August 28, 2011
August 28, 2011
Chris Terry and I set out to do the full traverse of Matthes Crest. I did the S-N traverse to the summit last year with the standard 5.7 finish and it was a spectacular climb with a lot of fun scrambling & simul-climbing. The northern section turned out to be far better & a more serious challenge.
This year with a faster partner we made shorter work of the standard traverse (not including delays from the crowds) and I finished with the awkward, burly & wide 5.8 crack variation. We continued north and completed the northern section just as the sun set. This section is much more technical (we pitched out 7 pitches) with many of the cruxes encountered as downclimbs with runout pro. The rock was perfect and the climbing was some of the best and most interesting that I have ever done!
This time I opted to climb the headwall taking a nice looking line to the right to avoid waiting on a party that was currently on P2-P3. This deviation was very nice, as it allowed us to reach good terrain for a nice belay and simul-climbing a pitch earlier, and making the climb faster.
It was looking to be a crowded day on Matthes as after we passed one party, we could see several more ahead of us. As we neared the 'Fin', I was surprised to find that the next two climbers ahead were my friends Sean Hermany and David Crockett. They also had intentions of doing the full traverse, so it looked like we would have company along that stretch. They were taking a break while a team of Canadians ahead finished belaying through the 5.6 bypass. Since the 'Fin' was clear and wouldn't interrupt that pitch, we ran ahead and passed the Canadians. They were part of a larger group, and there were two more teams ahead . . .
Fortunately Canadians are nice and there was plenty of room for friendly passing. In the end we all collected on the ledge beneath the crux pitch. Chris and I ate lunch while one team started up the 5.7. I had intentions of trying out the awkward 5.8 variation. A climber was on the delicate crux when he took a fall, his top piece, a nut, popped, and despite a cam holding a few feet lower, he hit the large ledge. Fortunately only his pride was injured, although his nerves were shaken enough that he was happy for us to trail a line so that he wouldn't have to make another lead attempt on that pitch.
The 5.8 is burly and awkward, but not too bad and it is an interesting variation. I think it protects better and more safely at least, and I had a much easier time leading it with a pack on.
Sean and David reached the summit just as I took off. We needed to keep our place out in front!
I downclimbed a few steps, and stopped to make an anchor a little more than 30m out. It was a bit short, but there was a nice stance with a sketch bolt and bomber piton, and it looked like the terrain became serious for a ways after. I backed up the piton easily with a gear anchor and belayed Chris in.
We knew the next pitch would be the crux, but little more beyond that. I downclimbed, attempting to balance placing gear for Chris and saving gear for the crux and not running out prematurely. The climbing went down a steep, sloping ramp that seemed to want to dump you off the ridge. It made things feel much less secure than one would expect!
3 other soloist had caught up to us at this point, and we happily let them pass. They slithered down the rock with no prolbems.
After the awkward sloping ramp, I came into a knife-edge part of the ridge in a notch. I stemmed between two flakes and downclimbed the gap between the two. I think I encountered the free crux just below this, but I felt the free crux was easier than the ramp & gap as it was much more secure and less awkward. I went down until I reached a good ledge system to traverse on to reach a very interesting series of free-standing flakes, where I set up a belay.
We had watched another set of climbers coming towards us on the North Ridge, rising into sight and falling into hiding as they wound their way up, down, and around the multitude of Stegosaurus features. We met at my belay and I was surprised to see the climbers were Stefan and Bradley, the two climbers I met on the standard Matthes traverse last year!
Unfortunately I had over conserved on pieces on the downclimb, and Chris was not happy with some of my gear spacing on the downclimbing even though I attempted to sew it up more for her around the hard parts. My bad . . .
The next sections was for me the highlight of the North Ridge. The climbing wasn't as hard as P2, but it was really cool climbing! Also, if it were much harder than I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as pro is very sparse and a fall would be very bad for leader and follower here.
We had no idea what we were getting into for routefinding and had hoped to simul climb again on the North Ridge. Climbing stayed hard and exposed enough that we ended up belaying the entire ridge in about 7 pitches, although they went relatively fast due to easier climbing and some natural running pro.
Sean and David started down after us, roped up at this point. It was almost comical seeing the gridlock develop on the crux pitch as David and Sean tried to climb down it as Stefan and Bradley were trying to climb up! Fortunately in the end they found a way around each other.
Since Chris wasn't please with my pro placement on P2, and was itching to lead more as the terrain eased, we agreed that she would lead the remainder of the pitches, leaving me at her pro-placing mercy >:-)
Apart from the 5.8 downclimbing crux, the only other specific detail I had heard about the North Ridge was a feature called "The Wave". We had wondered when we would encounter it, and we reached it near the end of the climb. Somehow it looked much more frightening in the photos I had seen before.
You do have to go a ways between pro, but the top of the wave isn't too steep, and there are lots of knobs that made for secure footing.
There is a nice piton halfway along The Wave, but it is in the flakes projecting off of the crest, pointing away from the climber and out of view, so you have to search over the edge for it as you go along.
Surprisingly the crux of The Wave was the downclimb off of it (somewhat in keeping with the rest of the route). Chris found a blind pro placement around the edge partway down, but downclimbing to it was intimidating! I would definitely say that the North Ridge is easier to climb going N to S than S to N as all of the cruxes seemed to be downclimbs.
After the wave the climbing becomes cl. 4 to low 5th at most so it seems like a natural place to unrope or simul.
Most climbers skip the last two gendarmes on the ridge as they begin or end the route, as you can access the ridge via some class 4 slabs. We were having so much fun we decided to climb on, staying near the crest, intending to go over the gendarmes and walk off onto Echo Ridge.
Unfortunately it was getting late in the day and we had a long ways to go out, so in the end we stopped short of the gendarmes and downclimbed class 4 slabs a pitch further than where Sean and David descended.
Since we finished the climb around the same time, Chris, Sean, Dave and I had a nice hike out together in the dark via Budd Lake. Trying to find our way around the Echo Peaks in the dark we only got lost 3 or 4 times . . .
"The Fin", "Happy Flake" and "Buddha Flake" are all names I have whimsically given to these features since I haven't seen them called anything else. "The Wave" name is more 'official'.