THE TREE, North Buttress, Tahquitz Rock

North Buttress, Tahquitz Rock


Ostensibly, Tom Oetzell and I climbed the North Buttress of Tahquitz in winter conditions so I could take a photograph of this tree. How's that for a rationalization?

In the warm summer sun, this route is easy fifth class. When iced up it is a completely different animal. In this condition, we estimated the hardest moves of the ten pitch route to be roughly the same as a 5.9 or 5.10a rock climb.

We did the climb in March of 1980. We aborted an earlier attempt because of "deteriorating weather and questionable snow and ice." Basically, we were intimidated. Things went better on the second attempt. Our attitudes and the weather both seemed promising and the condition of the ice was ideal for technical climbing. Here is a photograph of Tom following a pitch, and another leading a pitch. In the latter photo, the Tree is on the skyline and to the right of the corner Tom is climbing.

Within minutes of taking the photos of the Tree, the clouds closed in and we were enveloped in a dense fog. The sun, wherever it was, was setting and we still has three or four pitches of ice to climb. Not good! At one belay I was sorting out, mentally, the resources in my pack. Bivi sack, stove, candy bars. It would be uncomfortable, but certainly survivable. At least if it didn't storm. I had trouble convincing myself that the clouds were simply the result of a very deep marine layer and "harmless." We pressed on.

At one point (technically the most difficult during a summer ascent) a thin layer of verglas ice sheared from the rock, resulting in a short fall. Eventually it was dark. It was my turn to lead again and I prepared to embark on one of the most memorable pitches of climbing I've ever done.

I was not happy. I knew we should be near the top, but because of the fog it seemed the climb would go on forever. As I moved from the stance the clouds suddenly dissipated and a bright half moon reflected obliquely across the ice. It glistened in the moonlight, and I could see the summit was less than a rope-length away. Elated, I front-pointed up the ice sheet, immersed in the wonder of the moment and immensely relieved.

And some ask, "Why do you climb?"

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