Continued from: Matthes Crest, South to North Traverse (III, 5.7)
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 and simul-climbing. The northern section turned out to be far better and 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 and 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!
Looking back on the standard S-N section (III, 5.7). This is on the easy simul-climbing section that lasts for one-third of a mile.
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.
Looking ahead on the standard S-N section on the easy simul-climbing section. The summit is on the far right and the Canadians (blue, distant) are at the 5.6 crux of the traverse between the headwall and summit pitches. They took the SuperTopo way left while I passed them running right up the Fin!
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 . . .
Chris Terry downclimbing a cl. 4 chimney as we passed the second group of Canadians.
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.
Crowded day on the summit. 5 on it now, and another 2 are close behind! I'm starting onto the northern section of the ridge.
Sean and David reached the summit just as I took off. We needed to keep our place out in front!
First anchor, with old crappy bolt and old but better Knife Blade piton.
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.
Looking back up P1 of the N section.
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!
Looking down the steep and exposed crux pitch (P2) of the northern section. 3 soloists are running ahead. In white above is Stefan, who I met on the S-N traverse last year. This year he is climbing the N Ridge N to S
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.
Heading north on the ridge just at the crux, midway through P2.
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 and 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 'Happy Flake'. I placed a #1 C3 at the top of the crack, then went 20-30 ft or so to my next piece of pro, hand traversing, straddling, and stemming across wild flakes!
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.
Looking back on the 'Happy Flake' as I'm stemming to the next flake. I placed a #1 C3 about 15-20 ft back, and there is no pro in sight! Hand traversing, straddling, and stemming across wild flakes!
Looking back on the 'Happy Flake' from my 2nd piece of pro on the pitch beyond the second flake. I placed a #1 3CU about 20-30 ft back and here I got in a small nut. Hand traversing, straddling, and stemming across wild flakes! The drape in the rope is not from pro but from the rope caught on a granite node.
Sean Hermany about to down-follow the crux 5.8 2nd pitch.
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.
Gridlock on Matthes Crest! Looking back on P2 and 3 from the belay. 2 teams of climbers are passing each other on the 5.8 crux 2nd pitch and Chris is about to climb towards me on the 'Happy Flake' that the rope is draped over.
Looking back on P2 and 3 from the belay. 2 teams of climbers are passing each other on the 5.8 crux 2nd pitch and Chris is about to climb towards me on the 'Happy Flake' that the rope is draped over.
Chris riding the "Happy Flake".
Chris riding the 'Happy Flake' on the really fun 3rd pitch.
Chris beginning the tenuous downclimb exit from the 'Happy Flake' to the next flake. Next to turn around, stem, and climb onto the next flake! Distance to the next piece of pro made this rather thrilling.
Chris relaxing on 'Buddha Flake'?
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 >:-)
Looking north from P3 belay. The climbing difficulty eases up a bit but is still pretty sustained and with tricky routefinding.
Chris leading out on P4. Between us is an interesting 5.6-5.7 wide crack downclimbing problem and some airy step-across moves to the notch she has just passed.
Sean starting P4. The route drops down and onto the left side of the crest here. Exposed!
Looking back on P4. Sean is starting one of the memorable face downclimbs.
Chris belaying at the end of P5. The dark rock to the left of her is "The Wave".
David approaching me on P5.
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.
Chris launching off on "The Wave" on P6.
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.
Rippled surface on "The Wave". No pro for a while but the climbing was easy and secure.
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.
Old piton halfway along "The Wave", the only pro on this section before the downclimb off of it.
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.
Looking back on "The Wave" on P6.
After the wave the climbing becomes cl. 4 to low 5th at most so it seems like a natural place to unrope or simul.
Chris belaying me at the end of P6. One more pitch to go to exit! We simul-climbed further hoping to go over the gendarmes but ran out of daylight and descended ca. P8.
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.
P7, where many people drop off the ridge. Still some fun climbing ahead though . . .
Looking back on "The Wave"
Sean climbing "The Wave". A blind piece placement in the mid-depth crack protects the downclimb, but it is still intimidating!
Sean finished with the downclimb and doing the tenuous step-over to exit "The Wave" and finish P6
Chris simul-leading out on P8ish. I think we don't have time for the gendarmes. Mt Conness is in the distance.
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.
Looking back on the N section of Matthes. This is where climbers usually start or end the climb (depending on which way they're heading).
Looking back on the N section of Matthes. This is where climbers usually start or end the climb.
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 . . .
Note: "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'.