DEVILS THUMB GROUP

Posted on: December 1, 2004


The Witches Tits, Cats Ears and Devils Thumb, showing the lines taken by Andre Ike and Jon Walsh. Ake and Wash attempted a complete traverse of the spires, managing both Tits and both Ears before rockfall cut their rope, forcing their descent. After some rain-enforced rest days, they returned to climb the East Ridge of the Devils Thumb, becoming the first climbers to tick the Thumb and all its satellite peaks. [Photo] Jon Walsh

Four years ago on an expedition to Oasis Peak, Dieter Klose planted a seed: the complete traverse of the Witches Tits, Cats Ears and Devils Thumb. This seed grew into a dream that blossomed into reality in July, when Andre Ike and I were deposited below the east ridge of the Thumb by helicopter. A week of mostly bad weather followed, with just enough sun to advance a camp and scope the logistics of our mission. Finally the skies cleared, and we set off with three days of food and high hopes for the splitter, white granite we had seen from the heli. We ascended through a crevasse maze to the ridge below the Witches Tits and climbed eight moderate pitches to the base of the steep and perfectly clean headwall. (This lower ridge had been previously climbed by Guy Edwards and John Miller in 2002.) We then climbed a new route, Witches Cleavage, to the right of theirs on the headwall in eight pitches up to 5.11a to the summit of the West Tit, rappelled to the col between that and the East Tit, then climbed the west ridge of the East Tit in three long, moderate pitches to its virgin summit. Some technical rappelling and down climbing along its knife-edge east ridge brought us to a tight bivouac in the notch between the Tits and the Cats Ears. The next day started with a forty-five-meter rappel down the north side to a crack system that we believe had been previously climbed at 5.10a A1 by Chad McMullen (US) and Simon Elias (Spain) in 1996. We liberated their route at 5.10 in five pitches and found ourselves between the Ears, each one of which yielded a pitch of incredible 5.9 on steep, knobby granite with plenty of cracks and chickenheads that kept us grinning from ear to ear.

From these summits we could clearly see our final objective glowing in the afternoon sun: the almost finished but not quite free West Buttress of the Thumb. A few steep rappels and traversing maneuvers landed us in the chossy gully between the Ears and the Thumb in search of a bivy site. Unfortunately, while crossing this gully we generated some rockfall that chopped our lead rope, right at the midpoint, and left us with no choice but to descend. Eight rappels, some down climbing and a five-star bivy later we awoke to see the spires cloaked in an eerie mist. A couple more hours of down climbing and rappelling the next morning and we were back at advanced camp. At 2 p.m. the heavens parted and thirty-six hours of nonstop rain began.

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A couple of days later we awoke predawn to clear skies and the finest aurora we had ever seen. Despite a poor and worsening weather forecast, we grabbed our packs and charged up and down the complete and absolutely stellar East Ridge (Culbert-Starr-Douglas, 1970) of the Thumb in twelve hours round-trip, making us the first climbers to tick the Thumb and all its satellites. On the descent, we paused to call our pilot on VHF radio to pick us up before the fast-approaching storm socked us in for another week. He showed up right on time and whisked us back to civilization an hour before another front engulfed this incredible range of ice and granite towers.

— Jon Walsh, Golden, British Columbia, Canada



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