I wanted that big, giant roof. You know, that imposing structure jutting out to the right of the Englishman’s Route. And, since that roof was on the last of the major routes on my tick list for the 2nd buttress of Hallett Peak: Hesse-Ferguson (5.9).
I HAD to do it.
Brian was game, naturally, but even more so having failed to get past the 3rd pitch on his earlier effort due to route finding difficulties.
“I’ve never NOT been lost on this rock!”
~ Joe, shouted at no one in particular while on Hallett’s 2nd buttress in the vicinity of the Hesse-Ferguson route
On August 29, 1998, we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 5am and, after a brisk 2.5 mile hike in darkness, started climbing at 7am.
The climbing promised to be hard, so I left my food and water at the base to save on weight. It was good to not have a pack weighing me down and trying to pull me off the mountain, but I just didn’t think about how long it might be before getting a drink of water. Think 2,000 year old mummy, when I later describe how dehydrated I became on this long, long climb.
1st Pitch (5.6)
I took the first lead and began as for the Love Route, climbing through a pink band of rock left of a big, right-facing dihedral. I continued up a dirty, right facing dihedral to reach a good ledge with a good anchor after ~160′. The entire pitch was very easy with good pro (5.6).
2nd Pitch (5.7)
Brian took the second pitch in which he went straight up the dihedral from the belay ledge to reach a left facing dihedral below a white roof that blocked the way above. Brian climbed to just below the roof where he set an uncomfortable belay.
As I watched, I thought the correct dihedral for Hesse-Ferguson was further to the left, to allow for the roof above us to be defeated to the left (per Rossiter). But the party ahead of us blazed a path past the roof to the right and, I suppose, Brian was still smarting from his recent route-finding challenges. So, with a long day ahead of us, I just had to hope the guys ahead of us knew the way.
3rd Pitch (5.8s)
To my great relief, I turned the white roof to the right rather easily. But, having lost sight of the group ahead, I decided to pick my way left to get to the large left-facing dihedral capped by the big, giant roof, which was, after all, the goal for the day. But that was easier said than done.
To get to the large left-facing dihedral below the big, giant roof, I would have to climb up and over some seriously run-out, slabby, dirty 5.8 rock. Yuck. I proceeded slowly, checking out every hopeful indentation. I got stuck in a spot where I was sure I could get in some protection only to abandon the effort after burning 30 minutes in the attempt. I then found the courage to proceed after spying another ‘certain’ placement that turned out to be good only for ‘psychological‘ protection (read: almost certainly worthless).
“You were stuck forever (it seemed) on that section. When I followed, I could see why: it was thin, slabby, and the only relief that could be seen ahead was thin, slabby, and covered with grass. The one piece of pro that I cleaned was absurd.”
After the longest 50-foot climb of my life, I reached the dihedral and safety, at the cost of burning up my reserves of energy and courage for the day. I finished the pitch by ascending the dihedral to near the roof where I set my anchor, leaving the terrible-looking crux for Brian (the best climber on our team).
Note: many years later I figured out that we’d gotten onto the ‘Right Dihedral‘ route that would skip the big, giant roof. It was fortunate that I lost sight of the party who’d led us astray.
With all due excitement, Brian took off to figure out how to escape that big, giant roof…which turned out to be a fiendishly hard trap we’d been so careful to get into.
“From the distant ground, the giant roof appeared to have a hand-jam crack slicing through it along the right wall. But after reaching it, I saw that the hand jam was much larger: more like a bomb-bay chimney – just wide and deep enough that one could scrunch into it and inch toward the roof’s edge, with good placements in the narrower crack above and the vast Tyndal gorge below. Turning the roof edge to regain the face was stunning.“
I watched with amazement and dread as he crawled up into the bomb-bay chimney and shimmied his body further and further out over Tyndal gorge.
“How was he going to get out of there and onto the face?”, was my big question, as I looked at the blank wall below him. He threw down a lay-back to reach past the blank wall and grab the face climbing holds that took him out of my line of sight. It was beautiful.
I followed and found the moves to not be too technical or strenuous, but wildly awkward.
5th Pitch (5.8)
The next pitch was described as 5.7 serious…it was both. And I was tired. But since it was only 5.7, I figured I could manage.
I started by climbing straight up from the belay, aiming for a small roof. I was able to find pro until I reached the roof, but then the pro ran out. My choices were to continue up over completely run out face climbing to a belay on a flake (official route) or traverse 40 feet, up and right, to join a left facing dihedral on the Culp-Bossier route. The Culp-Bossier route had good pro. As I was completely exhausted and had already burned through my entire supply of courage, it wasn’t a hard choice.
I climbed as far as the rope let me, not quite reaching the top of the Culp-Bossier dihedral.
We were off route again, but I was alive. It was a good trade.
6th Pitch (5.8)
When Brian came up, I mentioned that I was tempted to stay on Culp-Bossier, since we knew the route and the day was old. But Brian wanted to get back to Hesse-Ferguson, and it was his lead. So, he traversed left to reach the flake belay atop the run-out section before realizing that the Hesse Ferguson route then moved up and right to a point directly above my belay. We could have just gone straight up to get back on route, but all we lost was a little more time.
7th Pitch (5.8)
After bringing me up to get a full rope, Brian continued climbing up to the base of a white band (face climbing) and belayed on a nice ledge we shared with a couple of guys who insisted they were on Culp-Bossier. I couldn’t swear I was actually on Hesse-Ferguson, but I sure I wasn’t on Culp-Bossier route, at least not the route I’d climbed twice. But they were nice guys and Halletts can be forgiving for that sort of error, if you’re willing to work for it.
8th Pitch (5.9)
My lack of water (and courage) was taking a toll. I was too tired to lead anymore, so I let Brian finish the route. He climbed up the left side of the white band through some small, fun roofs and a shallow right-facing dihedral. It was a great pitch; it started hard (steep with good holds) and then became harder (move under roof without feet) and then ended with a thin, blank traverse to reach the top at 5pm. It had taken 4 hours longer than expected. Ouch!
Since we’d left our packs at the base, there was no reason to stop for a rest. It took us another hour before I could have my first drink of water since 7am. I’ll just say that I was seriously dehydrated. Brian went without a drink as long as I did, but he is unnaturally immune to dehydration.
After a long rest, we packed up at got back to the parking lot at 8pm.
What a day! Despite my fatigue, I thought Hesse-Ferguson was a great route: far better than merely a way to climb that big, giant roof. It was a classic Hallett climb.
And, now, 14 years later, I’m amazed that that was the last time I did a rock climb on Hallett’s 2nd Buttress. At least it was a good one.
“This is my favorite route on Hallett Peak. It is demanding both physically and mentally. The run-outs epitomize what climbing on Hallett Peak is all about, and it has some burly, physical cruxes.”