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By the fifth day our large group of participants had dwindled down to a core group of suffer-junkies. There were only five at the Lake Sabrina TH when it was time to head out at 6a - Mark, Matthew, Michael, Rick G., and myself. Ron was late getting to the trailhead and starting, eventually turning around because he wasn't feeling so good. Mike was also late to the trail, turning around somewhere before Echo Lake. Clyde Spires has an intimidating reputation with a class 4 rating that had put off some of the other participants that might otherwise have joined us (Evan, Matt, and Jeff went to South Lake to climb Cloudripper instead). We were armed with Steve Eckert's detailed trip report which turned out to be quite helpful.
Matthew and Mark took the lead from the start at a pace that the rest of us didn't try to follow, and we soon lost sight of them as we hiked along the trail rising above Lake Sabrina. Our weather report had indicated we'd have a sunny day today, and though the sky was cloudless when we set out, we were a bit wary - it had been similar the last four days only to cloud over by noon. It took a bit more than an hour to reach Blue Lake where we took the right fork to Dingleberry Lake. By 8:30a we had reached Sailor Lake where we left the trail to head up towards Echo Lake. We found Matthew taking a break on the granite slabs near Sailor Lake soon after leaving the trail, and we arrived at Echo Lake more or less as our group of four around 9:15a. No one knew where Mark was - we had thought he was ahead of us, but not finding him at Echo Lake, we began to suspect he fell behind somewhere, perhaps taking a less direct route. We got our first views of Clyde Spires, though at the time we didn't recognize them for the peaks we were after.
We stopped at Echo Lake to fill water bottles, likely our last water for some hours. We also took the time to study our route ahead to Echo Col. As a backpacking route we had expected it to be straightforward, but upon arriving at the lake we found some cliff areas on the east side of the lake that did not look at all like the class 2 we hoped for. There were also some snow tongues lingering in the chutes to be crossed. Did we have the beta wrong? Our topo showed a severe cliff on the west side of the lake that was just out of view, but later we got a view that confirmed the east side is indeed the way to go. We made our way around the lake, through the cliff band, across a few easy snow sections, and into the cirque north of Echo Col - it went easier in practice than it had looked at the start. While we started across the bottom of the bowl in the cirque, I spotted Mark high up, a small dot traversing east to west across the bowl towards the col. We couldn't figure out if he initially misjudged the location of the col or just preferred the high traverse. It appeared he hadn't rested at all since Dingleberry Lake and was making fine progress. The rest of us set off across the bottom of the bowl taking the direct approach to the col. We got off the snow before it steepened appreciably so we could avoid using our crampons, and clambered up the class 3 rocks. Despite the extra time his traverse entailed, Mark still beat the rest of us to the col by a good five minutes and was already over the other side before Matthew reached the col behind him.
From our beta, we knew the easiest route was not to follow the ridge up from the col, but to drop down the other side and cross a talus & boulder-filled bowl to reach the class 2 South Ridge. Again, Mark lead the way on the traverse across the tedious bowl, reaching the South Ridge ahead of the rest of us by a good margin. Once on the ridge he finally relented, stopping to let us catch up - where he got all his energy we couldn't quite figure. We proceeded up the South Ridge over easy rock that soon became more interesting class 3 as we neared the crest. Eckert's description of the route was a bit fuzzy at this point, but by ignoring it we didn't lose any time or get lost, and almost sooner than we expected found ourselves at the notch on the west side of the East Spire. We knew the east side of the East Spire had the easist route up (class 3), but I wanted to check out the class 4 "difficult slab climb" first pioneered by Norman Clyde, Jules Eichorn, and others on the spire's first ascent in 1933. Eckert had added further to Secor's description by adding "it's hard to protect, it's exposed" which was certainly true. But upon further inspection, it didn't seem like such a difficult slab at all. The hardest part was the intial move out of the notch to the base of the slab. A crack runs horizontally across the slab making it easy to go from the awkward side to the left side where it was more easily climbed. It was indeed exposed, but the holds are all very good, and in a few minutes I was at the top looking down on the others who had just arrived at the notch. Michael, Matthew, and Rick decided to take what I was touting as the "classic" route, while Mark decided to traverse around the south side of the peak to the East Ridge. And in what seemed no time at all, we had five on the summit by 11:30a. The weather had clouded up again, covering about 2/3 of the sky, but no rain would fall today, and none seriously threatened. It was nice not to feel you were racing with the weather for a change.
As Eckert points out, the East Spire isn't much of a spire at all, but still a very good pile of granite. Looking west we spotted the far more spire-esque West Spire, and a more formidable-looking effort. In his report, Eckert claims the East Spire to be higher based on his line of sight looking west to the West Spire and Crumbly Spire behind it. The topo shows Crumbly Spire to be some 40-feet taller, but Eckert mentions seeing 200 feet between the top of Crumbly and the top of the West Spire below it and to the right. The photo I took of this view, combined with a climb to Crumbly Spire afterwards, convinced me that there is only 30-40 feet of Crumbly Spire rising above the West Spire as viewed from the East Spire, which suggests the two Clyde Spires may be too close to the same height to tell without more accurate means.
I was eager to have a go at the West Spire, so after about five minutes on the East Spire I was ready to head down. Rick offered to stay on the East Spire in order to get what promised to be a dramatic photo atop the other. Mark stayed with him as Matthew, Michael, and I headed off the east side and then traversed around the south side of the East Spire. I found a ramp leading higher on the south side and I took this to investigate a third option of climbing the East Spire directly from the South Ridge. The ramp took me to the same place I had reached from the west side, before the final 30-foot climb to the summit. Michael had followed me up the ramp, and from the convergence point we both headed down off the South Ridge directly, steep but manageable slabs requiring friction and downclimbing some flakes. It went beautifully down to where it is easy class 3, and we finished by traversing west back to the notch on the west side. From there we continued west along the crest, dropping down on the south side for easier progress, soon finding our way to the West Spire.
