Monday, May 31st, 2004

Eye of the Needle (5.10+), Sonara Pass

It is the Memorial Day weekend, which means I have an extra day off, which means I can watch a movie on Friday night and still climb. Troy is the movie we watched and I almost cried my heart out over Hector’s death. Hmmm…I can be pretty silly sometimes.

Expecting crowds every where especially in Yosemite, We met up with Steve at Sonora Pass, a summit on Highway 108 at an elevation of 9624 ft. Steve, knowing the area better than Allen and me, led us to the base of a few rock buttresses a couple miles west of the Pass. There was no obvious trail to follow, so we bushwhacked our way up the gully between the first and second buttresses. The gully was very loose and steep. At this altitude, I was breathing harder than normal, but there was no discomfort, so I just slowly make my way up following the two guys.

There are a couple of established climbs on the buttress to our right, including a 1-pitch 5.10d crack called What Is. But that would not be adventurous for Steve. So we, or rather he, decided to go up another undocumented crack system 100 feet down the gully from What Is. The crack on the bottom looks wide but easy and it leads up to a roof higher up that looks challenging. From below, the climb looks like 2-pitch long, which should be a good start for an adventurous day.


  • Pitch 1: A rainfall of dirt and gravels turned into a small rockfall. Steve instinctively wedged his leg into the crack to stop the big chunks of rocks from falling onto me standing below. I owe my life to Steve now. The first pitch was short. I would give it a 5.6. Allen followed Steve and then he belayed me up, which was a pattern to be followed all the way up.
  • Pitch 2: The second pitch started with a diagonal crack that led to the roof that Steve had had his eye on, so it was his opportunity to lead it. The crystals in the rock kept falling off, a good indicator of a virgin land never touched by man. The crack below the roof felt easy. Pulling through the roof was a little tricky which involved lie-backing and high stepping. But what surprised me was the scene after popping out of the roof — a wall that looked fairly blank with a very thin and shallow crack, about 30 feet long, running in the middle of it. Lucky that Steve had some RP’s to protect this section, but still I thought it was a very a scary section to lead. Steve thought this pitch deserves at least a 5.10+.
  • Pitch 3: Only after we reached the top of the second pitch did we realize that we were still ways to go to the real top. The third pitch was 100 feet of 4th class, which we all ran up very quickly. Now we were under another vertical wall with a perfect crack system shooting straight up.
  • Pitch 4: Allen and I decided this climb would be an all-Steve-led first ascent. I tried to make myself useful while Allen conducted his belay duty, so I documented our ascent with my digital camera. The crack was again thin on this pitch, and also had a roof in the way. It didn’t look easy when Steve led it. But with two people cleaning up before me, when I got to climb this pitch, it was in a good climbing condition. I think Allen gave this 195 ft pitch a 5.10+ rating.
  • pitch 5: Finally, we saw the real top just one short pitch away. There were a few cracks in front of us. One in the left corner that starts with a diagonal hand crack and leads into a wide but protectable chimney. One in the middle, even wider with a huge drop right at the base. One on the right side with the first 25 feet of face climbing without a crack and then a thin crack that leads to the top. We picked the crack in the left corner to finish off the climb. It felt like a 5.8. Later Steve top roped the thin crack to the right and considered it fit the character of the whole climb better. It just needs a bolt to protect the first 25 feet.

The view at the top was marvelous. The peaks were still topped with snow with deep river canyons leading to the alpine country to the west. Alpine Delight was one of the names Steve came up with for the climb. Although he settled down with another name, Eye of the Needle, to better describe the character of the climb. I had the “alpine delight” in my heart at the end of that day.

First pitch. Lots of loose rocks. Be alert!

Second pitch. A diagnal crack occupied with veggies at spots.

Fourth pitch. The first half of the crack is not shown in this picture. It’s actually a continuous crack. The best pitch in my opinion.

Fifth pitch. The left corner is shown here. This is variation we took.

Fifth pitch. Steve is top roping the variation to the right. Quite an exposure.

The descent started with a walk along the ridge.

If you ever repeat this route, you should see Steve’s art on the top of fourth pitch.
The forested alpine country seen from the top of the climb.

Next day before we left, the clouds rolled in on top of Sonora Pass. It’s interesting to watch the process. Can you see the rainbow in the middle?
The mountain starts to show its serious side.