Feather Buttress (IV 5.10+ R)
Black Elk (IV 5.11)
East Ridge (III 5.6)
Canus (III 5.11), first two pitches
The Candy Shop (IV 5.10+ PG13) (FA??)
North Face of Mt Mitchell
Noah Gostout, engineer, offwidth specialist, protection against females
Erik Reiger, philosopher, mountain lore expert, purveyor of fine cheeses
Myself, secretary of improbable ideas, descent specialist
Transportation: the Brave Little Toaster
BFZ provided by Daniel Rothberg
Evening entertainment sponsored by Bananagrams and Fireball cinnamon whisky
(adapted from Noah's ramblings)
Sorting gear in the Big Sandy parking lot, we were greeted heartily by the vampires of the backountry, and began the first of many of what became known as sanity walks. Drew threw down the gear he was stuffing into his pack and stalked briskly across the parking lot, flailing his arms wildly about his head. To an observer it would appear that he was just struck with a bolt of insanity, but in fact he was fleeing the faint grey cloud that had engulfed his backpack. That evening, camped on a grassy field nestled in the Cirque of the Towers, we soon discovered that our campsite was in fact a pasture, where we were the food and the mozzies were the voracious cattle. Our only shelter from the onslaught was the Bug Free Zone (BFZ, aka tent), brief “sanity walks,” and the granite walls above.
would you trust this man?
We started the trip with an ascent of Feather Buttress on Warbonnet, on which we enjoyed much stemming and runout chimney climbing. The next morning we were weary from the long descent that had taken us bumbling off into the night, but as the sun climbed we could no longer stand the heat inside the BFZ, so Drew and I opted to free-solo the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head. For a rest day it was an exciting and an easy endeavor that was packed with thrills and great sights, and most importantly kept us relatively safe from mountain vampires. From the summit of Wolf's head we gained another perspective of a line we’d been scouting from our camp up Warrior 1. According to the guidebook, the only access to the stunning dihedral on top of the tower involved a 5.11 R traverse on poor rock. We were pretty sure a line on the right side of the peak would also get us to the dihedral, and from our new vantage point it looked promising.
The magnificent Feather Crest of Warbonnet
Topping out above Mordor, just in time to catch the sun's last rays
improbable burrowing on the East Ridge of Wolf's Head, 5.6 (cough)
the exposure up there is unreal
The next morning we trudged up the snowfield with a full rack to find out if it would go. As we approached the first pitch crack we slowly realized that it was much wider then we had initially thought. I racked up standing on a snow ledge that I had kicked, and moved the bigger cams to the front. I started the broken corner on fun 5.9 moves with stunning rock quality, gained a small ledge and met the first of many trundles. The ledge had an enormous loose block on it that was teetering on the edge; with a mighty push I send the large block smashing into snow field below making a huge crater. With the ledge now clear I jamming and stacking up the offwidth. The climbing was strenuous but fantastic! Occasionally a broken flake protruded from the crack affording twin hand jams and great rests.
following the wide 1st pitch
Drew lead the next two pitches, the first shorter one on broken and fairly loose rock (epic trundles), and the next up an overhanging hand-crack, and over a fun roof into unknown terrain. From here the way upward was unclear, but I took the lead again and worked up a crumbly weakness towards some sharp rock fins that protruded up like booby-trap spikes. I slung one and moved up delicately, eventually standing on the sharp points. Above me was a large overhanging roof with a moss-filled crack running with water. Unable to jam in the moss and with the face covered in lichen, I stood befuddled. After two unsuccessful attempts, backing down to the points, I questioned whether I was going to be able to climb it at all. Remembering the crux pitch of Astro Dog in The Black Canyon of the Gunnison I prepared my palms with a healthy layer of chalk and began stemming up the corner. With a few small crystal feet I worked up into the roof. Just as I was getting run out and pretty unsteady, I noticed a crimp rail. Abandoning my right palm plant and grabbing the rail, I swung over and matched the hold just as my feet cut. From the rail I could just reach a cam placement; pushing with my index finger on the tip of the stem I nudged the cam into the crack, finally protecting the next difficult move, which led to a good belay stance. Drew led the final pitch towards the dihedral with an exposed and unprotected traverse. Stemming wide with his feet he balanced his way around a wide block, changing crack systems and working up ledges that led to our goal, the huge dihedral!
leading into unknown territory
figuring out the traverse to gain the big corner
The dihedral was as good as we hoped. The movement was amazing, perfect finger locks with interesting stemming. The small roof section was wet but still fun to climb; I weaseled a good placement, worked my feet high and reached through to a good hand jam. Drew then stemmed and chimneyed up the next exposed 60 meters to the base of a cave. Removing my pack, I began squirming upward, eventually poking my head out to see sunlight glistening on a splitter handcrack up a varnished face to the summit.
Straddling our narrow perch, I was glad that we had ample light left to descend because the ridge (our passage, according to the guidebook) was serrated with sheer towers as tall as 20 meters. Traversing that seemed near-impossible, so we looped a horn and began a series of raps towards a dark gully, in which ourselves and our ropes became mired in icy sludge. We continued rapping in the gathering dark off of a series of sketchy anchors which included a single piton, a pile of rocks that shifted when loaded, and several snow bollards, but six hours later we were standing again at the base of Warrior 1, soaked, mud-splattered and happy.
Peering through the mesh window of the BFZ the next morning, we looked up at the gorgeous splitter that began our climb. Despite being an obvious line, we found no evidence of climbing on the route, trundled many precarious blocks, and broke many holds off, so it is possible that it has never been climbed. In praise of the fantastic surprises that kept popping up on the route and our mid-wall singing eruptions we named it The Candy Shop, and after drawing out a topo decided that it goes at 5.10+ PG13. This 5-pitch variation on the NW face ascends one of the longest and most direct features in the Cirque of the Towers via fun, exposed climbing, and we hope other parties visit the Candy Shop and clean it up a bit.
The Candy Shop, IV 5.10d
on the summit of Wolf's Head. Warbonnet and Warrior 1 in the background
Rendesvous with fellow CC compatriots, with a much better BFZ