"What distresses me is to see that human genius has limitations, and human stupidity has none."—A. Dumas
After getting to Lone Pine around 1am, I didn't get much sleep, yet woke up way later than I should have. At 7:30am I drank some not warm coffee, ate snacks and left the car at 8. Reading the report about the first ascent of the Winter Chimney a few days later I realized the FA party woke up at 10:30PM, meaning I was either very late or very early. Whatever the case is, I walked up the road, below a large south facing wall and up the avy tracks on the south face. Earlier start would allow easier travel as the snow was getting softer, but at least I saw where I was going, that should help right? After several hours of post holing and dry tooling over a rock band that would be 5.7 in climbing shoes, I hiked and hiked and hiked till I was about a thousand feet above the spot where I was supposed to cut off right. I realized that I was going up the original Winter Route couloir. So I considered going up that original route or bailing. Neither options had me as excited as the Winter Chimney, so I down-climbed and turned to the right couloir. By then, I was alternating between punching through knee and hip deep in places. Slowly I got to the base some time in the afternoon. I was afraid to look at the clock because if I saw something like 3pm I would have to turn around. The technical bulk of the route is only 6 pitches, so I decided I will likely be able to climb it in a couple of hours at most, as I am not pitching anything out.
First pitch was a nice wi3- or 2+ as advertised but the 2nd had rotten snow above the chimney which did not look like it would support any weight at all. To the right I scoped a crack system that seemed maybe doable and connecting to the ice above the corner, up above. To do a first ascent on a free solo is not something I was planning on, but I told myself that I can always try to down-climb if I have to. I did have a 6mm tagline and a few cams in case I felt it was too difficult to climb down. I climbed a few moves of sketchy ice to a stance below the crack system and executed a set of delicate moves to get established. It felt m4ish and the climbing turned out to be really good. Axe and hand jamming up a nice crack. If I had climbing shoes, I'd be able to get nice foot jams, but ice climbing boots did not do as well. Topping it out I enjoyed more easy walking and climbed some more ice to the M3 overhang, which was chocked with rotten ice. Climbing without being belayed through rotten ice was fairly hairy, as I had to avoid most of it and stem out on little edges. It all worked out and I continued to a wild squeeze chimney that was capped by a very exposed M4 overhang, with more sketchy ice over the lip. Using rock climbing shoes would help me a lot here. The first winter ascent party had the leader change into rock climbing shoes to climb the upper part (crux overhang) yet rated it M4. I got this detail after reading the report about the first winter ascent. Having the M4 rating on the pitch, I expected they rated it as such after drytooling it, but it wasn't the case. In any case, a friend of mine climbed the route a few weeks earlier and reported not changing into rock shoes, but he reported much better ice on the route than I encountered. A few weeks made a big difference and after I got above the chimney and below the big overhang, I sat there for a while trying to figure out a sequence of moves that I had to make. I could not afford to fall there. Don't want to make it more dramatic than it was, but it felt more difficult and insecure when I climbed to and through the overhang and I wouldn't do it if I knew how insecure it was gonna be. After getting through, I felt like I won a world series, a superbowl and a lottery at the same time. Staying alive feels good! I wasn't totally done with the actual climbing and the corner above had nothing resembling solid ice, so I continued to dry tool for the last pitch and when I topped out the route, I saw large dark clouds and precipitation above Mount Langley, over the canyon to the south. With only about an hour and a half of daylight left, I hurried up the slope, as getting down was gonna take time.
Stumbling over soft snow, I was getting worked breaking trail. Occasionally punching through close to my hip. The descent took forever, even though I mostly found my way alright, as I have done the descent last year. One route finding error send me over a steep drop off, using an established rap station, which led me to set up two more raps down a vertical wall step. The most annoying part was punching through every step of the way back to the car, where I arrived around 9:30PM. Much later than anticipated...the guy puking in the parking lot would have a good laugh at my foolishness.