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dberdinka

first ascent [TR] Porcupine Creek Wall - Salad Days III 900' 5.10+ 08/20/2022

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Trip: Porcupine Creek Wall - Salad Days III 900' 5.10+

Trip Date: 08/20/2022

Trip Report:

It did not go unnoted when Eric Wehrly moved to town.   While our more noteworthy first ascents may be of a…umm…slightly different style, in my mind’s eye I generally enjoy any adventure far from the road particularly if it involves unclimbed terrain.  Finding like-minded folks at a similar point in life, that is old, is not easy. So I assumed at some point we’d tie in together.  

It did not happen quickly.  While phone numbers were exchanged and talk of getting out occurred, the years passed by.  Maybe I came on too strong.   During Covid there may have been a day at Mount Erie where I loudly berated Eric to be my “New Best Friend!” as he TR-soloed nearby.    Clearly, I needed a better incentive than that.

Halfway up the Pacific Crest Trail between Rainy and Cutthroat Passes a large wall of granite stands proudly above the trail.   I first walked by it eighteen years ago with my then girlfriend.  From a distance it had the obvious geometry and tone of good rock.   A friend and I almost went to check it out but we made other plans and the idea was largely forgotten.  This summer I strolled by it again, with my now wife and our two teenage children.  Still there, still grey, still splitter.

A week later I spent a solitary day circumnavigating Porcupine Peak.  The summit was eventually attained, and, on the descent I found myself beneath this wall I had considered for decades.   Carefully glassing it I became discouraged.  As I walked away I thought “almost but not quite, the start may not go and the rest is just a bit too dirty and discontinuous.”  However, it’s amazing what some grainy iPhone photos and a bit of selective memory can do.  Furthermore I finally had the sort of incentive Eric might respond to. 

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On Saturday August 20th we stood below “the start that may not go” and sure enough it didn’t.   As this had been my idea, I felt obligated to get us rolling so I began a long circuitous pitch climbing easy terrain off to the side before a long downward traverse led to a committing mantle onto a vegetated slab above.   Struggling with massive rope drag from the severely Z-shaped pitch, I encountered a recurring theme of frantically hacking away a clump of heather to find a small cam placement.

Eric quickly downrated my estimated grade and then scrambled up more heather covered corners to the base of a steep, relatively clean layback flake.   Perfect edges made the otherwise intimidating flake go quickly.   Unfortunately, the intended route up a long “hand crack” above the flake turned out to be 100 feet of 4”-6” offwidth.  The scale of the wall was turning out to be a bit larger than anticipated.   Instead, Eric made a delicate leftward traverse before committing to a steep, broken crack formed in part by some precariously hollow fridge-sized blocks. Easy terrain led to the base of what had appeared to be a splitter from the base of the wall.

Above I could only see a slammed shut seam covered in a thick crust of lichen, moss, and dirt.  Eric proclaimed it to be a finger crack. I was highly skeptical.   But on new ground there’s nothing worse than being the person who forfeits your partner's last proud lead by bailing off into indirect, unappealing terrain. 

I spent several minutes pawing at the start, muttering random negativities.   After a few minutes I finally committed to the initial moves into the corner then rapidly hung on a nut.  But it was started and despite my deep pessimism about there actually being a climbable crack under the filth I found myself inching upwards.  Sand and pulverized lichen poured into my eyes, my nose, my ears, and my shirt.   Aiding up in 8mm dyneema slings progress was dispiritingly slow as I cleaned out every single placement.  Time oozed on and hours later I finally pulled the singular hand jam at the very top of the 150-foot crack and flopped onto a good ledge.  Now relatively cleaned out, Eric rapidly followed the crack free proclaiming it 5.10+.   

Having climbed three pitches in five hours and 45 minutes, simple math suggested that our rate of ascent was significantly slower than the sun's rate of descent.  While I did not yet suggest bailing, I did point out this obvious observation.  Yet Eric confidently proclaimed that the “walk off” would in fact be a walk and that we would only need headlamps once we were within spitting distance of our packs.

Regardless of attitude at this point, the wall kicked back a bit and the next pitch looked easier.  No reason to bail yet so Eric headed out, moving quickly across a thankfully clean hand crack before moving out of sight into the corners above.  Progress slowed, the rope stopped moving, I almost nodded off.   The clouds continued to build as the rope made halting progress. A random inquiry on my part was met with a stern “Not Now”.  Eventually Eric reappeared above having navigated some sketchy 5.10 face climbing to avoid an impossibly munge-filled corner.  Moving left and right, up and down he eventually retreated to a blocky alcove from which we could reappraise the options above.

