New Route on the North Face of Mt. Langley: Horizontal Thought Movement (IV 5.8)

New Route on the North Face of Mt. Langley: Horizontal Thought Movement (IV 5.8)

On Friday I emailed Nate asking if he wanted to climb at Tahquitz over the weekend and he replied with a "pass" as he was trying to put together a trip to the Sierra's. A few hours later he emailed me again asking if I wanted to go attempt a new line up Mt. Langley. Shay had climbed on Langley the weekend before and attempted a ridge that dead-ended before reaching the summit - Nate thought he saw a ridge in the pictures Shay brought back that might connect to the top. He thought we'd try to do the route in a day but there was a good chance we'd face an unplanned bivy and a cold night on the rock at high altitude.

I immediately replied with a "yes".

Aerial photo showing the route. "Rest and be Thankful" is the far left arete.
Aerial photo showing the route. "Rest and be Thankful" is the far left arete.

First I needed a few obvious things for the alpine environment -- better backpack, some non-flip flop footwear, a helmet, gloves, a warm hat.  In an awesome show of gumbiness I somehow made it to Nate's house from REI sans helmet and warmth providing coverings, luckily I was able to borrow a helmet from Kostas and some decent mountain apparel from Nate.

"Rest and be Thankful" on the left, "Horizontal Thought Movement" on the right (image ripped off from summitpost)
"Rest and be Thankful" on the left, "Horizontal Thought Movement" on the right (image ripped off from summitpost)

We hopped in the car late Friday night.  The plan was to crash by the car at the trailhead on Friday night, hike in Saturday, bivy, then rise early on Sunday and do the route.  Somewhere on the drive we realized Monday was Labor day and decided to buy some junk food to supplement the healthy food we'd packed to sustain us another day in case we wanted to climb something else on Monday.  However neither of us were particularly happy with the compromise and the seemingly omnipresent 'outdoor farts' which it had recently been discovered were almost certainly the result of eating crappy food.

 

I got the sense on the drive up that Nate was a little surprised to realize the extent of my Alpine gumbiness -- to date I'd never been above 11000 feet or done any real alpine climbing at all (excluding an excursion into Frey in Argentina which I don't think really counts as Alpine since the rock there isn't very big) and had never attempted a first ascent of any kind.  It could have developed into one of those situations where he began to doubt the appropriateness of the partner for the task -- but that was not to be.  'Whatever, we're awesome' instead seemed to arise as the mutual tacit agreement to banish even the faintest trace of self or partner-doubt deep into the realm of words unspoken.

The trailhead into Tuttle creek is located just outside of Lone Pine on the 395.  You turn at the light as if headed toward Whitney portal, take a left on a road with Meadows in its name, a right on a road with Granite in its name, and follow the dirt road as far as you can.  The road ends at a trailhead that goes into Tuttle creek.  About 30 minutes up the trail, there's a stone house laboriously built in Tuttle creek by a famous cult leader named Franklin Merrill Wolf in the 1930s (followers of whom still live in the hills nearby).  While pullharder does not require the reading of his works, a working knowledge is strongly encouraged.

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We got a leisurely start on Saturday morning at about 7000 ft and began the five or six hour hike up the south fork of Tuttle creek, taking the most direct approach to the North face of Mt. Langley.  The approach trail hugs the hills on the north side of the creek the majority of the time.  We crossed the creek a little beyond the Keyhole wall and then hugged an edge formed where a talus field meets thick growth in what makes for a reasonably easy hike gaining about 4000 ft.  We didn't have to carry much water as cool refreshing snow melt flows readily down the creek and is easily accessible.  We found a bivy on a rocky overlook near the highest available water, chowed down on some hot prepackaged food, made some coffee and chilled out for awhile before it got too cold.

We created a tower of avocado/salami bagels for decently high-calorie and high-tasty food on the route.

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When 0430 came around the next morning it was still windy and really cold.  I was glad when Nate proposed resetting the alarm for 0500 but half an hour later came too quickly.  We ate breakfast, oatmeal with banana + coffee, scampered down to get some water, and headed off.

We had bivied about an hour from the base of the route and as we hiked up we scouted out our ridge from various angles which seemed sometimes to almost certainly connect to the top and other times to be totally disconnected.  We roshambo'd for first lead, winner goes first.  We tied scissors versus scissors and then I won with paper.  

