This weekend was quite a big one. I projected to do the Third Pillar of Dana with Andrei Ribeiro (from SCMA) and perhaps Tenaya Peak as bonus, as a throwback to my failed attempt at doing Triple Crown with Nick. I previously climbed once with Andrei in Tahquitz, so not too much mileage with him, but that one time felt good. That one time, we did “The Blank”, a burly ~ 5.10, with some harder slab variation and it went well!
This climb is situated on the Dana plateau, is east/south-east oriented and is visible from the road when entering the Sierras through Tioga pass. I caught a cell phone picture of it through binoculars, it looked like the prow of a massive ship! I was a little bit intimidated, but the grade kept me from freaking out too much (I can climb 5.10b right??). Now, if I were the first one to climb this, seeing it from a distance, I would have reconsidered my life goals.
Reading about the climb I gathered that it’s 2 hours in and 2 hours out approach and it’s a bad idea to be caught in a thunderstorm on this climb given how baren the Dana plateau is. This was going to be an alpine start in order to get out of there as early as possible (didn’t happen).
I took Friday off and got to Tioga Lake around 7pm (~5h30 from LA). Camped out at the major pull out just north of Tioga Lake campground. Slept well from 9pm to 4am. Coming out of my car, I was greeted by a beautiful star ceiling and a very cold morning with frost everywhere. The summer is ending…
After a quick breakfast in the frosty dark morning, we headed out to the Tioga lake trailhead which is just south of Tioga lake, 2-3 min away by car, and started our way east towards the Dana Plateau. Ten minutes in the approach I realized I forgot the rope under my bed in the car so I sprinted to the car to go get it. This upset set us back 20min. We got passed by an Argentinian couple, thought to myself that we won’t be the first on it, which mildly bothered me, I don’t know why. I probably thought they would slow us down but it turned out they were the fastest on the wall. This 15mn run back and forth to the car had the merit to warm me up for the rest of the approach, so much so I decided to leave my gloves at the car.
The approach took us through beautiful meadows at sunrise. It had a gradual slope increase the first 1.75mi before reaching the Dana plateau. The plateau is really exposed to winds, which made it extremely cold in the morning. We were quite concerned as to how cold we were going to be on the climb. We reached the third pillar. It’s extremely prominent, looks almost like a mini El Cap’. This is a peculiar Verdonesque route: it is reached from the top. We leave stuff at the summit and go down a gully/ridge system on the north-east of the peak. The descent was about a quarter of a mile. I was fearing there would be ice or snow so I took microspikes and even an ice axe with me! But upon seeing the descent gully from the top, it seemed no ice/snow crossing was involved, so I left those bad boys at the summit. During the descent, the sun in the clear blue morning sky bathed us and the north face of the third pillar (where we were about to climb), bringing us back to life. The ridge system was also sheltered by the wind, which made the climbing absolutely golden!
Several other parties were attempting the third pillar. Upon getting to the bottom, a lot of people elected to cut the first pitch out and go directly to 2nd pitch. This involves traversing on gravel higher. In order to not clutter the Argentinian couple, we started below on the “10a variation”. This added an extra pitch (6 total) but ultimately ran into traffic jams higher…
Andrei started the climb and did his own 5.8 variation. Definitely not 5.10a. At first we decided to swap leads for the first 4 pitches. Andrei gave me the rest of the leads, which, honestly were the best! Vertical climbing on clean granite. A combination of cracks and laybacks. The final pitch was a sequence of “slabs” separated by horizontal cracks. The climb started at 9:30am and ended at 16:30am. It took much more time than anticipated but oh well, mission accomplished!
We barely made it to the car at sunset, the way down as usual seemed long but was not as tiring as the way up of course. Because the tension and anxiety of the ascension was gone, I was able to enjoy the sceneries much more, especially on the Dana plateau which is a magnificent flat place covered in shrubs and grass with a small creek running towards Mount Dana and boulders speckling the place. We got to the car around 7:30pm and went to eat at the Mobil gas station of Lee Vining. During dinner Andrei convinced me (by financing the whole thing) to spend the night in a Lodge at Lee Vining for a warm, comfortable, and clean night. So comfortable that the next day, I forgot my knitted gnome, Abernaque, now waiting for me over there.
The next day, we woke up at 6am, got out quick (forgot Abernaque) and headed towards Tenaya Lake trailhead in Tuolumne Meadows. The objective was to run up Tenaya Peak. I wanted to solo the whole thing as it maxes out at 5.5 max (there is a 5.8 variation though…). Andrei was not too keen to do this, so we compromised to solo as long as he felt comfortable doing so and then we would rope up and simul-climb to the top. The climb took 3 hours to complete.
Very complete weekend! I am happy because found a new reliable and friendly partner, cool to hang out with. Also, quite happy about my Sierra summer. Unfortunately, couldn’t materialize the Dark Star climb but ticked off Tenaya, Cathedral peak, Matthess Crest and Third Pillar of Dana. Although I did not complete all my objectives, at least I got a summer’s worth of climbing, unlike last summer and feel there was some progress. Joshua Tree season is coming up, hopefully I will get some good ticks in the 11 range, start getting aid experience and no injury gets in the way. Allez!