Sunday, August 18, 2013

I can climb 5.4

A pretty pathetic week of running considering Wasatch is in 3 weeks, but I made up for it with quality 5th class scrambling up iconic peaks.

CMC face

I had planned to run up thunderbolt ridge after work Wednesday in hopes of linking it with Lightning ridge in some kind of an angry storm linkup, then back over the Pfief and down Red Pine, but when I got to Small Pass I forgot just how horrible Hogum is to travel in without snow. Miles and miles of talus boulder hopping. It just looked miserable. So I had to "settle" for what I and hopefully others deem one of the top 3 classic single peak ridge scrambles in the Wasatch, if not the best, the North Ridge of the Pfief. I had actually never ascended the north ridge, only descended it and naively bailed down an early couloir, thus tragically and blissfully ignorantly avoiding the crux sections of the climb which occur low on the route.
North Ridge of Pfief, from Small Pass

Why Hogum is the least visited drainage in the Wasatch. 

There are 2 crux sections(given 5.4) on the climb, both fairly exposed and somewhat technical for the grade. Certainly more difficult than anything on the West Slabs.  The first is a downclimb off a short tower, where a rap anchor identifies the difficulties. I ended up just jumping across this gap as I didn't feel super solid on the small crimps the tower provided. A fall here would send you barrelling down a loose couloir. Not advised. The 2nd crux comes shortly thereafter, a slab(avoiding a severe overhang) with few features that wouldn't be too bad if you didn't look down and notice a fall would send your body 300 feet down into a twisted mess of granite talus. Some merciful soul has attached fixed rope here via some old pitons in case your mojo dwindles halfway through and reversing your traverse seems scarier than continuing(my case). Once you pass the 50 feet of stressful slab its pretty straightforward with lots of fun 5th class climbing on good and bad rock. A 4th class scramble on horrible rock brings you to the summit.

Short tower downclimb. Looks easy, but kind of tricky as the notch bottom is 5 feet out of view

Spicy meatball. Just use the rope, its not your 5.13 project and death is more pathetic than cheating

More Tetons!

Annie has this weird fetish with certain mountains. She honestly doesn't care most of the time what we do, ie she lets me pick the climbs, trusting I know what I'm doing(debatable). But there are a few mountains she insists we do. Longs Peak was one, and Mt Moran is another. I think Mt Moran is pretty cool, so we planned on trying out the CMC route.

 The actual climb is rated 5.5, and involves downclimbing one small peak and then climbing a 2000' slabby face to the summit. Most rope up and simulclimb in some fashion as pitching it out would take years. The book and other sources all confirm this should be done in a 2-3 day climb, requiring 12-14 hours round trip from the CMC camp from where you stage your attack on the peak. So essentially, adding an extra 4 hours round trip for time hiking to and from the CMC camp, plus canoe time of 3 hours(see below), most parties clock in somewhere in the 19-21 hour mark of total moving time. This seemed absurd.

The journey begins unlike most Teton climbs, in that the trailhead, if you want to call it that, starts after a 3 mile paddle, portage, and more paddling across String and Leigh Lakes. Annie and I are not watercraft people so we didn't look forward to this part of the adventure, but we made it despite our borrowed rubber ducky kayak not cooperating in staying on the truck nor sailing straight. We deemed it "old bessie, the beached whale". We hiked up the streambed which flows from the Falling Ice Glacier on a good trail, which was a nice bushwack free approach. An hour later we arrived at what the Teton Guide Book deems, "the best campsite in the park", some flat spots in pine trees on the crest of a ridge. Too bad you have to hike your crap up there. There were 3 tents present, with one group roaming around, meaning 2 other groups were likely up on route.
"Dang you old Bessie". I hate life preservers too

Beautiful hiking up from Leigh Lake

Some of the less quality loose rock heading up above CMC camp

We had a bit of a struggle finding the supposed 4th class climbing above the camp, and when I found an old piton on the route I had chosen for us, Annie proclaimed that meant we were for sure off route. Nevertheless we pressed on and summited the small peak of Drizzlepuss(best name for a peak ever?) in a timely fashion. From here the "terrifying expanse of the CMC face comes into view" as the book puts it. Here you downclimb a few hundred feet, and despite the intimidating nature of the mountain, its only 5.5, or you can rap off some old fixed nuts like most parties do. We of course chose to avoid rope use, and it went smoothly.

Looking down from DP into the notch. Looks kinda scary at first

The crux downclimb move off DP. No biggie

From here, its a fun, fun jaunt up the face. We soloed in our treadless running shoes, and it was easy and low stress. We spotted 2 parties up higher on the face, one group rappelling and another below the summit. We summited an hour later and talked with the one group for a bit and enjoyed a great lunch.

Annie likes to show off. 

Yee Haw! Spectacular 5th class above lakes, glaciers, and cool spires

More fun

Summit view

A look down at the massive black dike that run down the entire mtn. 

On top! 3:42 from canoe

We began our downclimb a little hesitantly as the face is pretty exposed. Annie reassured us, saying "downclimbing is easy, its like climbing only backwards." We were not surprised to find the two groups still rappelling as we casually downclimbed past them. They were being cautious, which is fine, but their caution was causing more grief and time than safety. Ropes kept snagging, tangling, etc. They told us they had left the CMC camp at 5am that morning. We explained we had started paddling at 7am. I felt bad as I think I made them feel stupid. Not my intention. Yet Annie and I were sure glad we had avoided that whole catastrophe by going light and fast. We downclimbed to safety in the notch, then reclimbed the familiar Drizzlepuss, then slid on talus back down to our canoes. Bar none, the BEST 5th class scrambling route I've done. Leave the ropes, tents, climbing shoes, and cams at home my friends. One day, some tennis shoes, and a sandwich is all you need.
CTC(canoe to canoe) 6:32.
CTC(car to car) just over 9

West horn on left and Drizzlepuss center with rappelling group below it

Shaking out on the pumpy 5.4 slab

While Annie was indisposed I scurried up a subsummit of West Horn


  1. Looks so cool! Awesome pictures, as always. Also, Annie said she sent home huckleberry fudge with you. Please bring that to us immediately.

  2. sweet. nice job. Annie-way to pick the good routes!