With the rack refreshed the obvious direction was through an overhanging V-shaped corner.   Chimney moves, flared jams, wide stemming and possibly some tension left me once again above my gear, hanging off a sloping rail, feet stemmed out on small dishes, surrounded by thick mats of grass and heather pasted in corners.  With my ancient Chouinard north wall hammer wedged into a hummock, a brief struggle ensued between which would be pried off first, the hummock or myself.  Thankfully the hummock released, revealing a perfect hand crack.   

The climbing relented and the rate of progress discernibly increased.   As I neared the end of a lead the sky finally cracked open with a brief squall and a lovely rainbow filling the valley.  Despite the weather I finally felt committed to the climb. Going over the top was now the path of least resistance.   Almost every challenging climb you undertake has that beautiful inflection point, when hours, days or even years of uncertainty just melt away leaving you relaxed and in the moment. 

Eric climbed another beautiful corner with sustained finger cracks under the hummocks and dirt.  The final pitch was a perfect finale.   Shockingly clean granite with delightful climbing up to and around a large roof followed by easy, clean slabs to the top of the wall.  The Cascades were bathed in a beautiful soft glow and views extended from Dome in the far distance to the sun setting off the shoulder of Mesachie Peak.  The walk off was anything but, and had it been dark we would have been in for a genuine epic. Yet much as predicted headlamps only came out as we finally exited the talus onto delightful heather meadows not far from our packs.   

If you're familiar with Eric’s and Rolf’s first ascents on massive walls of less than stellar rock I’m sure you’ve wondered what makes them tick.   My simple observation would be an extremely positive mental attitude with a surprisingly conservative aversion to potential loose rock. My successes have largely been built off an ability to separate the negativity of my dumb brain from the mechanical motions of moving upwards.   It’s worked but doesn’t seem nearly as efficient as Eric's approach. I’d like to think I might adopt some of his positive mindset in the future.  That said I’m pretty sure we influenced each other, as we headed out down wet talus with heavy packs Eric could be heard muttering “If you added a few bolts...”.

 

Hour and twenty minutes from parking Lot

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Enter the Drag-On (forever)

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In my happy place (after the rain)

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Exiting the wall

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Views South and North

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Old Dirty Bastard and Mr. Clean

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Topo - buffed out (red) vs original line (blue)

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Postscript

After Eric graciously spent another day of his life reclimbing and fixing the first four pitches with me I went back for the Labor Day weekend and put in thirty hours of cleaning, creating fixed anchors and adding several variations to avoid indirect, loose or excessively dirty terrain.   Rock is excellent and clean throughout.  Rappelling is quick and efficient vs. the unsavory walk off.  There is a pile of good climbing up there.  

 

Topo/Gear/Approach Notes:
MtnProject - Salad Days

 

Edited by dberdinka
added mtnproject link
  • Like 4
  • Snaffled 1
  • Rawk on! 5

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11 hours ago, dberdinka said:

simple math suggested that our rate of ascent was significantly slower than the sun's rate of descent. 

This is pure gold and applicable to so many climbs! 

Well done guys, glad to see the smoldering bromance finally flamed! :kiss:

And, this was really well-written!  It would be fun to have @lunger's take here for posterity alongside yours.

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Don't go too hard on the courtship!  Rat might find out.

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Great writing!  Nice to seem more development around the pass.  This looks like a great addition!

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Glad you’re all humored.  You should get on this rig I swear it’s really, really good!

Edited by dberdinka

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17 hours ago, dberdinka said:

During Covid there may have been a day at Mount Erie where I loudly berated Eric to be my “New Best Friend!” as he TR-soloed nearby.   
 

Ha!  I can so envision this scene. 

 

Nice report Darin; if Eric was willing to repeat it, it must be good.

 

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“My successes have largely been built off an ability to separate the negativity of my dumb brain from the mechanical motions of moving upwards.“

 

you are not the only one.

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Stellar write-up, Darin, and props for the extensive after-hours work.

Really enjoyed finally connecting with @dberdinka to uncover this route, and the climbing was fun even in its raw state--looking forward to going back for the pleasure cruise on the cleaned-up version. As Darin pointed out, there are a lot of promising variations and parallel lines--folks should enjoy exploring up there. 

And thanks for the sweet track, @kmfoerster

  • Rawk on! 1

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Way to get after it! 

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Sweet looking climb. Gonna put that at the top of the list of climbs to get on!

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If anyone cares there is now a much easier variation to the crux that makes for 7 pitches in a row of consistently good 5.8-5.9 climbing.   
 

All cleaned up!

Arrested Development

Edited by dberdinka
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