Mount Humphreys (#47)
Day 40, Mount Humphreys
Mt Humphreys would be my third and final peak of the “Bishop Triple”, the three major peaks of the Bishop skyline. It has a unique, striking, asymmetrical shape. It is steep on all sides, providing no easy way to the summit. I was presented with a good problem to have -- two classic routes to choose between.
I was torn between skiing the north couloir, or climbing the long and sustained East Arete. I did consider the mega link-up of carrying my skis up the east arete and then down to the north couloir, but carrying skis for over a mile of fourth and fifth class terrain sounded just a bit too heinous for me. After much debate, I opted to climb the East Arete. I was concerned about sloppy snow conditions in the couloir after the recent storm and subsequent warm sun, and a long, sunny ridge climb sounded positively delightful.
Thanks to my van, I was able to drive all the way up the tricky road, making for a short approach. As I climbed, I was surprised at how much bare ground was showing, even on flat areas above 9,000 feet. Spring is well and truly on its way in the Sierra! My skis stayed on my pack as I booted through sagebrush, scree, and firm snow up to the start of the ridge at 12,000 feet.
The climb is separated into two halves by an unnamed sub-peak of Humphreys, and only the first half was clearly visible. It seemed long, but manageable. I switched to trail runners and headed uphill.
The first section of the ridge consists of wonderfully solid rock, with sections of huge, stable blocks perched on top of one another, making for fun and interesting climbing.
One section provides a perfect, flat, 8” wide sidewalk on the very top of a knife-edge that you can casually stroll along for 30 feet or so, with thrilling exposure off both sides. I meandered my way up towards the peak above, navigating snow patches and loose rock here and there, but mostly enjoying a fun, casual romp.
Upon reaching the summit of the sub-peak, the rest of the route was visible. Here, it becomes a bit more convoluted, winding up and down past multiple notches and towers before tackling the looming summit block.
I passed the crux of the climb, a 5.7 downclimb move that I found to be surprisingly tricky, requiring me to dangle at full extension by one hand on a good hold to stretch to a low foothold.
From here, more tricky climbing led continuously up and up, until finally reaching the flat talus of the summit area. Here, there was much fresh snow, and I carefully navigated through the hidden unstable blocks to reach the final steep rock step.
This provided some of the best climbing of the route, with bomber, steep rock split by a plethora of great cracks, providing enjoyable and secure movement.
From the summit, I enjoyed the view out over the huge expanse of Humphreys Basin, which I had traversed a few days prior en route to Pilot Knob.
Turning around, Basin and Tom stood tall over the Owens River Valley, two vertical miles below. A majestic sight indeed.
The climb had taken me nearly three hours, despite moving quickly and efficiently the entire way, and I knew the return trip would be just as long. It truly is a long, sustained route!
I enjoyed the descent every bit as much as the climb, feeling a little burst of joy every time I returned to a particularly memorable sequence of moves or improbably balanced boulder.
Down and down I went, finding new variations here and there but, for the most part, reversing my route exactly.
As I got near the end, I started to tire, but fortunately this last section was the most fun to downclimb, and I found a final burst of energy ad I swung myself between the jumbled blocks back to my skis.
I was happy to find that my descent was still in the sun, and even happier when I dropped in and it provided excellent corn turns! A truly wonderful treat to cap off an already excellent day. I bobbed and carved my way downhill, jumping off each bump I could find, skiing fast and loose and having so much fun. A great rock climb AND a great ski? The Sierra really outdid themselves on this one.
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