South Corner Alpine


Michael Gray & I climbed an exploratory route up the entire South Corner Cliff “Complex” yesterday. Lots of lichen, plenty of clawing crud out of cracks, cold, wet, dirty fingers, shoes are all messed up; in short: Fantastic!

We began on Stairway to Heaven, adding a bit to reach the anchor at the top of Mike’s current project (Roofer Madness). I led the next pitch, clawing past a huge, dead pine tree and along a low-angle, right-facing corner to a sloping wooded ledge. Mike wandered left to reach an easy ramp heading up right. Near its rightmost end, I climbed through a short, steep headwall to another ramp, but opted to head up a lovely crack system on the face above it, topping out on another ledge. We moved the belay up a slippery ramp to the left, where Mike then led a difficult series of left-rising flap-cracks to a vertical crack, thereby accessing another left-rising crack to a good ledge. A short, steep headwall was surmounted with a bit of aid to a final right-facing corner capped by an overhang, which I turned on the left to get over.

Slightly modified, this route has the potential to turn Stairway to Heaven into a classic Adirondack 6 or 7 pitch route. It won’t be quite like the committing exposure and risk of places like Wallface or Poko: every pitch ends on secure ledges and escape is possible via rappels or, in spots walk-off. What it will be is a lot of fun for those willing to face a fair amount of bushwhacking, routefinding, and dirty rock along the way.

It got me thinking. I dredged up a photo of the cliffs and spent awhile tracing out the alpine lines I can recall doing with my friends over the past few years. I believe I’ve got it pretty close with the image this thumnail links to, for those who are interested.
Note: I’ve fixed the link; the image pointed to now should be big enough to clarify things.

I have not bothered to trace my solo explorations in this area. For the most part, these stuck to the ramps and ledges, or at most very mild fifth-class terrain. I have spent a lot of time along the leftmost slabs, scrambling that “mild fifth-class” whilst carrying a blueberry bucket! I probably should add details of the ice route Sola Gratia, because that was very much an alpine-style climb, albeit on ice; but it seems too much trouble right now. That line runs between McNeill-Harrison and Gray-Harrison, winding up a bit closer to the latter.

I neglected to rate the earlier ones; below I’ve recalled what I could of them. Jamie, Todd, Mike: feel free to refresh my memory or add details.

McNeill-Harrison is probably 5.9 at the start, with a couple 5.7 or 8 additional moves along the way. I recall one 5.7 move near the top that was poorly protected. In between is at least one pitch of forest scrambling. We did this in late autumn 2008, probably November. I recall ice festooning the overhangs of the “Vulture’s Nook” when we rappelled into it.

Paris-Harrison is 5.7 or so, but wanders quite a bit to circumvent an unprotectable 50′ stretch of 5.9ish friction, wallowing left to a dirty, loose corner, then up and back right to do so. The first “pitch” is 2nd and 3rd class scrambling. We did this in April or May 2010. It was the first route done on a brand-new 70-meter Monster Rope, later that day we shredded that rope whilst TR’ing Todd’s project (Peney for Your Freedom). That fifty foot stretch of slab is still very alluring, coming as it does right after a gorgeous (albeit brush-stuffed) hand crack.

Look carefully at the large image and you can see the Long Play Wall and even trace the route Big Man’s Bane, just right of P-H’s lowest pitch. The last bit of rock in the lower righthand corner is the Pinnacle Overlook, a block lying beside the BAW path in the rockslide area.

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