On Sunday Jesse, Irene, John, Pete and I decided to go climbing at East Peak.
To say it was a learning experience is an understatement.
We arrived at Hubbard Park at about 11am. Our supplies were plentiful but our plan was vague.
The Lunchbox of Legends
Two Static Ropes
One Dynamic Rope
Slings & webbing aplenty
Water bottles aplenty
Many layers of clothes
Harnesses, shoes, biners, etc.
One guide book
Find the crag.
Climb the crag.
Our hike in started smoothly but quickly worsened as we foolishly decided to leave the trail for a scramble to the tall walls in the distance. Our path was treacherous at best as it climbed up a steep hill covered in loose rocks and leaves. The fact that our ankles survived is a minor miracle. For the better part of 45 minutes we half walked, half crawled our way to the cliff’s base where we finally met some other climbers.
John asked what the best way to the top was so that we could set up our anchors and get to climbing. We were told of two options. We could take the long trail around… or scurry up a 5.1 gully.
We chose the gully and found ourselves sloppily scrambling up yet another awkward vertical path. 40 minutes later we had reached the top with all our gear. It was now well after 1:00pm and we had yet to set up a real climb.
We walked the paths at the top of the cliff looking for a route when we finally came across what we believed to be “Thor’s Hammer.” Pete and Irene were going to rappel down after the anchors were placed, but Jesse and I (not feeling comfortable rappelling) decided to hike. This way we’d also be able to guide them in their rope placement.
John, who had prior commitments had to leave before we even started climbing. He decided to walk the trails out of the park and call us to let us know the best route.
The hike to the base was not smooth. Once again, we found ourselves without a trail holding onto roots and cracked rocks on a 35 degree incline. Upon reaching our destination, Jesse and I realized there was no turning back; we could not hike down what we had just hiked up. There was only one way out, and it was up. Balloon #1: the belay ledge of no return.
After setting up the ropes, we agreed that Jesse should climb first. It was getting close to 3:00 and we were nervous about the sun setting, leaving us stranded without head lamps. What was most disconcerting was that these routes, as described by the guide book, were not particularly easy. There was a 5.8 somewhere on the wall but it was sandwiched between a 5.11 and a 5.13. Thor’s hammer itself was a 5.9, but it required hand jams which, for us gym climbers, can make for a harrowing experience. We were unsure as to whether we would physically be able to escape from our current location. Especially if all four of us ended up at the base. And if we misplaced any of anchor’s we’d find ourselves stranded on a jagged exposed wall without any options above us, or below us.
Thankfully we all had cell phones so Jesse and I were able to call up to Irene and Pete to tell them not to rappel down until one of us had successfully climbed out. That way, in the worst scenario where someone was stranded, we could physically haul them out from the top.
Jesse attempted Thor’s Hammer. Burdened by mental uncertainties, he struggled greatly. When he finally reached the dropped anchor, we realized that it had been dropped too low (Balloon #2). In order to top out (topping out means climbing to the top and the over the top so you’re standing on the top of the cliff) Jesse would have to climb the last 20 feet or so freely. This was clearly unacceptable. So another 15 minutes passed with Jesse hanging on mid-route as Irene and Pete set up an additional anchor and eventually tossed him a line of webbing to tie into in case of emergency.
Once Jesse was up, the three of them fixed the anchor (Balloon #3) and then Irene rappelled down. She attempted Thor’s Hammer next but lost the route a third of the way up. Unfortunately, during the bottom half of the climb the anchor is about 15 feet to the left of where the crack is. So if you drop, you swing across the rock. Irene swung over to another crack and decided to climb that instead (Balloon #4). This was a 5.11 and it was not cooperating with Irene.
Once Irene topped out Pete chose not to tempt fate. He stayed on top, deciding to forfeit his climbing experience that day in exchange for safety. At the bottom, the sun had inched around the southeast facing wall and it started to get cold. I put on all my extra clothing and started tying the backpacks and the lunchbox of legends to the extra rope that they had dropped from the top. Jesse and Pete hauled that line up as I tied myself into the final rope.
I used my cell phone to call up.
mike d: “am I on belay?”
Jesse: “… irene is he on belay? Yeah mike. you’re on belay.”
and then I started my ascent up Thor’s Hammer.
Thor’s Hammer is a mildly intimidating climb. The thin red line in the image above shows the route. As you can see, it follows a corner of rock up and around a number of overhangs. The first of which is the crux (Balloon #5). When you reach this spot the roof hangs about five feet out from the wall and about five feet to the left of the crack. There’s a crack in between the overhang and the main rock face. It screams for hand jamming.
First, I pulled myself out away from the wall and splayed my feet out across the mostly barren wall below. After getting one or two feet from the crack, I stuck my forearm into the crack and squeezed my fist. It provided just enough umph to release my second hand and repeat that process. With my fists jammed in a crack over my head, I swung my feet one at a time over to a larger chip. I could then swing my left arm around the edge and grab the arete.
It was extremely awesome.
Once you get around that roof, the crack opens up enough so that you can get your elbow or knee inside. Apply torque and it’s not too difficult to inch yourself up. And because this is Trap rock, easily identifiable by its step like appearance, foot chips are numerous. once through, the crack widens further until you can fit inside and comfortably shimmy your way to the top.
I topped out just after 4pm. We quickly packed our gear and followed the trails out of the park. We finally reached the parking lot twenty minutes after sundown. What a relief it was simply to know that we were alive and well after such an adventure.
If you’re interested in seeing the rest of Pete’s photography from Sunday, check out his gallery here. He puts it nicely when he says “Overall I would say this felt less like a climbing experience and more like a survival one.”