Vantage - Torre de Plumas 5.7 R A0Date:
Several years ago, we were sitting around a campfire in Vantage with the awe-inspiring backdrop of the feathers in site. Being climbing book junkies, we were all aware of the amazing history of the feathers; the successes, the failures, and the epics. We could identify several of the individual routes on each tower, when jokingly someone threw out, “I wonder if someone will ever link the summits of all of the towers?” We all laughed about the difficulties of the idea, but that night, a seed was planted in my mind.
The next couple of years I found myself climbing in Yosemite, Red Rocks, and Index, but my mind constantly drifted back to thoughts about the linking the towers of the feathers. I finally decided that I had to start taking the traverse seriously and began my training. As luck would have it while training one day, I ran into another inspired soul who had seen the traverse as well and was interested. ‘Shooter’ and I combined forces. We waited for months for the right weather window. With the favorable weather forecast last weekend, we knew we had our shot. We packed for a light and fast traverse, carrying only a single rope and one can of Rainier each for the entire traverse. We hoped that with some luck, that would be all we needed.
After a brief warm up, we set out to strike at the traverse. We started by leading the route on the far western end of the feathers, being sure to summit each tower on the way. After a bouldery start (see topo), we connected up with some anchors (likely left by another party on a previous attempt at the traverse). ‘Shooter’ joined me at the belay, and proceeded off into the wild terrain ahead. After a difficult ground avoidance move, he was back on course into a long section of tricky walking. Finding a large boulder (possibly one of the last good belays to be found), he set up the belay and brought me over. At this point, I couldn’t help but think about the new movie “The North Face” as people arrived to witness our triumph or failure. I only hoped that we would make it to the end of the traverse, so I could enjoy the Rainier I had so carefully stashed in my chalk bag.
Looking at the next section, I knew that I had additional tricky walking ahead, so I grabbed some extra gear and set off. After summiting another tower, I arrived at the giant steps; a series of four foot down climbs that come one after another. I took a couple of deep breaths and thought about all of the training I had done over the last several months. I knew I was as ready as I could ever be; I set off down the stairs towards the unknown.
The first stair provided little issue, nor did the second or third, and soon I had arrived at a large ledge near the large gap in the traverse. Finding another anchor left by a previous attempt, I set up and brought ‘Shooter’ over to the belay. We discussed at length our strategy for the next section and decided that ‘Shooter’ was the best candidate for the crux of the route. I lowered him down to about halfway down the tower, were he proceeded to start the “queen swing”. After several runs back and forth, he managed to connect to the other side in a full body stem. Luck would have it, that there were holds there to allow him to continue off to an adjacent crack. Far from the anchor, we were both desperately hoping for some gear but there was none to be found (hence the R rating). ‘Shooter’ who had also been training very hard, was up for the task: composing himself, and sending the crack to the top of the next pillar.
After setting a belay, I lowered off the previous anchor and climbed up to the tower. We celebrated a brief victory; the ‘queen swing’ had been done, which we knew would be one of the major cruxes of the route. However, it also meant that when we pulled the rope, it would be very hard to traverse back the other way. And furthermore, the next section of the climb was about to provide the scariest moment of the adventure.
After crossing another long section of technical walking, I stumbled on a good bivy site for two. I made sure to take note of this in case we didn’t complete the route in a day. But I really hoped that we would, since we were traveling so fast and light, and we only brought one Rainier each. After another short section, I arrived at another large gap, finding another old set of anchors, most likely left by a party attempting the route from the other direction. I began to step across, when I felt something shifting in my chalk bag. I instinctively reached back and grabbed my only can of Rainier from falling out of my chalk bag and into the darkness of the chimney. I took several minutes to compose myself before I attempted to climb any further. Accordingly, we have named the feature, ‘nearly lost my Rainier step’.
At this point, I could see what I thought was the end of the climb, but the traverse did not let up. A complicated section of walking that involved technical footwork was ahead. There was also little room to place any protection, keeping my blood pumping until the very end. I finally set up a belay and brought ‘Shooter’ over to the end. We celebrated our traverse by cracking open the Rainiers before headed back to the car nearly 400 feet away.
The main objective:
The summit of an early tower:
Seconding pitch 1:
Looking down the traverse (note the ground is very close on the right):
Heading out on pitch 2:
Approaching the ‘giant steps’
The ‘queen swing’
Nearing the end: