Close call on Eagle Lake ButtressSeptember 25th, 2008 By Brandon
Note; This story takes place on Sat, June 28,2008. The storm described was part of the front that blew through California, igniting over 2000 wildfires in an afternoon.
Saturday morning I rose with the sun. 5:30 saw me making coffee, doing dishes, feeding dogs and cats, listening to NPR, just straight up bustling. My reason of course, was the plan to climb 3 routes on Eagle Lake Buttress on this day of much sunshine. I had never been up there before and haven’t climbed much yet this year so I thought 3 routes would sufficiently knacker us.
Around the third cup of coffee, I heard Donna Appidoni telling me that there was a slight chance of thunderstorms in the Sierra. Well, what does KXJZ know down there in the valley? I’m always hearing chance of storms and how often does it actually play out that way? Well folks, I’m an idiot. More on that later.
Apparently, Amye was not on the same schedule as I was, a cup of coffee next to the bed at 7:30, along with a gentle admonishment did nothing. A breakfast burrito at 8:30, same result.
Ok, jump ahead to 10:30!! After much pacing the house on my part, we headed out. No more will be said of this for the sake of domestic harmony.
Emerald Bay, 10:45 am. We hit the trail and made pretty good time up to Eagle Lake, where I began to decide the best approach. On the way up I spied the buttress, but it just looked too darn far away to be our objective. However, it was the only chunck of rock that even slightly resembled the picture in the guide.
I chose the express route talus field without being able to see the buttress and hoped for the best.
On top of the talus gully we hit the ridge and there it was, just up ridge from us. We headed up to get a little closer, keeping an eye on the building clouds to the west.
Near the base, we decided to hang for a bit and see what developed with the weather since the clouds were getting darker and darker. I spotted a really neat wave shaped cloud.
It rained. We holed up under a boulder and relaxed for a bit, hoping that the squall would blow through.
Sure enough after 20 minutes or so the clouds broke and we were once again bathed in brilliant sunshine with the only clouds around being down near Echo/Carson passes.
We quickly gathered our stuff and headed up to the base of the east ridge, our chosen first route. Since it was nearing mid-afternoon, I thought it would be best to only climb the east ridge and then orange book, which looked like a lot of fun.
Racking up in the talus, we left the bag down low for easier retrieval and I headed up the first pitch.
I would recommend linking the first 2 pitches listed in the book, as long as you are comfortable climbing the broken section to the first belay with no gear. Rope drag would be a pain if you put gear in and then kept going up the ridge. I put a stopper in on that section so I brought Amye up to the ledge on the prow of the ridge.
The start of the second pitch climbs a pair of wide, curving cracks. Pretty fun stuff, but pretty short.
From there, a flat section to a pair of more narrow, but still curving cracks leads to third class scrambling and then the summit block.
I chose to belay below the summit as I wasn’t sure my 70 meter would have reached the top. Turns out it wouldn’t have, so no worries.
Around this point, I start to notice that while it is still all blue skies above, the sun has been obscured to the west by another round of storm clouds. Thunder rumbled in the distance and my pulse quickened a bit.
Amye reached me at the belay as the first fat drops fell on the slab I was sitting on. I knew it was time to get down and a short bit of 5.5 ish crack separated us from the summit. Amye clipped the anchor and I bolted for the summit.
Moving through a little chimney section to the jug on top, I sensed movement below me and saw that my sandal, previously clipped with it’s match to my harness, was bouncing down the slab to land in a crack. I calmly told Amye, that was my sandal, you’re going to grab it and bring it up to me. She agreed and I pulled through to the top.
Instantly, I was hit with high winds and could see that the weather was really about to get bad. I got in a depression with my feet in front of and above me and told Amye that she was on belay and to get up there like right now!
It was at that moment when all at once, hail the size of marbles came crashing down, accompanied with a persistent buzzing sound on my rack. I was scared. I felt a slight charge course through my body and got the rack to the other side of the summit block(read;threw it). Amye stopped to grab my sandal but no, it was way too deep into the crack to mess around trying to get it. I hauled Amye through the last section as if she were a rag doll and yelled at her so keep moving past me to the notch below.
The hail intensified and thunder rumbled all around us. Amye got to the notch, unroped and hunkered down as I grabbed the rack and scrambled to where she was.
All we knew was that the descent was a scramble down the west side of the buttress, so we headed down the wet slabs, water cascading off the granite all around us.
Within 10 minutes we were on easier ground, bushwacking down towards the ridge when the storm blew apart, finally allowing us to stop, breathe, and start laughing at both our stupidity and luck.
I went for the pack and met Amye on the ridge, wearing a chaco on my left foot and a climbing shoe on my right to begin the long walk back to the car.
A few falls on the descent owing to the unorthodox footwear and we were back to the cooler of delicious beer.