Continued from: Moon Goddess Arete (IV, 5.8, 14-15ish pitches)
Despite feeling like crud, my legs still worked the next morning, and even with carrying both double ropes and the full rack & slings, I still made it from 2nd Lake to the snowfield in 50 minutes. By then I only felt mildly beat, and I only felt better as I climbed higher this day.
I had hurried ahead of the group because despite my warning that they should bring axes, they had chosen to ignore this advice, and I knew that the snowfield would not be safely passable without them. I planned to run ahead, rack up, and climb the snowfield as they were still approaching so that I could belay Chris up, & Chris could belay one of them up so that we could be free to run on for our own climb.
Just as Chris was nearing me and I was tying into the rope, I heard shouting from above
"Rock! Rock! Rock!"
I've learned from climbing in the Canadian Rockies that the best way to deal with rockfall when you are far below is to stand still and watch the rocks. Once they are almost at your level, you should then decide whether to stay put or run like hell to the left or right. This is because the rocks can ricochet at the last minute and if you run too soon you can't see what the rocks are doing and you might actually run into the line of fire.
So I stood and watched. The basketball-sized rock seemed to be falling to the right as expected, but I kept watching. Once it was within about 50 ft of me it started curving my way and then hit a bump, bouncing over to my side of the apron crest and towards the debris chute for the ledges access that I was standing in.
RUUUUN! I sprinted to my right and out of the way, then climbed the snow as quickly as I could to get out of the way of any more potential rockfall.
I found out later that the culprit was my friend Chris D and Bryan B. :-P
Today I climbed up the debris chute in the snow to the moat beside the ledges to gain them, and this turned out to be much easier and more secure than the direct line I took across the blank snow yesterday. Soon I was on top, I clipped the ax to the rope as before, and sent it down to Chris as in the following illustration before belaying her up.
Once Chris was up the others had arrived, so she belayed contestant #2 up as I started up the ledge to get our ropes ready. She then sent down my ax and passed belay duties off to someone else in the other groups and joined me just as I was ready to go. It was nice to be able to help them past the snow, with Chris and I scarcely losing any time doing so!
Although I was feeling better as we climbed higher, Chris was still dragging from our long day on MGA, so today we decided to simul only to the base of P2 of VBA and then pitch it out from there to the top. It turns out that the route, though technically easier than MGA, was much more exposed & sustained at a higher difficulty throughout, so we would have done very little simul-climbing higher on the route anyways.
As we got ready to belay the first pitch, two other climbers, Jon & Thomas, caught up to us and we offered to let them pass since Chris was uncertain of her speed today. We chatted as we all got ready, and it turned out these two guys were the ones on MGA yesterday! They filled us in on their epic, and now they were back for round 2. For the most part we were able to climb the route slightly offset from them or just behind them, so we had a nice day with more company on the route but no fusterclucks.
It was atop Pitch 6 that two simul-climbers caught up to us, and we let them pass. We eventually caught up to them on pitches 9 & 10 where they chose to pitch it out behind Jon & Tom for the route crux.
The Tyrolean started off looking elegant until the first climber tried to get off the line. This was fun to watch. Chris D & Bryan B said that they had a much easier time following here after they learned from the poor Guinea Pig. We whooped & hollered back & forth as the show went on.
Pitch 7 had wild exposure, and though 'only' 5.6, it required confidence in traversing far out from your pro above big exposure into unknown terrain. I stemmed across a chimney, traversed across a face, climbed a large hollow flake and rounded the corner to bypass a roof. Around the corner the rock turned blank, so I turned up and right and followed some of the best crack climbing on the route. There were a couple of loose rocks here & there, but nothing too bad. With 70m doubles I was able to link pitches 7 & 8 into another stellar 230 ft long climb'fest.
Our friends Dominique & Howard apparently traversed too far left on Pitch 7 and ended up in 'unpleasant' terrain. Don't go too far left!
I photographed the simul-climbers as they climbed pitches 9 & 10, which were the unmistakable route crux 5.7 pitches.
This section was pretty cool to climb on, but never too hard or sustained. Sadly the sweet looking cracks were much harder than 5.7 to climb purely, and were used in combination with blocks, ledges & faceholds to keep it a chill 5.7. Still, it was fun climbing and the rock here was great.
I kept an eye out for the "Diving Board" but I never saw it. I guess it finally dove off?
From here the climbing got a bit easier, but the ridge also became more knife-edged and crenelated, making for interesting routefinding & protection strategies. Fun fun!
Brian & Peter had been on the Ibrium Tower a long time and looked kind of lost, so Chris shouted out climbing directions to them as I led on for pitch 11. :-)
While VBA had excellent rock throughout (loose for crag-standards, but very clean for alpine standards), I admit that the last few pitches require some care. Chris & I reached pitch 13, we heard Jon & Thomas shouting "Rock! Rock! Rock!"
We watched as a watermelon-sized rock bounced off the arete and sailed through the air. And it kept sailing . . . and sailing . . . and sailing . . . and finally landed with a boom in the couloir below, ricocheting off the walls and sending down a whole cascade of rocks, sweeping down the garbage chute.
This really added some salience to just how steep, exposed, and high the aretes were from the neighboring gullies!
