Pratts Crack, Sierra Eastside, Ca.
My partner for this trip is Robert from
the North Peak trip.
He's now in love with ice climbing and on this trip he gets his baptism to the world of offwidths. Might as well start off big.
So the plan is to acclimate in the cold weather with a day of ice climbing in LVC, then head down to the relatively warm temps of Bishop and Pratt's.
A beautiful sunset on Thursday is always a great start.
We leave at 11pm and throw down outside
Bishop at ~3am and shiver for a few hours of "sleep". At 7:30am
the mooing from a near by herd of cows gets to be too much so it's off to
a leisurely breakfast with lots of coffee.
11am brings us to a 2 pitch WI4- on the main wall at LVC.
In just 3 trips Roberts ice skills are impressive, but his left swing could use a little work. He can't hit the same hole to save his ass. An inch to the left, 3/4" to the right, 1" high, 3/4" low, etc. After 6 or 7 sticks there's a big enough hole to just hook it. He's deadly accurate with the right though. A few leads then some TR's on the Chouinard's brings us to sundown and it gets cold.
We hike out in the moonlight and it's back to Bishop for the
Pratt's Crack is in Pine Canyon about 10 miles West of Bishop. It's rumored to have only one point of pro, a loose chockstone, for the entire pitch. The book simply states "gear to 10 inches". (stock photo of Pratt's)
But we're pack'n a secret weapon, two of these babies; Valley Giant #9's. I show Robert that the fist jam will swim uselessly in this crack, it's wings and heel-toe jams.
He responds with a blank stare, but enthusiastically repeats our mantra "We Must Top Out!". Robert's a young personal trainer who's proud of his Scottich Heritage & likes to pose sporting the Scottish warrior logo.
I tease him that the Scotts are wankers, actually sub-wankers,
because they've been colonized by wankers. That's from Trainspotting but he's
too young to know.
After 2 hours of ridiculously exhausting postholing
we arrive a mere quarter mile at the base.
Stunning. Period. We stare at each other and giggle. It's another gorgeous day and surprisingly we have the route all to ourselves! In winter it's a dark, cold corner untouched by the suns rays. The snow is steeper and deeper than it looks.
So now you know how it turns out. Yes, dark. That's the belay ledge we dug out after taking a slide down the hill on the tarp. Notice the bolt over my head. That's the 2nd one(at least), the 1st one was actually below the snow we dug out.
Either it's a big snow year or the guys who put up this route
are way light. While I geared up Robert made it to the 3rd bolt. I made him
repeat it with a sit start.
At the core of the rack are the two VG # 9's. If you've never seen one of these they're hilarious. First impression is that it's fake, 2nd it's heavy(2 lbs), and 3rd it's hard to rack. The monster rack consisted of 2@ VG #9, 2@ BD C4 #6, BD C4 #5, 2@ BD #5(old style), BD #4.5, 2@ #4(old style), Big Bro #2,3,4,5, a standard rack up to #3(old style), and HB offsets(very useful, please bring 'em back). My left trap/shoulder still hurts and I think I have scoliosis.
So off I go in jeans, high top approach shoes, neoprene knee & elbow pads for the left side, and the biggest f#cking free rack I've ever carried on the right side.
The 1st crux is getting up the 8 foot ice pyramid between me and the crack, balence is key as friction is non existent. At 6 foot, 200lb, with a size 13 foot it's too small to get in and too tight to turn my left foot very far. At 1st progress is slow but then I get the sequence down; left wing in, left foot turned, right hand on the arete, right heel on the outside wall with toes on the arete, pumping the right leg for progress. The left leg has to stay straight otherwise the knee hits the wall preventing the left foot from rotatating to lock, and you slide down. This sequence yields a mere 5 inches of progess per cycle but it's pretty secure. It has been likened as "trying to kick start a Harley."
There are some edges in the crack and holds on the arete that
speed things up but nothing consistent.
The arete(in front of you) is excellent granite, more corse than the smooth stuff in the Valley, but not like the crushed glass QM of Josh. The wall behind is the same except it's covered with a half inch layer of green/gray shale(?). Some mostly vertical cracks in the shale yield granite pro placements underneath.
