Mt. Hoffmann P2K WSC
Hoffmanns Thumb

Fri, Sep 8, 2017

With: Jackie Burd

Etymology
Mt. Hoffmann
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Mt. Hoffmann previously climbed Tue, Jun 18, 2013
Hoffmanns Thumb previously climbed Fri, Oct 2, 2009

On our way to Mammoth Lakes, Jackie and I stopped off in Yosemite for a climb of Hoffmanns Thumb. With her eager to give alpine rock climbing a shot, my first idea was to do a climb of Catherdral Peak's SE Buttress. After giving that more thought regarding the number of folks that would be there on the route and the number of pitches involved, I decided it might not make the best first-time experience. Hoffmann's Thumb has a similar approach, 3mi on good trail, but is only a couple of pitches at most and would see no traffic on almost any day of the week. Driving up Thursday evening, we spent the night camped in the van on White Wolf Rd, just off SR120. Though outside it was a chilly 39F when we awoke, we slept comfortably before rising around 6:30a. We rearranged the gear in the van, eating breakfast while we drove the remaining distance to the May Lake TH. There were only a few cars in the large lot when we arrived, a collection of backpackers that were camping around May Lake, near the High Sierra Camp that no longer seems to be open to the public. By the time we returned, every spot would be taken, around 30 all told.

Starting off around 7:45a, we hiked the 1.2mi distance to May Lake where we captureed some reflections in the still waters before wandering on the trail along the south side of the lake. There were half a dozen or more camps set up, most folks making breakfast or doing other morning chores. We spent the next hour+ climbing the trail to Mt. Hoffmann, several miles with about 1,500ft of gain. From across the high, sloping plateau we caught sight of Hoffmanns Thumb, rising 50-60ft above Mt. Hoffmann's South Ridge atop which it lies. The East Face (which our route would go up) looks unclimbable from afar, the North Face even more imposing when we'd climbed high enough to view that side. We reached the 10,700-foot summit of Mt. Hoffmann before 9:30a, where we took a small break out of the cool breeze on the north side of the small telecom tower located there. After snapping a few photos of the views and the benchmark, we headed down the South Ridge a few hundred yards to our main target, whose summit is about 50-100ft lower than Mt. Hoffmann.

It had been eight years since I'd last climbed Hoffmanns Thumb with Matthew and after reviewing the TR I'd written on it, I was pretty much dialed in with the route. We set up shop on the south side of the pinnacle where we got out our rope and gear, switching to climbing shoes (well, Jackie had none, so she'd have to climb in her hiking shoes). I set up an anchor to tie Jackie into, went over a few protocols that we'd practiced at home a few days earlier, and then went around the corner to start up the East Face. The first few moves are pretty easy and I waited until I was about 15ft up at the crux to place the first piece of gear, where an old piton has been driven deep into a crack and still quite solid. I made no effort to climb this stiff section without grasping the carabiner I had clipped to the piton, much as I recall Matthew and I doing the first time - I haven't gotten any better at rock climbing in the interim, nor am I more limber. Only about 10ft above the crux I decided to stop and set up an anchor. It would be much easier to communicate with Jackie this way and I saw no real reason to run out the pitch. The rope could easily have taken me to the top in one go, but I don't think we'd have been able to hear each other very well, if at all. This worked nicely as I could watch her climb most of the route in three short pitches, helping her if needed at the crux or other difficulties. Her skills were sufficient to get her up the 5.6 crux and the rest of the route without any coaching from me, as it turned out, though she sheepishly admitted pulling on the rope at the crux - that's my girl.

The second two pitches were mostly class 3/4 stuff, not hard at all, in fact the only piece of pro I placed while climbing was the one at the piton. I used a couple of cams to build an anchor at each stop and we did a decent job of managing the rope and gear, passing it between us at the stations, reflaking the rope, and such. From the time that we first took our packs off below to the time it took to get us both to the summit was about an hour, a good deal faster than I had expected. We found the old Sierra Club aluminum box at the summit much as I'd remembered previously, it having been relocated from Mt. Hoffmann in the late 1980s to prevent theft of the box. Sadly, the 1940 Hoffmanns Thumb register book was removed at that time and taken to the Bancroft Library.

Jackie rested up while I went about packing away gear and getting ready for our descent off the West Face. Two of the three old slings at the rap station were so worn that they tore away with my hands. I left a black one that still had some life in it and added a new sling before connecting my belay device and carabiner to the setup to facilitate lowering Jackie off the face. I would have liked to have us both rappel so that I could get some pictures of her from below, but this was no place for her first rap. She enjoyed the mostly free-hanging descent, pausing halfway down to take some pictures and video with her phone before signaling for me to continue to lower her. Once down, she untied the rope, I pulled it back up, then reconfigured the rap station for an actual rap. Once that was done, I pulled the rope down and packed everything away. Jackie had retrieved the pack and boots left at the start of the climb and we were soon ready to head back.

Rather than return back up to Mt. Hoffmann along the South Ridge, we dropped down a spicy class 3 route off the east side of the ridge, found directly north of Hoffmanns Thumb. Once this last bit of excitement was finished, we returned to the trail and spent the last hour of our adventure returning to May Lake and the TH. There were more than a dozen folks milling about the summit when we reconnected with the trail and maybe a dozen more that we passed enroute to the top - Mt. Hoffmann still seems to be as popular as ever. Hoffmanns Thumb - considerably less so.

We drove up and over Tioga Pass, stopping at the Whoa Nellie Deli for a late lunch, then continued on to Mammoth Lakes. We met up with Stephen Herlihy and friends for an adventure that had been in the works for about eight months. More on that tomorrow. Meanwhile, Jackie took advantage of a mound of pillows and soft white sheets in our hotel room for a well-earned afternoon nap. Life doesn't get much better than that...

Continued...


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