It's 4:40 AM on Saturday, Sept 4. We wake up to a cloudless and windless morning at Big Pine Campground. I guess it's a GO then. Yesterday, the High Sierra was blanketed by threatening and discouraging low clouds. We decided to play it by ear — if the weather would get better next day, we would pack up and hike into the Palisades area; otherwise, we would spend the Labor Day weekend sport climbing at Owens. Now, I don't want to get out of the warm sleeping bag, but I can't find a good excuse. By 7:00 AM, we set off at the North Fork of Big Pine Creek Trailhead with heavy packs on our backs. Each of us is carrying two sleeping pads — we treat comfortness of sleep seriously. However, the trail is surprisingly pleasant. It follows a creek most of the way and the elevation gain is well spreaded out. Before I realize it, First Lake pops out in front of us. A short distance up the trail is Second Lake. while we walk around between First and Second Lakes choosing an ideal camp site for the next couple of days, a ranger shows up. I am happy to see him because we are lucky to have obtained a wilderness permit yesterday and I do not want it to go un-noticed. After chatting with the ranger and eating lunch, it's 11 AM. There might still be time to do a climb. We gather our climbing gear and start our approach to Temple Crag — a prominent peak that overlooks the lakes a short distance away.
The approach from Second Lake involves a stretch of boulder hopping, but it is a quite straightforward hike. Since we only have half a day left, we plan to climb Venusian Blind (5.7, 11 pitches). We see a laminated note at the base of the climb that reads "In memory of our big brother" accompanied by a photo of three young men. I feel sad for the fallen climber and can sense the pain of his loved ones, but time does not allow me to dwell in my sadness — it is 1:00 PM already. We have planned to simul-climb most of the route, but after some loose rocks rain on Allen while I lead the first chimney pitch (in order to avoid the snow field approach), we have to modify our strategy on the fly. The obvious arete seen from a distance does not look anything resembling an arete when we stand below it. Shortly Allen convinces me that it's better for him to lead the way because he is more experienced in route finding. He manages to locate us on the topo 3/4 way up upon bumping into a piton, but before then if we were on or off route is anyone's guess. Our estimate is we were probably on the route half of the time. I have to admit if I had done the lead, we might have ended up on the other side of the mountain. With a mix of free soloing, simul-climbing, and belayed climbing, we top out after 4 hours and 20 minutes. Awaiting us is a steep descent composed of taluses and sandy trails. Allen is at least three times faster than me when it comes to descent. Could it be because his legs are longer? We stash our climbing gear near the base and return back to camp just before dark. It has been a long day.
On Sunday morning, we rise at 6:15 Am, 45 minutes later than the alarm that we set last night. But having a whole day ahead of us to conqure Sun Ribbon Arête (5.10a, 18 pitches), neither of us feels the need to rush. The hike back to Temple Crag is enjoyable as we don't need to carry much gear with us (remember, we had them stashed at the base yesterday?). But then the crux of the climb presents itself in front of us — the near 80 foot high (my estimate) snowfield. We somehow manage to get around it by climbing the rock ledge system on the right, but the rocks are very loose and dirty. That part is definitely the crux of the day. Simul climbing most of the route, we catch up with the party ahead of us at the tyrolean traverse and again at the rappel at the end of 7th pitch (per SuperTopo). Since we are in no rush, we just hang out while waiting. We lost more than half an hour waiting, but soon we pass them on the .10a crux pitch by doing the variation to the left of the arete. The route seems to go on and on forever. Finally, we top out 7 hours after we started climbing. The descent is much more straightforward than yesterday since this is the second time we do it, but my knees do not seem to be happy about it.
After dinner, it's still too early to go to sleep, so we lie flat under the starry sky. Last time when I saw so many stars was when I visited Lassen National Park two years ago. This night I witness a shooting star the first time in my life.
The hike out on Monday takes us about 2 hours. We stop by Keough's Hot Springs on our way up 395. How should I describe it — immersing myself in a hot spring after a weekend of hard climbing? Hmm…it feels like heaven! Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop exhibits Galen and Barbara Rowell's breathtaking photographs from all over the world and Vern Clevenger's photographs from the Sierra. I get really excited when I see a beautiful photo of Temple Crag reflected on Second Lake — I was just there! We walk out of the gallery with our brains well fed, but our stomachs feel empty. Ahh… it's a perfect time to stop at the world famous Mobile Station (Whoa Nelly Deli) at 395/120 split. The grilled salmon salad and the fish taco are just unbelievable. Afterwards, a visit to the peaceful Mono Lake finally puts an end to this perfect day — this perfect weekend.
Beta for Temple Crag
- I really enjoyed camping between First and Second Lake. However, if you think you might get down in dark, the boulder hopping across the talus field before reaching the camp might be very unpleasant in the dark. I think camping at Third Lake will avoid this talus crossing.
- The elevation (GPS coordinate) at the trailhead is 7673' (N 37°07.692’, W 118°25.660’), camp between First and Second Lake 10016' (N 37°07.533’, W 118°29.148’), and Temple Crag 12999' (N 37.1097°, W 118.4917°). The distance between the camp and the trailhead is 4.72 miles.
Beta for Venusian Blind
- Bring layers. Much of the time you are in the shade, and even on a pleasant summer day, it can get very cold in the shade. You might be wondering how I would know since half of time I was probably off route. Well, after I got down from Sun Ribbon Arête, I met a woman who was just guided up Venusian Blind, and she said she was not having fun because she was very cold on the climb.
- From a distance, try to identify the route and remember some key features along the climb. When you are standing at the base, it's very hard to tell where the route goes.
Beta for Sun Ribbon Arête
- The start of the climb might be farther to the right than you thought. To make it simple, just traverse to the right as far as possible until you reach a corner and cannot go any futher.
- The route finding is very straightforward on this climb — even I did not get off route while leading.
- The left variation of the crux pitch (Pitch 9 in SuperTopo) does not look like what's shown in the topo. There is no 5.10a face climb. The 5.9 crack and traverse seem to be correct though. The 5.9 crack is off hand for me and feels a little awkward, but it's short.
Please feel free to contact me if you need any more information. Rock on!