American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California, Sierra Nevada Range, P 12,860, Cyclorama Wall

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

P 12,860, Cyclorama Wall. This obscure summit, located in the middle of a netherworld between the Palisades and Leconte Canyon, is a mile-wide, 1000-foot, vertical wall every bit as impressive as the Diamond on Longs Peak. To reach it, one must cross either three of four passes over 12,000 feet and travel cross-country for most of twenty miles. Even this inaccessibility would not have deterred determined climbers, were the face visible from traveled areas. From every side except the north, P 12,860 is a non-descript Sierra rubble pile, rising at about 30° to a cone-shaped summit. From the north, however, this cone is quarried out so extensively that the wall drops vertically from the summit forming a tight arc of cliff that virtually hides itself from all but a straight-on view. Standing beneath it, Vern Clevenger, Claude Fiddler and I felt as if we were viewing a cyclorama in a museum. We approached the climb via Southfork, Mather, and two unnamed passes, reaching a camp about two miles from the face in a very long day. A crack system that appeared straightforward from below turned out to be discontinuous, overhanging, and bottoming. Four F10 pitches in a row, together with a few moves of direct aid and two tension traverses, gained us a steep dihedral with a good crack that aimed for the top. Two pitches below the top, the hauling pack jammed and came free after a hard tug. This opened the top flap and I noticed two objects falling free all the way to the talus. One was a water bottle, the other a single running shoe. I screamed in horror, because the loss of that running shoe was more devastating than a long fall; while the shoe was still in the air, I was contemplating the pain of crossing all the passes the next day wearing one E.B. After twelve solid hours of climbing we finally summited just as the sun touched the horizon. Our descent down the northeast side brought us into the only cliffy terrain in sight, just as the light was failing on a moonless night. Stumbling about in our E.B.’s, we decided to bivouac rather than risk crossing a col that separated us from our camp. Without jackets at 12,000 feet in September, we got to know each other quite well before dawn allowed us to continue to camp, and later in the day to the road-head in Big Pine Creek. NCCS V, F10, Al.

Galen A. Rowell

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