My friend Bryan and I did some peaks during winter together, and did some trad routes over the summer. Since we like a little occasional challenge, for the current winter, we decided to combine the two. We decided to climb Third Pillar of Dana- a line we always stare at on the drive through Lee Vining.
As Christmas approached we got the best gift possible- a blue sky weekend, and Tioga Pass that is still opened (due to absence of huge snow storms). Tioga Pass being opened was a huge relief. During early spring in 2011 I day-hiked Dana Couloir from Power Plant parking lot, and was not too excited about repeating the long boring walk.
Although Tioga Pass was opened and skies were blue, it was still winter, there was still plenty of snow to slow us down on the approach, daily highs at altitude were predicted to be 28F, the route got sun only in early morning, and we were doing it on a shortest day of the year.
Since we never attempted anything so technical in such conditions (sustained crack climbing in sub freezing temps) first we thought about bringing aid gear just in case it was too cold to climb some sections, than we thought about adding jumars and having the follower jumar the pitches to save time, finally we decided to skip the aid gear/jumars bullsh#t, and take Cheburashka with us for good luck. Third Pillar is a free climb, if we can't do it, we decided bailing with intentions to come back later is a better option than succeeding through aiding.
After a less than typical winter drive, we started our journey up the canyon at some point couple of hours before sunrise. Since it was a moon-less night, we did not find the trail, and had to slog through unconsolidated calf high snow before we finally came across one. As we came up towards the plateau navigation became more difficult since we were surrounded by frozen streams from all sides.
After we survived the ice, we made our way up towards our destination as the sun peaked out from the horizon. Here we faced one of our fears- exposed descent towards the pillar, with a foot of snow over it. Somehow we avoided a slip with sure death as a consequence, and made our way across the icy couloir with our one pair of crampons.
First ledge was covered in snow, and gave a taste for the things to come-having gaiters over my climbing shoes was a great idea. As Bryan made his way across the couloir, I racked up, and set up an anchor. Finally bathing in the sun felt great.
First pitch went without big screw ups, aside from almost taking a big fall due to a slip on a FLAT! ledge- turned out there was a layer of ice under a foot of snow. Who knew? I was able to keep my balance, and make my way towards a nice, but short finger crack. Not complaining at all about it's length, for some reason there was a bunch of snow I cleared out from it before I could get solid jams.
The pitch went fast and Bryan was up it in no time. As I belayed him on P2 my right foot went numb and remained that way till we topped out. Pitch 3 was again mine. From beginning of P3 there was no more sun on the route, we were back in winter mode.
Chimney was straight forward, but belay spot was exactly what it is described as in ST guide- SPECTACULAR! I have no idea how this flake is still attached to the face.
Bryan took over from here and made it to top of Pith 4 before I got frostbite. The absence of the pin to protect the crux was not a big deal, since Bryan was able to find some other small gear to plug. Pitch 5 also went without complications- Bryan battled "best 5.9 in the universe" (which actually felt like crux pitch of the route) and had the honor to bath in sun first. Although cleaning snow from out of cracks, and having extremities go numb more than you can remember is not as pleasant as spring cragging in the valley, it is still a great experience.
After I topped out we finally had a moment to enjoy the views of Mono Lake and Mt Dana. After rubbing the numbness out of my feet we hiked out, and celebrated our little victory at Niceley's. The best Christmas eve of my life!
It was another perfect day with a great partner. And our lucky charm- Cheburashka!