Consider this, the hint of the century, consider this: “…” Then Michael Stipe stops. He does not tell us the hint of the 20th century. Curses! Well how about I’ll tell you the hint of the 21st century:
That’s right, the hint of the 21st century happens to be the same as the hint of the 20thcentury: Silence.
Less is more better. And more better is less beta. Old guys have been telling us this for a long time. Maybe I’m getting old, but I believe it more each climb. To maximize the experience, forget finding out the details beforehand. The joy of climbing is overcoming the challenges instead of having them all handed to you. For sure you need some beta– you wanna know the climb exists, to have some idea of how to get there. Generally you might want to know what gear to bring and where the route goes in confusing places (a basic topo). And you absolutely need to know where the nearest burrito shop is after the climb. But not much more than that… “Oh no, I said too much…”
SuperTopo will not lead us to these adventurous climbs. But for the most adventurous, all you need is a rumor. A hint. Maybe a Pullharder post? Really, not much more.
Looming over The John Muir Trail, in the depths of the Sierra. Ten miles by trail from the Sierra crest. “Ooh, The Citadel is bigger, bigger than you, and you are not me…” Edge of Time is the very obvious sharp arête in the center.
I caught wind of The Citadel maybe two years ago, reading how huge Sierra car-to-car days, 32 miles round trip, could be had on this incredible peak. I put it on the list right away, but the area was elusive, mysterious, remote. I was not quite ready to lock and load the plans in my send-chamber yet.
Then, Fossana climbed the Citadel’s Edge of Time Arête car-to-car last September. Somebody I knew–that more than resolved the uncertainty! It jumped up to my A-list and I began making plans… sending Edge of Time Arête in a day would be worth it, even if it meant sacrificing a little REM.
The big issue with getting to The Citadel is crossing the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Usually not crossed until July, but this year, we hoped June would work? Motivated primarily by the stoke of some time ago seeing a photo of the Citadel, Greg was willing to risk going back there for potentially no crossing (thus no climbing). Greg’s adventurous attitude inspired me and the beauty of that area was enough to sell both of us. We’d just go for it despite the uncertainty. If the river turned out to be uncrossable, we’d hike back up 14 more miles and climb something else. (Sure, we would… ) So we decided roll the dice and see. I think I thought I saw you try…
The Citadel is the darker peak in the mid-distance on the left among amazing grandeur of the Sierra West Side
But there were a lot of uncertainties. Driving up, we identified four potential cruxes: #1 crossing the river at mile 14 (if crossed once, presumably ok to cross again on the way out). #2: Crossing the snowfield to get to the arête with minimal snow gear. #3 The reputedly sketchy descent from the peak. #4 The hike out, gaining 3000’ over bishop pass at the end of a very long day. (Essentially, running Out of Time.) And of course, we’d have to move fast the whole time and take very short breaks to go car-to-car in a day. But hey, that’s usual.
Well, those four cruxes all went fine, though the descent does merit a tiny word of caution. But more relevant, did anybody notice that NOTHING on our crux list was related to the grade IV, 5.10+, 2000’, route? The route that was the whole point of going out there in the first place? Ya, we probably should have noticed that too. The lengths that I will go to; the distance in your eyes…
Greg crosses the Middle Fork of the Kings River
Greg cruises 5.12 on gear no problem and boulders v10. I…don’t. But still, 5.10 is hardly intimidating for me and we didn’t think twice about planning to blitz the climb itself. A bit foolishly we took the old obscure topo pretty literally: mostly 5.8 and 5.9 pitches, a bit of 5.10 with a short 5.10+ crux that is said to be soft. No biggie…right? We’d solo (NB, not recommended to solo this route, quite insecure in parts due to lichen) and simul most of the route! We’d crush it in 5 hours! We could be back in Bishop for a late dinner! But that was just a dream, just a dream…
The route, in reality, has 5 pitches of 5.10c (with the recommended variations we chose, see beta section below). Even the 5.8 and 5.9 pitches are stout and sustained. Still, we did well on the route, if a little bit slower than expected. It’s a hard one!
Greg cruises some diagonal crack!
