California Climber | Issue 21 | Summer '17

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californiaclimber SUMMER 2017

N 21


ALIEN REVOLUTION The Mother of Modern Cams

HELY Duplex Stainless Steel


Made In Spain



NO. 21 SUMMER 2017



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Rob McKay climbing the Evolution Traverse (IV 5.9) THIS PAGE


Andy Cross

Be a climber. Where you find joy: pursue it. Where you see others finding joy: encourage it. Whatever makes you a climber: do it. These are words. See our actions at


Andy Mezger climbing Campfire Arête (V6) at the Boreal Boulders, Donner Summit.

CALIFORNIACLIMBERMAGAZINE.COM PUBLISHER Dean Fleming ART DIRECTOR Alton Richardson SENIOR CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Jerry Dodrill, Jim Thornburg SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Fitz Cahall, James Lucas CONTRIBUTORS Galen Rowell, Jim Thornburg, Jerry Dodrill, Catey Hagar, Walt Vennum, Brian Sweeney, Charlie Barrett, Brandon Thau, Bruce Binder, Robert Behrens, Rob McKay, Dean Fleming

MOST, IF NOT ALL OF THE ACTIVITIES DEPICTED HEREIN CARRY AND PRESENT SIGNIFICANT RISKS OF PERSONAL INJURY OR DEATH. Rock climbing, bouldering, ice climbing, moutaineering, alpine climbing and any other outdoor activity are inherently dangerous. The owners, staff and managment of California Climber do not recommend that anyone partcipate in these activities unless they are an expert or accompanied by an expert. Please seek qualified professional instruction and/or guidance. Understanding the risks involved are necesassary and be prepared to assume all responsibilty associated with those risks.


CALIFORNIA CLIMBER 22502 Colorado River Dr. Sonora, Ca 93570 Phone: (209) 768-0110 Email:

EDITOR’S NOTE COMPARED TO THE CLICK-ANDWATCH revolution of the 2010s, climbing media in the late 1990s was pretty limited. Still, two videos, Moving Over Stone (1988) and Painted Spider, Rock Climbing in the 90s (1998), managed to grace our VCRs and change the way we viewed the sport of rock climbing. My VHS copy of Painted Spider was worn with glitches and streaks from rewinding and re-watching a segment that features Peter Croft casually free soloing the North Face Route (5.11c) on Yosemite’s Rostrum. Among other great scenes, Moving Over Stone includes an impressive segment featuring Croft soloing a stack of difficult crack climbs at Yosemite’s Cookie Cliff. After high school on rainy days I’d stare at the glowing screen, watching intently as Croft methodically placed finger locks and secure hand jams. I’d study the movements and positions, visualizing myself in the exact locations and dreaming of the day when I would have the opportunity to torque my fingers into the same locks. It is probable that studying Croft’s movements improved my climbing, but I am certain that studying his words saved my life. “I back off solos all the time,” says Croft in Moving Over Stone. “If I get to a move that doesn’t feel secure, or a move that I don’t think I can reverse, I just downclimb.”

Free soloing the Rostrum never seriously crossed my mind, but like most teenagers I was fueled by a desire to control my life, drawn to the romantic idea that mastering physical movement and overcoming fear could overshadow my insecurities. In the coming years I attempted to free solo a small number of climbs. On most occasions, sometimes very low on the wall, I’d get to a move that didn’t feel completely secure, or a move that I could not easily reverse. And so I would downclimb. Surprisingly, more often than not, I’d be smiling as I retreated, filled with a sense of intelligence and resolution. I may not have mastered my fears, but those moments have since brought me a great sense of contentment. I’d smile because backing off was the smart thing to do, and because Peter Croft told me that it was OK to do it. <~~~> Early this summer arguably the most ground-breaking free solo ascent of all time took place when Alex Honnold forgot to bring his rope up El Capitan’s Freerider (5.13a). Following Honnold’s ascent, this issue’s cover story by Jerry Dodrill honors the lives of Galen Rowell and Brad Parker with an ascent of the Evolution Traverse (IV 5.9) [see page 40]. This feature article includes many images of un-roped scrambling and traversing – the method of climbing un-roped on moderate 4th and 5th class terrain is a tactic commonly used to complete the largest High Sierra objectives. Yet as we flip through glossy pages and scroll through videos on our phones, it’s easy to forget just how many great climbers have lost their lives while scrambling un-roped on “easy” terrain. As always, this summer we ask you to harbor a deep and sincere respect for the locations that you visit, for as our community grows it has never been more important for us to display our stewardship for the places we hold dear. Additionally, in the wake of such remarkable events in Yosemite Valley and beyond, this summer we implore you to respect your own personal safety and the safety of your partners. ­—DEAN FLEMING


Peter Croft on the Evolution Traverse (IV 5.9). IMAGE + GALEN ROWELL

JUST BEFORE THE LAST CENTURY TURNED, a passionate young mountaineer named Theodore Solomons sought a new way of exploring the remote alpine world south of Yosemite. To appreciate his innovation, imagine yourself planning a climb on the crest of the range without a map, guidebook, a photograph, a trail, a roadhead, a motor vehicle, or anything more than vague nineteenth century reports of past travelers. I’ve made it from the base of an 8,000-meter peak in Pakistan to my Berkeley home more than three times as fast as Solomons ever made it from his Berkeley home into the heart of the High Sierra. Despite the intervening century of progress, his wild vision has survived virtually intact. It had nothing to do with today’s pursuit of instant gratification via rapid access to single mountains or climbing areas. Solomons wanted to experience “a full-length crest-wise journey.” In his day, such an extended venture translated into opening a high path traversing the mountains where horses and mules could carry enough food and camping gear for weeks or months. He set the stage for the creation of the 211-mile John Muir Trail, which to this day is not bisected by a single road. The peaks of his Nirvana, Evolution Valley, remain far less trodden than the fast-food flanks of the “Seven Summits,” where climbs in progress are only a click on the website from Manhattan. Solomons was probably the first white man to reach the valley at the source of the San Joaquin River and see its wild, unnamed features. After three summers and months of trail-breaking a hundred miles south from Yosemite, he entered a broad glaciated landscape surrounded by towering granite peaks. The alpine cul-de-sac seemed so alive with cascading streams and lush flowers that he named the peaks and valley itself after “the great evolutionists, so at one in their devotion to the sublime in Nature.” He called the peaks Darwin, Mendel, Lamarck, Haeckel, Wallace, Fiske, Spencer, and Huxley. Below them lay vast timberline meadows watered by myriad streams descending from canyon walls into a series of lakes below what was later named Muir Pass. Solomons failed to penetrate the range farther south, veering westward toward home down a far more difficult canyon that he christened Enchanted Gorge. After John Muir died in 1914, the California Legislature voted to fulfill Solomons’ dream by building a transverse “John Muir Trail” from Yosemite to what was then the highest point in the states atop Mount Whitney. Three national parks, one national monument, and several wilderness areas now limit access to the high country to two and four-footed creatures. <~~~>

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OVER THE COURSE OF MY OWN FORTY years of climbing and exploring in this vast wild area, I’d hiked the entire Muir Trail and skied it, but only once done a new route out of Evolution Valley, a 5.8 solo on the north face of The Hermit, a 12,000-foot granite peak with a sheer crest and a 5.8 summit block. Named by Solomons, it was first ascended by my mother in 1924, with the aid of a packer’s hemp rope thrown over the top. She made the climb while hiking the entire yet-to-be-completed trail just after graduating from college, with five mules, four women, three horses, and two men. Right up to her death at 94 in 1995, she singled out that summer as the most memorable of a long and happy life. A few summers later, my wife, Barbara, and I conjured up a modern adventure in the spirit of my mother and Theodore Solomons. We hired a packer and six mules through High Sierra Pack Station out of Clovis to drop food and gear at Evolution Lake at 10,800 feet in Kings Canyon National Park. We and a few friends would walk in and out with day packs and camp there for two weeks. Barbara packed her watercolors, invited a couple from the Bahamas, ordered two cases of cabernet, and talked a waiter at our favorite restaurant into cooking for the group in trade for his passage. I packed ropes, hardware, cameras, tripods, and extra camp gear for the climbers I invited – Peter Croft, Jerry Dodrill, Dick Duane, and Hans Florine. They could come in and leave when they chose over 13,000-foot Lamarck Col from the east side of the Sierra, but our trek in with the packer and mules would take two days from Florence Lake on the west side along a route passable for livestock. By the time we left in early July, our loose-knit group totaled eleven. Five hiked in initially, and Peter Croft, who had not expected to join us until later in the week, showed up over the Col the morning after we arrived. He casually mentioned the possibility of a grand traverse of the Evolution Peaks, which I


