First Winter Ascent of 9-Peak Evolution Traverse
3/22/12 – Shay Har-Noy, Ben Horne, and Konstantin Stoletov, members of the informal California group PullHarder, made the first winter ascent of the Evolution Traverse (VI 5.9), an eight-mile-long route that links nine peaks in the Sierra. The team climbed a total of 36 hours over seven days, enduring temperatures as low as -7ºF.
Peter Croft made the first ascent of the route in 1999, which he climbed in 15 hours. Har-Noy, Horne, and Stoletov had attempted the route individually during summer seasons, but all retreated at some point before finishing; this year, they set out to make the first winter ascent.
The team made a windy, 12-hour approach across the Lamarck Col to the base of the route and set up a bivy. Sustained winds (70 to 90 mph) forced them to spend the second day in their tent. On day three, they set out despite still-heavy winds and sub-zero temps. After six hours of trudging, the trio made it to the summit of Mt. Gould.
Day four presented warmer weather, and the team was able to summit the next two peaks, Mt. Mendel and Mt. Darwin, some of the more technically challenging sections of the route. They spent the night sleeping on a narrow, icy ledge without any space for a tent.
The climbers spent day five on edge, after Horne took a scary fall. “I was sitting behind a block trying to soak up some warmth from the sun on the cold morning while Ben was in the front and Konstantin was in the middle of the rope,” said Har-Noy in an email. “Ben started sizing up the move when I suggested that, since there was a horn right there, he should consider draping the rope over it as protection. As I looked away, Ben made the move, and the large block shifted, sending him down into the void. Fortunately, the horn with the rope over it held and Konstantin was able to hold Ben’s weight, but the fall was definitely spooky.” Summoning courage, the team continued to the summit of Peak 13,332. Easier terrain allowed them to (relatively) quickly top out on Mt. Haeckel and then Mt. Wallace.
Peaks seven (Mt. Fiske) and eight (Mt. Warlow) fell on day six, but they had to race oncoming weather to the last peak, Mt. Huxley. They had another scare when a block slid out from beneath Stoletov’s feet, but he was unharmed. Morale waned as winds and clouds moved in, but Lady Luck descended instead. "The weather took a bizarre turn for the perfect,” they wrote on their blog. “The wind subsided, and the sun shone warmly on us for the next couple hours.” The climbers took advantage of the break and made the final summit on Mt. Huxley at 1:15 p.m. on March 10.
They made the descent dehydrated, cold, and hungry. While crossing a frozen stream, Har-Noy and Stoletov punched through the ice, soaking their feet. They camped on Evolution Lake, waiting anxiously for the morning and trying not to get frostbite. Below is an excerpt the blog.
"The night was one of the worst of the trip, though it is hard to compare nights that are so bad (but yet so good!) in many ways. Most repellent was the collective stench of the sweat of three dehydrated men, the hunger pains and cold due to having run out of food, and the wet conditions due to the creek fallings. Konstantin’s socks froze solid when he took them off, and cuddled with Shay for comfort, sleeping with his head on Shay’s chest. Ben finally let go of his inhibitions and agreed to spoon to keep Shay warm."
The next morning brought more high winds, and the group struggled back to their cache at the start of the route. A windy hike back across Lamarck Col to the car completed the trip. (For the whole trip report, visit the team’s blog at pullharder.org.)
Additional info about the traverse can be found in the book Fifty Favorite Climbs: The Ultimate North American Tick List.
Date of ascent: March 7-10, 2012
Sources: Shay Har-Noy, pullharder.org