American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

"Wisdom Tooth" and Monolith, North Face

United States, Wyoming, Wind River Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Kenneth Nichols
  • Climb Year: 1980
  • Publication Year: 1981

Our primary objective was the Gran route on the north face of Monolith. We approached the mountain from Dickinson Park on the northeast (Lander) side and established Base Camp near Papoose Lake. Preferring to warm up on an easier climb, Al Rubin and I first set our sights on A-Frame Buttress, the third spire to the right (north) of Dogtooth Pinnacle. On August 3 we set out at daybreak. Before we had threaded our way halfway up the talus slope, we found ourselves drawn instead to the first spire to the right of Dogtooth, where a vast sweep of rock was split by a single tantalizing crack. I quickly laybacked up the first pitch, a small corner formed by a flake. Then came four of the finest pitches we had ever climbed, all perfect F8 to F9 finger and hand cracks with only a few points of aid to keep us humble. There were no ledges. The sixth pitch included a severely overhanging dihedral, which we climbed on aid with tiny stoppers and RP nuts to break through the band of overhangs that crossed the face at mid height. A long lead up a steep, rotten crack finally landed us on a spacious but sloping ledge, the first on the climb. Above was a giant triangular ceiling which we had seen from the ground. Fortunately we could circumvent it by climbing a short overhanging wall and traversing right on poorly protected F7 terrain to a deep chimney. The last six leads were easy and followed a series of ledges, ramps and low-angle cracks which trended up and around the spire to the right. There was no evidence of a previous ascent and we suspect that the route is new. A1 named it “Wisdom Tooth” (NCCS IV, F9, A2). On August 5 we headed at dawn toward Monolith, well equipped for a bivouac because of Bonney’s and Kelsey’s Grade V rating. An hour later we reached the foot of the north face and the initial inside corner. A long tongue of hard snow ran up the corner and looked unappealing for EBs. Despite the cold, the climbing on the first seven pitches was relatively easy (F6 to F8) and our speed kept us warm. The first pitch, of course, involved jamming between rock and snow, but this was followed by two leads up a clean, dike-like formation loaded with horizontal holds. Then, with our bulky packs, we had to struggle up 600 feet of chimneys in four long leads. The eighth pitch began with a short overhanging hand crack (F9) and continued as a very steep inside corner to the base of a giant overhanging dihedral. Al wisely insisted we climb around it to the right, which, luckily, was easy. A short downward traverse led to a succession of ledges and a crack which brought us back into the main chimney system above the dihedral. There the chimney system leans to the left and forms a steep ramp which diagonals straight to the top. We were pleased to find that within 2½ rope-lengths we were on the summit. Most of the climbing on the ramp was easy, but at one point we avoided a leaning squeeze chimney by making a couple of F9 moves on the face to the left. However, what surprised us even more was that we still had two hours of daylight left, even though we had carried bivouac gear. Thus, as a free climb the north face of Monolith is probably no more than a IV, F9.

Kenneth Nichols

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