Sunset in the Evolution basin.

assumed meant a traverse of the seven major summits over 13,000 feet along the Sierra crest, beginning with Mounts Mendel and Darwin and ending atop Mt. Haeckel. The jagged ridge just south of Darwin was reputed to be problematic and unclimbed. To the best of his knowledge, only small parts of the traverse had been done before. Though sheer pinnacles along the ridge on Darwin might require rappels into notches and roped leads with protection for a climber of my caliber, the probability of Peter doing entirely unroped climbing seemed very high, given his amazing history of long and difficult solos on Yosemite Walls and, more recently, other long Sierra traverses. <~~~> I TOLD PETER THAT I WAS ABOUT TO LEAVE to check out another unclimbed route on Darwin and asked if he wanted to join me. When he said that he’d rather rest, I should have paid attention, but instead I wandered off to have a look. The unclimbed southwest buttress had a raised arête of clean granite sweeping all the way to the summit up an otherwise fractured façade. Doing a new route on the 13,831-foot hulk that dominates the Evolution region looked so enticing that I decided to give it a try right then. My day pack held my camera and a light rope to rappel if the route didn’t go. Easy scrambling brought me beneath steep interconnecting cracks and open chimneys in perfect white granite. I took out the rope to haul my pack on secure 5.8 climbing that left me a bit more exhilarated than terrified. Above, I coiled the rope and was starting to get bored with fourth-class scrambling when two more pitches of 5.8 face climbing on small holds in a well-worn pair of Five Ten trail shoes drew my rapt attention. Once I climbed over, down, and around a freestanding pinnacle about 500 feet below the summit, the difficulties were all behind me. When I reached the summit after just two hours of climbing, the afternoon seemed young. In 1895, Solomons had failed to climb Darwin by only two or three hundred feet. He reported scrambling to a point “from which farther ascent is barred to all human beings, and though descent seemed fraught with imminent peril, descend we must.” I nixed the options of down climbing my 3,000-foot ascent route or an equally long rubble-filled chute that aimed like a gunsight toward our tiny orange tents by the lake. Instead, I decided to follow a mile and a half of knife-edged ridge to neighboring Mount Mendel and get the feel of part of the longer traverse Peter wanted to do. The ridge proved quite tricky, but the rope remained in my pack.

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Galen Rowell atop Mt. Huxley. IMAGE + JERRY DODRILL (BOTH)

<~~~> A WELL-RESTED PETER GREETED ME at camp just before sunset, and said he was eager to head off on the complete traverse at 4:00am. Did I care to join him? At sunrise we were atop Mendel after a steep scramble by headlamp. From there, we reversed my traverse to Darwin in an hour, just above the large glaciers on the northeast flanks of both peaks. We dropped off the summit into the crux section of sheer spires on Darwin’s south ridge, with Peter always in front, remaining in fluid motion, never seeming to be moving that fast over loose blocks, down 5.9 hand cracks, or across exposed face moves that forced me to slow down and consider my mortality. On the windless, clear morning his smooth passage without clanging, thumping, thrashing, or knocking loose rocks emphasized the pristine silence of this remote alpine sanctuary. Our few remarks to each other were mostly about the fabulous quality of the granite – fractured by eons of frost, but as sharp-edged and solid as anything either of us had seen on the crest of the High Sierra. Soon, the series of splintered pinnacles spewed out into a simple knife-edged ridge as quickly as they had begun. We traversed far more easily with solid hands on the crest for hundreds of feet, until the difficulty eased off into miles of third- and fourth-class scrambling over several





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EVOLUTIONARY RAMBLINGS more 13,000-foot summits, culminating (in my mind, but not Peter’s) in the classic, northwest ridge of Mount Haeckel, first climbed in the 1930s by Sierra Club mountaineers. As I reached the top of Haeckel, every handhold I touched turned red. The pads of my fingers had worn through all the layers of skin after miles of rough granite the previous day, plus many more today. I knew that my climbing for the duration of the trip would be over unless I gave my hands a break. Atop Haeckel, Peter pointed out a connect-the-dots arc over Mounts Wallace, Fiske, Spencer, and Huxley that would continue the traverse off the main Sierra Crest. I wished him well and descended an easy snow gully that put me back in camp at three in the afternoon. A few hours later, we were all sitting beside the lake before dinner, enjoying a glass of fine cabernet, when Peter walked up looking amazingly fresh. He recounted a fine day in the mountains more in the spirit of a John Muir than of a man known for the 4 hour, 22 minute record speed ascent of the Nose of El Capitan with Hans Florine. Peter spoke of the new Great Evolution Traverse without mention of difficulty ratings or numbers of pitches, emphasizing his joy of discovery of new wildness and natural beauty, from the flowers on the highest ledges to the aesthetics of the giant upturned slabs that we had hand-traversed. He mused how maps, guidebooks, magazine stories, as well as human minds tend to single out individual summits and faces, but ignore the way they interconnect into continuous ridge traverses. He felt that the full traverse had involved more climbing over a longer period of time than his legendary multiple grade six days in Yosemite, when he had done two face routes on El Capitan or both the faces of El Cap and Half Dome on the same day. He also said that the traverse was longer and more committing than other ones he had made in the minarets, the Palisades, and Rock Creek. I later estimated that Peter’s day had involved at least 10,000 feet of vertical gain and 35,000 feet of rock climbing.

When it came time to break camp, we completed a west-east traverse of the Sierra Range by all hiking out over Lamarck Col. Bishop Pack Outfitters spent four long days coming in and out over Piute Pass to the same roadhead. On the long drive home to Berkeley, I thought about how thankful I was for Solomons’ vision of opening up the timberline wilderness just enough so that “enterprising mountaineers could leave Yosemite Valley with loaded animals to thread their way through the very heart of the High Sierra” a century after his explorations. That vision is alive and well today as we plan for future summer encampments in both the Sierra and Wyoming’s Wind Rivers.



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New hot forged and CNC’d TripleGrip lobes give • Larger surface contact area • Increased holding power • Higher performance in slick rock • Reduced ‘walking’

> Extendable 8mm Dyneema sling saves on quickdraws > Ergonomic thumb press gives positive handling > Rated to 14kN from size 1 upwards

ACCESS/EVENTS ACCESS FALCON NESTING CLOSURES, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (Beginning March 1, 2017 and remaining in effect until July 15, 2017, or until further notice)

THE ROSTRUM: Closure includes climbing routes on all sides of the Rostrum formation. Super Nova and the Jungle Gym areas remain open. Slack-lining is prohibited at the summit and the top of the adjacent cliff.

ARCH ROCK: All routes above the walk-off ledge, above the main wall at Arch Rock, including Arch Rock Pinnacle are closed. The main wall, which includes all routes from “Dirty Little Secret” east to “Grokin,” plus “Juliette’s Flake,” “Extra Credit,” “Now,” “Omakara” and “Later” are open. When possible, please refrain from using the walk-off ledge.

WAWONA DOME: Closure includes all routes between and including “Cream of the Crop” to “Bark at the Moon.” From the base, the first pitch of the closed routes between and including “Lunar Eclipse” to “Bird in Flight” will remain open.

B.O.L.T. WALL: Immediately southwest of Leaning Tower. Closure includes all routes on the B.O.L.T. Wall. EL CAPITAN, SOUTHWEST FACE: Closure includes all routes between and including “Peter Pan” east to the “Dihedral Wall.” MT. BRODERICK: Closure includes the entire SE face of Mt. Broderick. FAIRVIEW DOME, WEST FACE: Closure includes all routes between and including “Heart of Stone” to “Lucky Streaks.” All other routes remain open. HALF DOME, NORTHWEST FACE: The route “Queen of Spades” is closed. All other routes remain open. HETCH HETCHY: All routes on Kolana Rock are closed. PARKLINE SLABS / LOWER MERCED CANYON - CLOSED. Closure for an active golden eagle nest. Closure includes the top 4 pitches of the “Eagle’s Eyrie” climbing route and top 3 pitches of the unnamed route directly to the left (climber’s left) of “Eagle’s Eyrie.” All other routes, the first 6 pitches of “Eagle’s Eyrie,” and the first 5 pitches of the unnamed route to the left of “Eagle’s Eyrie” remain open (effective as of April 26).

