Sawtooth Traverse, north to south

8 Aug 1999 - by Craig Clarence

My friend Ben Craft called a few weeks ago. Most climbers have a friend like Ben, someone who looks for obscure climbs with little beta and a high adventure quotient. As such climbs usually require a partner, Ben must then recruit some hapless innocent to go along. His suggestion was the Sawtooth Ridge, a "Sierra classic" according to Moynier and Fiddler. I wondered how classic such a route could be. A grade VI, the route had only 2 previous documented ascents, the first being by Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler over two days in July 1984. Peter Croft soloed it in a day about 10 years later. We left Orange County the following Friday morning.

The weather had been unstable much of the week, but we decided to chance it and bring nothing but the clothes on our backs, a bit of extra food and water, and a sleeping bag for what we figured was going to be a mandatory bivy. We also had a small rack, an 8.5mm line for leading, and an 8mm line for the double-rope rappels. Starting out at about 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, we quickly traversed the Cleaver by climbing on the left side of its ridge most the time. Sunrise saw us on top of Cleaver Peak, trying in vain to find shelter from the icy wind blowing from the west.

Next came the Sawblade, what we found to be the technical crux of the climb. Exposed and tricky 5th class climbing took us to the notch in the middle of the formation. The climbing on the ridge from the notch looked harder than we wanted to lead on an 8.5mm line, so we rappelled and traversed very low on the eastern side of the Sawblade. Looking back at this part of the ridge from the Three Teeth, we decided we had definitely made the right decision, as it looked extremely sharp and dead vertical on both sides.

At this point it was about 1:00 p.m. We figured we could use the rest of the day to climb the Three Teeth and the Doodad, and then rappel into Slide Canyon before dark for the bivy. We were obviously underestimating the toll this climb was taking, because we barely made it out of the Three Teeth and down to Slide Canyon by midnight. The rock on the NW tooth was excellent and we found it to be some of the most enjoyable climbing on the ridge. Climbing the other two teeth was a bit more exciting, both involving loose chimneys with poor pro. It looked as if no one had rappelled off the SE tooth into Slide Canyon for several years. Setting up the four full-length rappels in the dark was as challenging as anything we had done that day.

Filling our bottles from a spring near our bivy site, we got a 7:30 a.m. start the next morning and climbed up to the Doodad. Maybe it was the packs, but the ancient 5.2 rating on the chimney used to climb the summit block seemed too low by several grades. The two old rappel bolts on top of the block looked pretty solid, so we rappelled off and continued down the ridge to the Dragtooth and Matterhorn peak, reaching the latter by 1:30 p.m. The NW face route on Matterhorn looks pretty unlikely from the north, but we found it to be an enjoyable alternative to the beat out climbers' trail on the S side of the peak.

On the way home that night we were able to make it to Bishop before the hunger really set in. Sizzler's all-you-can-eat salad bar never tasted so good.


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