Saturday, November 20, 2010

Low Horns #1-#4

Marta Reece and I had a wonderful, but windy day traversing the Low Horns. Neither of us had done them before, although Marta has been up to some of the saddles between them. A group of OMTRS climbers had made the traverse (getting as far as #2) a few weeks back and it was still fresh in my mind as something I really wanted to try. Instead of approaching from the west as the previous group had done (and Ingraham describes), we started from Aguirre Springs, hiking up the Pine Tree trail's northern side for about a mile before striking off towards a shallow canyon which leads up to Low horn #1. The going was not bad at all, Marta had scouted it out earlier and we only had a couple short sections of bushwhacking through apache plume before we were on scree/rock underneath the north-eastern walls of the Low Horns. Skirting underneath this wall was pretty easy going, if not steep. Near the top, there was a bit of 3-4 th class scrambling options but getting to the summit was pretty straightforward. So far so good, we were on top of Low Horn #1 at 10am, only 2hrs after leaving the car. The only problem we were having was wind/cold, the recent warm weather led us to expect a calmer day and Marta was visbily shivering while we were on the summit. I donned my wind-breaker and was ok, but Marta had neglected to bring a wind-breaker, so I gave her my extra fleece layer and hat to keep her warm.

There was a funny pyramid-shaped wooden sculpture at the summit of Low horn #1, but no register or rappel gear (aside from a suspect and rusty piton). I recalled that Bob Cort had retrieved their rappel gear from a few weeks back, so we left our own sling and rapped down to the saddle between 1&2.

#2 looked a bit harder than it's northern sister, a couple of wide/dirty cracks went directly up the north face. These are what the previous party had climbed, but I thought there might be an easier climb on the NW sid eof the face, so I racked up and led that way. Turns out the NW side wasn't easier, and had a crux section to bypass, a steep angling 4" crack. I portected this with a small nut (my only piece of pro for the pitch), and carefully led through what felt like a 5.7 move. Maybe it wasn't this hard, I was in my approach shoes (5.10 Exums),but I was worried a little bit about Marta, she seemed hesitant to take on technical climbing. I set up a top-rope belay so that I could coach her through the crux, but she cruised it without much help from me at all. We left another new summit register at the top and then continued north to #3. The time was 12:00.

We were fortunate to have the previous parties rappel gear to use, and made the short rappel down to the saddle between 2&3. While Marta was rapping, I scrambled down the west side of this saddle and retrieved some more of Bob Cort's webbing/rap-ring, gear that would come in handy for us later. #3 was only a short pitch, but instead of taking a direct line up to the top, we opted for what appeared to be an easier route via scrambling left on mossy steps and gaining the peaks east ridge. I remained roped up for this, but the climbing stayed below 5th class. It was however very loose and quite dirty to gain the east ridge. Once on the ridge though, the rock was better, and formed a perfect 3ft wide ramp up to the summit. Marta came up without a problem, and then a belayed her down to a rappel point down a ledge to the SE. A couple old pitons/slings were here, but we scrambled even lower and left our own sling. My 60m rope was not quite long enough to gain the saddle, but there were a series of ledges at different heights which one could scramble down from. As it was, we ended up only 2 m above the saddle, and simply down-climbed to it. Marta had a hard time with the rappel due to the high wind; the wind put tension on my thick rope and acted like a fireman's belay, and iot took her a few minutes to move down from the anchor, forcing the rope through her ATC a foot at a time. The time was 1:00.

Low Horn #4 looked easier than the previous two, and we decided to tackle it un-roped. Again we stayed to the east, and turned onto the east side just below the summit. Nothing was harder than 4th class, but the moves turning around the corner had excellent exposure, and I stayed close to Marta to help her if needed. She appreciated my coaching but refused any help of rope, so I guess she felt fairly comfortable, despite the exposure. the summit of #4 was larger than the previous 3 and we took some time to eat and relax in the sun. the wind was still moving pretty well, but we found a relatively sheltered spot. While we were relaxing we were scoping out Low Horn #5, which seemed much more massive than anything we had climbed yet, From our vantage point, we could see a section of smooth slabby boulders which might be difficult to scramble over (or protect). On top of these an old rappel station was visible, further evidence that this section would pose some technical difficulties. It was 1:30 and we were beginning to think about a descent, especially if the next peak was going to be extra difficult.

the south side of #4 wasn't steep enough to warrant a rappel right away, but still had some challenges. I ended up belaying Marta down a 15 ft hand/fist crack, and then down-climbing it myself. This put us on a little shoulder 60ft above the saddle where we found an ancient looking rappel anchor, a twisted hemp rope! Lichen was covering it, and the knots looked like they had mostly disintegrated, but it was certainly the rappel anchor. We used our own webbing for the rappel, but I was almost out of webbing, having only 24" left. Down at the saddle, we decided not to press on, and descend down the gulyl between #4&5. A short 30ft rapel was needed to get past an overhanging chimney, but fortunately, we found a perfect spot for my 24" of webbing and Marta busied herself making the rappel anchor. While she was setting up the rappel, I scrambled up the North ridge of #5 to see how bad the slabby-looking section really was. Turns out, it wasn't bad at all. I was able to extend myself on the slabby bulge and was only 2-4" shy from a good hand-hold/crack. A little hop was all it took and I was up at the rappel anchor, and easy sailing to the top of #5. I didn't continue on though, time was getting late and we were committed to going down, so I took the rappel anchor carabiners (2) and rope (old and sun-faded) and down-climbed back to Marta.

By the time we rapped past the little chimney it was almost 3:00. The descent down the gully between #4&5 was pretty decent. Not as nice as the ascent up #1, but not too much bushwhacking and hardly any thorny plants. We were back at the car by 5:00. Overall, a very nice outing. It would have been extremely pleasant had it not been for the wind, but this added difficulty made the traverse more interesting. I can see how adding on the remaining two horns would take 2-3 more hours, but it is definitely worth trying. I left new summit registers at each of the peaks we hit, and found no evidence of any old registers on them (James Stockton had already removed the one they found on #2, and gave it to me last week). I was very impressed with Marta's abilities, she certainly is getting some legendary status on the rescue team. I thought someone had told me she was 72 years old, and during the descent I mentioned this to her. She quickly corrected me in her brusk style, "I'm only 59". Only 59 and as fast a hiker/scrambler as anyone on the team, remarkable. We could all aspire to be as tough as her.

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