Humphreys (East Arete)

The road, my car, and the peak.


I had already climbed Humphreys for last year’s Sierra Challenge, but it is an impressive peak, and the East Ridge is a classic route (first climbed solo by Norman Clyde). Also, Bob had suggested a long 4th class traverse around the valley to Basin Peak. After much time spent creeping along a maze of bad roads in 4 wheel drive, I found something that looked a bit like a trailhead — a turnaround circle with a use trail heading west — and decided to start there. It didn’t match Secor’s description, but it was in about the right place.

The trail soon became faint and started heading too far north, so I went cross-country up a ridge toward the saddle between Humphreys and something Secor calls “Peaklet.” I found some game trails that made the going a bit easier, but didn’t see any human footprints until I got into a sandy gully leading to the saddle, where I saw perhaps one set.

From the saddle at around 12,000′, I followed some tracks along the left side of the ridge, negotiating sand and boulders. Eventually the ridge steepened, and I moved closer to the crest, moving over more 3rd class rock. Getting up the tower before the next gap in the ridge was easy, but getting down was more difficult. At one point I tried downclimbing between two blocks near a rap sling, only to be forced to climb back out when I came up about 5 feet short of the block below. I was eventually forced to downclimb around 100′, traverse a rib, and climb back up some vertical fins to make 10-20′ of progress toward the gap. In the sand below, I could see several sets of tracks — the gap must be the standard start of the route.

From the gap, the climbing was still more on sand than I could have wished, with plenty of footprints, but the rock became more frequent and more difficult. Bypassing a pinnacle, I found a chimney mentioned in the route description, then tried to climb another to make further progress. This one steepened into two vertical jam cracks, so after some exploration, I backed down and made a desperately long step from partway up the chimney to a horizontal exit to the left. After this, the climbing was more straightforward, with sandy sections mixed with 4th and easy 5th-class climbing on nice cracks and fins.

The ridge eventually flattened out into a sandy plain and joined the colorful southeast ridge. From the top of the plain I could see the final pitch to the summit; I gather that the intimidating “married man’s point” is somewhere in this section, but the climbing all seemed easier than below. I went up a short face with nice cracks, then up some blocks and through the small bowl to the summit. Last year’s register was unfortunately gone, but I saw some familiar names, including Miguel’s recent East Ridge solo. It had taken a disappointing 5 hours to reach the summit, and I was feeling slow and tired, so after a snack, I took a short nap.

I descended the standard route (SW face/NW ridge) to the gap in the ridge, then took the 4th class route north from the gap toward the lake, where I hoped to pick up a trail. The climbing was loose and sandy — horrible going up, but not bad going down — and I knocked some nasty rocks into the ice chute to the right. Partway down I found a nearly-new abandoned rope, and took a break to clumsily coil my booty and sling it over a shoulder. Keeping the rope out of my way was a constant nuisance for the rest of the climb.

At the base, I bypassed the bergschrund on rocks to its left, then slid down the large snowfield to the endless talus above the lake. One long talus-hop later, I found a good use trail along McGee Creek. The trail faded and returned, but was easy enough to follow as it stuck to the creek. It eventually followed a large, rusty water pipe, and ended at a road and a tall, vertical silver pipe. I had driven up this road earlier, but had not seen the trail. From here, it was less than half a mile along roads to my car. I was disappointed not to get Basin, but the free rope helped make up for it.

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