The biggest problem we had was taking the minimal beta we had too seriously. Following the Moynier topo too closely (see beta section below) actually threw us off. If we’d have used less beta, we’d have climbed faster, stayed on route better and had even more fun! As it was, we still sent (no falls and with only a little bit of Type II fun finding the route on pitch 10) in 6.5 hours and enjoyed some excellent climbing. The descent was not that gnar (see beta section below) though it was indeed off-the-beaten path.
Edge of Time was long and tiring but returning back at the packs before sunset we still were basically on schedule. We re-crossed the river and got back on trail just before dusk (8:30—not quite Out of Time, Michael Stipe). Sleeping in earlier that morning (4:30, almost not even an alpine start) turned out to be just barely ok.
That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the head-light…Bishop Pass the second time
While most of the hype about The Citadel is its approach and remoteness, the reality is that most of that (14 of the 16 miles each way) is on a trail, so ok in the dark. But the route itself is very sustained, especially for a Sierra route. Be sure to have a very strong partner, both on the rock and with cardio if you plan to do it in a day car-to-car. It’s a quite serious undertaking, the climbing, descent, the remoteness, the obscurity, the distance—all of it.
The Citadel is a West Side Sierra peak, for sure. Lusher foliage and lichen of this magnitude don’t see their way to the Sierra East Side. We even had fog, getting socked in on the hike out! Though it remained on the West Side, and as we crested Bishop Pass the second time, just after midnight, the stars shone brightly enough to make out the Palisades, stretching south along the Crest.
Greg and has very good cardio so was strong and upbeat on the long hike out.
Me [at Bishop pass]: “I’m cold, let’s keep moving.”
Greg [pulls out the watch]: “Dude, we flew up that. Less than three hours—we’re gonna go under 22 hours, we’re crushing it!”
Me: “I can’t wait for this downhill. Let’s take it slow down this gnar, then once we hit the dirt we fly. Do you have another Reese’s cup?”
More than a strong climber and hiker, it’s a good partner who always keeps the positive stoke up and shares his lime flavored cashews and Reese’s peanut butter cups all day. Only a little incoherent, we pushed on toward the goal. I thought that I heard you laughing. I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.
We returned to the car at 2:15am, a round-trip time of 21 hours, 45 minutes. At the car we pounded some quick snacks and immediately passed out in the parking lot for some REM. Probably the hardest single day in the Sierra for both of us. But worth it for the adventure! And we learned a lot about the Hint of the Century.
“Less is more. I yearn for more.” Mark Heard said that, I think. Or somebody who had a pretty good grasp on life. Haven’t people been saying this for ages? Now I’m beginning to get it.
Ben Horne and Greg Horvath. June 8, 2012.
Edge of Time Arête, The Citadel. From South Lake Trailhead, 21 hours, 45 minutes car-to-car
Pretty stoked to be back at the car, 21+ hours later…
Every minute, every waking hour:
4:10 Wake up!
4:30 Leave South Lake trailhead
6:15 Bishop Pass (6 miles in)
9:00 JMT/Bishop Pass trail junction (12 miles in)
9:30 Cross Middle Fork of Kings River
10:30 Drop packs; rack up
11:30 Snowfield crossed; begin route
12:30 Top of pitch 3
1:30 Top of pitch 5
2:30 Top of pitch 7
4:45 Top of pitch 10
6:00 Top of pitch 13 (Edge of Time sent!)
8:00 Back at packs
8:30 Re-cross Middle Fork of Kings River
9:30 JMT/Bishop Pass trail junction
12:15 Bishop Pass
Beta Notes(“Oh no I said too much…I set it up.”)