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YOSEMITE POINT: Closure includes all routes between and including “Czech Route” and “Yosemite Point Buttress.” At the base, the first 3 pitches of “Czech Route” and the first 5 pitches of “Yosemite Point Buttress” remain open.

EVENTS JUNE 10: Adopt-A-Crag – Black Wall with Truckee Donner Land Trust JULY 22-23: Woman Up Climbing Festival at Dogpatch Boulders. SEPTEMBER 9: Access Fund Annual Climber Advocate Summit and Annual Dinner in Oakland

COMPETITIONS JUNE 17: USA Climbing Sport & Speed Divisional at Mission Cliffs, San Francisco SEPTEMBER 2: 4th Annual Donner Summit Boulder Bash presented by the American Alpine Club and Tahoe Sports Hub.

July 22 + 23, 2017 At dogpatch Boulders Touchstone Climbing presents a two-day climbing festival celebrating the women and woman-identified climbers of our sport. Day 1: Crush world-class problems set for women, by women, in our all-women’s bouldering competition. Day 2: Join clinics, panels, and presentations led by women from every area of the climbing industry. Women and woman-identified climbers of all ages and abilities welcome.

Dogpatch Boulders | 2573 3rd Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | 415.800.8121 |

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FIRST ASCENT Richard Ludwig, Tim Wilhelmi and Matthias Holladay - 1986

“TIM WILHELMI WAS INSPIRED BY MY style on Humboldt Current, (5.10a) and so wanted to do the same on a nice line of pockets [Great White, (5.12b/c)] left of a ramp [Redwood Burl, (5.13a)],” said Holliday. “I didn’t see much to hang on, but regardless, he went up some really thin moves, got a hook on something, hung for a bit and popped off, landing awkwardly, but uninjured. He was a volatile climber back then, cursing and pounding the rock.” “We were using Tim’s drill, and so when things were calmer, I offered to go to the top, set an anchor above our selected line, whereupon I’d rap down, hanging in space across from a ledge above the line of pockets

and they, with their combined strength, would swing me in to the ledge, where I would toss out my daisy chain festooned with a variety of hooks with different sling lengths. This proposal was met with agreement, and so again I thrashed through vegetation and through yells, “further left” and then “right ten feet,” I found the spot. It worked! After three swings in and then back out, I had reached the perfect arc, and was able to toss a hook onto a mini-jug just out of reach. It stuck and I pulled myself in. After drilling an anchor, setting up a top rope and rapping off, we worked the moves, wire brushing off holds and snapping friable pinches and chips.”



Great White





Tufoni Sandstone








Promontory, Del Norte

10 min + river cross

Bolted anchor, lower or rappel



GUIDEBOOK Bigfoot Country Climbung, by Paul Humphrey & Eric Chemello

DESCRIPTION GREAT WHITE IS OFTEN CONSIDERED AMONG the finest routes of its length, grade and style in California. This route offers interesting and gymnastic endurance climbing through a wildly pumpy 95 foot tall section of steep, featured sandstone in an idyllic setting; less than 100 feet from the crashing waves of the Pacific. Aside from a distinct boulder problem crux low on the route, the climb is mostly a fitness test. If you lack endurance you simply won’t have a chance. Thanks to

recent ascents much of the loose dust and debris has been scrubbed, but in this setting sand does accumulate on the holds in a matter of days. It’s still a good idea to bring a soft bristled toothbrush if you plan to work the route. Clipping long slings to the last three bolts on the ramp before moving onto the overhang will reduce rope drag and a great deal of grief at the chains. Thanks to Taylor Morrow, Dennis Baumsteiger and Tom Ogden, this beautiful line has been entirely re-bolted with titanium glue-ins.

Dennis Baumsteiger climbing Great White (5.12c), Promontory.




“BIANCA” Catey Hager and her 1993 Honda Civic DX with Smittybilt Roof Tent

Any surprises?

Where did you find Bianca and how much did she cost you?

What has been your favorite trip so far?

I found Bianca on Craigslist in Los Angeles for $2,000. Hilariously enough, I think I could sell her for the same amount with 150,000 more miles. Have you done any modifications? I spray painted the rims copper once for, you know, cheap custom steez. It has since browned. The racks and tent are modifications, if that counts? How’s the gas mileage? 35 miles per-gallon, so hella good. How does Bianca do off-road? Front wheel drive can get it up some pretty scrappy terrain, excluding bouldery or icy “roads.” Ever been stuck? I’ve been stuck in the mud and snow, but nothing monumental. I once had a fat bolt in my alternator snap in half outside of a small town in Mendocino. I tent camped in the bushes behind the auto shop in the rain for four days while waiting for a new bolt to be ordered and delivered.

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I once found a nest with six baby mice living under the seat. They may have been living there for a week or three.

I once drove it up to Vancouver Island in December, before the roof tent. Two of us, and a dog slept inside of the car for three weeks. Many nights were below 20 degrees. All of the gear had to be stashed inside as well, so the dog slept right up against the windshield, wearing a little kid’s sweater. While I remember being mostly freezing and miserable, it is still one of my favorite trips, icy wetsuits and all. Do you live in Bianca full time? I lived on her for a year and it was perfect. The bedding fits into the tent all folded up, so I could just open’er up and climb into a nice plush bed. What are your favorite things about Bianca? She purrs at 85 mph, can rip around cities and mountains alike. The gas mileage is great. Are there any drawbacks to living in Bianca? It’s pretty obvious that I am camping, so staying in Wal-Mart parking lots is a lot less inconspicuous than a ‘real’ van. I usually have to leave wherever I am bandit camping when it is still dark out. Can you tell us a little bit about your “No Shirt Cocking” sticker? I never have been a fan of the wardrobe choice. The aversion developed whilst living in a surf shack and waking up to dudes making breakfast bottomless, who had thought that nobody was home. I always have to explain exactly what it is to old ladies at gas stations. Any plans this summer? This summer I’m fixin’ to scamper around Smith Rock, Tahoe, Trinity Alps and jump into the many rivers, streams and springs between here and there!




ast year we received a few pairs of the Tanta; a newly released price-point shoe from Tenaya that has been designed for comfort and all-around entry level use with the inclusion of some high performance attributes. The Tanta is hand-made in Spain with a cotton lining and synthetic outer to provide consistent fit and feel throughout the life of the shoe. In testing we found the Tanta to keep true to this claim and maintained a very reliable fit for six months of use. We even soaked the shoes in water and wore them until they dried to see if we could get the material to stretch or warp. It did not. Think of this as a fair warning not to downsize the Tanta with expectations that they will stretch. While the build of the Tanta is designed for a beginner’s preference, a slight down-turn in the toe box and a down camber in the mid-foot does provide a versatile performance fit for all angles and abilities while maintaining an emphasis on comfort in the toe box. In testing we found the rubber used on the Tanta to perform noticeably inferior on most terrain when compared to the excellent Vibram XS Grip rubber used with other Tenaya shoes. However, the much stiffer rubber used in the Tanta is also much more durable than XS Grip, and is therefore a good choice for beginners and anyone looking for a long-lasting shoe at a moderate price tag. Although the rubber on the Tanta would occasionally slip off delicate slopers and smears, the stiffness of the material combined with the flat shape of the shoe did allow for comfortable and secure edging.



he new Belay Slave glove from Metolius is an aggressively priced belay glove with some fine attributes. The synthetic material used has proven to be much more durable than goatskin yet still offers excellent fit and dexterity. The hook and loop wrist closure allows for some great adjustment and keeps your forearms from getting too pumped if you’re cleaning a new route or doing some serious work at the belay. The mesh back material is breathable and allows a significant measure of stretch for an enhanced fit. The integrated clip-in hole for easy carry rounds out this lightweight yet supremely functional glove. In testing we ordered two pairs of the Belay Slave gloves; one pair slightly downsized for a more dexterous fit, and one pair slightly over-sized to be used with light fleece liners in colder conditions. Overall the downsized pair preformed phenomenally, and if only one pair of belay gloves is needed for warmer conditions, this is absolutely the way to go. However, when we stuffed an old pair of fleece glove liners into the larger gloves and used them on a few frigid belays, the gloves were still surprisingly form-fitting and performed with a quality degree of sensitivity. Of course, if you’re in need of a waterproof glove for the alpine or other mountaineering applications, this glove isn’t the smartest choice, but if you’re looking for a high quality yet inexpensive belay glove for spring, summer and fall, the Belay Slave is an excellent option.

