Such were the mutterings from Vitaliy as we tried to force ourselves to sleep in the frigid icebox that was our snow cave bivy at 13,600 ft on the summit plateau of Mt. Humphreys. Such sayings, while both masochistic and depraved, also seemed to embody the spirit of our intended winter objective. I’ve wanted to climb the East Arete of Mount Humphreys for years now as a mixed snow and rock climb, and I’ve twice gotten high on the route without success. But this time I fully understood what climbing the route in those conditions would entail, and I had a partner with the resolve to see things through with me.
The East Arete (II, 5.5) up 13,986’ Mt Humphreys is one of the 100 Classic Climbs of the High Sierra. Peter Croft upped the ante by recommending the full East Ridge (III, 5.5.) in his listing of the “Good, the Great, and the Awesome” of the High Sierra. This variation is several times longer, requires over twice as much elevation gain, and requires climbing up and over the 13,000 ft ‘gendarme’ on the ridge that to me seemed more like a pretty decent subpeak. Overall, the Full East Ridge, from where you first start climbing rock to the summit, is 0.9 miles long and gains about 2,330 ft, which is longer with more elevation gain than the Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse and – at least in winter – seemed harder (sans the summit blocks) and more alpine in nature . For one thing, the descent required down climbing half of the route.