Always be Wary of the 5.9+
Rio has been my main partner for the evening Index sessions this summer, where I have regained some of my confidence and stoke on rock. He is a bit stronger than me, so it makes for a fun partnership where we are both able to push each other and we are not holding each other back. We decided to take this partnership to the alpine with a climb of the classic sandbag Stanley-Burgner, a beautiful line up one of the most beautiful hunks of rock out there, Prusik Peak.
Climbing Prusik is always on the edge of a reasonable day trip. There are two approaches: Colchuck Lake and Snow Lakes. Both seem to take a similar amount of time. Snow Lakes is technically more distance but has easier terrain and no uphill on the way out. Last time, for the West Ridge of Prusik, Daniel, Logan, and I used the Colchuck Lake approach. This time, we decided to do the longer, but simpler Snow Lakes approach.
August has brought a much appreciated cool down this summer and we enjoyed the crisp air on our long 4000 ft climb up to the Snow Lakes. Around Nada Lake, we passed three unfortunate souls (zombies) who had been up all night trying to finish the thru-hike. We asked if there was anything we could do to help, but they said no and just kept on hiking, eager to warm up in the sun.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with the Enchantments. For hiking, they are vastly overrated and overcrowded in my opinion. I have done the Colchuck Lake approach so many times that I try to avoid it at all costs. But the technical climbing in this part of the range is simply amazing. So now I find myself coming back for the beautiful granite. The morning was quiet, and we hardly passed a soul all the way to Lake Viviane. Looking at the granite spires above and beautiful lakes, I admitted to Rio that the Enchantments were pretty nice.
We hiked up to the base of the south face. The steep, immaculate granite rises straight from a low angle boulderfield – no choss or sketchy approach. It was practically alpine cragging, just the crag had an approach with 6000 ft of climbing.
The start is pretty easy to find, and the entire route is clearly visible on the approach. We took the 5.8 wide crack alternative instead of the 5.7 chimney for the first pitch. I led it and was not quite ready for some legit 5.8 OW moves so early in the day and sputtered for a little, but then just pushed through it. Oof, the climb was already off to a stout start.
I linked the first two pitches and then led the third, which started with some runout face climbing on knobs, but at least it was not too hard. Rio then took over with the 4th pitch “10b hand crack variation”. It was completely splitter and absolutely joyful! It definitely felt easier than “Breakfast of Champions” at Index, which is a 10a there. The crux for Rio on lead came with a spicy traverse rightward near the end of the pitch to join the original route before tunneling through the squeeze.
Pitch 5 is the infamous “butt lips” flare chimney. Rio and I had prepped for this by climbing the Aries “butt lips” chimney at Index. Laughably, it is just a 5.8 at Index, but that is a huge sandbag. I tried to lead Aries earlier this summer and struggled for a good half hour, slipping on the polished granite and falling over and over. I struggled committing to proper chimney technique and instead locked myself deep in the flare in a terrible squeeze. I remember finally making it up and feeling a complete bodily destruction and exhaustion that I had never felt before. I was dazed and my heart rate was through the roof. It was incredibly humbling.
Rio is a chimney master. We originally met because I read his trip report about Epinephrine in Red Rocks and we started talking about chimneys. So Rio did not have too much trouble squirming up the butt lips, although he definitely stayed pretty deep in the squeeze. I once again fell into the trap of going too deep and got stuck for a while in some knee bars. But once I moved out of the flare and got into normal chimney position, I found sticky rock and nice knobs for my feet. It actually felt easier than Aries.
The final pitch is the supposed crux. It offered a sustained 40-45 meters of full on 5.10- climbing, much of it wide. I could tell it was going to be hard when Rio had to take and rest for a bit.
Following the pitch, I found sustained strenuous climbing. There was just a lot of funky wide climbing, and non obvious moves. Whereas the 10b splitter hand crack was absolutely clean and straightforward, I found myself grunting through each move on this pitch, using every trick I had – arm bars, knee jams, heel-toe jams, all kinds of weird stuff. At times it felt desperate, but I was always able to puzzle out the move just before the pump clock expired. It was just that physical brand of climbing that feels so engrossing and wholesome. What a pitch!
I’m not sure I have ever done an alpine rock climb that finished so cleanly on the summit. Most routes have some choss and scrambling near the top, North Ridge of Stuart included. But Prusik just cleanly deposits you on the beautiful granite summit in the heart of the Core Zone of the Enchantments.
We listened to hoots and hollers as people lounged in floaties down in the Core Zone lakes. Prusik is definitely the most beautiful view of the Core Zone.
We found our way down the back side, making four rappels, and then scrambling back around the west ridge and to the base of the route, where we had cached gear. Then we packed up and joined the rush hour traffic down from Lake Viviane to Snow Lakes, where we passed the masses by taking direct lines down the slabs. From there we just pounded the rocky trail all the way back to the cars. I always forget how soul sucking and long that descent is. Damn, this climbing weekend was supposed to be a break for my knees. Whoops.
Stanley-Burgner is definitely the hardest alpine rock climb I have done. While it is not long, each pitch is high quality and fun. The final three pitches were challenging and very physical, definitely old school 5.9+, or new age 5.10-. 5.9+ is a dangerous grade, remnants of an era when 5.9 was the hardest climbing that was done. It was so fun to get to follow a route like this and push myself in such a beautiful setting. Thank you to Rio for dragging me up another classic!
- The hiking is substantial for this route. We covered 7500 ft gain over about 23 miles! I covered the debate of which approach to take earlier in the post.
- Overall, it was a 14.5 hour day. We are probably faster hikers than most but slower climbers. We approached in under 5 hours, climbed in a little over 4 hours, descended in 1, and then hiked out in 4 hours. So we took nearly an hour per pitch, a testament to the difficulty of the route.
- We found the recommended rack of doubles from tips to #2, a 3 and 4 to be perfect. The final pitch is long and takes a lot of gear!
- Even though we knew this was a wide climb going in, the extent of physical wide climbing surprised us. The final pitch had a lot of wide climbing that required actual OW technique. Combined with the long hike out, this climb really beat us up.
- Most people feel that a 5.9 rating is a major sandbag for this route. A 10- might be correct, but Rio felt that it was comparable to Acid Baby, which is a 10+. It seems to be on par with an Index 10-. However, we probably have not done enough alpine routes at this grade to truly make a fair assessment.
- Protection was generally adequate. The final pitch definitely had some spots where placements were more challenging, but it was never runout or anything, with the exception of the knobby face climbing on pitch 3, but that is pretty easy.
- We highly recommend the 10b hand crack variation on pitch 4. It was the cleanest feature in the route and super fun!