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Alex Megos on his one day send of Dreamcatcher, 14d. P: Ken Etzel

Distributed by Trango | |




he new Lifeguard from Mad Rock can be described as a lightweight, compact and versatile assisted braking device with two remarkable features: The device has been entirely constructed using hot forged aircraft grade aluminum and stainless steel for incredible durability, and the Lifeguard can be used with the same belay techniques as a tube-style device. The cam action of the Lifeguard is essentially less-sticky than other assisted devices which allows rope to feed through the device without the need to apply pressure on the cam to override the assisted breaking function. Because of this, when using the Lifeguard properly the belayer’s break hand can consistently and firmly grip the break strand of the rope while feeding or taking in slack.

While the Lifeguard specifies that it can be used with ropes ranging in diameters between 8.9mm and 11mm, in testing we did find that thinner ropes provided a safer and much more pleasant belaying experience. When we tested the Lifeguard with a few thicker or more heavily used ropes, the device had a tendency to lock up when attempting to feed slack using the advised method. In these cases it was quite difficult to override the device and continue feeding slack. Yet as we downsized our cords into 9.5mm and thinner we found the Lifeguard to feed quite well. When we used ropes below 9.2mm the Lifeguard fed beautifully. The Lifeguard’s light weight and heavy-duty construction make it well suited for topmanaged belays on multipitch climbs and backcountry outings.

DMM ALPHA SPORT { $26.95 - $28.50 }


workhorse quickdraw needs to withstand a lot of abuse, especially on projects where repeated falls are taken. Bolt hangers can be very unforgiving of lightweight biners, particularly when dogging a route and taking repeated redpoint falls. With this in mind DMM has placed an Alpha Pro carabiner at the bolt end of their Alpha Sport quickdraw; a biner that is thick enough to withstand the abuse of multiple falls and yarding up on bolt hangers but also includes an improved grip and ergonomics to help with hard-to-reach clips. DMM has also designed their Alpha Sport quickdraw with a robust sling section that is easy to grab and remarkably durable. The sling also tapers down to a neat 16mm at the ends to ensure the sling sits securely in the crook of the carabiner and always loads correctly. The addition of a rubber loop running on the inside of the dogbone adds yet more stability. The Alpha Sport draw is robust and strong enough to cope with demanding sport climbing scenarios, but it stands out from the crowd with its exceptional handling qualities. The kinked spine and gripped groove pattern on the apex of the rope-end carabiner is very easy to handle regardless of your clipping style. For “comp-clipping” the bent gate of the Alpha Clip biner, with its flared-out barrel shape, works well with the kinked and groove-patterned spine. Although we did not test the Alpha Sport draw in winter conditions, we did notice that the draw was large enough to accommodate folks with fat fingers and seemed to work well with gloved hands. The Alpha Sport Quickdraw now comes with a stylish logo, and at the rope end biner there is a clean injectionmolded keeper. This keeps the biner locked down and correctly aligned, ensuring easy clipping and optimum loading and also protects the webbing from abrasion.

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CLIMBER Matt Fultz LOCATION Reality Check (5.12b/c), Promontory PHOTOGRAPHER Dean Fleming


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CLIMBER Lonnie Kauk ROUTE Peace (5.13a), Medlicott Dome, Tuolumne Meadows. PHOTOGRAPHER Jim Thornburg


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CLIMBER Jim Thornburg ROUTE Dominion (5.10a), Sugar Loaf PHOTOGRAPHER Dean Fleming


Castle Rock Spire looming over Sequoia National Forest. IMAGE + GALEN ROWELL




EDITOR’S NOTE: When Greg Donaldson, Ian Raistrick and Walt Vennum reached the summit of Castle Rock Spire in 1974 they became the 13th team to successfully complete an ascent of this incredible backcountry needle. With a logistically and environmentally daunting approach and difficult climbing on all aspects, Castle Rock Spire is widely considered California’s most difficult summit to attain.

Shortly after his 1947 ground breaking ascent of the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite Valley, John Salathe made three attempts to climb Castle Rock Spire; a nearly 1,000-foot tall thin granite blade jutting abruptly from the forest above the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park. Salathe’s last attempt to summit Castle Rock Spire resulted in its second ascent. Upon returning from his successful climb he called this formation the “most spectacular rock tower in the Sierras outside Yosemite Valley.” Any climber, even a neophyte, who drives into Sequoia National Park along the General’s Highway from Visalia will immediately spill their open beer and loudly exclaim: “What the fuck is that?” when he or she gets their first glimpse of the Spire. Several miles farther on, those who stop long enough to hike the short easy trail to the top of Moro Rock will stare across the intervening valley of the Kaweah in speechless awe. After three failed attempts by Jim Wilson, Phil Bettler, John Salathe and Will Siri, the first ascent of Castle Rock Spire was finally made in 1950 by Bettler, Wilson, Siri, Bill Long and the legendary Allen Steck via the Wilson Route (IV 5.9 A2). From the notch south of the spire the team traversed 4th class terrain across the lower east face for


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two pitches to the base of a 5.8 chimney/gully system which ends at a large ledge behind a huge partially detached flake known as the Dark Tower. Above this ledge the climbing is considerably more continuous and difficult. Several pitches of mixed aid, cracks and moderately dicey face climbing end on the tiny pointed summit. To this day seven different routes have been established to the top of Castle Rock Spire, yet only the Wilson Route [often referred to as the Regular Route] and the Direct East Face have been climbed more than once. Through 2016 (66 years after its first ascent) the Spire has been climbed by fewer than 60 parties with only around 200 people having stood on top of this fantastic dagger-shaped granite needle. Yet if Castle Rock Spire were located in Yosemite Valley, or some other more readily accessible location, it would certainly be more famous than the Lost Arrow Spire, would have been climbed several thousand times and might have been included in Steve Roper and Allen Steck’s book “50 Classic Climbs of North America.”


Bruce Binder with a presumed copy of the original summit register. IMAGE + BRANDON THAU

“I am 60 feet up in an oak tree on a brush-infested ridge in Sequoia National Park. That is about as specific as I can get on our location. Pat, Kenn and I have spent the last 3.5 hours struggling upward through shoulder-high poison oak; burrs and foxtails matting in our hair; filthy sweat and tears leaving tracks through the dirt and poison oak oil on our skin until absorbed by the tangle of crud coating us. Pat and Kenn are somewhere below. I lost sight of them about an hour ago while crawling through a particularly thick jungle of poison oak and buck brush. I brush off yet another tick, this one lovingly exploring the tender spot behind my left ear. From my lookout in the tree, I can see not a thing that would give us any clue as to where we are, or where we want to be, if only we knew where that was. As the cursing, thrashed pair arrived below, I descend through the heat (mindful of how little water we have remaining) to a desperate conference amid the tangle of sticker-bushes on the ridge top: Pat thinks we may be on the wrong mountain entirely. We both agree that, if we are on the right ridge, we’re at least 2,000 feet too high. We all three agree that we’re doomed.” - BRUCE BINDER ON THE APPROACH IN 1993

From the top of Moro Rock, Castle Rock Spire appears tantalizingly close; however, it quickly becomes obvious that this is an illusion. The only easy approach would be by parachute or helicopter, both of which would, of course, be frowned upon by the Park Service. Neither of the two possible approaches is trivial; both are long, arduous, time consuming and have been known to make grown men cry. The most commonly used approach starts at the Buckeye Flat Campground adjacent to the General’s Highway about four miles inside the park entrance station. This approach gains close to 5000’ elevation and is absolutely brutal. Its first crux, especially on a hot summer day, is getting past the huge delectable swimming hole where Paradise Creek flows into the middle fork of the Kaweah. Soon after the Paradise Creek Trail swings away from the stream it crosses a steep-sided ravine where a faint game trail branches left (east). From here the Castle Rock Trail climbs very gradually east for about five miles until it crosses three distinct closelyspaced small drainages. The last of these leads into the approach gully which trends southeast along the east side of the spire and provides access to the notch behind the spire. Unfortunately the Castle Rock Trail had not been maintained since about the time of the original ascent. Here climbers with ambitions of summiting the spire face thickets of head high Manzanita tangled with deadfalls, laced with man-eating poison oak, covered with ticks and ants, crawling with rattlesnakes and very hungry marauding black bears. More than a few parties have flunked their approach test and never reached the base of the spire. Others have worn hazmat suits, taken pre-trip baths in Tecnu and/or DEET, carried machetes, worn gloves, brought a second set of clothes to change into for the climb or later


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gone to the hospital with severe poison oak rash. The careless and casual individual who glances quickly at a map might conclude it would be easier to approach from near Atwell Mill Campground along the Mineral King Road to drop down on the spire from above, do the climb, then walk out downhill to Buckeye Flat where friends have shuttled your vehicle. Fred Beckey has been around for a long time, a very long time and has an almost incomprehensible amount of mountaineering experience. In early November 1973 Rick Boyce and I paid a very heavy price for ignoring his advice: “Don’t approach the spire from above unless you know the way intimately.”


