided a constant source of annoyance during the approach, as the hard exterior pounded his back. With me swamped with preparing for the Rattlesnake Ramble (we left for California the same day), Loobster did all the route researching.

We met Sunday night at the Brown's Town campground in Bishop where we made final preparations. The next morning we packed our backpacks and drove to Glacier Lodge, the trailhead for Big Pine Creek. We took our time hiking into Sam Mack Meadow. After a couple of hot, dry miles, we dropped into the main drainage and hiked past the three lakes whose staggering beauty was only surpassed by their creative names: Lake 1, Lake 2, and Lake 3. Though it was only 7 miles and 3400 vertical feet, the approach was tiring with our heavy packs. We got to camp in about 4.5 hours, with a number of breaks. It was a bit past 1 p.m. and, after putting our tents, we took our pads down to the idyllic alpine meadow for lunch, promptly followed by a siesta.
Relaxing in Sam Mack Meadow
While in camp the Loobster acted as our hydration engineer. He had a fancy Platypus gravity filtration system. He'd fill the "dirty" bag with stream water, hang it from a tree and it would drip through a filter into the "clean" bag. Using this method he filtered 140 ounces at a time. It was a slick setup and he kept out thirst slaked and our cooking pot full. Despite this cool technology, what he was most proud of was his special Martha cup, which he used to dip into shallow pools to fill the dirty bag. Hearing so much about this I was a bit disappointed to see it: a simple, clear plastic Starbucks cup with "Martha" written on it.

Our plan was to start at 6:15 the next morning. We were hoping to do the roundtrip in eight hours and move camp down to Lake 3 to possibly climb a route on Temple Crag the next day. From our camp at 11,000 feet we only needed to gain 3000 feet to summit. How hard could that be? As confident as we were, both the Loobster and I packed a headlamp, just in case. When morning rolled around the winds were roaring above, though not buffeting our tent. I ignored the alarms, thinking it was too windy to get started. The Loobster finally came to our tent and basically said, "What the hell are you guys doing? It's time to climb. You're not going to let a little breeze stop you, are you?" He was right, of course, and we got up, had cup of coffee, ate a bit and were off by 6:45 a.m.
Mt. Sill

