Tenaya Peak WSC

Fri, Aug 1, 2003

With: Matthew Holliman

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
previously climbed Sun, Jun 22, 2003
later climbed Fri, Sep 19, 2003

Matthew and I had just been to the summit of Tenaya Peak only three weeks earlier, but here we were coming back for more. The main objective of this weekend was a dayhike to Mt. Clarence King, a very long and difficult effort to be done the following day. There were two reasons we were climbing Tenaya again - for acclimatization, and to get some practice with ropework we would need for the summit blocks of Clarence King. Tenaya's NW Buttress is touted as an enjoyable though easy climb on clean granite slabs, and I'd been wanting to do this route for some time. Matthew had not used a rope previously, so we expected this to be a slow, get-acquainted with the process type of climb that should help speed up our rope-work where time would be short the following day.

Having left San Jose shortly after 2a, it was 6:30a by time we reached Tenaya Lake and started our approach hike. Though the sun was up it was hidden behind a layer of clouds that left us guessing about the weather. Whether it would clear or not we were uncertain, but at least we wouldn't be far from the road should a retreat be necessary. We had a bit of trouble finding an easy way across Tenaya Creek, but managed it with a bit of heave-ho leap. We then crossed the trail we found a bit further on the other side, and headed cross-country up the brushy slopes towards the NW Buttress.

Had we studied a little more ahead of time we could have saved ourselves some trouble by heading more directly for the low-angled slabs at the toe of the buttress. Instead, I thought the route started higher up, and we ended up bushwhacking up some fairly steep hillsides for nearly half the vertical height in what turned out to be a little adventure on its on. We were clambering over tall bushes and other verdant flora that grew surprisingly well with the help of some water trickles that seeped down from a cirque higher above. Of course the healthy growth and slick rocks made our climbing a bit more difficult, but still fun. We were almost stopped at one point, contemplating whether we needed to break out the rope early, but managed without it. We eventually ended up on the rubble pile that formed the moraine of an ancient glacier on the downhill side of the upper cirque. We boulder hopped our way across the moraine before finding ourselves on the solid granite of the NW Buttress.

Once on the route proper, we took a few moments to change into our rock shoes. The weather had nearly cleared for a short while and we had visions of blue skies and warm sun. But it didn't last long, maybe a half hour before the clouds would return. The angle of the rock was easy enough to solo, so I suggested we leave the rope in the pack until Matthew felt it was time to use. We climbed solo for a few hundred feet before Matthew called for a belay. It was only 9:30a and we seemed to have all the time in the world - at least we still had most of the day. We had the entire route (the whole peak, in fact) to ourselves, so there was no pressure coming from other climbers to be quick about it. I gave Matthew some short instructions on technique, signals, and his job of cleaning the pro before heading out on the first pitch. I carried only five pieces, two cams and three chocks, the same amount I planned to carry to Clarence King the next day. The angle was low enough that I felt very confident on the rocks, so I placed almost no pro. Typically I would put in a single piece halfway up, and use two others to build my anchor at the top. With the two holding Matthew at the belay spot below, that pretty much used up all we had. Despite the minimal pro placement, we went fairly slow. It would take us four and half hours to do something like eight pitches - no speed record to be sure. That hardly mattered though as the views were wonderful, making the job of belayer almost as fun as climbing. Two pitches from the top it began to drizzle as the sky had suddenly become much more threatening. The weather was moving in from the south which meant we didn't get to see what was coming until it was nearly over our heads. Climbing up to the right I found what I guessed was the 5.7 option, then backed down to find an easier way. Going to the left was indeed easier, but the wet rock was causing me grief. My shoes wouldn't stick to the bare granite and I found myself hanging by my arms with a very tenuous grip. I swore under my breath, and wished I'd spent more time doing upper body workouts (as opposed to the zero I do now). I expected to fall at one point - it would have been a slow, 15-foot slide shaving off my skin, nothing serious - but didn't. Above I set up a hasty anchor using some gnarled trees that clung to cracks in the granite, and while Matthew tore down his anchor below I put on some rain gear to try and keep dry. Matthew couldn't climb fast enough at this point to keep me from fretting. Matthew found an easier alternative to the crux I struggled at, making it look almost too easy. The last pitch to the top was easier, thankfully, as the rain came down more earnestly. By the time Matthew had followed on the last pitch were a sopping mess, but still smiling.

I coiled the rope and put it away with our gear in my pack. We headed to the summit but didn't stay long - there were no views to be had. As we started down the Southwest Ridge we picked up a decent use trail and followed it down. The rain let up some as we followed the trail for about a quarter mile where it petered out at the edge of the Southwest Ridge. The West Face of Tenaya is fairly steep and riddled with cliffs, but from below it looked like it should be possible to make one's way down through one of several routes. Seeing the use trail peter out here made me believe further that this might be a regular descent route, and it was easy enough to talk Matthew into giving it a go - it would shave nearly a mile off the return if it worked. We climbed down some steep boulders before traversing into a bit of a bushwhack quagmire. I think I missed the easiest way and felt a bit bad about dragging Matthew through some very thick bushes, though it did provide some additional amusement for both of us. We zigged and zagged and had some steep slabs to get down, but all went well enough that we didn't have to resort to the rope and rappelling.

It was 4p when we got back to the car, nearly 10 hours for less than three miles - pretty pathetic by our usual standards, but it'd been quite fun. While most of our torsos were a bit damp, the rain gear we'd brought kept us fairly warm. Our shoes were another story and were completely soaked. Normally not so bad except that we'd planned a 32mi+ hike the following day. Our rope was similarly soaked so I thought up a strategy to dry them both out. We used the rope to lash our boots to the roof of Matthew's car in the hope that the 80 miles of driving would dry them out sufficiently. Nice idea, but it didn't work out so well when the rain started again during the drive.

We drove down to the Whoa Nelli for the requisite post-adventure meal, then on to the town of Independence where we got a motel room before the big hike. We hung up all our stuff about the room to let it dry as best it could during the night. It wasn't yet 9p when we hit the lights - big day tomorrow!

Continued...


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