While all those bastards in California, and a few here in Colorado have been sending the shit out of shit, I have been feeling sorry for myself after a big fall in the mountains left me injured and put a damper on my plans to achieve maximum winter glory. In reality I'm happy to be alive, but I am still insanely jealous of everyone else who is crushing this winter, from ascents of the Diamond on Long's Peak, to big Sierra Ridges, and new routes in Patagonia. So I figured that in order to boost my confidence/ego/presence on the internet, I would post this short trip report on a climb that rarely gets done, and even less often written about, but deserves more attention.
The Temple-Gayley-Sill traverse takes the obvious line from the summit of Tample crag, down and back up the ridge leading to Mt. Gayley, then down the ridge towards Mt. Sill and back up the Swiss Arete. Since the Swiss Arete had been my first ever alpine climb (on which I had to take while following the 5.7 crux) I decided it would be fitting if I redeemed myself by doing the whole traverse free-solo, onsight, and c2c...in other words, nobody wanted to climb with me. Its like, whenever I want to do a big climb, people come up with the dumbest excuses like, "I have a job," or "I've got children."
I parked at the trailhead for the North fork of Big Pine creek at around 5pm, baked out my van, and fell asleep to Beethoven's 9th symphony blasting on my headphones. Such is the life of a lonely homeless climber. My phone alarm went off at 4am, but I wasn't feeling it, so I shut it off and went back to sleep. The sun was up when I woke at 6am, and there was not a cloud in the sky. I felt like a giant pussy. Was I losing my edge? I think not.
I started up the trail in mountain boots with rock shoes,an ice axe, 2 liters of water, 2 bananas, and about 5 snickers bars in my daypack. I decided I would run the entire trail to make up for lost time. After about half a mile, I decided that power-walking was sufficient and that I would just climb really fast. I was not losing my edge, I have just figured out ways to maximize my time and effort in the mountains in order to avoid waking up early...take note aspiring mountaineers, waking up late is cool.
As I came out of the trees around 3rd lake, I was horrified to see 2 parties kicking steps up the snow towards the first part of MY route, had they not gotten the memo? I hate people fuckin' with my wilderness experience! With no crampons, I had to kick hard to get up the neve slope leading to the base of Venusian Blind Arete. Luckily one team was headed to do Moon Goddess Arete, and the other team was carrying enough gear to climb Mt. Everest (they were from the East Coast). They were shocked to hear that I was going to free solo Venusian Blind, and even more shocked that I was hiking in my underwear (what?, I overheated a bit on the trail). Not wanting them to think I was completely crazy, I stopped and put on my pants. After crossing some slippery rock on the lower buttress, I put on my rock shoes and climbed up onto the Arete proper. The climbing was fantastic, but over way too fast. On the summit of Temple Crag I found some Colorado friend's names in the register, which got me psyched!
The traverse from Temple to Gayley felt hard and a little desperate at times, but I think I just had to take a shit, which I did, and sent a mud falcon sailing off the south side of the ridge. By the time I got to Gayley's summit, I felt like a new man. It had taken me only 7 hours to get to that point, so I treated myself to a snickers bar.
I stared at the East Face of Mt. Sill, with the Swiss Arete looking wintery. It was time to put on the headphones and charge. The descent from Gayley and up the Swiss Arete was a proper mountaineering adventure, up the snow and onto the rock. In the small time it took me to change into my climbing shoes, I felt the cold take hold. When I got to the infamous crux of the Swiss arete, I had a flashback of being there 6 years prior, scared shitless while Nate Ricklin (my hero) lead me and Albert Lin up this section with 1000 feet of air below.
That was then, this was now. By the time 40 Ounces To Freedom had played through, I was on top of Mt. Sill, struggling to get my camera to stay still long enough to get a self-portrait.
The descent from Mt. Sill was scary at best, but I made it! I decided to descend into the South Fork of Big Pine creek and avoid crossing the bergshrund and glacier to the North. Waist deep snow slowed me down and prompted violent mood swings, from the joy of just having crushed a big alpine route to the agony of swimming through slushy sun-baked snow. Apparently I took a subdrainage to the north of the main drainage, because I spent almost 2 hours wading through a sea of manzanita and nettle, and at one point even considered just wading down the creek itself.
I got back to my car just about 12 hours after I left, with daylight to spare. I pounded some coffee as my van careened down the road into Big Pine. An hour later I was sitting in Rusty's Saloon in Bishop, alone and properly drunk after a couple shots. While rednecks and drunken locals watched baseball on the TV, I strolled up to the jukebox and put on a song to celebrate my climb. "Damn it feels good to be a gangster" played loud, and a couple beers later I was ready for bed. I went to sleep in my van in a parking lot behind the bar, knowing that it would be tough to dream of a better day than the one I just had.
- I give this whole linkup IV, 5.8 if you solo it, Grade V if you rope up.
- The crux came somewhere between Temple Crag and Gayley and could be avoided by rapelling.
- 12 hours c2c is a fast time, plan on 17-20 hours, especially if you carry gear and rope up.
- Bring a single ice axe for sure (I had one), but with solid mountain boots, you may not need crampons if the snow is soft enough.
- Climbing other lines on Temple Crag will add more time and technical climbing, but Venusian Blind Arete is great fun and solid rock.
- The Swiss Arete had a good amount of snow on it and was in the shade, best to simulclimb for warmth. Yes ladies, I’m single.
- Asa Firestone owes me $50 or a new Bialetti...there, its on the Internet and he’ll never be able to claim otherwise.
- Don’t mention to anyone in Rusty’s Saloon that you climb...they wont care and they will hate you more than they already do.
- Do mention to the bartender at Rusty’s Saloon that you’d like some bar snacks. They have bags of chips for sale behind the bar, which makes you think that you have to buy those if you want a salty snack, but they really give free bowls of pretzels and cheesy poofs.