We followed a good climber's trail up to smooth granite slabs. These provided nice access towards the court of mountains that ruled over the Palisade Glacier. This is an honest glacier, not like what we have in Colorado, and it has a huge moraine. These slabs let us bypass the lateral moraine, but it finally dumped us off at a huge, glacial talus field. This very loose jumble of boulders was made doubly nerve wracking as it was situated atop the glacier itself. Most of the time the boulder and dirt layer was thick enough to deceive us into thinking we were on stable ground, but near the cliff walls at the edge the black ice was completely exposed or covered in a layer of dirt and pebbles less than an inch thick. Sheri asked, "Should be put on our crampons?" "No," I said. The ice was mostly covered anyway and our puny hiking crampons, especially the Loobster's aluminum ones, wouldn't likely even scratch the surface of this ultra-hard ice. Instead, we stepped wisely and cautiously and quickly gained the rock wall below the Sill-Mt. Gayley saddle.
Approaching the ridge on Mt. Sill
The climbing on this wall was 3rd or 4th class, but it was very loose and Sheri wasn't comfortable. We stopped on a precarious stance and put on our harnesses and helmets. I then led up a hundred feet to a rappel anchor and belayed the team up. We all climbed on a single 60-meter, 7.8mm rope, tied in at intervals. I led up another rope length, but the climbing was now 3rd class at best and I stopped and as each team member joined me, they unroped and continued up to the saddle. Sheri led the way and we regrouped at the saddle. Below us was the vast (by Sierra standards) Palisade Glacier. Here I left my pack, in which I had been carrying three sets of crampons and three ice axes. We never used any of this, though that is very uncommon for this climb. I now carried the Loobster's pack with the rack and rope in it and Sheri's fanny pack.
Danny high above the Palisade Glacier
We ascended over talus and loose ground up the L-shaped couloir. Sheri, Loobster, and I had been up this couloir once before, about 25 years ago, when we climbed the 5.7 Sill Arete on Mt. Sill. Back then, much earlier in the year, it was all snow. Now, in mid-September, it was completely devoid of any snow. We climbed up to a saddle between Sill and spur. Here we passed through a slot and descended slightly to the base of the crux climbing of this North Couloir route on Mt. Sill. It wouldn't be the crux climbing for our ascent of Polemonium. We once again roped up and I ran out 200 feet of rope to another rappel anchor. The climbing up to here was 3rd and 4th class with lots of loose gravel. We unroped shortly above here but encountered one last 4th class boulder problem before gaining the ridge.
On the long traverse to Polemonium
At this point we were at 14,000 feet and only a couple hundred feet before the summit of Mt. Sill, up and left for us. To our right was a long ridge leading to Polemonium. Right of this ridge, down towards the Palisade Glacier, the drop was precipitous. On the left side was a vast boulder field of mostly giant boulders. Further left and closer to Polemonium was the small Polemonium Glacier, which looked more like a permanent snowfield. Viewing it face-on, it looked steep and forbidding, but we'd skirt it to the right. We could see the summit of Polemonium a half-mile away. It was already past noon and time concerns were in our minds, though mostly unuttered. The skies had big clouds, moving quickly, though not very dark. When we were in the sun and the wind stopped, we were warm, but when the sun went behind the clouds and the wind picked up, we were chilly. We bounced back and forth between these two conditions for most of the day, though it was cold enough to mostly keep our shells on.
Sheri on the Knife Edge - the last pitch on Polemonium
I led the way over to Polemonium and pushed Sheri a bit to keep moving. In my mind, I was committed to getting us both to the summit, almost independent of what the weather did. This did not include Danny and Loobster, though. They didn't need this summit like Sheri and I needed it. This was our last California 14er, our 15th. We'd already done all the Colorado 14ers and I had previously climbed. Mt. Rainier, so this would complete the contiguous US 14ers for me. A few years ago, when we did the Palisade Traverse from Thunderbolt, over Starlight, to North Pal, we ran out of daylight and had to skip Polemonium, while just below it. That was a huge day and this day was going to be huge as well. I wanted this summit bad and I could get two of us up and down it quickly. Four of us would take more time.
Danny excited to finally be on top of Polemonium. Mt. Sill is in the background
Thankfully the weather held, as it would all day, and we all arrived at the notch before the main summit. The route description here offered some choices, including a traverse, though it wasn't clear where this would be. We opted to drop down the gully, the most common route, as it was so obvious. A hundred feet down the gully, it wasn't obvious the best way back up to the notch below the main summit. I forged a route up steep rock and here we encountered our most difficult climbing, probably 5.5 or 5.6. Everyone did well following, though Sheri was stumped for a bit at the final wall, until the Loobster helped with some footwork advice. This put us one pitch from the summit. The final pitch was the "Knife Edge" and it was indeed intimidating, as it was quite exposed on both sides. The climbing here wasn't that hard, though, maybe 5.5 at best. It was the only pitch where I placed protection, though, as it traversed up to the summit.
Rapping off the summit of Polemonium
I scampered to the summit and put the others on belay. They all followed on the same rope with Sheri coming first, then Danny, and finally the Loobster. I was worried that Danny might balk on the very exposed ridge. He is not a fan of such positions and hasn't really done any rock climbing. I took both the boys out for easy rock climbs when they were young, but Danny decided he didn't like rock climbing and turned his attentions to peak bagging. A couple of years ago I took Danny out to Eldorado Canyon to see how he did on a 5.6 rock climb and it didn't go well. He wasn't comfortable grabbing small edges and standing on tiny rugosities. If he balked here, with Sheri and Loobster still in the middle of the pitch, what would we do? It would be a very bad scene. I could have taken Sheri and Danny up separately, but time was an issue. I also didn't want to single out Danny as a cause of concern.
Danny climbing back to the Polemonium-Sill ridge
When Danny got to the scariest part, he barely paused, but pushed on up the crux climbing to the rappel anchor. I was so relieved. And quite surprised. When did he become so comfortable with such rock climbing? Was he secretly training in the climbing gym at Stanford? Would I see him in true next Reel Rock film? No, it was just his commitment to summitting. This past summer he climbed the steep Skywalker Couloir with Derek and I. It was his first use of crampons and an ice axe. He is committed to gaining the skills and experience he needs to summit the mountains of his dreams, whatever they may be.
Heading toward Polemonium and gazing on the Polemonium Glacier
Enroute to the summit, I passed a rappel anchor. No rappel anchors were on the summit because a rappel from there would put you in a middle of a steep wall. We'd have to reverse the top part of the ridge back to this anchor and even then we wouldn't be able to rappel directly back to the notch. Once everyone was on the summit, we didn't linger. Danny signed the register for us and we started down. It was windy, cold, and we had a long way to get back down. We wouldn't linger even if the conditions were more pleasant. I belayed while Loobster reversed back to the rappel anchors, followed by Danny, Sheri, and me. From here I soloed down the ridge just ten feet and placed a directional anchor so that when I lowered the others off, they'd hit the lower gully at the point where it would be easy for them to climb back to the notch. I then lowered Sheri first. She down climbed to the sling I placed, clipped into it, and then dropped off the side. Once in the gully, she scrambled up to the notch and untied the rope. I pulled it up a bit too enthusiastically and got it jammed. I lowered Loobster next so that he could free the rope.
Danny and I on the summit of Mt. Sill

