Climborama to the Great Western Divide

4 Aug 1996 - by Aaron Schuman

It was a climborama; twelve climbers, in Sequoia for eight days, attempting fourteen mountains, made sixty nine person-peaks.

The team: leader Kelly Maas, co-leaders Bob Suzuki and me (Aaron Schuman), intrepid mountaineers Debbie Benham, Debbie Bulger, David Harris, John Bees, Steve Eckert, Charles Schafer, Andy Skumanich, Craig Clarence and Steve Shields.

The days: July 28th through August 4th, 1996.

The peaks: Milestone, Midway, Table, Thunder, Jordan, Genevra, Ericsson, Stanford, Caltech, Junction, Keith, Tyndall, Trojan and Barnard.

Space doesn't permit a detailed report of every attempt on every summit, but I'd like to present a few vignettes:

Milestone Mountain is the most photogenic peak on the Great Western Divide. It looks unclimbable, but dedicated mountaineers can find a safe, moderate ascent. Eleven of the twelve of us visited the top.

Midway Mountain is the highest point on the Great Western Divide, and yet was the easiest summit of our trip. Everybody who climbed Midway did it either as a traverse from Milestone or as a traverse to Milestone.

Table Mountain had some inobvious route finding on the face, and some dangerously loose rock. Although the guide books call it class 3, Steve Eckert took a belay, and someone else barely avoided taking a fall. Secor recommends carrying a rope, and I can see the value of his advice. In spite of the difficulties, Table is a rewarding peak with an incredible summit. One group combined Table on the same long day with Milestone and Midway, and another party made Table a day unto itself.

Thunder Mountain and Mount Jordan each have a class 4 summit block. We knew this before the trip, but we still elected to carry two 7 mm ropes. We believed they would be sufficient for a single exposed move on each peak, and we wanted to limit the weight we carried in. But several climbers were uncomfortable with the exposure given the kind of protection we had available to us. On Thunder, one group roped not only for the summit block, but for traversing the last two hundred feet of the face leading up to the summit. Half of that group stopped before the traverse, concerned that a 7 mm rope is insufficient for a possible pendulum fall. We agreed that Mount Jordan was underrated; it is a fine climb and a worthy destination.

The group who visited Mount Stanford thought it was the most daring ascent they could imagine.

Two parties climbed Mount Ericsson from different directions; Debbie and Debbie from Harrison Pass, and Steve and David up the long class 4 south ridge.

Twelve is a lot of experienced people to keep together on one extended trip. Our intention was to camp together every night and climb in smaller groups during the day, but there were too many different levels of skill and stamina, and everybody wanted to climb peaks they personally hadn't climbed before. We ended up staying together most nights and collecting rumors about who had seen whom on what mountain earlier in the day.

One evening's meeting, planning the next day's climbs, was suddenly dispersed by the moon rising over Mount Whitney. It sent everybody running for the ideal camera angle. And it was just one astonishing view among so many, in a gorgeous and rarely visited part of the Sierra Nevada.

Charles speaks for all of us when he says, "In spite of the mosquitos and slogging for 4+ days with a full pack, that this was probably the best trip I've been on. The mountains were great and the companionship even better."

We had two uncomfortably close calls, and we should let them stir our safety consciousness. Kelly observes, "Better to not summit than to hurt or kill yourself. Know your abilities and climb within them."

Look at the Great Western Divide through our eyes!

Be sure to read John Bees' report on the same trip.

The 10-year history of Climb-O-Rama's:
1996  Great Western Divide first trip named 'Climborama', over Shepard Pass to Milestone Basin
1997 Climborama 97 a decentralized affair in the Evolution region
1998 Duke Newcomb and the 16 Peaks the most prolific Climb-O-Rama ever, in the Whitney area
1999 Mosquito March '99 subgroups forming and dissolving from Taboose Pass to Cartridge Pass
2000 Climborama V rain and hail ended this Kearsarge Pass and Center Basin trip early
2001 Climb-O-Rama 2001 Crowd-O-Rama had a very large group, from Bear Creek to Lake Italy
2002 Lawd Have Merced a one-way congenial trip from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows
2003 From Roaring to Lion (The Triple Trip) our exit was blocked by a forest fire on this Colby Pass area trip
2004 WESTERN Great Western Divide unrelenting bad weather on the seldom-visited side of the Milestone Basin
2005 Climb-O-Rama X (Black and White) horses made the approach to Blackcap Basin and White Divide easier

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