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.
* Aside from when navigating around a steep block or leaning pillar, the ridge proper is where you will find the easiest climbing. Accompanying it will be lots of heady exposure that makes even 5.6 moves feel tenuous.
* The route feels as if no one has ever climbed it with sandy grains and lichen frequently rubbing off on foot placements. Cracks are typically bountiful in the hand size which makes the climbing pretty good. However, these cracks can often be flaring or dirty with flora. The granite grains are sharp. They tugged at my clothes, ripping my puff and rain pants, while endowing many small cuts into my hands and ankles when jamming.
* When there are not cracks there are flakes and blocks. Most flakes sound hollow, but few of the many big blocks felt loose to a pull. However, given the infrequency of climbers on the route I still felt uneasy with both flakes and blocks. Any American Alpine Club accident report book can tell you that in the alpine, even big blocks can go for a ride when subject to fall level forces.
P0: Solo up slabs until you reach the top of the large dihedral and rope up here.
P1: From top of dihedral traverse right into a small right facing corner. Continue up the runnel until you run out of rope.
P2: Go up diagonal crack until you can gain the ridge proper. Climb until you run out of rope. I belayed in the where a bunch of cracks appear but they were pretty flared so it was a marginal anchor.
P3: This is the 5.7+ technical crux pitch. You do a sort of S maneuver out right of the head wall. Then going up and diagonally left to get back on the ridge. The middle of this pitch is steep face climbing that can be runout. Our leader ran it out 50ft. Chicken heads are probably your best bet for pro. Belayed from a dark crack next to chicken heads and a couple of pot holes.
From the many cracks belay our leader traversed ten feet right and then did a steep move to get back up to ridge proper using bushy crack. It probably is better to just get up the ridge from belay.
P4: Go up the ridge on face holds to the dark granite slot where the cracks begin again.
P5: Continue up the ridge
P6: Climb up the dark slot’s flared, dirty cracks. Had to get out and right of slot to make an anchor.
P7: Continue up easy stuff to ridge
P8-9: Continue along the ridge. We switched to simul follow off one rope here since the exposure was high but the technicality moderate.
P10-12: One long simulclimb three pitches in length off a double rack until reaching a raised, leaning part of ridge.
(Don’t go too far out on this raised section as it is spicy and only cliffs out)
P13: Left of the raised section rap down to the rock below to continue up ridge
P14: Gain the ridge again and do the first knife edge traverse by pulling on the ridge and smearing grainy granite with feet
P15: Continue up ridge, shuffling feet in a crack off to get past an exposed section.
P16-17: Continue on ridge. A couple more knife edge sections.
P18-19: You see the point in the ridge now. Go off the ridge into the 3rd class on the right.
In one long simul-climb, go around the high point and around the backside. Take the ridge East for some easy 5.4 technical downclimbing to the first gulley. There is a climber’s trail down it, but you can see that it cliffs out in a few hundred feet of slab.
Instead, continue over to the second gulley by keeping right of the ridge proper / ‘hole’ to get past the high point and then going left into the gulley via easy 5.4 downclimbing. From here descend the gulley. We took the drainages towards the bottom but you could possibly also take some of the low angle rock slab.
- 45 min approach from Tamarack Lake
- 1.15 hrs to solo lower slavs
- 7 hrs to gain headwall (P8)
- 2.5 hrs to get to first rise in ridge where we had to rappel (P13)
- 6 hrs to high point (P19)
- 1.15 hrs downclimb to reach gulley
- 2.46 hrs down gulley to reach Tamarack Lake
- Approach: 2 hrs
- Climb: 15.5 hrs
- Descent: 4 hrs
- Cresent Meadow to Tamarack Lake: 15 miles, 5000 ft, 11 hrs
- Tamarack Lake to Cresent Meadow: 7 hrs
- Showers every day after 2pm often at 5pm at Tamarack Lake
- Showers lasted 0.5-4 hrs, most with thunder/lightning
- 10-20% chance rain in forecast each day
- Somehow the day we bivy’d we only got a sprinkle so maybe doesn’t make it over to the Saber Ridge side of the valley
- 50-100 swarming bugs (not mosquitos) around the face the first 4-5 miles. Bring a headnet for sanity.
- Standard double trad rack (used mediums the most)
- Lots of slings for chicken heads, horns and blocks
- Emergency bivy and rain clothes in case of storms or being caught at night