Obviously Loobster knows how to rappel, but we weren't set up for him to do this easily. Sheri and Danny are not experienced enough to be rappelling here, though that is a skill they probably should acquire. I'm mostly to blame for this, as I haven't practiced it with them and I'm more comfortable lowering them then seeing them rappel. If I lower them, I know they are safe. They can't mistakenly let go of their brake hand and fall. Derek has been rappelling when we go climbing, but I even lowered him when we descended off Isis Tower in the Grand Canyon earlier this year. Danny had no hesitation to being lowered. This is usually the scariest part for anyone, as you have to trust completely in another person. You aren't in control. I was impressed with his bravery and took some satisfaction in that he must trust me. That's key to a safe, quick climbing team - trust in your rope mates. If you don't have this trust, then you shouldn't be climbing with them.
The amazing, ageless Loobster
From the notch we could see the traverse that was mentioned in the route description. It looked relatively easy, though exciting, and prevented us from rappelling down the gully and then climbing back up on the other side. I led across, placing three pieces of gear to protect the followers and everyone followed quickly and easily. Danny came first and, once across, he untied and scrambled down to his cached fanny pack. Sheri was next and I told those two to start the long, tedious traverse back towards Sill, as we'd reverse our ascent route on the descent. The Loobster came next and took off after the other two while I coiled the rope. I then caught the others and we proceeded back up towards Sill.
The horrible, loose glacier talus field - this lies mostly atop the glacier itself.
At this point, with the weather holding and only two hundred extra feet of climbing, Danny wanted to bag Mt. Sill as well. The others demurred, as they had already climbed it, a quarter century ago. Danny and I dropped all our gear and scampered up to the summit. This was some really fun 3rd class scrambling. After the obligatory summit photos, we were back with Sheri and Loobster in about fifteen minutes. We scrambled down to rappel anchor and I lowered Sheri and then Danny, each started down the L-shaped couloir as soon as they were off the rope. The Loobster then rappelled the full 200 feet and took off after them. I doubled the rope, rappelled a hundred feet, then pulled the rope, coiled it and down climbed the rest of the way. In the couloir I caught up to Loobster and just noticed Danny going around the corner out of the couloir. I tried to yell to him and tried to get Loobster to yell to him, but it was too late. He disappeared around the corner to much steeper terrain. I worried if he'd even be able to get down. I hurried down the couloir until I could see over to the saddle where i cached my pack and where Sheri was waiting for us. Apparently Sheri had descended so fast that Danny couldn't see her and took a wrong turn. Sheri could see Danny and I asked, through her, if he was okay. He was and was able to descend, but he wasn't too happy about his route. No harm done, though, and Danny kept himself safe. He's also becoming quite the competent scrambler.
Scrambling up the L-shaped couloir

Back together again, we downclimbed the anchor above the glacier talus field. Here I lowered Sheri and Danny again and then Loobster rappelled 200 feet down to the talus. While they started the loose, tedious traverse back to the slabs, I rappelled and downclimbed to the talus. After I stowed the rope, I peed. I was shocked to see that my pee immediately washed away the gravel and revealed the black ice below. Indeed it was a very thin veneer that covered this treacherous surface.

The notch at the top of the L-shaped couloir
We were now in a race against the setting sun. Our overconfidence had us only bringing two headlamps for the climb. We could descend with only two headlamps, but it would be very slow. If we didn't get back to the trail before darkness, it would be very slow even if we all had headlamps. Danny led the way across the glacier boulders and then down the slabs and finally across the lateral moraine talus to the trail. He called out triumphantly, "I'm on the trail!" The sun had set behind the ridge and the light was rapidly fading, but we'd make it. In fact, we only needed our headlamps to cross the stream just before camp. We arrived 13 hours after we had left. The total mileage (7 miles) and vertical feet (less than 4000) are completely irrelevant in describing the effort we expended. The Loobster had recently down three laps on Mt. Defiance in the Columbia Gorge for a total of 15,000 vertical feet and 30+ miles of hiking and he called our day much harder. That puts into perspective the difficulty of this terrain.
Temple Crag - next year's goal
I immediately set to cooking and the Loobster filtered some more water. In turn everyone had a well earned dinner. We went to bed with no alarms set, already deciding that an ascent of Temple Crag would have to wait for the next trip. Everyone popped some vitamin I and we slept the sleep of the successful. Sheri and I had almost forgot to celebrate finishing the California 14ers. Danny now has four California 14ers and the Loobster has eleven. The next morning we'd take our time packing up and hiking out. After lunch in Bishop the Loobster left us, headed to take his granddaughter (age 4) climbing. We headed toward Stanford and would drop Danny off for his sophomore year the next day.
Sheri and Danny practicing their favorite backcountry pursuit: stream crossing via rock hopping
So, what's next for us? The boys are interested in Rainier and are pushing Sheri to complete the lower 48 14ers, but she's resisting. She has a very strong aversion to snow and ice and has heard that Rainier might have some of that…even in summer!
Mr. September in the "Dorks of the Sierra" calendar