Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Spire: NW Face Direct route, sort of...

The Spire, one of the distinct Organ mountain peaks, has long been on my list of things to climb. I figured I'd get to it eventually, but I guess my desire to go up it was known well enough, some OMTRS guys were climbing at Caballo and when one of them mentioned he wanted to tackle the Spire, my name came up as a potential partner. Dan Carter emailed me early in January about tackling the Spire, and we tentatively agreed to make a bid for it Jan 22nd. I had climbed with Dan before, although I'm a bit fuzzy on the details. I think we climbed together at Percha Creek along with Ben Naddler, and I've run into him a few times since, at the Farmer's Market, or at OMTRS events. He's a civil engineer with the BLM, which had one special advantage for us, he had a key to the locked gate at Aguirre Springs. This meant we could get an extra early start. As things would go though, we only showed up at the gate 15 minutes before it would normally be opneed, but I still felt privileged.

We had opted to approach from the east side. Dan had tried the approach from the West a few times, and encountered the worst bush-whacking the Organ's have to offer. Ingraham describes the approach for The Spire from the west, but I've recently learned not always to trust Ingraham's approaches. Marta Reece showed me a couple east side approaches (for The Wedge, and the Low Horns) which were fast, comfortable and mostly brush free. She had mentioned that the big rock-slide gully on the east side goes all the way up to the saddle between Low Horn #6 and The Spire, and was an easily obtainable, so this is the approach we opted for.

We cruised the approach, and the ascent up the rock slide was a wonderful hike. Much of the gully is washed clean and smooth, with exposed granite. There were little ice-blobs along the way, reminding us that we were in "deep winter", and we reached the saddle in about 1.5 hours. Next time, we could probably even bring the dogs, nothing we hiked up would have been too difficult for a trail-dog to handle. Once at the saddle we gawked at the impressive and steep south face of Low Horn #6. There are some really hard looking lines that might go free, but not by me. Turning our attention to The Spire, we reconnoitered a bit to look for the best place to start. The wind was howling pretty well from the west, so we opted for a start a little further to the east that would hopefully be out of the wind. Dan picked a lichen-covered crack system to be our first pitch. The crack would gain easier climbing above which seemed to match up with descriptions for Ingraham's NW Face Direct route.

Dan is a solid climber, and carefully made his way up the crack. At a point near the top, he committed to some harder moves and I started getting nervous for him. Still, he kept cool the whole time, and delicately reversed the moves, and then found an easier way to the right. If the face hadn't been so lichen covered, he may have gone for the harder top-out, but I can understand not wanting to trust feet on lichen covered nubbins. Following up his lead, I was impressed by his climbing. The warmth was quickly sucked from my fingers by the ice-cold rock, and the delicate exit moves at the top felt hard with stiff fingers. Just after I had cleared the crux (~5.8 or 5.9?) I grabbed a hold which promptly broke off and almost sent me flying off with it. No worries on top-rope, but I made sure to thank Dan for leading that pitch.

For the next pitch, I followed a path of least resistance trenidnng left. I kept eyeing some decent slab/crack seams on the face to the right of me. Maybe if my fingers weren't so cold, or I wasn't such a timid climber I would have struck out on these and found a clean/beautiful line. nope, I stuck to the easy ground, and quickly ran out the rope over low 5th class and 4th class climbing. About half a ropes length, I had gained a shoulder which looked out on the NE side of the face. From here I trended back right along brushy crack systems and ledges and finally found an awesome belay ledge. It was big enough for two people to sleep on, and protected on its outer edge with shrubs and bushes. I enjoyed the protection from the wind as Dan came up.

Dan took the third pitch which finally had some nice clean rock. A shallow right-trending corner system led up to a big ledge below a steep 12ft wall. A nice crack on the left side of the ledge offered a way up to another ledge above where a pair of rusty old 1/4" bolts were found. All the time I was following up this pitch, I was peering off to the big slab on my left, wondering if there was a direct line up it. At the belay, it was obvious there was a line heading out left onto this smooth and airy face. But I had no confidence about what kid of protection I'd find, and if I could keep myself composed on thin, icy cold slabs. I resigned myself to scrambling up the easy gully directly above the belay, about 150ft of 4rth class scrambling up to the exposed summit ridge. The only protection I placed was near the top, and when I realized that I could give Dan a top-rope to try the alluring face directly, I back-cleaned that piece and set up an anchor for him to try the nice looking slab. After a few tries, we were able to flip the rope over a bulge and onto the slab. Dan quickly gained a stance where he found an old angle piton, roughly matching up the description of the final pitch from Ingraham's NW Face Direct route. rather than traverse around to his left, Dan was enticed into climbing straight up from the piton. He asked if my anchor was solid (of course!) before committing to the thin slabby moves. After about 20 ft, he gained a horizontal crack and easier climbing up to the top. It looked like a great pitch, and he offered to lower me down to try it, but it was already starting to get later in the afternoon, and we had to figure out to get down still, so I passed on the opportunity.

We hunted around for a summit log, but didn't find anything. There weren't signs of climbers really at all, the summit was a 50 ft long ridge, consisting of blocky chunks of granite maybe 5 ft wide, and fattening out near the ends. The exposure to the south was superb, the wall just droped away out of sight, and the shaded and lichen covered North face of Razorback loomed in front of us, close enough to spit at (well, not really, but it seemed close). I found a nice spot to leave a new summit register, then we scrambled down the 4th class gully to the rappel anchors. Instead of doing a long rappel straight down, we opted to do a short rappel and scramble down the 4th class Normal Route. It was exposed scrambling (high up on the wall), but a nice series of brushy ledges, and weaknesses allowed for 4th class scrambling all the way down to the Spike. By this time, the wind had died down and we could bask in the sun on the west side of the Spike, so we relaxed here for a little bit and scoped out the routes. The Spike has a killer crack splitting its south side, overhanging finger to thin-hands down low, it was well beyond what I am capable of. Still it is a beautiful looking short athletic climb. By scrambling around the west side of the Spike, I was able to get onto the north side of the small tower where another crack system ascended. This one was not as steep, and looked more like something I could handle. There was even an old fixed nut (slung with rope) down low in the crack.

Instead of continuing to scramble down the Normal route (west side of the Spike), we tried scrambling down the east side, more directly to our packs. We ended up needing one rappel to get down to the bottom of the Spike. It was about 430pm by the time we were packed and ready to hike out. the hike out was a little over an hour, and it was just starting to get dark as we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back home.

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