Ascent of Devils Crags on 2015-07-06

Climber: James Barlow

Others in Party:Keith Christensen
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, July 6, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Devils Crags
    Elevation:12400 ft / 3779 m

Ascent Trip Report

Devils Crags. Arguably one of the toughest peaks on the SPS list, or so I am told. Keith and I set our sights on this one for our big 4th of July trip for the season. I figured that we should knock out the technical peaks now and save the Tahoe day hikes for when we are older. On a side note, I am headed to Tahoe for some day hike SPS peaks later this very month...

Anyway, the trip started as they all do, with an early wake up in a parking lot in the van. We packed up our stuff, and hit the trail to Bishop Pass, covering the 6 miles and 2k gain in good time. We probably saw a dozen people between the trailhead and pass and we started earlier than most. Pretty busy weekend in the Sierra! Once we topped out, we headed down into Dusy Basin, which was more mosquito-infested than the other side of the pass, but not too bad for July. The descent to LeConte was uneventful and we chatted with a few people. None of the other hikers we encountered had even heard of Devils Crags. None were peakbaggers. Once we hit the JMT, it was all through-hikers that couldn't name a single peak between Whitney and Half Dome. We crossed the stream quite easily near Grouse Meadows. It had begun to rain near the ranger cabin and had continued off and on since then. We hit our decision point at a rainy moment and decided to pitch camp near the river, albeit on the correct side so that we would already be across in the morning for the hike up Rambaud. Naturally, it didn't really rain again that evening until we were asleep. While cooking dinner, Keith discovered the absence of his beloved blue spoon (not quite as notorious as pinky the cup). We chocked it up to our desire to be super-mega-ultra-light and resolved to share my spoon for meals.

The next morning was nice and we began the grueling off trail approach hike up Rambaud. We made good time to the lowest lake, where we finally joined the creek. The brush was not too bad as some reports had previously indicated. Along the way, further up, we found a climbing helmet that looked like it had taken a significant blow to the head, as it was cracked inside and had a large dent outside. It was randomly on our ascent route. We began to wonder about the fate of the last head that was in it. We topped off our water at the lowest lake and continued up to our camp site, a nice bunch of trees next to the highest lakes in the drainage. If you spread out among the tree bunches here, you can get a few bivy spots. For a tent, you will need to be out in the open. Since I was ultralight tarping it, I was in the trees and Keith was out in the open in his tent. After a hasty camp setup and bear can ditch, we continued up to Rambaud Pass to ascend Wheel Mtn.

We headed straight for the low point in the pas, not seeing the poorly-described "stay right" route in Secor. From the pass, we followed the ridge straight up Wheel, encountering some easy class 3 right at the top of the peak. The register was intact, with 2 ascents the previous year and our ascent as the first for 2015. The clouds were building for the afternoon show, so we didn't linger too long. After the usual summit photos, register reading, and snack, we were on our way down. Keith wanted more summit selfies, but I insisted that we head down...

The descent from the low point of Rambaud Pass was shear misery. It is loose and downright dangerous. We spread out with Keith heading to my left to avoid each other's fall lines of tumbling talus/choss/scree/total crap. Where is this easier ascent to the ridge? We looked from below and saw what looked like a nice ramp up to the base of a cliff and then a walkway along the bottom of the cliff. We figured that we had nothing to lose by trying this the next morning when we headed up Devils Crags.

Back in camp, our gourmet dinners were cooked and the spoon was shared. We saw some nearby pika action and called it a night, enjoying the amazing Sierra sunset.

Come morning, we were up really early to head up Devils Crags. The alarm blared at 4:45 and we made a hasty breakfast and began the walk up Rambaud for the second time. This time we headed up a moraine ramp to the base of some cliffs under the ridge to Wheel. A picture of this ramp and cliff can be seen here. Continue along the bottom of the cliff (pic), eventually passing right below the steepest part of the cliff (pic). Once you pass through here, you are on the ridge not too far above the low point, but the going is much easier. We made our way to the low point and then up the easy talus to the sub peak of White Top. We then ditched Keith's poles and descended into the notch below White Top. We took the traverse highlighted by Bob Burd in his excellent TR and made our way to the base of the chimney described in Secor. There is one minor squeeze about 1/3 of the way across this traverse (pic looking back at it as Keith followed me through). About half way up the chimney on the right is a rap station around a rock, probably 4 ft in circumference. We continued past this, stemming a chimney to the left, making our way up to a second rap station around a very large rock, much too wide for even 2 people to wrap their arms around. On both of these rap stations, we left new black webbing on our descent, threading the rap rings that were already there and cutting the oldest/most unsafe webbing from the rocks. From here, we continued up the ridge to the rabbit ears, described in Secor. Keith passed his pack through to me on the ascent, but not the descent. We soon reached another steep-looking pitch. Looking at it from anywhere but right at the bottom of it makes it seem like it is a straight up mid-5th class pitch! In fact, it has a weakness on the right side, where I lead up it and proceeded to set a top rope for Keith using an already-existing anchor. This pitch can be seen here with Keith rapping down it from either new red or new black webbing that we left behind. The webbing is around a pretty solid rock, about 3 ft in circumference. The next pitch (or maybe it is the pitch before this), you also climb up and find an anchor. In this case, it is 2 nuts. I cut off the oldest webbing and used a cordalette (dark green) to equalize the nuts and throw a backup knot into with a rap ring. I tied the older cordalette into this as well. I belayed Keith up this pitch as well. These are the only 2 pitches that I free-soloed and then brought Keith up on top rope. All the others we both free-soloed.