Rick Boyce and Greg Donaldson scrunched their lanky frames into my Volkswagen square back and we joined the mass exodus of lemmings that migrate out of the San Francisco Bay area every Friday evening. Sometime after 1am we cruised slowly through the suburbs of Visalia searching for a homeless encampment where we could spend what little remained of the night. At first light we made an impromptu alpine start, running out of a cotton field on the outskirts of town at first light dragging our sleeping bags behind us while being drenched in noxious chemicals by a crop duster flying so low we could almost reach up and touch its wheels. Wishing to avoid the masochistic Buckeye Flat approach we decided to reach the spire from above, yet unlike Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats the Mineral King Road is not conducive to the setting of world land speed records and late morning, very late morning, arrived before we started our approach hike from Atwell Mill Campground towards Castle Rock Spire. Following the Paradise Ridge Trail north a few miles, we then turned west along a ridge blanketed in almost impenetrable carnivorous Manzanita. At the end of a rather un-enjoyable day we made a dry camp along the ridge crest somewhere in the vicinity of Paradise Peak. The huge roaring campfire we made from dead Manzanita branches would today most likely get us taken out by a drone strike.


Rick Boyce bivouacking behind the Dark Tower. IMAGE + WALT VENNUM

“At this point, we are both out of water with a long dry night in front of us. It’s not critical at this point. Once down after a couple quick pitches we can get snow in the gully. Well, when dehydrated performance degradation happens, things grind to a halt. Misery creeps up your throat as a cough that doesn’t quite clear. The only reason more people don’t die from dehydration is that it takes a while.” - ROBERT BEHRENS WITH DAVE DALY ON THE REGULAR ROUTE IN JUNE, 2010

The next morning Greg was not feeling well and after a hasty discussion he agreed to hike back to Atwell Mill Campground and shuttle the car to Buckeye Flat. Rick and I both expected to find the spire just over the ridge crest, but it was nowhere in sight and thus still a long ways off with the deep intervening Manzanita-choked valley of Dome Creek directly in front of us. Like little lost children the two of us descended into that bottomless abyss along the east side of the Castle Rock Massif, past a fairyland of domes, towers and turrets heading in the general direction of where we assumed the spire might be. Its location is not marked on the Triple Divide Peak 15’ Quadrangle Map, the only detailed topo then available. Hours later after nearly being swallowed alive by malevolent Manzanita we finally sighted Castle Rock Spire, although it took yet another hour to slide down a steep brushy talus slope into the notch behind it. Bravely, or perhaps foolishly, we free soloed the fourth class traverse out of the notch. Well, sort of. Sandbagged yet again; the last 30-feet is a 5.6 downward slanting traverse over the top of loose flakes. Rick led the chimney/gully system up to the long ledge behind the Dark Tower using large hex nuts and bongs driven sideways for pro. Above the far end of this ledge I nailed 50-feet up an easy, but moderately strenuous slightly overhanging corner to a small roof. After turning the roof on its left side I was able to go free up a narrow trough to a semihanging stance below a second roof. If done free (5.11b) this pitch is the crux of the route. Rick cleaned the pitch and we rappelled down to the ledge to spend the night.


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After a frigid bivouac we peered down into the valley of the Kaweah River far below. Long narrow streaks of fiery red clouds rapidly streamed eastward up river. Ignoring the obvious and inevitable we ascended our fixed line with the naïve hope of summiting before the storm hit. Rick was 50-feet out from my cramped belay on poorly protected 5.8 or 5.9 face climbing when the first snowflakes began to drift down from a now lead-grey sky. He very carefully reversed his lead and we rapped off; back to our bivouac site then straight down into the approach gully. By then snow was falling heavily, huge big wet flakes. We descended for over two hours dropping almost 1,000-feet over wet slippery snow-covered loose rocks and water polished slabs, making the occasional short rappel before the gully flared out into open forest. Here we crossed a faint, but well defined path. Had we recognized this as the abandoned Castle Rock Trail we could have easily followed it west into the Paradise Creek Drainage. Instead we continued down the stream course although we were forced out of it into the Manzanita innumerable times to bypass waterfalls. Late in the day the stream we were following poured over a 200-foot tall cliff into the Kaweah. We bashed down river close to half a mile through the most dense thicket of Manzanita of our entire journey until the cliff diminished enough in height that we could rappel directly into the water. After thrashing across the thigh deep icy cold river we crawled 500-feet uphill on our stomachs through mud and wet snow underneath yet more clawing Manzanita, dragging our packs behind us by slings attached to our feet. Eventually, finally, we reached the Middle Fork Trail and followed it a few miles to Buckeye Flat Campground. Fortunately for us Greg was there, although he had waited over 24 hours with little to eat and only Rick’s calculus textbook to read for entertainment. The snow had stopped by then and through sporadic breaks in the clouds we caught glimpses of the spire we’d failed to climb; it looked like Cerro Torre. Rick and I threw our soaked shredded clothes into a trash can and the three of us drove home. Whatever any of us were obligated to do on Monday just didn’t happen.


Galen Rowell leads new terrain on an early ascent of Castle Rock Spire. IMAGE + GALEN ROWELL COLLECTION

“After much gnashing of teeth, I set out on a relatively straightforward C1 crack really wishing I had some water. The crack is dirty and in spots bushy. I taste earth each time I dig out a placement. Try to spit it out only to realize my throat is dry and nothing is expelled. Choking it down I move on to the next placement Fortunately for us, we came prepared somewhat. Dave wanted to toast Brutus at the top, so we brought a Sapporo gold reserve. We savored each slurp, saving some for the summit and the raps. At this point we settled in for a long night 1am to 5am with cramped toes, hanging in our harness trying not to kick each other’s toes as we shift weight. I brought a space blanket. A lesson from Brutus and Em and others, and we wrapped ourselves in mylar trying to stay warm now that the climbing movement had ended. At some point I convince Dave to start racking gear since he was shivering. I worry something might get dropped, but he manages fine. As the sun’s rays warm us, we know we’re going to be fine.” - ROBERT BEHRENS WITH DAVE DALY ON THE REGULAR ROUTE IN JUNE OF 2010


The following year Greg and I returned to Castle Rock Spire along with an English climber, Ian Raistrick and his then girlfriend, later wife Darien Hopkins who was soon to become the first woman president of Stanford University’s Alpine Club. In direct contrast to our alpine start from the Visalia cotton field seven months earlier we did not overcome our lethargy and leave the swimming hole at the mouth of Paradise Creek to start up the trail until 5pm, our excuse being the stifling afternoon heat. Only our amusement at Ian’s concern over the massive and frequent mounds of steaming bear droppings broke the tedium of our hike. Not long before dark we dropped our sleeping bags directly onto the trail next to a small stream of clear water desperately hoping the bear (or Sasquatch) that had left its calling cards behind earlier that day would not return before morning. Early the next afternoon we had just begun to unload our packs prepatory to setting up a proposed camp in the lower end of the Approach Gully when a huge BFR, actually several huge BFRs (Big Fucking Rocks) came bounding down the upper part of the gully toward us. Greg and I instantly dove for cover. When the noise stopped and the dust settled the two of us came out of hiding. Ian and Darien had vanished and large splotches of fresh blood covered the ground. We found them 50-feet downhill sitting on a large slab. Darien was unscathed, but one of Ian’s feet was lacerated and its corresponding ankle the size of a grapefruit. In the morning Greg and I scrambled to the notch while Ian hobbled along behind. By 8am we were across the traverse. Greg took the aid pitch above the ledge behind the Dark Tower then Ian, in spite

