Lone Pine Peak — Page 6

Andy Lewicky Climbing

The Hardline

After a long, restless night, I am eager to leave Camp Doom behind and face whatever lies ahead. As dawn paints the landscape, I pull on my boots.

It's an easy scramble down to the snow. My thoughts remain unsettled, but dawn has awakened something else in me today: a hard-edged climber who knows it is time to attend to business. When I snap into my skis, I feel something change inside me.

Camp & Owen's Valley at Dawn Granite Slabs and Ice The Drainage & Owens Valley Lone Pine Peak - Northeast Face

The climber says it's time to climb. Not for the sake of curiosity, or exploration, or delusions of glory, or any other external reason, no.

We will climb because climbing is what we do.

Climbing is who we are.

Starting at 8300', the lower gully has the appearance of being moderate in pitch. This proves to be an illusion. The route is steep right from the start, making skinning up challenging.

Once again, I am very glad to have ski crampons to increase the bite. Even so, the hardness of the snow, plus the angle, means I'll soon need to change to crampons and boot up.

An area of concern on Lone Pine Peak's northeast face are the ever-present granite slabs. These smooth sheets of rock channel rivers of water beneath the snow's surface that freeze into icy waterfalls.

Looking up, it is easy to see the impact of this on the snowpack. When the sun hits, instability will be a concern on these sections.

Without sun, the ice itself is the problem.

With a somewhat detached eye, I careful monitor the exposure below. At the same time, I look ahead for flat sections which will allow a safe transition to ice axe and crampons if needed.

On skis, skins, and ski crampons, it is actually quite easy to trap yourself. If the snow is too hard to punch your boots into, you can suddenly find yourself unable to climb higher, unable to take off your skis, unable to go down. What do you do then? Good question. Start carefully side-stepping down, keeping those ski crampon points firm to the hill, hoping you don't suddenly pop loose and go zipping down on your back.

So why play this tightrope game at all? Why not just put the skis on the back, and climb up with the security of ice ax and crampons? The ease and efficiency of ascending on skins is always a temptation. On skins today, I quickly gain a thousand feet of elevation with relatively little effort.

This gets me closer to the next big twist in the gully—and the next big unknown. If that twist reveals bare slabs of 40° granite, the climb will be over. If the section stays snow-covered, however, I'll be able to ascend all the way to the base of the great headwall. Come on, I say, as if willpower alone can put snow on the route. Make it happen.

next: The Headwall Revealed

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.