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Five Favorites

Written by Rick Booth April, 2004 

After all these years I have climbed a fair number of routes on many mountains in and out of the Sierras. I have never been much for using lists for the choices over the years, all that mattered is the destination fit with my talents and whatever schedule of time for the important things in life that would allow. Many of the trips were taken because they happened to be of interest to a friend of mine and I was invited along. Several of these trips turned out to be favorites. These trips had a certain ìmagicî to them that does not seem to fade with time. There are about ten trips that have become my favorites but this story describes the top five. They are: The North Palisade via the U Notch to the Chimney, Sierras; Matthes Crest, Sierras (Tuolumne high country); Grand Teton via the Exum Ridge, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; Zoroaster Temple, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; and Mauna Loa, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.

The ascent of the North Palisade from the Palisade Glacier is the best all around route in the Sierras. It requires snow travel, steep snow or ice climbing skills for the bergschrund, steep snow travel in the U Notch Couloir itself, and moderate (5.4) rock climbing skills for the chimney at the top of the couloir. The views from the summit are fabulous. The base camp for the ascent of this route is at the toe of the Palisades Glacier. This camp surrounds the visitor with Temple Crag, Gayley, Mt Sill, Polemonium, North Pal, Starlight, Thunderbolt, Mt Winchell, and their slightly lesser cousin, the Aggasiz Needle. All impressive mountains in their own right. The hike in is via the historically interesting North Fork of the Big Pine Creek past the Lon Chaney, Sr. cabin, now a ranger outpost. I originally climbed The North Palisade with one of my oldest climbing pals, Bob Hartunian, but the last time was with Dee and that one was the best. The snow bridge at the bergschrnd was long gone and the climb of the bergschrund was far more complicated. This is one of the Sierra routes that I have climbed more than once and will likely climb again.

The ascent of the Matthes Crest requires hiking up the Budd Lake trail that leaves the Cathedral Lakes trail. This short hike brings the climber past the much more traveled Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak. While the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak is justifiably considered a classic, I like Matthes Crest more. Matthes Crest is further away and consequently does not see the hordes of climbers. It is also more of a traverse than an up and down climb which makes it more unusual. Indeed, rappelling from the high point on the ridge takes only about one and one half rappels to reach the ground. The technical difficulties are generally at the start and near the central tower which is the summit. The rest is mostly third class or maybe modest fourth class approaching the central tower area. This climb can be done in one day from the road. The hike in requires going up and over Wilts Col or around Echo Peak #3. This is one of the most picturesque areas in the Sierras. This climb was one of Dee's annual August "birthday presents".

There are many routes on the Grand Teton. I made a trip to the park many years ago when I was mostly a third class scrambler and bought the guidebook there. This ancient book, authored by Leigh Ortenberger, contained a photo of a climber standing at the end of a wide upward tilting ramp called ìWall Streetî. I was determined that if I were to climb the Grand Teton I would stand in the exact same spot as the photo. Several years ago Dee and I traveled to the park and ascended the Exum Ridge route. While most of the climbers were interested in the Exum Direct, we headed for the ìregularî Exum Ridge route. Sure enough, after many of the classic moves described by Mr. Ortenberger I was standing on Wall Street in the same spot as the photo. It is the start of the technical difficulties and requires some modest 5.4 climbing to go further. This was the location where the teenage boy, Glenn Exum, jumped in order to get by this hard part! The remainder of the route is fun climbing on the ridge with a modest section of 5.7 up higher if one religiously sticks to the ridge. The decent from the summit is tricky. One has to find the rappel to the Upper Saddle. This is a classic rappel that is overhanging and featured in many photos. The final part of the descent requires finding an obscure trail down a ridge. Sadly, Mr. Leigh Ortenberger, was killed in the Oakland Hills fire of 1991.