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of his badly swollen ankle, made a brilliant lead of the devious next rope length which goes up and right to a nebulous corner then back left into a slanting crack. This pitch is easily the crux of the route. Above here the climbing is far more straightforward: climb over a roof into a 5.6 chimney followed by a 100-foot A1 crack that ends on a small ledge near the base of a gendarme on the summit ridge. A short section of third class, two more aid placements in a shallow corner and we scrambled to the top. On the narrow, pointed summit of Castle Rock Spire, the names in the summit register read like a who’s who of the 1950s and 60s California climbing scene: Jerry Gallwas, David Hammack, Andy Lichtman, Joe McKeown, Anton“Ax”Nelson, John Ohrenschall, Mark Powell (4 times), Chuck Pratt (twice), Dave Rearick, Steve Roper, Mike Sherrick, Don Wilson, Chuck Wilts, Galen Rowell, TM Herbert, Joe McKeown and other luminaries. Beverly Powell became the first woman on the summit when she was part of the 10th ascent party in 1964. On July 6, 1984, long active Southern Sierra climber Eddie Joe and two of his friends spent a night on the exposed summit. This author can think of very few other places in the world that would be such an esoteric and sublime bivouac spot. Far to our west rays of the setting sun were backlighting small specks slowly motoring up the General’s Highway; RVs whose occupants were on their way to check yet one more American national park off their vacation list. Our return to Buckeye Flat was uneventful until we found a ticket on our car window for parking on the roots of a Manzanita bush. Forty plus years later that ticket remains unpaid.



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EVOLUTION A view of the lush Darwin Bench above the John Muir Trail.

JULY 1997 GALEN ROWELL STRETCHED A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP across the hood of his Suburban, reached in his pocket and then bit the gnarled cap off a Sharpie marker. “Drive over to Bishop in a couple days, park up here at North Lake and follow this route.” He drew a line past a couple lakes and up a shallow valley that led to Lamarck Col. “There’s no trail down the other side but just follow the canyon then contour left staying high as you descend to Evolution Lake. We’ll be camped on this peninsula.” He circled the spot. “It’ll only take you a couple hours with a light pack and your gear will be waiting in camp. We’ll see you next week.” He smiled, folded the map and handed it to me with a mischievous grin. The horses were being saddled and the preparations were complete for a trans-Sierra adventure through Evolution Valley. Galen’s wife Barbara was coming, which meant this wouldn’t be a backpacking trip. Camp chairs, tents, art supplies and climbing gear were piled high on the loading dock at Florence Lake Pack Station. A chef was along to prepare meals. Inside the food boxes and ice chests were steaks, cases of wine, bricks of cheese, heads of lettuce, and every imaginable convenience. I’d been baited and hooked.

Dinner and dessert had come and gone but Peter Croft, the notorious Yosemite free soloist, was still bellied up next to the kitchen. I reached out and shook a hand that felt as big as a catcher’s mitt, probably stammering something stupid in my star-struck daze. Sitting next to him was Yosemite speed climbing legend Hans Florine who, with Peter, held the current record for the Nose route on El Capitan. I’d been following the careers of these men since I started climbing in the late 80s. Also present were Dick and Kit Duane. Dick was Galen’s lawyer, the same one who worked to preserve Camp 4 as a National Historic Site. I inhaled the salad while getting caught up on what everyone had been climbing over the past few days. Between quaffs of Cabernet Sauvignon Peter gestured toward the high peaks and told the story. Starting in the wee hours of the previous morning he and Galen had climbed Mt. Mendal and across to the summit of Darwin. Peter had wanted to start farther North at Darwin Bench, adding a mile of technical climbing to the ridge. But Galen, who had spontaneously done a solo ascent of the Southwest Buttress of Mt Darwin the day before, couldn’t be convinced. He had previsualized a photograph that would require them to arrive back at the summit shortly after sunrise. The resulting image of Peter with an angelic diffraction fringe around his entire body would later grace the cover of Croft’s 2002 guidebook: “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome.” They continued soloing to the south but at some point Galen, whose hands were raw and bleeding, came to an impasse. “I don’t think I can climb that,” he told Peter who was already half way down the exposed off-width crack. “Well, I guess I’ll meet you back at camp” came the reply. Peter continued alone, tagging six more 13,000-foot summits before dark. I stared at the two of them as they pointed at peaks up and down the valley, trying to comprehend the scale of what they were talking about. “You climbed all those peaks in a day?” I asked incredulously. It would take another decade and a half for this to fully compute.

“THE GRAND CRESCENDO OF THE HIGH SIERRA RISES UP AT ONCE TO TOUCH THE HEART OF THE ARTIST AND THE MOUNTAINEER.” As a young climber and photography student I had been mesmerized by Rowell’s photos and adventure stories that were published in National Geographic, Outside and other major magazines. When I had the opportunity to work with Galen after graduating college, I jumped at the chance. And it didn’t take long to learn that Galen was more than just a famous climber, photographer and writer; he was also a notorious sandbagger. A “couple hours” to Evolution Lake turned into eight as I followed the map over a nearly 13,000’ pass through lush alpine gardens and glacial tarns without acclimatization. At the Col I got my first look at the Evolution Region, a paradise of 13,000-foot peaks at the heart of the John Muir Trail. I gazed across at stunning views of Mt Mendel and Darwin with their flat summits, glaciers, and milky blue melt ponds. A string of stunning lakes dotted Darwin Canyon while an enormous wave cloud formed overhead. It is understandable why Walter Starr Jr. described this place as where “the grand crescendo of the High Sierra rises up at once to touch the heart of the artist and the mountaineer.” When I finally arrived at the Rowell’s base camp on Evolution Lake, Barbara had the chef prepare a salad while Galen poured me a glass of wine. “Let me introduce you to a couple people” he said.

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TOP Rob McKay hiking into the Evolution Range. BOTTOM Evolution Creek below Mt. Huxley.

— I NEEDED A GOOD PARTNER. I DESCENDED DARWIN’S WEST FACE, DROVE HOME AND CALLED BRAD PARKER. OVER THE NEXT TWO SUMMERS PETER WOULD return and put the pieces together, ultimately doing the first continuous Evolution Traverse from Darwin Bench to Mt. Huxley; solo, in a day, with a hangover. In a report to the American Alpine Journal he wrote: “This is the best traverse that I have done in the Sierra. It has a clear beginning and end, the rock is excellent, and unlike many traverses, the line of least resistance is on the very crest for virtually all eight miles. The route (VI 5.9) starts on the westsouthwest ridge of Peak 13,360 and then traverses on over Mendel, Darwin, Peak 13,322, Haeckel, Wallace, Fiske, Warlow, and Huxley.” The “Sierra Wave,” a long band of lenticular clouds, was now well formed above the crest as I wiped the last delicious drop of balsamic vinaigrette off my plate with a piece of buttered sourdough.“Would you like to photograph the sunset with me?” Galen asked as he shouldered his camera bag. “It looks like it’ll be pretty good.” I grabbed my own gear and tried to keep up as he jogged off to a nearby reflection pond where we witnessed the most dramatic sunset I’d ever seen. After breakfast the following day Peter headed back over the Col toward Bishop while Galen and Hans set out to climb a wall above Sapphire Lake. I went fly fishing and relaxed. The next morning several of us racked up for the impressive north buttresses of Mt. Huxley, which Galen believed were unclimbed. Hans and I formed one team and started up a direct line on the diamond shaped Northwest Buttress while Galen and Dick scaled the Northeast Buttress. Both routes offered quality alpine granite with long, clean cracks. Pitch after pitch went by until the terrain eased and we could solo to the summit. Galen made a point of being first to the top and jokingly noted that he was nearly twice my age. We glissaded down gullies, laughing like teenagers as we descended toward camp after an unforgettable day. For the next three years I worked for Galen and Barbara running their gallery and photography workshops. Though our relationship wasn’t perfectly smooth, the bond formed over many adventures had created a friendship that endured until the Rowell’s untimely deaths in a small plane crash in 2002. Galen left behind a rich legacy of pursuing passion, inspiring thousands with his prolific photos, books and articles. The Evolution region would live only as fond memories in the coming years as my own career, expeditions, and other objectives took priority.

