I was surprised! This supposedly "classic" climb looked like a pile of fractured rubbish. I shook my head and denied the obvious -- perhaps the rock was more stable than it looked. Surely Moynier and Fiddler wouldn't have included it as a classic for nothing! Their instructions for reaching the S. summit tower were not explicit: climb the SE face or E ridge. Ascending the E ridge looked silly: the jagged structure looked so tenuous as to collapse upon receiving a good kick. So, I decided to aim for one of the ugly chutes or rock ribs near the E ridge.
The SE face was precisely as ugly to climb as it had appeared from below. Stable talus below the face gave way to broken and unstable rock ribs that drained quantities of small, loose debris into adjacent gullies. The ascent was an unpleasant alternation of delicately climbing the unstable rock ribs, and "swimming" through the steep loose gullies. My compatriots were significantly dismayed by this effort. The Cat puffed herself up a bit and began growling about the tedium of this pileish ascent. Der Bergkrabbler, who was completely new to this kind of blatant intimacy with dangerous alpine garbage, was basically just scared out of his wits. "This is too tough for me" he moaned. I thought to myself: "nonsense, this is just too ugly for anyone with sense!" But, being a sado-masochist, I did my best to encourage them onwards, and eventually the horrible rock gave way to the south summit tower.
I had to break out the rope to get der Bergkrabbler up the final bit of 3rd class. The rock adjacent to the tower was so fractured as to make it difficult to set a reliable anchor. Der Bergkrabbler climbed past me and stood, uncertainly, upon the boulders of the S summit tower. "Off belay?" I asked hopefully. He looked scared, then minced his way carefully to the most unexposed part of the boulder pile, then quietly allowed himself to go off belay.
So, now we could see the final "airy" traverse to the N summit. I was thrilled: it looked like good, solid rock for a welcome change. Unfortunately, my companions were unimpressed by the view, and declined to continue. The Cat professed an interest in preening herself and taking a nap, while der Bergkrabbler was so petrified that he wouldn't even consider moving from his boulder burrow, much less begin an exposed traverse.
So, I had to solo it, and, fortunately, it wasn't particularly difficult. With careful routefinding, there were only two short bits of 4th class, the first during the descent into the notch, and the second being a muscular move on the way up the summit block. The summit block is just large enough to stand upon ... This remote mountain does not get a lot of traffic; ours was the sixth ascent this year.
We found an easier way down. The western margin of the SE face has lower angles and broader ledges than toward the E ridge. It was still ugly, but, at least, not quite as nauseatingly loose. Der Bergkrabbler had substantially calmed down during my traverse to the N summit and back, but he most certainly wanted a belay to begin the descent. Two belays, together with substantial coaching from the Cat, got him down onto somewhat gentler 3rd-class terrain that he could handle without a rope. The Cat has a marvelous way of purring instructions that can alleviate the fears of all but the most desperate. The tedious loose ledges finally gave way to screeable gravel, then firm talus. All that remained now was to reverse the lovely approach. Total time for the climb was a leisurely 11.5 hours. We concluded our climbing day by jumping in the lake.
It was raining in Tuolumne Mdws as we made the long drive home.
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