On a winter trans-Sierra attempt in the coldest week of 2007, Chris LaBounty, Neal Harder, and I spotted a beautiful granite tower, surrounded by snow and set against a blue sky above Tamarack Lake. Even from a distance, we could see scoops, knobs, and chickenheads. It was like falling upon an unclimbed Charlotte Dome. We returned in the summer, and on July 13, 2007, we established the first route on the Prism (our name for the tower). The Left Facet (13 pitches, 5.10a R) starts on the lowest part of the tower and follows the left skyline to the pointy summit block. The route climbs featured slabs, cracks, runnels, and a steep face up high. Once atop the summit block we were surprised that the climb wasn’t over. Another four pitches of ridge traversing and downclimbing up to 5.8 were required to descend.
Since then, among the three of us, we’ve established two more routes on the Prism. In July 2009, Neal and Chris climbed the right skyline (Right Facet, 11 pitches, 5.9). Last July, Chris and I established Pig with Lipstick (11 pitches, 5.9 R), a distant reference to Charlotte Dome that starts near Right Facet but heads up and left on golden knobs, chickenheads, and flakes. During the same trip, Chris and I also climbed the giant rock ridge right of the Prism. Our plan was to remain roped up for the nearly half-mile ridge, but after difficulties up to 5.7 on the first third, we coiled the ropes and continued. Spots require hand traversing on a knife-edge ridge with big air beneath, and once you start, the easiest way off is continuing to the other side. Unlike other ridge traverses in the Sierra, this ridge doesn’t have any spots to bail from easily. We called the climb Saber Ridge (~20 pitches, 5.7), though subsequently learned that our friend Scott Thelen had climbed it in 2008, with Justin Dille. He thought the name appropriate, and agreed with our thinking that it’s one of the best ridge traverses in the Sierra. One could argue that Saber Ridge is better than Matthes Crest in terms of exposure and commitment. It’s nice to know that Beckey and Rowell left a few Sierra plums for the rest of us to pick.