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AUGUST 2013 FORTY. HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN? I still felt twenty four, okay maybe thirty two, but no shit, I was forty. The sharp drive that had once fueled my motivation for pure adventure was evolving. I sought a personal project that had purpose, a goal that would make me reach and compel me to train. The Evolution Traverse checked all the right boxes. A complete ascent of the traverse would be a return to my roots, a meaningful tribute to Galen, a physical challenge, and a visual feast. Since Peter’s full ascent in 1999 the Evolution Traverse (VI 5.9) had become a classic for serious Sierra climbers. Dozens of parties had repeated it and posted detailed trip reports online. I began devouring maps, photos, and any beta I could find, finally deciding to try the climb solo. In late August I set out with a friend to study the peaks and wrap my mind around the complexity of the terrain. Once home I couldn’t wait to return so I drove back for an exploratory attempt. Twelve hours after leaving the car I arrived exhausted and nearly out of water at Mt. Darwin. I shivered all night on the summit without a sleeping bag and at sunrise scanned the ridge as it dropped precipitously to the south. Huxley seemed impossibly far away. Soloing was gratifying, but I wasn’t Peter Croft. I looked down the remaining six miles of narrow ridgeline and knew that I needed a good partner. I descended Darwin’s west face, drove home and called Brad Parker.


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McKay makes the precarious downclimb on the ridgeline of Mt. Darwin.

AUGUST 16, 2014 “WELCOME TO HEAVEN” BRAD HAD LAUGHED A YEAR later as he belayed his girlfriend up onto the dramatic coffee table sized summit of Cathedral Peak. They were having the time of their lives in the high country of Yosemite National Park. An accomplished yoga instructor, surfer, cyclist and climber, Parker (aka “B-Rad”) was chiseled, eternally smiling and looking like a stud. He had modeled for many of my projects, even appearing on the cover of California Climber’s first issue. Having just returned from an epic surf trip in Indonesia, his bronzed skin seemed to radiate enthusiasm. We were planning to climb the Evolution Traverse in less than two weeks but after a run together it was apparent that his legs weren’t in mountain shape. “Dude, you need some instant fitness!” I told him. He stretched out a cramping thigh along the trail as we laughed about making packets of “Instant Fitness” to sell out of the back of my white van. Evolution wouldn’t be technically difficult for Brad, but it was longer, more committing and continuously dangerous than any other climb he had done. “Day one will be the hardest day you’ve had in the mountains,” I cautioned. “You need to be in shape for day two.” He went to Tuolumne that weekend to acclimatize and solo some easy peaks. Brad and his girlfriend Jainee Dial had been together for just over a year and were going through the expected growing pains. She agreed to join him in Tuolumne where they could spend time together and work things out. They climbed to the summit of Cathedral Peak, took in the view and discussed their dreams, goals and future. They agreed to commit to each other and to the relationship. Jainee later wrote: “I felt this sense of grandeur that enlivened me from my toes to my skull. We hooted and hollered from our rocky perch, and the exultation we both felt seemed to lift us up into an earthly heaven.” Cathedral Peak was an easy route for Brad and he wanted to put in more training. Jainee hiked back to the car with the gear while Brad ran three miles over to Matthes Crest, a classic 5.7 ridge traverse he had done several times before. He made good time, passed several parties and had a brief conversation with another team who later reported that he was cramping and out of water. Back at the car Jainee took her time preparing the meal, but as darkness fell she began to worry.

EVOLUTION WOULDN’T BE TECHNICALLY DIFFICULT FOR BRAD, BUT IT WAS LONGER, MORE COMMITTING AND CONTINUALLY DANGEROUS THAN ANY OTHER CLIMB HE HAD DONE. In the evening twilight a group of three Canadian women hiked below Matthes Crest, having just completed the regular South-North Traverse. Like most roped parties, they rappelled from the North Summit after signing the register. As they began hiking toward their camp at Echo Lake, one of them pulled out a camera and snapped a single parting shot of the route before noticing a soloist. They watched Brad for a moment then continued walking. A minute later they heard a scream. They were rushing up the slope to give aid even while his body still tumbled. Soon the local newspapers reported on the tragic love story and it was broadcast around the globe. My phone rang off the hook with network producers who wanted photos of Brad and verification of sensationalized sound bites. I was still reeling from the news of his death, couldn’t get ahold of anybody, and had no idea what had actually happened. The only recourse was to direct them away from the tragic way he died and focus instead on the incredible life he lived.



AUGUST 21ST, 2014 I PARKED THE CAR IN A CROWDED PULLOUT ALONG the Sonoma Coast, popped the trunk and gazed at my faded crash pad. Brad and I had fallen on that pad so many times. It could have been like any other day at the Sunset Rocks except for a single strand of prayer flags flapping in the breeze between the boulders. Within the circle of ancient stones the tribe was grieving a lost brother. They sat on rocks, in the grass, embracing, sharing stories and remembering the way he always had us on belay, even after the ropes were coiled and gear was put away. His tremendous energy was palpable the next day as surfers, climbers, friends and family gathered for a paddle out ceremony in the Russian River mouth. In the days that followed we began realizing Brad’s impact on our personal lives. He had constantly made connections, introductions, and worked to extend a network of positivity. All those individuals now bonded together and blossomed into a huge, beautifully unified community. A non-profit called the B-Rad Foundation was later formed to carry on Brad’s legacy through community wellness and stewardship projects. Meanwhile Rob McKay, a long time mutual friend and climbing partner, and I began strategizing a secret mission to do the Evolution Traverse as a last climb with Brad. When we shared our plan with Brad’s parents, Bill and Gale Parker, I worried that they wouldn’t want us to go. Instead they asked questions and listened intently.

SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2014 ROB, BRAD AND I LEFT CAMP AND BEGAN CLIMBING above Darwin Bench before sunrise. It was familiar terrain now, having climbed it a year before almost to the day. The air felt thin as our lungs strained to acclimatize. We reached the ridge and navigated the convoluted terrain toward Mt. Gould. I pulled Brad out of my pack at the summit and felt the dry ash between my fingertips. It was pretty surreal to be soloing in the mountains with him in my pack. Were we making good decisions? I released a pinch of powder in the breeze as Rob signed the three of us into the register. Technical and exposed terrain lay ahead as we negotiated several towers and gaps en route to Mt. Mendel. On each peak we would release a little bit of Brad as we made this one last epic climb together. Eventually an exposed scramble took us across the narrow ridge from Mendel to Darwin’s vast plateau. Given the history of this location, I wanted to create a meaningful photograph that would document our experience and express the strong spiritual connections we felt. On the same small summit block where Peter had posed for Galen seventeen years earlier, Rob now stood with Brad’s ashes. It was time to let him go, to let Galen go, to let them soar in the alpine heavens. “Brad Parker, I miss you.” Rob proclaimed. “I know I have to let you go, let you fly, but you will forever inspire the rest of my life. My life is forever changed because of you. I love you brother. I’ll see you again one day, on top of that mountain.” With that Rob clutched his chest and cast the ashes straight toward the great blue ether. A light wind suddenly rose and lifted the white dust upward, higher, higher until it became one with the celestial body. I climbed up and joined him on the summit as he signed the register.

WITH THAT ROB CLUTCHED HIS CHEST AND CAST THE ASHES STRAIGHT TOWARD THE GREAT BLUE ETHER. “We plan to carry Brad in our hearts and sign him into all the registers.” Concerned, Gayle asked “Are you sure you are ready?” “We couldn’t be more ready,” I replied. Bill looked me square in the eye and said, “Jerry, we would be honored if you would take Brad up there with you.” I struggled for words. “It was his dream. He was so excited to do that climb with you,” Gayle said warmly Jainee, who was sitting with us, lifted a heavy basket that had been sitting on the table. “He’s right here,” she said. “Take him.” We accepted, grateful for the opportunity to honor our friend.

