The Obelisk Party Climb
30-31 Aug 2003 - by Mark Spencer
When Pat Phillips told me that he had a couple of horses that could haul all of our climbing gear in to the backcountry to climb the Obelisk, it was an opportunity that I just couldn't miss. Weight became an afterthought as we assembled a stack of gear sizable enough for Pat's family (his wife Annie, Jeff and Jenny - their high school age children) to make a party climb up the four-pitch 5.7 East Face Route. We left the Crown Valley Trailhead with high hopes and all the comforts of home, carried smartly on the backs of Cherokee and Buster, their two trusty horses. Our reality check came about a mile and a half up the trail when it became obvious that Cherokee, the mellow 22-year-old mare was really just out on a day trip from the horse retirement home. She slowed to a standstill as the trail climbed above the creek and we became the ones laboring up the hill with horse pack bags now strapped to our backs. In our new role as beasts of burden we felt lucky just to make it to Spanish Lake, 5.5 miles from the trailhead. Our party climb day would now feature 12 miles of mostly cross-country hiking along with 4000 ft of gain. We pared down our gear to our two thinnest ropes, a rack of hexes and stoppers, 10 carabiners, a few slings and just two climbers (the rest of our party decided to go fishing). Seven o'clock the next morning found Pat and I tracing the remnants of a trail past Fin Dome to Geraldine Lake and over a small pass to the base of The Obelisk. Rain clouds dropped occasional precipitation as we racked up at the base of the classic West Face III 5.7. As usual, Fred Beckey had preceded us here and had climbed the longest and most esthetic line on the formation. Armed with a couple of tiblocs I sped up the knobby 5.7 face in the center of the alcove for 450 ft before stopping at the notch to reload. Racing the fast moving rain clouds we cast off onto the main face for 600 more feet of classic moderate knob climbing, arriving at the summit in just under an hour. In a whirlwind we snapped some summit photos, signed the register, zipped down the Great Overhang rappel and retraced our steps back to Spanish Lake. We took a quick swim, struck camp, loaded the horses, coasted the 5.5 mile / 2000 ft descent back to the trailhead and were eating pizza in Prather by dark. Our party weekend turned out a little different than planned, but the view from the top, as always, proved to be spectacular.
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