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You scramble up a little and the climb starts at a v-crack.  We figured we'd either go up the left leg or go straight up.  I opted for straight up and it was on.  It was still really cold and I left my gloves on to start the climb.  I'd never climbed with gloves before so I thought my fingers' limited tactile sensation came mostly from the gloves.  The climb began to get a little steeper and I tried to grab onto what appeared to be a huge crimp but I couldn't really feel it.  I pulled the gloves off with my teeth and tried again and realized my fingers had gone numb.  This was a completely new sensation for me on a climb and I wasn't particularly fond of the feeling.  I opted to jam for awhile instead avoiding the huge crimps and when I got to a good stance I put the gloves in my pocket and warmed my fingers with my breathe.  The next pitch was a bit convoluted as Nate tried various possible ways before settling on something that worked.  The first two pitches took us over 2 hours so we started to worry about our progress.  Nate ate a bagel while I climbed the third pitch, a large leaning flake to a crack capped with a roof.  I ate one after topping out on the fourth pitch.  It started warming up a bit by then which probably helped.  We flew up the next two pitches and were almost surprised when we thought we saw the summit, thinking it might be a faux summit hiding another another several hundred feet higher.

Several hundred feet of mostly-easy arete climbing with a huge 150 foot vertical corner in the middle brought us to the top.

Nate quickly came up the pitch and began to make his way up the next.  The thin crack in the corner went nowhere so Nate ended up finding a convoluted path that involved some upclimbing, downclimbing, and traversing.  The first two pitches took us almost 2 hours so we started to worry about our progress.  Nate ate a bagel while I climbed the third pitch.  The third pitch was pretty cool, starting in a wide crack/chimney in a corner, and going up to a nice solid hand crack, with a small roof at the exit.  Easy climbing goes to a sharp horizontal arete with cool exposure on either side.  Nate arrived and continued on the arete around a corner and heading off out of view.  After a little he called down to start simuling and then we were both climbing.

After what seemed like a lot of simuling, I got to Nate and ate my first bagel.  The next pitch was mine and was a full ropelength of walking across a narrow horizontal walkway.  Nate came over and I headed off again since I still had all the gear up an easy gully until I was stopped by rope drag.

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Then Nate was off again and I started simuling again when the rope ran out.  The pitch ended with a 20 ft downclimb into a little slot with a big block on the other side which we weren't sure connected.  We opted to unrope and traverse around it, climbing easy terrain a few dozen feet above a rocky gulley.  When it got time to rope up again my feet were screaming in pain from my performance rock climbing shoes.  I made some comment to that effect and Nate took the next lead.  I pulled my shoes off as he lead out and the pitch ended up being another super long simul ending beneath a cool looking corner.  Lucky me, it was my turn to lead the next one!

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The climbing in the long corner pitch was made interesting by copious amounts of loose rock and crumbly holds.  I worried about knocking something big loose and killing Nate -- I thought I managed to pick my way through but I did knock one off that came pretty close to taking him out.

I belayed just above the corner on a nice rock.  Nate came up and immediately fired away again.  It seemed certain the route connected now to the summit and we we're both a bit surprised to be so close already.

One last simul climb and then another pitch of unroped climbing on solid rock and we were summited.

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We hung out on top at 14050 feet for awhile and ate our second bagels.  A few groups reached the summit around the same time as us after coming up the easier way from Old Army pass.

It was my first time up to altitude.  Its obviously a little harder to breathe up there but I didn't notice any problems other than all the speedy simuling being particularly exhausting.  In my mind, the harder pitches were easier as they gave excuse to breathe a little more often.

In the spirit of Franklin Merrell-Wolff we named the route Horizontal Thought Movement.

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Route summary:

Pitch 1: At the toe of the 2nd major ridge of the North face, climb straight up the right side of a v-crack which becomes an easy fist crack.  Belay on a ledge at the base of a left facing corner.

Pitch 2: Climb the arete around to the right and up skipping the corner.  Climb up a crack on the right side of a flake, then down the left side, then make a face move or two left to gain a hand crack and go up -- belay at a left-facing corner with a large flake leaning against the wall.

Pitch 3: Go up the corner and gain a hand crack which pulls through a small roof (5.8ish).  Go up easy climbing until you hit a thin arete with a drop off on either side.  Follow a short way along the arete and belay on some blocks.

Pitch 4: Traverse left around the face and simul climb up until rope drag stops you.

Pitch 5 & 6: (simul) Traverse along the horizontal ridge, head up an easy low-angle chimney/gully that tabletops on a sandy ledge.

Pitch 7: (simul) simul climb forever and then downclimb about 20 ft into a small notch at the base of another small headwall.

Pitch 8: Either climb the headwall or traverse around it, try not to fall into the gulley below

Pitch 9: (simul) simul climb forever and belay at the base of a huge steep corner, visible from far below.

Pitch 10: Climb the long 5.8ish corner.  At the top either move left onto the face or undercling overhanging blocks to exit.  (may need to simul a bit)

Pitch 11: (simul) Simul climb along the ridge forever.

Pitch 12: Continue simuling or unrope and climb up to the summit on more solid rock.

Descend scree forever down the north-east gully.