The Zoroaster Temple climb became an ascent of interest after reading an article about it in the Arizona Highways magazine. I am not even sure where I picked up the magazine. I have always like the Grand Canyon but in truth it is more of a canyoneerers or hikers home and does not offer much for the rock climber. The one exception is the Zoroaster Temple, which has a 5.9 route on the Northeast Ridge. While the Zoroaster Temple is clearly visible to the visiting millions from the facilities at the South Rim, the logistics involved with climbing the Zoroaster were a project in itself. The project is to essentially hike all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and then hike and climb all the way up the other side and then turn around and go back in order to go home. A lot of distance, a lot of elevation to be gained and lost, and no water other than what could be brought up from the river. The climb leaves the well worn Clear Creek Trail on the north side of the canyon. From there it is cross country up to the break in the Red Wall and then some fourth class climbing to get up to the top of the Red Wall to a campsite. The ascent heads back up the west side of the Zoroaster until the base of the North Ridge is reached. This is the start of the technical difficulties. The technical part of the trip is several pitches long, ranging between about 5.6 and 5.8, until the last pitch which is 5.9 offwidth. There is some modest scrambling required to ascend the limestone summit block. The views of the canyon are stunning from the top. Indeed, the views from most of our positions above the Red Wall were spectacular. This trip was done with Jim Curl and Maxym Runov, both of whom have had an interest in the Grand Canyon, and Bojan Silic who made this ascent as his first trip to the canyon and now is asking when we can go again!

The fifth trip is the ascent of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. This trip is the easiest of the five, in fact, it is a class 1 trail to the top. Mauna Loa is no ordinary mountain, however. Mauna Loa is what geologists call a shield volcano and it is probably the only one of this type that is active in modern times. The lava from Mauna Loa mostly oozes out of the top and slowly flows to the sea. This is in contrast to the typical composite volcano which blows explosively and the lava cools more quickly leading to their conical shape. The trail is rock all the way, camping is done in huts with cisterns attached to collect rainwater, and the entire trip seems like a hike on Mars. All of the hiking features views of interesting and in some cases unbelievable volcanic structures. Since a shield volcano is essentially flat on top it seems to take forever to climb the last 500 feet of elevation. It is worth it. The summit cabin is near the main summit caldera of the volcano, which is an enormous hole in the ground with fumeroles boiling away in the distance. The actual summit is on the other side of the caldera from the hut and requires a hike to get there. While this mountain may be on Hawaii, it is not a low lying mountain. It is in fact 13, 677 feet tall and my old hiking friend Joe MacClure and I were snowed on as we walked to the summit cabin!

So there are five of my favorite climbs. None of them are the hardest routes I have done, but they are in many ways the most interesting. Indeed, the Mauna Loa trip is a favorite because it is not possible to climb any other mountain in the world quite like it. While this is not a feature of all these routes, each one was climbed at a point in my life when they were just right and have come to have a certain ìmagicî to this day.


For The North Palisade:

The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, and Trails, second edition, R.J Secor, The Mountaineers, 1999, ISBN 0-89886-625-1.

Climbing Californiaís High Sierra, second edition, John Moynier and Claude Fiddler, The Globe Pequot Press (Falcon Guide), 2002, ISBN 0-7627-1085-3.

Climbing Californiaís Fourteeners, Stephen F. Porcella and Cameron M. Burns, The Mountaineers, 1998, ISBN 0-89886-555-7.

For the Matthes Crest add the following to the above:

The Good, the Great, and the Awesome, Peter Croft, Maximus Press, 2002, ISBN 0-9676116-4-4.

The following are useful for the Grand Teton:

A Climbers Guide to the Teton Range, third edition, Leigh N. Ortenberger and Reynold G. Jackson, The Mountaineers, 1996, ISBN 0-89886-480-1

Teton Classics, 50 Selected Climbs in Grand Teton Nation Park, Richard Rossiter, Chockstone Press, 1994, ISBN 0-934641-71-4

Guide to the Wyoming Mountains and Wilderness Areas, third edition, Orrin H. Bonney and Lorraine G. Bonney, Sage Books (The Swallow Press), 1960, ISBN 0-8040-0578

The only easilly found information for the Zoroaster Temple is in the following:

Rock Climbing Arizona, Stewart M. Green, Falcon Publishing, 1999, ISBN 1-56044-813-X.

Zoroaster Temple, Robert H. Miller, Rock and Ice Classic, Rock and Ice #64.

Adventuring in Arizona, John Annerino, Sierra Club Travel Guide to the Grand Canyon State, 1991, ISBN 0-87156-681-8.

Rock Climbing in the Grand Canyon, Bob Kerry, Arizona Highways, February 1994.

Finally, for Mauna Loa, try:

Hawaiiís Best Hiking Trails, Robert Smith, third edition, A Hawaiian Outdoor Adventures Publication, 1991, ISBN 0-924308-03-6