At ~15 there's a bomber #4 Camalot about 2 feet deep in the crack. Then you hit a series of chockstones slung with all kinds of stuff(more on that later). If you stand on them(left foot) it tends to push you out of the crack as they're too deep. I clipped all of it and pushed(or pussed) ahead with my #9 ahead of me. At ~ half way there's a huge ledge(6"x12") to stand on and conveniently at least 6 nut/cam placements in the wall. Hard to do if you're in the crack as they would be behind you, but easy from the ledge. There's two ~5 foot sections where it's too wide for the #9. What a pain to carry it. I left the 1st #9 a little over half way and messed with the #5 Big Bro in the wider section finally leaving it placed with zero confidence. Another #9 section leads to a bomber #4 Big Bro placement about 3/4 of the way up. There's a circular depression in the left wall that looks like the bottom of a beer can and the other side is smooth & parallel. It's the 1st time I place a Big Bro and actually felt good about it. The last 40 feet the crack narrows and I happily unload the 2nd #9, two #6's, a #5, and a #4. I gain the top alcove placing a #1 Camalot where the crack ends.....choked with ice. There's 10 feet between me and the anchors but the first 5 feet are covered with a pyramid of ice just like the bottom of the route. I spend the next 15 minutes with my left hand and foot in the crack whacking away a 5 foot slab of ice with a #2 Big Bro in my right hand. I shovel 2 feet of snow off the ledge and carefully high step onto the 4 inch patch I've cleared on a spire. "F#ck Yeah !!" I shout as I clip the chains. "Is the avalanche over ?" Robert asks. "F#ck Yeah !!" I answer. "Give me a minute to put my shoes on" says Robert. I've been climbing/hammering for the last 20 minutes with my headlamp on and to be honest I was hoping to clean on the way down and be done with it, but Robert is psyched to climb. The previous trips have made him tough as leather. I guess I've got it OK on top; it's a beatiful full moon, no wind, and I've got plenty of snow to eat if I'm hungry.
"Climbing, I must top out!" he yells with Schwarzenegger like gusto. "You must!" I reply as I take up the slack. He starts off slowly, making a lot of noise, headlamp darting all over the place, realizing it's harder than he thought. He tosses his gloves to the ground thinking he'll get better hand holds without them but quickly regrets his mistake. There's not much to grab, just OW technique. It's about 28 degrees F and he's having trouble unclipping pro with his numb fingers. At the ledge he takes a break to warm them up. "You must top out!" I shout down. "I must!!" is the reply and he's on his way. After what seems like an eternity he comes into view, huffing and puffing, both hands and feet in the crack. "Dude, this thing's f#cking hard. Holy shit! How'd you get up that?" Referring to the iced up corner. I pull the ropes aside to reveal the 5 foot trough I beat though the ice leading to my perch. We start laughing as he makes his way up and ties off. We let out a few "Woo Hoo's", bark at the full moon, then rap, leaving the ropes up for tomorrow.
Back to the car, then to town for some well deserved pizza and
We return the next day to find the wind had covered most of yesterdays trail, but it's cold and the snow is firm so we only sink ~18", much better than yesterday. Robert takes my advice about socks, tape, left side in, and makes quick work of it.
We do some laps, look for pro, and have another good laugh at
the anchor about last nights top out.(video)
Apparently there's a 2nd pitch that the book(Good, Bad,& Awesome) didn't mention.
The widest section, I'd say close to a foot wide, is kind of a roof. Remember you're looking up.
We pack up and head back to the car in the wind and snow flurries.
A tasty treat burried in the snow!
For size reference.
Looking back up Pine Creek
Looking out across the valley
There are a few small sections with ice inside that are easily passed. Oh yeah, there are occasional mini avalanches from above, but only during the day.
If this bothers you then climb at night or when it's below freezing.
Keep in mind there's a lot of snow so these may be a bit higher in summer. At ~14 feet there's a #4 Camalot 2 feet deep. At ~20 there's a bomber slung(faded orange) chockstone that can't move forward, backward, flip, spin, etc. It's actually recessed into the right side wall. I think it was hatched there.
You can lift it up, and only up, though. There's another one with a yellow sling that wasn't so good. At ~30 feet there's a tat-fest,rat-nest pile of at least 5 different pieces of cord all connected to 2 quick links through a small quarry of chockstones 2-3 feet deep.
I clipped the octapuss twice. At ~ 60 feet there's the ledge, a great rest once cleared of snow and ice.
There's another chockstone with a black sling and no less than six placements, more with offset cams/nuts, including a horizontal crack(yellow Alien) not shown. All accessable from the ledge.
At 3/4 of the way up there's a perfect #4 Big Bro placement
with a 3" circular depression in the left wall. At the top you could
climb the right side of the if it's not full of ice.
I highly recommend a pair of the giant cams. You may sustitute with a pair of really giant balls though. If faded webbing and Aliens aren't your thing bring whatever makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
I took a side construction job to pay for the 5's, 6's, 9's, & Big Bros because Pratt's Crack was my New Years climbing resolution. I busted ass & stuck to it. Now I have the rest of the year off! (pep talk) So whatever your resolution is, stick to it and go do it!!
Thanks to Robert, he's a Kick Ass partner who doesn't quit, never complains, is down for anything, and is tons of laughs. Also, thanks to Russ for his efforts bring back the art of the WIDE. Check out his site.
You may just find yourself coming over to the dark side.