Ski Mountaineering

Devil's Crag #1, Disappointment, Wheel and Observation

July 20-27, 2001

Reiner Stenzel

What do ski mountaineers do in the snow-free summer? Mountaineering, of course! Since Owen Maloy encourages also summer trip reports here is a report of an exciting peak bagging trip:

Devil's Crag #1 is located in the remote Black Divide. It takes two days to get there, and it has the reputation of being one of the most difficult and dangerous mountaineers peaks on the SPS list.

Since I had ambitions to climb it I talked R.J. Secor into this private adventure and he kindly agreed to make a detour on his four-week long Sierra peak climbing schedule. I was delighted to go with someone who had done the mountain several times before. On 7/23, R.J. and I hiked down from the Palisades Lakes to the JMT. We were lucky to find a large log to cross the Kings River and then hiked up along Rambaud Creek. We actually stayed north and high above the creek to avoid the bush whacking, still it's a workout with a 50 lb pack.

Basecamp was at one of the small Rambaud Lks (10,300') NE of the Devil's Crags. Went to bed with the birds. Late, R.J. asked me "Are you really up for this one"? "Sure", I said, knowing his motto: "if you have any doubt, you are not qualified". On 7/24 we got up at 5:30 am and were on our way by 6 am. Climbed up the morained valley into Rambaud Pass (11,600') by 8 am, then climbed over an unnamed peak south of the pass into the saddle between White Top and DC#1. It was time to put on helmets and harness before starting the long ascent along the cl 4 Northwest Arete of DC#1. Ropes and pro came out when R.J. began to lead-climb the first steep and exposed section. With just two persons the rope work went fast and smoothly. The 4 hour climb consisted of intermittent free cl3 climbing and cl 4 belayed climbing. Lots of exposure along the ridge and many loose rocks. Luckily we were blessed with excellent weather, no wind, no thunderstorms.

We carefully proceeded along the ridge, passing through the "black rabbit ears", climbing the 60' cl 4 wall, traversing the hairy knife-edge with 1000' drops on each side, and finally reaching the 12,400' summit just before noon. It was a pleasure to sign in as the first in 2001. The signatures of the last 5 years fitted on less than two pages. We enjoyed the summit feeling for an hour but were not exactly relaxed since the descent is as tricky as the way up. We retraced our steps carefully, did belayed downclimbing as well as numerous rappels, and after four hours reached the saddle of White Top, i.e., safety.

The climb along the arete is not physically but mentally demanding. It requires 8 hours of concentration since mistakes can be deadly. At Rambaud Pass the adrenaline was still flowing, the sun was still high, so we decided to do Wheel as a parting shot. Easier said than done since the obvious summit was a false one and it took a detour to reach the real peak. We placed another first signature for 01 in the register and then returned by sunset. By 8pm we descended Rambaud Pass, by 9 pm the flashlights came out and by 10 pm we started happy hour at basecamp. It was a looong but great day, bagged two peaks smoothly, got not even a scratch.

Next morning, after a long sleep, we descended down to the JMT. R.J. opted for a rest day while I headed via Cataract Creek to Amphitheater Lke to climb Observation Pk (12,362') the next morning. Then it took me two days to get back to the car at South Lake while R.J. spent another 10 days climbing and hiking to Whitney Portal. Thanks, R.J., for some great climbing together.

Actually, prior to climbing Devils Crags I joined Greg Vernon, Ron Hudson and Patty Rambert on their climb of Disappointment Pk (13,917'). Unfortunately, R.J. missed us on this occasion and was pretty disappointed about Disappointment. We climbed Disappointment from the west via a class 4 chute which leads to a saddle between Balcony and Disappointment.

Some roped up for an exposed section in the chute, others climbed it free. Near the summit was a narrow but short ridge to balance across. We had perfect weather and a smooth climb, enjoyed the fine views, a 50-year old register, and a summit lunch. We descended making a detour around Balcony to avoid rapelling in the chute. On the way back we regrouped with R.J.

Summer time in the Sierras is wonderful and complementary to our spring ski season. One can climb, swim, eat fish, berries and mushrooms, and there is no worry about avalanches. But as a skier I also look forward to the time when those boring talus slopes will be covered with sweet corn snow. But no matter which season, the Range of Light is wonderful, especially when shared with good friends. My thanks to all the fine climbing partners, especially to R.J. for his company on Devils Crag.

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