We didn't have to look far for our climbing objective -- less than 100 yards from our camp near the outlet of Cecille Lake in the Minarets, the beginning class 2-3 slabs of Clyde Minaret (12,264) rose out of the bouldery meadow. We headed up the slabs at 6 a.m., finding them unusually smooth, no problem now, but probably a bit tricky if we had to descend in the rain.
Driving up to the mountains on Friday night, Bob, Eddie Sudol, and I had realized it was not going to be a normal weather weekend when we got rained on west of Yosemite and again at "Camp 9" near Tioga Pass at midnight. We had pushed on, finally finding a place to sleep under clear skies at Deadman Summit on Highway 395.
Saturday morning, we'd met the rest of our team -- Gary Craig, Bob Evans, and Doug Ross -- at Agnew Meadows, and hiked in at a good pace, arriving at Ediza Lake at noon and Cecille Lake at 1:30. Just after that, the dark thunderclouds overhead cut loose, and we put up our tents and dove into them for some nice rain sleep.
The rain had let up around 4 p.m., giving us plenty of time to dry our rain gear and cook supper. Soon after getting into our sleeping bags around 8 p.m., a second, bigger thunderstorm rolled in right on top of us, blasting the nearby peaks with lightning strikes and thunderclaps so loud they hurt the ears. But our camp was well protected and we all stayed dry, so it was great just to relax and experience a thunderstorm from what felt like right inside of it.
As we headed up the peak on Sunday morning, we looked over at the two-person near our camp for signs of life -- the night before as the storm closed in, we'd heard two climbers calling back and forth high above, as they descended a technical route on the southeast face. We figured that they'd waited out the storm on a ledge, descended in the dark, and were still asleep in their tent.
At the top of the smooth slabs, we put on crampons and headed up and left on the steepening snowfield, with Bob Evans kicking steps in the lead. At the top of the snow, we had to step across a deep moat onto smooth downsloping slabs covered with gravel -- an awkward move. From there we scrambled up and right on rock and found the ledge leading further right over to the "Rock Route." The ledge was easy -- 5 to 10 feet wide with even some flat grassy patches -- and so was finding the spot to leave it and head up the gully of the Rock Route, because the ledge continues just a few feet past the gully and then ends abruptly in a dizzying drop down to the Northeast Glacier.
We headed up the steep gully, which was hard class-3 with three short vertical class-4 steps. We climbed the first one on the left side and the second one right up the middle. The gully was free of snow except for one tiny patch that later helped us identify the gully from below, as it's hard to spot the route from the bottom of the peak. When we reached the gendarme where the Rock Route merges with the Starr route, we stayed to the right of the prominent rib for another 3-400 vertical feet instead of joining the other route. This section was sustained class-3 on a narrow face that slanted off to the right and then dropped off hundreds of feet to the glacier below. It was not actually exposed, but not a place to relax either. Above that section, the rib merged into the face above, which steepens noticeably, crossing the boundary from class-3 to class-4 and ending in a short headwall.
We reached the headwall at 9:30 and tried an awkward overhanging chockstone, until Bob Suzuki found a crack and ledge leading up and right. We roped up for the first time here with our half-length rope, because the ledge, while pretty easy, was exposed to a 100' fall. Roping up here worked well, because the first 30 feet or so leftward along the summit ridge was blocky and pretty exposed also, so we could just stay roped and do that section.
After that came the "class-4 downclimb" mentioned in Secor, which I though was easier than the section just before it and did it unroped, like most of the rest of the party. It really amounts to just one long stepdown move to a hidden foothold. Shorter people might appreciate a belay or a person spotting them from below. By 10:00 a.m., we were on top.
There were some clouds in the sky, but they didn't look threatening as on the day before, so we relaxed on the summit for almost two hours, looking down on the sharp spires and beautiful alpine terrain of the Minarets. On the descent as on the way up, we belayed along the exposed part of the ridge and down the first 20' or so onto the face, then unroped. The next 200' down were mostly class-4 -- good holds and cracks, but exposed to a long tumbling fall. Once again we crossed to the north side of the rib 300 feet or so above the gendarme, and slanted down the face, weaving around carefully to find class-3 terrain. We soon found the gully -- going back down it was straightforward, though we had to be careful of rockfall with our party of six, and we did one very short belay at one of the vertical steps. By 2 p.m. we were back to where the ledge meets the gully -- it's important to memorize this spot on the way up, because continuing down the gully past it gets you into class-5 terrain.
We cruised back across the ledge, struggled down the smooth, wet, gravelly slabs onto the snowfield, and then downclimbed and glissaded down the snow to the rounded slabs below, where we took a long break. About 3:30, we stepped back onto the grass at the bottom of the peak, having completed the climb without a hitch, and without even knocking any significant rockfall down near one another -- quite an accomplishment for a group of six.
Bob Suzuki and I had planned this as a three-day trip, but since we were down earlier than expected, Bob suggested we hike out now and try to get home a day early. Since he had done a great job leading the hardest parts and setting up the belays and rappels, the group was happy to oblige.
We departed at 4:30, and except for some horrendous bugs near Shadow Lake and just east of the San Joaquin River crossing, the hike out was uneventful. We reached the cars at 8:30 p.m., and then Bob, Eddie, and I had a late supper at McDonald's in Mammoth and hit the road. Instead of forcing the drive all the way home, we just drove across Yosemite and then pulled off on a side road near the Tuolumne River bridge west of the park. Bedding down in a warm, golden meadow about 1 a.m., we drifted off to sleep with the crickets chirping around us and the Milky Way wheeling above us. A 20-hour day, and definitely one of my best days ever in the mountains.