The next obstacle is the knife edge. Honestly, this was the scariest for me as I do not like to downclimb. We set a rappel and left behind some slings to aid in our re-ascent should we need them. We both rapped into the knife edge notch and then free-soloed up the other side. A pic looking back at the gear we left behind on the knife edge drop and the gear that was at the top of the knife edge. We retrieved our downclimb slings on the way back up and out. The rope was not used again the rest of the way to the summit, which eases up to 3rd class. We checked out the register, dutifully signed in, took the obligatory photos, grabbed a snack, and prepared for the second half of our climb, the descent. We had more than enough gear to leave behind and no desire to save $5 in webbing just to have an anchor snap on a rappel, so we backed up all 6 or 7 of the rappels that we made with our own gear. On the upper pitches, we left new red webbing from Keith's collection. We left the dark green cordalette at the 2 equalized nuts and the black webbing from my collection on the lower pitches. Every single pitch had some of our gear left on it in addition to the best looking older stuff. We packed out half a dozen segments of rotten webbing and cordalette.

Once we were safely back below White Top and ascending the sub-peak, we began to relax. We kept ourselves on our A game for the entire ascent and descent. It took us 7 hours from Rambaud Pass to Rambaud Pass as a pair of pretty strong and skilled climbers. A larger party would certainly take more time. We tested every single hold on the way up and down. We didn't hesitate to pull the rope out when it was requested. Loose rock and loose holds are certainly the biggest hazard. We have both climbed far more difficult rock climbs, but few with this mix of loose holds, exposure, and sustained pucker-factor. Overall, it was probably my favorite Sierra Nevada peak to date as I got to spend 5+ hours in a harness doing what I love. The approach plain sucks...

We made every single rap on a 30 meter rope. Thank you Daryn Dodge for sharing that bit of beta with us. Our backs thank you for the decreased weight they had to bear! If you use a 30 meter rope, there are 2 pitches that the rope barely reached; both within 3 ft of the end of the rope. Definitely toe those end knots into your rope so that you don't rap off the ends of an un-equalized rope. Save your back and leave the 60 at home!

From Rambaud Pass, we made the good descent route back to camp, packed up, snacked, and headed down Rambaud Creek to our previous campsite and across the river. After a short barefoot walk on the other side, we laced our shoes back up and headed towards the ranger cabin, hoping to camp near it for a closer shot at Bishop Pass the next morning. I resolved to snag Agassiz Pk on the way out as it was easy class 2 and not far from the pass. Hey, when on Bishop Pass, right? We strolled to the ranger station before dinner as we were about 0.3 miles from it where we set camp. We chatted with the ranger and told her about the helmet. She had not heard about any accidents on DC/Wheel that year or the year before. We chatted about peakbagging and other interesting topics. She had heard of Burd and the Sierra challenge as they went past her cabin the year before bagging an obscure peak. We headed to camp for our 2 pot, 1 spoon dinner and then drifted off to sleep. Since we were camping in an established campsite, we saw a mouse around. Since I was in a tarp, and it was warm, I slept half out of my bag. I was rudely awoken at 3:30 am by a mouse biting my finger. It was enough to draw blood and piss me off. I guess I have hanta virus now...

In the morning, I set out just a few moments ahead of Keith and slowly pulled ahead as I headed into Dusy Basin and then to the pass. I found a nice boulder near a pond to ditch my gear and bear can and took a lighter day pack towards the summit. The 2,000 ft of gain from the pass to the summit is uneventful. I found a few pointless cairns and kicked them over. They are unneeded on a giant boulder/talus field. There is no "right" way... When I crested the ridge just below the summit, it was a heartbreaking scene. I have not laid eyes on the Palisade Glacier since 2001 when I climbed Mt Gayley (and attempted Sill & North Pal). The glacier is considerably smaller than I remember it from July, 2001. #thanksalotbigoilbarons I signed the mostly soaked/destroyed register, ate lunch, snapped lots of pics, and made my way back to the pass ahead of the rain. I ran into the ranger from the Bishop ranger station at the bottom of the final Bishop Pass switchbacks. We chatted and she asked about the helmet. Both the other ranger and Keith had told her about it. I pulled it out and she took a few pics. I packed it away but threw it away at the trailhead as it is unsafe for use with the hits that it took. The rain started when I was a few minutes from the TH, so I didn't even bother to put on a jacket. It stopped quickly and I was dry by the TH. Keith had arrived about 30 minutes ahead of me, so I didn't feel too bad about keeping him waiting.

After quality Mexican food in Bishop, we were on our way home. We ran into Tina Bowman in Independence at the gas station while we were fueling up. We swapped stories about her trip up Abbott & Mills and our trip up Devils Crags, Wheel, and Agassiz. It was great to see Tina again!

Pics from all 3 peaks

GPS track notes:
One of the trips up Rambaud Pass is a straight line from camp to the pass. Stupid technology not working right... #firstworldproblems. So, take the track that curves west of the rest. This is the best way up the pass.

We covered just over 40 miles, maybe more because of the GPS error between camp and Rambaud on DC summit day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1600 ft / 487 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1600 ft / 487 m
    Route:NW Arete
    Start Trailhead:10800 ft / 3291 m
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: Devils Crags '15 (3 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Wheel Mountain2015-07-056754 ft / 2059 m
2Devils Crags2015-07-061600 ft / 488 m
3Mount Agassiz2015-07-075673 ft / 1729 m
Total Trip Gain: 14027 ft / 4276 m    Total Trip Loss: 2200 ft / 671 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by James Barlow
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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