Thursday, September 23, 2010

Evolution Traverse

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder here in the Sierra Nevada, and the cool winds of fall are sending climbers flocking back into the Valley. It has been a great season here, as I just wrapped up another season of instructing for the Outward Bound School, finishing with a string of amazing courses for the OEF/OIF Veterans Program.
I was fortunate to get into the mountains a lot this summer, climbing routes on Temple Crag to the Incredible Hulk- from long ropeless solos to tenuous technical pitches, the Sierras never disappoint.
But it was the Evolution Traverse, the Big Daddy, that overshadowed my whole season. I attempted it first in late July of this year, with my good friend Andy Esparza. Andy had just returned from an incredible bicycle journey through Central America (Click here to Check it Out!), but no amount of cardio endurance could have prepared him for this thing!
The Evolution Traverse hits 9 summits over 13,000 ft, and the elevation chart looks something like an EKG reading with well over 10,000 ft of gain and loss over its 8.5 mile ridge. Long, exposed and demanding, it is not for the faint of heart.
Andy and I had a decent go at it, but heavy packs and route finding issues slowed us down before a nasty weather system forced us to retreat. After a cold bivy on Mount Mendel (13,710), only having completed a meager section of the Traverse, we bailed down one of Mendel's steep western gullys.

Our home for the night on Mendel

This failure gnawed at me for the next two months, and gnawed even more so at my friend Josh, who had been stormed off on his 2nd attempt just a week after ours. While instructing our last OB course together, Josh and I devised a new strategy, and made plans to hike in for one more shot (both of us having vowed never again!).
The hike in over Lamarck Col is brutal, at 10 miles with 3,600 ft of gain. Yet at 4am the next morning we awoke to a cold and starry sky to begin the route. Moving quickly and only using the rope (a 60m Sterling 7.7mm Ice Thong) for one pitch of climbing and 4 rappels, we climbed past Mount Mendel, Darwin, and Peak 13,332 to reach a good bivy site at a small lake near Haeckel col. Josh's prior knowledge of the route past Darwin proved invaluable, and it took us only 11 hours the first day to reach Haeckel Col.

Summit block on Mount Darwin (13,831 ft)

The best part of the Traverse! Flawless golden granite on the way to Mt. Haeckel.

The forecasted wind arrived that night, with gusts of icy wind up to 30mph. This wind dampered our resolve a bit the next morning as it continued, but we pressed on to climb the remainder of the route. With difficult route finding and exposed climbing on Mount Warlow and Huxley, the Traverse does not let up until the very end. Nine hours after leaving our bivy, we were signing the summit register of Mount Huxley, proud of our reconciliation with the route, yet fully aware that we still had a lot of miles to go before we slept!

The Evolution has left me fully depleted, as I am now in serious calorie replenishment mode, but also very excited at the possibilities of more long days in the mountains. For now though, I rack for another trip up El Cap before packing it in for the season in California. Josh and I will return to Patagonia this fall, for another attempt of the Central Tower of Paine, as well as an exciting expedition into the Turbio Valley in Northen Patagonia, where big wall ascents and big river decents await us. Stay tuned!