American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California, Sierra Nevada, The Obelisk, Far Out and Other New Routes

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

The Obelisk, Far Out and other new routes. Lucho Rivera and I enjoyed several summer adventures in the rock-climbing wonderland that is the Sierra Nevada. First was a new route on the steep face of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell. The route offered six pitches of continuous, devious 5.10. Clouds moved in throughout the day, and we topped out 10 minutes before a downpour. Psyched by our route on Mt. Russell and our repeats of classics on The Incredible Hulk, we wanted to explore other rock formations of the Sierra. We somewhat arbitrarily settled on The Obelisk, a free-standing dome overlooking Kings Canyon. Without a topographic map or accurate directions, we were off-route from the get-go and tacked five miles onto the 12-mile approach. What we thought would be a one-day approach took two days. When we finally arrived we were disappointed to see that most of the obvious lines on The Obelisk had been done, but, after consulting the guidebook, we realized the steepest face had not been climbed. The giant roof 200 feet from the summit looked like it would require aid, but I have had enough experience to know that you never know if something is free-climbable until you’re there, so the next day Lucho and I went for it. We carried a hammer and a few pins in case the upper bit required aid. Each pitch had a meant-to-be feel to it, with smooth and golden footholds and edges appearing where and when they were needed. After five classic crack and dihedral pitches, we were at the base of the roof. I cleared rocks from the stance and called for the hammer and pins so that I could get protection between me and the belay. As Lucho pulled the hammer and pins out of the haul bag, the hammer mysteriously came untied from its sling and plummeted down the face. I lamented having thrown all the big rocks off, but scrounged a small one and pounded in a somewhat solid Lost Arrow. After a few minutes of climbing up and down, I committed to a mantle on chickenheads at the lip of the body-length roof and reveled in the glory of an overhanging 5.9 chickenheaded headwall. We called the route Far Out, for the long approach and the airy final pitch. We descended via the famous 150-foot free-hanging rappel off a microwave-sized chickenhead and headed for the prominent spire that flanks the tallest face of The Obelisk. We climbed the spire’s tallest face, encountering two classic 5.10 chickenhead-and-crack pitches, followed by a terrifying 5.11R/X pitch on sloping and overhanging chickenheads. We found no sign of passage on the summit and believe that we were the first people to stand on top of it. Lucho and I basked in the setting sun, realizing that we had climbed two of our best first ascents in one long day.

Cedar Wright, AAC

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