It also added some good insights. I thought it strange that the SuperTopo guide, when discussing bailing, talked about rapping into these gullies and then climbing them all the way up to the summit plateau. Since they looked like a house of cards, and still pretty sustained 4th to low 5th class, climbing to the top seemed like a strange way to bail rather than downclimbing & rappelling the gullies.
Now I think that not only is it more dangerous to descend the gullies due to risk of knocking rocks down on each other as one downclimbs & rappels, but since the aretes often have other climbers on them, if anyone knocks a rock down into the chute, you are screwed - and the lower you are in the chute, the more likely you are to be in the way of falling rock. Your exposure to this hazard is decreased by climbing up, and increased by going down.
It was about this time that Brian & Peter were on the loose pitches of MGR. We heard them and the climbers on SRA shouting as they also knocked a rock down, with similar results. Brian later recounted his fun on these pitches bypassing the Ibrium Tower me, where in one case he casually slung a refrigerator-sized block, thinking it was solid, and then it started wobbling.
My maxim in the mountains, BTW, is that when assessing loose rocks, size does NOT equal stability. Size equals SQUASH potential.
Ascend the summit plateau and cut across the mid-height of a rock rib near the top for the easiest line. Don't head up & right too soon as what looks like the top is NOT. Aim to reach the left (south) shoulder of the apparent summit/highpoint after you cross the rib. Cross the shoulder and traverse north (left) & down on a thin class 3 ledge to a corner, and then scramble/squat around a narrow ledge that wraps around the south (left) side of the ridge to a notch in the ridge. Cross the notch and climb a combination of the north (right) side of the crest and on the crest. The exposure is pretty high here, so even though it is only cl. 2-3, you still might want a rope for this part if you don't like exposed soloing. Natural pro suffices to protect this stretch.
The block in the foreground makes for a great stand for summit shots. The ridge to Gayley (foreground) is a loose 5.7. You can see Mt Sill (left), and to the right you can see N Palisade, Starlight Pk, Thunderbolt Pk, & Mt Winchell.
The others topped out pretty late, and since Chris and I weren't that far ahead of them, we reconvened near the scramble to the rappels to help show them the way down. Another long descent in the dark followed.
By the time we got back to camp (11:30pm. Doh!), I still felt surprisingly good and ready for SRA for Day 3. Brian, however, felt that he had had enough for the weekend on MGA, so alas SRA will have to wait for another day (combined with a traverse to Galey & maybe Palisade Traverse? Anyone? :-D). With an easy hike out waiting for us the following day, we enjoyed the remaining bottled beer I packed in, and I set up shop on the shore of 2nd Lake with my camera, book, and flask of Jameson for some nighttime fun.
From 2nd Lake, stay high and to the left when ascending (easier to climb up on the larger blocks), but when descending drop into the middle of the chute (easier to descend by scree skiing scree & sand).
For the 3rd Lake approach, the final bouldery bit between the slopes & trail SUCKS and I have yet to find a nice way to go over it after 3 times through it, even when staying with cairns. There are many large boulders to clamber over, trees & bushes to negotiate, and lots of little crests & valleys to skirt around or go up & down in. This is annoying with a heavy pack at the end of the day, and much harder to navigate in the dark than the 2nd Lake approach. It does keep sand out of your shoes, though.
The lower ledge w/ the 5.6 might be a good way to minimize snow, but the time it takes to rope up and then get through the easier terrain above probably voids any time savings.
When climbing to the upper ledge, go left and up the debris chute & climb the moat if you only have an ax. This is much easier to climb without crampons than taking a straight line across the snow.
With 70m doubles, if you include the simul-climbing as one pitch, we did the route in 6 long pitches & one 15' rappel.
I disagree with the distances for pitches 10-12 and especially 11-12. You might not want to attempt to link Pitch 11 & 12 with a 60m rope unless you are already a good ways up the 20' wide 5.6 gully after the traverse.
A #3 & #4 4CU were handy for the route.
A leader fatality w/ belayer injury has occurred on the pitches bypassing the Ibrium Tower. Take care on this section!
Overall the route was great, with a striking line and commanding position. However, I felt that the loose rock on Pitches 10-12 greatly reduced the fun & quality of the route. Perhaps if the 5.9 crack variation is taken, it is better? Because of this I'd say the route is 3-4 stars and should not be attempted until you have gained 'alpine sense' for climbing with dangerously loose rock.
With 70m doubles and considering our simul-climb to the top of Pitch 2 as one pitch, we did the route in 7-8 pitches.
The route on VBA stayed on the crest a lot more and most of the route & belays were in the sun. Although it is rated easier, I'd say the climbing was more sustained and made for a overall harder route technically, though not as serious as MGA. It had a lot of interesting pitches and belay spots and the rock was never all that loose.
Don't underestimate how long the descent takes. The rappel anchors are a ways down off the edge of the summit plateau and would be a little tricky to find in the dark, so make sure you do this part in daylight if at all possible.
Descending below Contact Pass, after descending the first headwall, skirt to the far right (east) to find a good snowfield to boot-glissade down. This snow was not high angle and was soft for us on the descent. It basically took us back to the comfy blocks & bivy below the three aretes. This is much better than the talus to descend!