North America, United States, California, Sierra Nevada, Adam's Rib

Publication Year: 1973.

Adam’s Rib. Early in 1971 Doug Robinson and I climbed a 1000-foot tower on Wheeler Crest named “The Smokestack.” It proved to be the most continuously difficult free climb of its length that either of us has encountered. Adam’s Rib is an equal-sized tower between the Smokestack and Well’s Peak. It looked just as hard with even fewer cracks. In the spring of this year Doug and Jay Jensen climbed the first three pitches, surprisingly without direct aid. But a steep and blank fifteen-foot head-wall stopped them. They did not want to use bolts for aid. In September, Doug and Chuck Kroger joined me on another attempt. We followed the ethic of the first try: no pitons were carried, just nuts and bolts. Wherever protection was inadequate with nuts we would use a bolt. In this way subsequent ascents could be made with just a selection of nuts. No pitons or hammers would be needed. It must be admitted that the climb was chosen carefully for the first use of this ethic. Piton cracks were scarce anyway, and the average angle, although ominous from head-on, was probably not more than 65°. We quickly reached Doug’s old high point, where he spent half an hour threading a crack with four nuts before attempting the blank area above. He quivered. We quivered. The rope slowly paid out and we passed the first major obstacle. I led the next section and wandered back and forth across the face, trying to follow weaknesses which usually proved to be in myself, not in the rock. I placed two bolts, bringing the total on the climb to seven. Chuck led the next pitch without a bolt, and as darkness began to fall, Doug was heading for the summit. He couldn’t make it go. Unlike the Smokestack, which placed us on the prow of a tower with no avenue of escape for a 1000 feet, Adam’s Rib has several places where a traverse would be possible to easier climbing in gullies on either side of the buttress. We chose to traverse right 50 feet into a gully, which we followed to the top of the spire. Darkness was upon us and it took us until after midnight to descend a 4000-foot boulder-strewn couloir and reach the valley floor. The climb was not quite as difficult and varied as the Smokestack. It had seven pitches instead of nine, although a more direct finish might very well have nine. At one point, each one of us in succession had a lead of F9 face climbing, and we can highly recommend the route, especially as it can be climbed without hammers, pitons or bolts now that the route is established. The seven bolts on the route are never next to cracks, although a daring leader might have been able to avoid one or two by placing pitons in a higher or lower crack system. NCCS IV, F9.

Galen Rowell