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THE HOUR WAS GETTING LATE, AND HAVING SLEPT ON this summit before, I knew we had to keep moving. With a renewed sense of strength and purpose, we searched for the route and began descending. After several rappels down loose gullies, the ridge turned to a knife-edge. We climbed hand over hand across the Golden Triangle, up and down gendarmes on perfect alpine granite. The terrain was beautiful, yet the consequences of inattention were all too apparent. We moved with complete focus, stopping for photos only when the wild view and late afternoon light was too good to pass up. An exposed bivy materialized unexpectedly amid the most dramatic section of ridge so we took off our packs and relaxed as the sun set to the West and the full moon simultaneously rose to the East. The forces of nature were in balance. The next morning we set off as the moon set and sun rose. Reaching Mt. Huxley brought me back fill circle, closing a loop of time that encompassed the first seventeen years of my adult life. It contains memories of the most inspiring people I’ve known, the most spectacular adventures, and tragedies. In it, I learned that our lives are defined by the way that we spend each hour of each day. Galen taught me to find and pursue my unique vision, to do what turns me on and tell the stories that matter most. Brad lived like there was no tomorrow, filling each waking moment with positive intention. Life is too short for negativity.

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The final summit represented the end of our climb and a new beginning. At forty my life wasn’t in crisis, it was just evolving while I learned to live more purposefully, building upon a foundation of experience that would open opportunities to the future. Our traverse of the Evolution peaks didn’t set a record, and it wasn’t any kind of first. It was simply a personal mission to honor, pay tribute, and connect with those who inspired us. It brought openness rather than closure. We’ll never know what exactly happened in the final moments of the Rowell’s life, or Brad’s, yet those details seem irrelevant now. Their legacies were defined not by how they died, but by the way in which they lived.

LEFT Rob McKay approaches the South Ridge of Mt. Huxley at the conclusion of the Evolution Traverse. THIS PAGE Jerry Dodrill continues along the South Ridge of Mt. Huxley at twilight. IMAGE + ROB MCKAY


Rob McKay stops for an exposed bivouac on the South Ridge of Mt. Darwin.

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Gabrielle Nobrega climbing Terminal Velocity (V5).



n 2006 while climbing up in Gold Bar, Washington, I received a call from my buddy Dustin Sabo checking in on me to see when I’d be home. He said that the crew had found some “snaky new blocks near Boreal” and that I should “hurry up and get back before everyone snags all the new lines.” I was admittedly a bit skeptical at the news. After all, the greater Donner area had been explored enough that most people had written off these zones for new bouldering potential. I was also hesitant to leave the, at the time, almost completely devoid of humans playground that was Gold Bar for some supposed new boulders “near Boreal.” But eventually, as they tend to do, my bouldering trip around central Washington came to an end and I returned home to Reno. I vividly remember that first day walking through the forest, winding amongst the trees and blooming wild flowers. We walked passed so many unclimbed lines that I almost lost it. Dustin had not lied, there were indeed snaky blocks, and they were all over the place. Eventually we found our way to what the crew called the Treasure Cove area.

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After slickfooting around on the surrounding blocks to warm up, we threw ourselves at an obvious line of holds following a sloping rail out the overhanging face of the main boulder. Dustin had cracked the beta and was really close to linking the moves, while I flailed trying to comprehend how the slopey body positing worked. After a few hours of fruitless attempts on the project, what would eventually become Hotos and Hand Tools (V8) remained elusive. Our tails between our legs, we decided to wander further into the forest and see what else could be lurking. Sure enough, we stumbled upon a large square cut block that was covered with holds. I was so stoked that I ran up the back of the boulder and began down-climbing the topout in order to move some slightly treacherous fallen lumber. A few minutes of cleaning later and the House Boulder was born. Due to its size and shape, the crew originally named it the Mountain Cabin Boulder, but the name didn’t stick.

OPPOSITE PAGE Brandon Collins climbing the Campfire Arête (V6). THIS PAGE Gabrielle Nobrega climbing Warm Spot (V2).




Getting the first ascent of a climb that previously felt impossible is an absurdly addictive feeling. But for me, the most interesting part of the developing process is how a rock, once climbed, takes on an aura of its own. One that people travel great distances to sample and spend countless hours spraying about and obsessing over. <~~~>


he crew of which I speak has consisted of quite a few different people from the Truckee, Tahoe, and Reno region over the years and at one point was jokingly known as the THC, or the Truckee Haters Crew. But the main initial developers of the boulders at Castle Peak and Boreal were Ty Fairbairn, Scotty Thielien, Dustin Sabo, Dave Ficter, Warren Digness, Jimmy Hayden, Michael Eadington, Joel Zerr, and myself. Between these characters and whomever else I apologize for forgetting, it was a complete free for all for first ascents. Eventually it became a game of who could snag the best, biggest, and most climbs. Despite the vast area, we knew the amount of untapped rock was finite. The stoke was palpable. There are few thrills that can compare with the excitement of walking up to a new block and not knowing if it will be climbable. As you start to identify and clean holds you begin to guess at possible sequences. Eventually, you attempt the moves and if you’re lucky, you top out and promptly move on to the next one. If you’re really lucky, you get completely shut down and are left with the nagging question of if the block is possible at all. Skateboarding legend Rodney Mullen put it beautifully when he said that, “the biggest obstacle to creativity is breaking through the barrier of disbelief.” Seemingly endless amounts of falling combined with this suspension of disbelief eventually resulted in the establishment of classics such as Tsunami (V11), Progressive Disillusionment (V11), Endless Summer (V8), Hotos Gabe and Hand Metzger Toolsclimbing (V8), and anBody unnamed Glove(V1). (V8), to name just a few.

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Now that the Boreal and Castle Peak areas are included in the North Tahoe Bouldering Guide, there are more and more pad people journeying into the forest. Having the area shift from an untouched playground to a fairly popular destination has taught me a few lessons. One hard lesson learned is that if it’s not listed as a climb in the guide, you can be sure that people will be quick to claim the first ascent as their own; all the while marveling at how immaculately clean it was. Another lesson I’ve learned is that if you don’t name a climb or give it a grade, you can be certain that someone else will. There is far more established climbing over these sprawling hillsides that has not been published in the guidebook, so it’s easy to understand how people could assume that they are the first to wander off the trail and stumble upon new, to them, boulders. While I am happy to see people enjoying the fruit of our labor and having adventures of their own in the forest, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the unintended consequences of the popularization of climbing. Humans, boulderers especially, have a serious impact on the very environments that we hold so dear and it is very easy to take the impact of our presence too nonchalantly. The most obvious and easily preventable impact is trash. Few things make my blood boil like seeing discarded finger tape and cigarette butts around the once-pristine boulders. But there are other less obvious threats to climbing access. Take for example little plants like the Starved Daisy and Erigeron Miser for you botanically inclined readers; which as it turns out, are endemic to the Northern High Sierra and call the Castle Peak/ Boreal region home. Careless crash pads placement and wilderness tromping can easily threaten these flowers and ultimately access. It is imperative that we be proactive in our adhering to conscious land use practices and actively attempt to mitigate the negative aspects of our pursuits on the land. I feel honored to have been so lucky to be a part of such a unique moment in time and to have had free reign in this amazing area for so long. I only hope that we can ensure the sustainability of our actions so we can share the aura of this great resource with future generations.

greenhouse gas-hole

THE BETA GETTING THERE From I-80 take the “Boreal” exit just west of Donner Summit. Immediately turn north (right if headed west on I-80, left if headed east on I-80). Follow this road for about 1.4 miles until it reaches the parking area for the Pacific Crest Trail. The first boulders are located after about a 15-minute walk up the Pacific Crest Trail. For detailed approach descriptions and route locations, pick up the locally produced and published guidebook available at all the nearby gear shops in the Truckee / Donner area. WHERE TO STAY There are many free camping options in and around the Tahoe National Forest. There are also very nice pay campgrounds at nearby Sterling Lake, Woodchuck and Onion Creek. GUIDEBOOK Bouldering Lake Tahoe, North West Shore Edition by Dave Hatchett.


5-STAR ROUTES Warm Spot (V2) Terminal Velocity (V5) Campfire Arête (V6)

Climb Responsibly in the Desert The desert climbing environment is uniquely fragile and full of life— and it demands specific minimum impact practices.

Avoid walking on microbiotic soil crusts, which play a critical ecological role in the desert.

Soil in the desert lacks the microorganisms to biodegrade human waste. Use a toilet or pack it out.

Wait 24-48 hours before climbing on sandstone after it rains to avoid damaging the rock.

Respect cultural resources. Look but don't touch.

Learn more at:

Eric Odenthal bouldering in Castle Valley, UT. © Whit Richardson

Photo: John Evans



Ben Rueck & Kevin Jorgeson - 1st Free Ascent September 2016