I wanted to finish the season with a remote alpine climb that I'd never heard anyone climbing, and Seven Gables seemed to fit the bill. Double digit approach mileage coupled with two cross country passes over 12,300 feet guaranteed a long approach day and no company on the route. The plan was to climb the North Buttress of Merriam Peak on the way out, as the approach goes right under this impressive face. It turned out that trying to do both routes in 3 days was too much - we'll have to go back for Merriam.
I'd never met Risa but we had spoken a few times and she seemed up for a alpine route. I cleverly forgot to bring a map of the Seven Gables area so she was unable to note the long mileage and veto the idea. Seven hours into the approach from Pine Creek to Vee Lake in the Bear Creek drainage I was wishing she had. It took almost 10 hours from the car to make it to camp that night. We barely got diner cooked and eaten before darkness and exhaustion drove us into our bags.
The crux of this route (besides the approach) was determining which peak to climb. Looking at Secor (2nd Edition) after I got back, I noticed he had drawn a line on the photograph of the south peak and labeled it the "Direct East Face." Not only was this not the route we climbed, it was not even on the same peak!
A note to John Moynier (co-author of the "100 Sierra Classics" book) quickly set things straight. The line drawn on the south peak and labeled "Direct East Face" in Secor's book is incorrect. The correct route in on the north peak, which is the prominent pyramid-shaped mountain on the right side of the picture in the "100 Sierra Classics" book. This means that the "Chimney Route" drawn into Secor's picture is also incorrect.
Moynier is a bit vague in his written description of this route, but I'd guess that the route we took more or less followed the first ascent line. Beginning at the middle of the north face, we headed up a series of corners and discontinuous cracks. About half way up the face is a prominent clean-looking dihedral which ends at the crest of the arete - we started underneath this dihedral and climbed through it. The dihedral itself turned out to be 40 feet of classic stemming and jamming over clean rock.
From the top of the dihedral the route follows the ever-steepening knife-edge arete to the summit of the north peak. I felt the final pitch was the crux, probably a bit harder than 5.9. Actually, the climbing on all 8 pitches was sustained and interesting. We saw no signs that anyone had ever been on the route, which I've found to be a rarity for climbs listed in the "100 Sierra Classics." Traversing from the north peak summit to the notch, we dropped our packs and scrambled up to the high point on the south summit. Legions of boy scouts/outward bounders/sierra clubbers had filled the register - kind of surprising considering the peak's relative remoteness.
The route took six hours, but by the time we got back to camp our original plans of packing up and moving back towards Merriam Peak were forgotten. We did a slow retreat the next morning.
The clean rock on this route, it's sustained nature, and the remote setting make this one of the most challenging and satisfying climbs I've done in the Sierra.
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