Devils Crag #1
By: Nile Sorenson
Devil's Crag has the reputation of being one of the most difficult peaks on the SPS list. The peak has loose rock, is very exposed for almost the entire climb, and is a long way from any trailhead. Doug Mantle, Erik Siering and I decided to make the climb. Erik is closing in on a list finish, and the Crag loomed as one of the major obstacles yet to be climbed on his dwindling list. Doug, having climbed this Peak 7 times previously (that is not a typo-it says "seven"), was recruited, or coerced or volunteered, (I don't know which) to increase the possibility of our success. Somehow, I as the third, just fit into the picture and was glad to be along.
Fitting for the difficulty of the peak, we would not meet at a trailhead and hike in. The plan was to meet at a spot nearly 20 miles into the back country. I would be coming from South Lake, Erik would be coming off a National trip climbing the Palisades, and Doug would be doing some peaks in the Devil's Crag vicinity several days ahead of our rendezvous time. After all, if you are doing an out-of-the ordinary peak, one might as well have an out-of-theordinary meeting place.
Bears were everywhere in the Le Conte Canyon along the John Muir trail. I arrived in Grouse Meadow in the early afternoon and spent some time napping and looking for a good place to cross the stream. The crossing of the middle fork of the King's River is sometimes formidable. This late in the year it was not too bad.
The next morning I crossed and ascended the slope north of Rambaud creek. The description by Secor is accurate in that one does not want to climb near Rambaud creek unless you like bushwhacking. Staying high on the slopes north of the creek is the key. In a couple of hours I arrived at the lakes high up in the basin between Devil's Crag and Wheel. I dumped my gear and headed for Rambaud Pass to climb Wheel.
Rambaud Pass is a loose chute with plenty of sliding scree. As I approached the crest of the pass huffing and puffing, I spotted Doug, lounging in the afternoon sun, watching me slaving away in the scree. We exchanged greetings. He had been exploring Simpson's meadow area that day and had soloed the Crag the day before (WOW). I headed off to climb Wheel and he headed for camp. Wheel is a nice ridge climb with just a touch of class 3. It took just over an hour from the pass. The register shows only about 3 entries per year. Wheel offers a nice view of the approach and climb of Devil's Crag. (Although it really didn't do me any good). I hustled down the ridge and made it back to camp. Within less than an hour, Erik came rambling in having made it from Palisade basin. Our climbing team was now complete, with a rendezvous 20 miles from the nearest trailhead!!!
The next morning we left camp at 6:00 am. The scree on Rambaud pass hadn't improved. There are several route descriptions on Devil' Crag. We chose, based on Doug's experience to climb the Northwest Ar6te. From the small saddle adjacent to White Top, we traversed the southern face of White top. There is a small ledge system with minor up and downs that goes across the face to the notch between White top and the ar8te connecting to Devil's Crag. From this notch, we ascended on the south side and crested the ar8te. Once on the ar&e there are lots of up and downs with plenty of exposure. The rock is relatively loose.
The balance of the climb is on or near the ar8te. The route finding problems come and go, but there are not a lot of choices. The exposure is significant (thousands of feet on either side) and sustained. At times I found myself holding onto boulders and rocks that I wondered how they could stay on the ar8te. I didn't recognize the "Rabbit Ears" described by Secor, until we were right in them. Summiting at 11:29 am, we had done almost 4 solid hours of continuous exposed class 4 climbing. I would suggest that there were some class 5 moves. Doug had graciously allowed me to lead the entire climb with no coaching as to route finding. We spent a significant amount of the time using ropes. WOW, this had been a good one. We all noted Dave Dykeman's signature in the register with rather melancholy feelings, knowing that this signature was placed just minutes before he fell to his death 4 years and 1 week previous to our climb. Not much was said about it till later. Although Doug had been to the peak in the interval, we were the first SPS group to sign in since Dave. The register shows only 5 different people signing in during 5 years - definitely a tough peak.
We did at least 4 raps to back off with some down climbing on belay in spots. Anchors at the rap stations need to be looked at very carefully as I found some slings on very questionable anchors. We were back to the pass by 4:00. Here we did high fives and parted ways. Erik headed up for Wheel, and Doug and I made for camp to pack up and head for Grouse Meadow before dark.
That night as I looked at the beautiful stars and moon illuminating Grouse Meadow, with a full stomach from eating Doug's food, I had a very satisfied feeling of accomplishment. We had a strong team. We had done the Crag on the ar6te We had been safe and used great care. We were done. Somehow it seemed that the eyes of providence and maybe Dave Dykeman were smiling on us.
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