“I could actually die or get seriously injured out here”, plunged into my brain stem at 12,500 ft, six hours into my climb of Temple Crag on Moon Goddess Arete. I had just lifted my foot off a refrigerator sized block that had shifted and nearly tumbled 1000 ft down the mountain. I also didn’t love the single cam in a short horizontal crack laid 30 ft diagonally to my left as the last piece of protection I had placed. This was what the last hour was like as I searched on lead to find a long ‘4th class ledges’ traverse using conflicting information among deteriorating rock quality. Things had changed drastically since my emboldened attitude that we could probably link neighboring Celestial Arete Venusian Blind with a scramble or traverse up Mt. Galey.
The California Needles can be described as alpine cragging. A mix of Lover’s Leap style multi-pitch and Toulumne Meadows dome extrusions with decent approaches. Most climbs are on splitter cracks 5.9 or above. The cracks vary more than Indian Creek or Yosemite, sometimes widening out into slab sections. Fist or wider is not uncommon on a ‘splitter hand crack’ and we used our #4 more often than not. Over the course of three days I was thoroughly tired after climbing a total of 3000+ ft of 5.9+ classic routes. Definitely a place for any 5.9 and especially 5.10 climber to check out.
Shuteye Ridge is a place I love sharing with people. It has crazy interesting granite unlike I’ve seen anywhere else with its dark runnels and plates of knobs. It is also the place I lead sport for the first time, went on my first multi-pitch and placed my first trad gear (all in one trip!). On a Memorial Day weekend when you cannot seem to get away from traffic and people, even one of the most popular areas of Shuteye (Big Sleep) was a respite. Yes, there was a ten car group of 4×4’ers and a few other groups out on the big sleep slab camp area. However, we never waited in line and most of the time were completely on our own or only ‘near’ one other party.
This last year I’ve been trying to break into 5.10- trad. Being the stronger climbing partner of my team, that often meant pushing myself on lead. However, decking from blown gear last August lost a lot of my lead head and confidence to climb, even at the levels I was previously confident. However, I’ve had a resurgence over the last month of not only getting my confidence back but pushing into 5.10 trad. I’m really proud of myself and feel empowered by what I’ve learned.
Leaving Las Vegas after four full days climbing on abnormally bomber red, black and tan sandstone, I found myself contemplating how special the climbing community really is. This trip centered around a meetup hosted by Mountain Project for Admins of their climbing areas. Here, I met climbers from the Gunks, Devil’s Lake, SoCal, Oregon and Quebec, route bolters out of Idaho, traditional first ascentionists from Red Rock, boulderers from Grand Junction, gym owners in Missouri and the people who started Mountain Project and Mountain Bike Project. I also climbed one day with a person sporting a Senior’s National Park pass and another with an existing friend I originally met online, trying to climb near Mt. Rushmore.
Wadi Rum looks like a desert landscape on another world, like the setting of a Star Wars scene. Across an orange sand desert, a dozen blocks or spikes of tan and black striped mountains rose 1500m out of the otherwise flat vista. It looks like horns piercing a placid surface from the back of some enormous sand monster.
Leaning hard into my harness I positioned my feet firmly and nearly perpendicularly against the blank gray, white and black speckled wall as I began my full sprint towards a granite ledge. Not quite reaching it I pendulum back in the other direction, pulled by gravity and directed by the rope clipped 30ft above me to a bolt. I embrace the new direction, pumping my legs and jumping over my lead line to gain as much elevation and speed as possible in the opposite direction before I turn back towards the ledge for another attempt. The pendulum occurs and I again thrust forward with as much force as possible. My legs feel like I am futilely attempting to push a car up a hill as I try to gain inches of height towards the end of the pendulum. I desperately reach forward with my hands for the ledge lip only to come up inches short of being yanked downward and away. Tired and breathing heavily, I let the pendulum bring me to a rest several bolts from the start of the bolt ladder.
It all started one day when I happened upon this description, “longer, more sustained, more exposed Matthes Crest”. Wow, Matthes Crest is THE favorite climb for many people and I just stumbled upon a similar route that could be its superior! The lacking description, amazing photos, wilderness setting and few ascents for Saber Ridge only added to the allure of the adventure. What I would find was the most sustained exposure since Mt Sir Donald on a wild backcountry route so committing and long that it took an unexpected overnight ledge bivy to finish.
Note: I provide a detailed, technical description of the climb in another post, while providing a general description below to keep the story moving.
On September 7th, 2017 I climbed Saber Ridge not knowing much about it. My initial thoughts were that it would be several sustained pitches of 5.7+ to gain the ridge and then a 3-4th class cruise along the ridgeline. I was surprised to find after the headwall most of the ridge continues to gain about 700 ft of elevation and remains in the 5.5-5.7 with most sections runout with poor pro selection and high exposure. Too much for me to consider simul-climbing it as the gear is questionable and the rock quality not feeling bomber enough for no-fall climbing.
Upon completion, it took me ~16 hrs to climb, an overnight bivy and a 4 hrs descent. The whole trip is a great story that I talk about in another post, but here I hope to outline the technical attributes of the climb for other rock climbers.
Guest Post by Ryan George
“The Bugaboos is a magical alpine playground of wild weather, pristine wilderness and towering granite spires…”
– Atkinson and Piche, The Bugaboos guidebook
I truly believe that if you want something bad enough for long enough, it’s bound to happen. Eight years ago, while, climbing the majestic Cook range in New Zealand, I asked my mountaineering instructor where he went for vacation. As he described granite soaring over glaciers in the Bugaboos, I began to love a place I’d never been. It took me eight years to acquire the friends and skills to make it a reality, but this July I finally got to climb in this alpine wonderland.
When people hear the name of this park, they laugh; when they search it, they gape. Since there’s no place quite like it, it’s truly unimaginable, and I found myself at a loss for how to prepare. In particular, what should I bring up the short but steep approach to camp? Having made the mistake of bringing a far too heavy pack, I’ll share my hard-won wisdom on what not to bring to this committing location. (Disclaimer: consider conditions when packing up; we had near-perfect weather)