American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California, Sierra Nevada, Birch Mountain, Bardini Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Birch Mountain, Bardini Route. This climb is hidden in plain sight. You can study the north face of Birch Mountain (13,665') from downtown Big Pine. But it took a decade of driving up to guide in the Palisades before I began to notice the huge dark face to the south, and two more decades to act on it.

In many ways Birch Mountain is the mirror of Temple Crag, just five miles away. Same dark granite, same bewildering complexity of ridges on a 2,400-foot face on a 13,000- foot mountain. A similar Dark Star-like buttress dominates the center of the face, and we went straight for it, even though it was hard to tell how it connected to which ridge above. Recon with a spotting scope failed to show the link-up, but did convince us to return in the spring, with snow covering the approach talus and meltable for the inevitable bivy. Meanwhile others noticed the face, and a couple of friends jumped us, climbing 5.10 up the buttress before rapping off in the face of darkness. Terry Kearney and I became more secretive and returned early, May 2-4. A jumble of loose blocks gave way to clean 5.6 up the buttress, incut holds even. Where it steepened, we cut left across the prominent corner to stay with the grade and came to a fine, unroped bivy atop the buttress. Several pitches took us over the prominent Twin Towers; we rapped off the second one. Here was the hidden junction with the upper ridge, striking but seriously harder. This early in the season we weren’t yet tuned, and veered right, crossing two gullies on snow, chopping 5m off our new rope on another rap, and bivying again before finishing up another fine ridge straight to the summit. Backside glissading for 5,000' took us to burgers in Bishop.

Allan Bard and I had planned to do this climb a decade ago. When he died, my snapshot of the route was on his refrigerator. Ever since, it has been earmarked the Bardini. By sidestepping the direct upper ridge, and assiduously backing off other hard sections, this route barely noses out the grand traverse of the Whitney Skyline to become the easiest big route in the High Sierra (23 pitches, three on snow, and four raps, V 5.6). But fair warning: loose patches and routefinding make the Bardini more serious than it sounds. Soon there will be a direct.

Doug Robinson, AAC

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