Search for a Mountaineer’s Route

One of my goals for this season is finding a good “Mountaineer’s Route” up Crane’s South Corner area. Ideally, said route would involve lots of exposure with some single tool ice climbing, some easy rock, and a minimum of thicket-thrashing. From its top, one could make a relatively easy walk to the summit ridge, and finish up with an ascent up the Access Slot. Yesterday, Tom Lane and I took a stab at finding that passage. While our exploration didn’t uncover the perfect venue, it is indicative of what one can expect when exploring that area.

We began by hiking out the BAW path, which runs eastward along the base of the mountain, meandering through the Boulderwoods, running along the flats, then cutting uphill to the Measles Walls and continuing upward to the Height-of-Land, where we cut off and headed uphill. It’s an unofficial path, so don’t expect to find it on a map; if you choose to explore here during the winter, you will have to park at the top of Sky High Road (don’t block driveways!), walk west along the trailhead road until you see State Land signs on the right, then cut toward the mountain for a couple hundred yards before reaching the path and turning back eastward. You shouldn’t have to climb up very far before crossing the path; it should be within five minutes of leaving the road.

At the Height-of-Land, we cut up and left, reaching the left edge of the Blueberry Ledges. Here, Eyebrow Ice, a low-angled slab with a steep initial start touches the ground. Bounded on its left side by an impressive, arching overhang, this is some of the easiest ice of any length on the mountain. It’s also quite thin. Don’t expect much, if anything, in the way of gear. After the first ten feet, the climbing was trivial until we reached the top of the slab. Here, the thickest ice, often poorly bonded, presents the crux of the route (one can move right to reach easy duff-pegging). Once on walkable terrain, we moved straight up to belay at large oak tree with a handy huge horizontal branch on its downhill side, near our 70m rope’s end.

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The easy Eyebrow Ice starts off this route.

Above this, our options were more limited. Slightly to our left, a thinly-iced, very low-angle slab yielded easy progress, accessing the gully to our right while avoiding the dense tangle of brush and trees down low. There, we stood under an overhanging, left-rising wall. The slab below it was pretty much dry, and very low-angle, it would be pretty easy to ascend. More attractive was the buttress to the right of our gully. Twenty feet up, a shelf led out onto that prominence, where a boulder offered purchase to reach easy-looking terrain. We chose that option, and roped up for the attempt.

The gully gets very steep just before reaching the escape options; I tip-toed up then across a near-vertical blueberry slab to get around a small thicket and reach that shelf. A good horizontal crack ran along with it, but there was little else for purchase, and no ice or deep snow for footing. Without any rock gear, I slung a tiny spruce sapling, backed it up with a small mouldering stump, and began working out right. Underclinging the shelf/crack, I stepped up high to get the only foothold I could find, then stood up, using a small edge above to steady myself before moving farther right. Reaching the edge of the boulder, I welcome fist-jam secured me enough to get my feet up on the shelf. Grabbing a locking carabiner, I attached a sling and tossed it into the crack above my hand, where it settled soundly into place. Ah, makeshift, solid pro!

Scrambling around to the front and then top of the boulder was easy enough; the next fifteen feet was lichen-covered, barely-angled rock. It was scary but not hard, walking on all fours, carefully situating each crampon before trusting the step. A bit of thrashing up and left, and I stood on top of the promontory, slung a thorny spruce, and off-belayed. Tom followed rapidly, commenting on the concept of rock-climbing in January as he did so.

We enjoyed the scenery for a short while, but the wind was damp and cold, our time limited, so we didn’t tarry or go upward. We could see skyline through the spruce trees beyond us, so perhaps it wouldn’t be hard reaching the summit from there. Instead of checking it out, we headed downward, mixing three 35m rappels with some easy walking descents in between to reach our packs and thence make the walk out.

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A colorfully-clad Tom at the top of our route.
Thanks to him for the photographic evidence of our climb.

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