The West Spire is a giant monolith that would be something like 5.9 to climb if it weren't for the fortunate occurrence of a second, lower block that rises up on the south side of it. They are split by a chimney which affords the easiest means to ascend the lower block in combination with a mantle move and then reach over about eye-level to the higher block. The chimney is a short but stiff climb, with minimal exposure. The summit block is about 3' by 5' and enough room for two. I mantled up to the top, stood triumphantly, then exchanged photos with Rick and Mark still at the East Spire. Michael was close behind me climbing onto the lower block, but balked at the mantle move onto the higher one. Under a heavy rock I found the summit register in a PVC container, looking like it was positioned to keep someone from reaching it from a standing postion on the lower block (can't allow cheaters!). The PVC pipe lid was secured tightly and it was impossible to untwist it or otherwise pull it off. Not deterred, I went about banging it on the edge of the rock atop the summit for some five minutes before I managed to work it loose. Unlike the East Spire register which had 3-4 entries since Eckert's in 2000, this had only one. It was likely due to the difficultly of getting the lid off. It's not often on a peak such as this that the difficulty rating on the register exceeds that of the climb. Much as Eckert had reported five years earlier, the contents were damp and I let them dry out some for the ten minutes I was up there. I had climbed down again before Matthew arrived to take his turn at it, and positioned myself on the west side in order to get a good series of photos of him working the problem. He got to the same point as Michael before hesitating, and no amount of persuasion or coaching on my part seemed able to help him surmount it. So my photos series remained incomplete. Oh well, a hand atop the summit seemed to qualify nearly as well.
Michael had already started back to the South Ridge and Echo Col when Matthew came off the West Spire. I convinced Matthew to join me on a short adventure by continuing west along the ridge towards Mt. Wallace. As usual in such situations, Matthew didn't take much convincing. The ridge started off well enough but quickly deteriorated into loose crap. We bypassed one obstacle by dropping down on the north side of the ridge a short distance, requiring a careful traverse across the crumbling face. Back on the ridge, we eventually came to the crux, a steep dropoff down to the notch east of Crumbly Spire. A rappel sling on our side of the dropoff suggested others had found it similarly spicy. I picked a route down the north side of the ridge, going very slowly due to the incredibly crappy nature of the rock. At one point I did something I rarely do, intentionally knocking a 10-lb rock off a small ledge I needed to make the next move. For such a clean-sounding word, "grooming" felt very dirty. Once I was down I paused to watch Matthew follow, capturing the moment with my camera for anyone interested in an idea of the pucker factor involved (you must imagine crappy rock to get a true feel).
After this bit of awkwardness, I continued up the ridge to the top of Crumbly Spire. No register, nothing special, and well-deserving of its unofficial name. Matthew hadn't seen me continue up the ridge and was starting a downward traverse on the equally crappy face. I continued northwest along the ridge over easy class 2 towards Wallace, wanting to avoid the stuff Matthew was crossing. From earlier in the day, I could see that there were cliffs below along much of the face, but the side near Wallace looked to have a class 2 route down. As I started dropping down the face I was quickly made aware just how little fun Matthew was having on the traverse. Quite simply, it was some of the crappiest rock I'd ever encountered, and helped explain why there were no route descriptions in the guidebooks for this face. Rocks went flying down beneath us with almost every step, most unnerving. Worse, the face didn't have a deep layer of talus/scree to make one feel at least a little secure - it was more like a thin layer of debris over hard, steep ground, and one had the feeling if you slipped more than a few feet the momentum would carry you down for a thrashing, certain death, or worse. As our routes converged, Matthew paused to let me cross under him to examine a possible chute further beneath. We were quite fortunate that the deep chute continued down to the glacier below without cliffing out. When I could see the way clear (and was clear of his rockfall path) I called up to Matthew to follow. The bottom of the chute was filled with talus that sat upon an active glacier, ice visible some 3-4 inches below the top layer. This led down to easier slopes and eventually a hundred yards of decent glissading before leaving the face behind us.
Matthew was a few hundred yards back as I started the traverse over the tedious boulder field back towards Echo Lake. It was quite familiar to us, having crossed it the previous year on our visit to Haeckel and Wallace. It was after 2p when we reached Echo Lake again. Before starting off from the West Summit I had expected Matthew and I would handily beat the other three back to the lake since our route was far more direct than the inconvenience of wandering back through Echo Col. Not so. They had passed by here more than 30 minutes earlier. I waved to some fishermen near the lake's outlet as I continued down, not waiting for Matthew to catch up. I was still thinking the others might be only a short distance in front of me, and thought I might catch up with them still.
Back down to the trail around 3p, I started jogging the downhills towards Dingleberry and then Blue Lake. There were plenty of backpackers about the lakes now, but no sign of my companions. It wasn't until I was 20 minutes from the trailhead that I came across Rick above Lake Sabrina, and here I stopped jogging to walk the remaining distance with him. It was 4p when we got back to the cars, 15 minutes behind Mark and 30 minutes behind Michael. They had already started back to Bishop when we arrived. The eleven hours made it the second hardest day so far behind Hilgard, but one of the more enjoyable ones with good climbing (aside from that crappy face between Clyde Spires and Wallace).
Matthew was but 15 minutes behind Rick and I, so he must have been doing some jogging as well. Others that had started on the trail after us were back in Bishop well before us.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Clyde Spires
This page last updated: Tue Nov 6 20:23:28 2007
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