With Labor Day making its annual appearance marking the bookend to easy, long, temperate summer days, it was prime time to get back into the technical alpine. With fingers still fat and sore from the summer’s accident and confidence not rebounding strongly either, the short list of Sierra objectives pushing the envelope would have to wait until 2015; During convalescence, I had no problem filling in my agenda with mountains to scale, classics to experience, and ridges to run, but still, envy for the alpine stone was strong. What not a better way to bring closure to a ‘different’ summer of activity than an attempt at some 'different' alpine goals? All that was needed was a partner…in stepped Goran.
Now I’ve been enlightened to the concept of a ‘burn and turn’ in the last few years – even had what I believe to be one or two myself - and also heard exploits of Goran in the North Cascades through a mutual climbing partner. So when our Venn Diagrams overlapped for the federally-sponsored long weekend, it was shaping up to expose the man’s determination to get to the hills and see how bay area folk balanced their fast-paced, responsibility-laden work schedules with a not-too-close mountain range a drive away.
“You logging miles?”
“OOph. Traffic Bad. Considering sleeping here and driving at 1.”
These Bay people are hardcore: I’d enjoy a glass of wine with a casual dinner, reasonable bed time and easy morning breakfast while this guy pulls a red eye drive through the Central Valley and Yosemite just to hit our first objective of the weekend. ‘burning and turning’ was beginning to take shape. Mt. Goode’s short approach, quality route, beautiful setting and apt ‘good’ status in Croft’s mountain review was a solid combination for a Saturday outing, and would [hopefully] provide enough time in the evening for Goran to recover from a sleepless night behind the wheel. The north buttress had been on the list for a while, but not terribly high compared to other bigger, more proud lines bolstering the Range of Light's alpine prowess.
Turns out all parts of our route assessment proved true: The weather cooperated, the snow field at the base of the route only required careful footwork and some contemplation, and before we knew it, we were jamming cracks and placing cams to our hearts’ delight, albeit whilst wearing jackets in the chilly north facing shade. As we passed the crux, we voiced Croft’s “nothing to worry about” slogan and voila: a sunny sunset snack with a jaw-dropping Sierra backdrop. After tamales at the Manor, we had Goran tucked in with a rough outline of what to do with the rest of our demi-vacation.
“Turns out I’m good at sleeping” G uttered after extended shut-eye Sunday. We hatched our plan to stay off the beaten path in the Sierra in favor of a ‘b-list’ objective that’d always been on my list: Picture Peak. To make the day full, we’d grab a few pitches in Pine Creek, sneak an afternoon hike into Hungry Packer Lake and make Memorial Day a long one – don’t forget G had to be back in the Bay Monday night, as work beckoned and so too did his lovely lady friend.
Now for the meat on Picture Peak: G and I scoured the tubes and books in search of thorough beta on our objectives, and absent the spray we’re used to on the typical outlets, we settled on a very efficient trip report on Mountain Project. Provisioned up, we snuck in some humbling granite pitches in the shaded Scheelite Canyon, fueled up at the Manor again, and cruised the Chaco approach to Hungry Packer Lake, only needing the headlamp for the last half mile or so.
Goran’s long drive ahead dictated a pre-dawn start on Monday, which meant we were staring at a glorious hand crack at the route’s base shortly after dawn – with her fingertips of rose – started warming the upper pitches. I’ll spare the beleaguered reader the verbal drubbing of a detailed trip report in favor the highlights: For starters, when you climb this route – and you should – you’ll find yourself asking – as I did – ‘why can’t every alpine granite climb start out with a perfect goldilocks 5.9 splitter?’
What follows is every size from tips to chimney. There’s even another perfectly sharp, vertical immaculate granite hand crack to gain entry in the chasm that “Looks intimidating, but is really fun.” G took the crux pitch above the chimney as I took the mild OW above still and after topping out the technical sections, we were even greeted with the classic Sierra knife-edge 4th/5th scramble to the true summit. As we snacked in the sun yet again, soaking up the last the calendar summer had to offer, we both expressed our surprise how such a route doesn’t receive more traffic. Sure the crux was thin and a little difficult to protect [bring small stoppers!], but for the grade, the route offers so much good quality climbing on clean rock in an aesthetic setting, we expected to see many more register entries.
No matter, we refueled and skipped down to collect our bivy gear and get on the road. You’re even rewarded with full glimpses of the entire route as you descend down the ridge, and surprise! It looks as good from below as it does in the thick of it. As G napped the last 40 min of the drive home in preparation for his final push to the bay, I had ample earbud time to think more about a couple things becoming resolute over the course of the weekend:
Getting off the beaten path: I still have a long list of ‘great’ and ‘awesome’ climbs in the Sierra to tackle, but what can be even more fulfilling than ticking off a classic route is finding a new one yourself. We’re clearly not the first on this climb, but it’s also evident it doesn’t get the traffic it deserves. Throw in a stunning campsite and breathtaking views from the summit, and this mountain’s a winner. Perhaps I embellish because of my notable absence in the technical alpine this summer, but I’ll own my accusations and stand by my claim that this should make anyone’s Sierra to-do list.
Getting back into the saddle: trading the primary objectives for a different routine is rewarding, if for nothing else than making a return to what you love that much more exciting and memorable. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, and being coerced away from a true love catalyzes an appreciation when it finally comes back. The petty stuff fades away, and you quickly do the division of wheat from chaff: The exposure and exhilaration of being on an exposed granite face, route finding and sinking your appendages into some of the world’s finest rock. The other faff fades away as just “the price of admission,” as you soak in the sun watching the vertical feet pass pitch by pitch, feature by feature, laugh by laugh.
Back at his horseless chariot, G did a quick gear swap and as my weekend’s journey was about to end with a hearty dinner, a long, hot shower and early bedtime, he faced perhaps the most dangerous and cruxy part of the weekend - many-a-sleep-deprived-mile across California's asphalt thoroughfares. I got an email announcing his safe arrival at 0317 in Berkley and though I’m not qualified to classify that as a ‘burn and turn’ on the Sierra, that’s certainly what I’d call it. I’m a damn fortunate man he’d do it for a long weekend with this convalescing mountain dilettante, and I’m already salivating for the next mission – classic or obscure – in this Range of Light or points beyond.