Striking the right beta balance is tricky. Beta is traditionally passed through informal channels, but now the Internet allows those outside of a small circle to learn about and consider those legendary routes. Those guidebook routes with enough (or too much) beta may get over crowded. Everybody is willing to go for it, even those for whom it might be better if they waited to get more experience to tackle that route. And the over-beta will bring down the level of the climb so we can’t enjoy the adventure as much because it’s hard to ignore beta if it’s available. But really the point of posting beta is to get people out there who should be out there, to psyche people up about cool pitches, approaches and routes. If there’s too little beta circulating around, good routes remain under-climbed, and we feel that’s the case for this remote route. Hopefully this beta can help divert traffic from the over beta-fied objectives to this classic, yet remote, climb. Ok, the rambling is done (see more musing here), now here’s what you wanted:
- River crossing was no big deal, even this early in the season (early/ mid-June). It’s a low snow year. In general, you can call the Sequoia/ Kings National Park ranger office and ask about water levels and conditions, they have backcountry rangers (and a backcountry ranger station on the Middle fork of the Kings River) there starting in late June. Call them 559-565-3766 (and -3761) (and -3708)
- Brought Vibram Five Fingers for the river crossing; this was unnecessary as bare feet work fine.
- Brought crampons for the snow field leading to the arête; since the snow was softened by the morning sun it was possible and very easy to kick steps. We had them but we didn’t use crampons or rope for this. I used a small axe; Greg did not bring one to follow in the steps.
- If you do the (Moynier Topo) pitch 9 5.10 variation and our recommended pitch 10 variation, you have 5 pitches of 5.10. I would call each of them 5.10c. They are all pretty hard, though nothing is especially tricky. The crux (pitch 8, called 5.10+) is probably the easiest as the rest of the pitch, before and after the crux, is 5.8 jams. The other 5.10 pitches are much harder as they are sustained at 5.10. In my mind, Pitch 4 was the hardest as it’s a little dirty in the finger locks and licheny for the feet.
- There’s a lot of lichen on the whole climb. You wanted adventure, right? In the right mindset, it’s a plus.
- Pitch 9, the sustained 5.10 corner variation (to the right) is recommended. Easier at first, it takes good gear and fingerlocks the whole way as the difficulty builds.
- The Moynier Topo is more or less a rule-of-thumb, not to be followed exactly. It has a few discrepencies and errors, the only big issue being pitch 10, where routefinding is hardly obvious and the topo is inaccurate.
- On Pitch 10, we found an excellent 5.10 variation that was the best climbing on the route. Secor says from the top of the pillar to traverse right and down to obtain a 5.8/ 5.9 crack. We say from the top of the pillar make a few moves left around the corner and go up through the roof crack (5.10). Continue up the hand crack (5.10, best moves on the route) to below the second roof, then traverse left under the roof (while easy, do not continue up the crack through this second roof; it soon ends and the face blanks out!). A reachy move (5.9ish) left pulls you around the roof. Belay here, or link it into a great easy pitch of low angle 5” or 6” crack (also one of the best parts of the route). No wide piece needed as it’s probably 5.6 ow and secure (no sandbag here, I struggle to lead 5.9ow yet this felt fine to me to run out). You might be able to get in smaller gear if needed. But it moves really quickly, is fun (especially considering it’s offwidth) and secure, and incredibly aesthetic. At the top of the crack step right onto the arête to rejoin the topo on the great 5.5 easy pitch (pitch 11).
- Moynier Topo Pitch 13, does not have any detail and implies 4th class since pitch 12 is 4th class. But Pitch 13 is probably 5.8, and more than 200’ (We simulclimbed maybe 20’ to the topout, though easy to belay earlier if you want). The true summit is still a ways of 4th class scrambling further. (see pic of start of pitch 10 (from pillar) courtesy Fossana. Go up the crack in the left facing corner, pull the first (big) roof on bomber hand jams, continue higher but circumvent the second smaller roof by going left–i.e. do not climb over the second roof like Greg is doing in the shot in the gallery below)
- Mountainproject has some beta; here are more pics from Fossana.
- We descended by scrambling first down the notch between the East summit and true summit (that looks down onto Ladder Lake), then down a rib. Looks like it will immediately cliff out often, but goes for a long ways. This begins as 2nd class and turns into 4th/ low 5th. When the downclimbing became real 5th and steep and exposed, we rappelled once skiers left into the couloir to class 2. It’s still an adventure to get back to the packs, but you’ll figure it out; you’re off of the peak now at least.
- Rack: double rack including Metolious 0 through Camalot #2. Plus one Camalot #3, plus a few nuts. Small cams are invaluable.
- Source for constant lyrical references in this post: REM’s Losing My Religion from the album Out of Time