Bear Creek Spire and Pyramid Peak
(Ulrich's Route)

24-26 Aug 2002 - by John Paterson

Bear Creek Spire 13,720' at the head of Little Lakes Valley northwest of Bishop is an outstanding mountaineer's peak to climb. The mountain is very imposing with its sheer cliffs and with its numerous routes allows groups with varying ability the chance to reach its summit. I decided to lead the 4th class northwest Ulrichs route from the Little Lakes Valley approach via Cox Col. There were six of us, myself, Alex Wright, Karla Westphal, David Hankins, Dennis Wasserman, and Michael Zimmerman, all competent climbers. We met at the Little Lakes Valley/Mosquito Flats parking area at the end of Rock Creek road at 8 a.m. on Saturday August 24. After getting to know each other and sharing equipment we got going around 8:30 a.m. (To get to the trailhead take the 395 north from Bishop to Tom's Place (22.5 miles) and turn left onto Rock Creek road.)

From the trail head we hiked almost due south past Mack Lake, Heart Lake, Box Lake until we reached Long Lake. At the south end of Long Lake we took a use trail that ran southwest along the stream that fed into Long Lake. We followed the stream and use trail until we reached Treasure Lakes around 11 a.m. and camped between the two eastern lakes. There was room here for two small tents and 4 bivy sites.

A little after 12 noon we left to climb Pyramid Peak 12,840', a 3rd class peak just northeast of Bear Creek Spire. From our camp we headed southeast until we reached the top of a bench and then headed south towards Pyramid. From between Dade Lake and the pond east of it we traversed the northwest side of Pyramid. Alex was so fast he ended up doing most of the route finding along this part of the climb. He traversed south along the northwest side below the summit ridge. By doing this we avoided the false summits and most of the class 3 climbing. At the top of Pyramid we got a great view of the Little Lakes Valley and a great view of our route up Bear Creek Spire. The summit register was in a small tin and Dennis was nice enough to leave a pencil with the register. We descended back down and reached camp around 5 p.m.

The next morning we left camp at 5 a.m. and once again headed southeast to the top of the bluff east of Treasure Lakes. From there we worked our way south to Dade Lake following along its east shore. From there we hiked south-southwest to the base of the north slope of Bear Creek Spire. From there we headed west towards Cox Col along the ridgeline between Bear Creek Spire and Pip-squeak Spire. There are two notches; I think the south one is easier to climb and the north one easier to descend. The two notches are about 100 feet apart.

We started up the scree field below the south notch and made quick progress. Once we reached the base of the col we noticed that what looked like a clear path through a patch of ice was actually dirt-covered ice. We skirted the south side of the ice until we were about 80 feet horizontally from the base of the col. We could not get through the ice easily so I decided to have the group climb directly up a class 4 gully that intersected the ridge line just south of Cox Col. About half way up the gully it turned into low class 5. Alex volunteered to lead this section, and at the top he set up an anchor after letting us freeze for 30 minutes. The climb was fairly fun but in retrospect if I were to hit the ice next time I would just belay someone across the ice and set up a temporary fixed line to get us across. Another option is to bring one set of crampons and one ice axe for crossing this section. I think it is overkill to have everyone bring crampons this late in the season.

From the top of Cox Col we traversed up the west side of Bear Creek Spire working our way south. It is easier to follow the slope to a small notch along a small ridge along Bear Creek Spire's southwest side just before the climbing gets difficult. We went through the notch and climbed a short section of large class 3 boulders. At the top of this section is the 4th class crack that leads to the summit ridge. I let Dennis lead this section so he did not feel left out. The normal way is to go up 15' to the top of the crack, work your way to the left along a 3rd class exposed section, mantle up onto a very narrow ridge that leads to the summit block. To make things more interesting I had Dennis lead the 4th class crack, and then continue straight up through a very tight low 5th class squeeze chimney and then belay everyone up.

From the top of the squeeze chimney I lead everyone along the narrow ridge to the summit block. I used a piece of 15' webbing to set up an anchor at the base of the summit block along with a large hex. From there I wrapped a piece of webbing around a rock outcropping and then made a very large step to the top of the summit block. From here I was able to pull the rope around to the other side of the summit block creating a virtual top rope so that everyone could safely reach the summit. The climb to the top of the summit block is really only 4th class but 2000' of exposure tends to get the blood pressure up. The views from the top were incredible!

After we had a quick lunch we rappelled down the squeeze chimney and headed back down to Cox Col. We took the northern col which starts out very steep but outside of a lot of loose sand was a quick descent route and we were able to avoid the ice. We made it back to camp around 4:30 p.m. The route took longer than I expected mainly because our 5th class Cox Col detour and setting up belays on the summit. From camp we all made it back to the cars by 7 p.m.

I would recommend that everyone bring helmets on this climb, as we all did, due to the loose rock on Pyramid and Bear Creek Spire. We had a great climb and all were competent climbers.


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