On a Highway to Hell: Devils Crag

Louise is happy with lists, I think.  And one list she's being ticking off is the Sierra Club's Sierra Peaks Section List:  248 peaks throughout the Sierra Nevada.  While most of the climbs aren't technical, the terrain covered certainly is impressive, and Louise has a better understanding of the Sierra Nevada's geography than most guides I know.  Including me.

First glimpse of Devils Crag | Descending Dusy Basin
photo | Louise Wholey
Devils Crag is a series of pinnacles along the LeConte Canyon that have a fearsome reputation for loose rock and devilish routefinding.  The easiest route to the summit clocks in at a true 4th class.  Last year a friend took a 50' fall on one of the those steps when a hand-hold took that moment to remove itself from the mountain, and he luckily hobbled away with two bruised feet and ankles.  Years before a Sierra Club member fell down the Northeast Face during the descent - the story I heard is that it happened when he stepped back from signing the register.  So the mountain had a sinister reputation, which was only reinforced as we hiked up Rambaud Creek and it came into view.

The approach up and over Bishop Pass took a day-and-a-half, and on the second day at Rambaud Pass we took a detour and tagged Wheel Mountain.  The routefinding up this long ridge wasn't difficult to keep from breaking out the rope - just be patient and keep looking for the easiest line to get around the gendarmes that guard the final summit stretch.  We dropped off to the west of Rambaud pass to camp at a great tarn at 11,300'.

Black Rabbit Ears
The climb up Devils Crag No.1 is shorter in distance but much more involved.  Devious routefinding to the north side of Pk 12220' (hearby nominated to be Henry's Cutoff Peak, since it is the SW frame of Henry's Cutoff Chute), and then to the southside of White Top Peak (12,262') gained the deep notch where we roped up and started up the first 4th class bit.  In the interest of cleaner rock I started left of the arete instead of right amongst easier climbing.  The route as I remember it featured three 4th class steps and a lot of third class, especially an airy "au cheval" notch to be negotiated.  The Black Rabbit Ears were only 6 feet tall, impossibly to pick out from a distance and therefore a little bit remarkable to use as a landmark on the route.  We spent almost an hour enjoying the summit before heading back down the way we came, rappelling the first and third 4th class steps but downclimbing the shorter 2nd step.  The wind picked up as we descended, and by the time we reached the tent it was bone-chilling cold.  Rather than take another lap and tag Mt Woodworth, we decided to stay at home and eat, sleep, and enjoy the sun out of the wind.

A cold front was moving in, and the next two days and nights were markedly colder.  We reached the 10,000' contour in Dusy Basin at 3pm on the 29th, but opted to call that camp when we began to get hailed and snowed on.  It added less than an hour on our hike out the next day, which was sunny, beautiful, and cool - so it was an hour enjoyed!  With this trip, Louise climbed two more peaks on the The List, giving her 246 summits and only 2 peaks away from finishing.  Less than 70 people have completed this tick-list!

Racking up
photo | Louise Wholey
Notes | I carried 5 cams (#2-0.4), 8 stoppers (#11-4), 6 slings, 2 cordellettes, 1 double-length sling, and a 50m single rope.  I ended up using 4 of those cams and two stoppers, and didn't replace any rappel anchors.  Still, I could have brought half as much gear (3 cames, 4 stoppers, 3 slings, 1 cordellette, and 1 double-length sling) and a 30m or 40m line and been fine.  In another year, at least one of those anchors will need replacing, so bring some cord or webbing.

Devils Crag has some definite exciting first ascents available to anyone who wants to brave the hike and the rock. A route up the NE Face was done back in the 1930's, but the quite obvious NE Buttress is untouched.  Also, a full traverse from No.13 (11,420') to No.1 has never been accomplished.  Go for it!!

Summary | SW Ridge (3rd, 4235') of Wheel Mountain (12,774'), 27 August 2010, with Louise Wholey.  NW Arete (4th, 3336') of Devils Crag No.1 (12,420'), 28 August 2010, with Louise Wholey.