November 16, 2009

Sundial's Global Warming Arete

Obviously pumped, but exuding his usual calm demeanor, Paul hoisted himself onto the spacious ledge below the final pitch of the Sundial’s spectacular Northwest (aka Global Warming) Arete. He’d just pulled through the slightly overhanging 5.8 “crux” and he looked relieved, stoked, and in need of a rest. The move involves a finger lock and a strong pull without much for the feet, to reach a hidden edge deep in a pod. However, to climb into the pod, you’d need to be 30” tall! Instead, one must stare down the exposure and look for holds above and outside the alcove. Not terribly hard, but a couple notches tougher than any other move on the mostly 5.6 route, also known as Eleventh Hour.

I call it the Global Warming Arete, because even when its 100 F in the city, this airy, shady, northerly climb between 9500-10,000’ stays way cool. I’ve never climbed it without having to put on a layer. Usually, I wear pants and a windshirt the whole way. Who says the Wasatch doesn’t have alpine rock? The Tetons have nothing on this!

Paul Oelerich and I met at the Broad’s Fork / Mill B South trailhead at 6 am and enjoyed the 3,000’, 3-mile approach. We were on the shady west side of the rugged canyon in the coolest part of the day. Sunrise on 11,107-foot Dromedary Peak’s northeast face glowed pink, then orange as we cruised up the well-established path to Lake Blanche.

Named for a pioneer Mormon woman, Blanche is nestled beneath the sharp, 500’ triangle of solid Quartzite that is the Sundial. Her sister lakes, Florence and Lillian, fill glacial-carved basins just to her west. All were “enhanced” by dams built in the depressed 1930s. Shortly thereafter, SLC engineers realized the threat of flood from one of these fragile dams bursting exceeded any value they had, and all such dams in the Wasatch were breached.

Regardless, it is a delightful camping area and, along with Red Pine lake in the Lone Peak Wilderness, it’s the most popular summer backpacking area in the Salt Lake mountains. That means on any hot day in the city you may see 3 parties escaping the heat here. But usually the only inhabitants are mule deer, trout, and non-indigenous mountain goats, ranging the maroon-colored rock slabs above.

Just east of the lake the trail disappeared in a meadow of brilliant yellow wildflowers soaking in the morning sun. Another 500’ of boulder-hopping brought us to the low-point of vertical rock. The first few moves typify the climb: steep and edgy with plenty of holds. Problem is, they are all sloping toward you. In-cut edges are rare. Spice it up with lichen, loose rocks, and tricky pro, and you get the picture. Its adventure climbing, not a well-traveled crag!

The first belay defines the word “ledge”. Its 2’ wide and 5’ long with 100’ of air below and a small roof above. As you sit to belay on the cool stone, your gaze wanders out over Lake Blanche, Big Cottonwood Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley to Antelope Island.

The second pitch starts “slopey,” and then gets easier before ending on a broad, loose terrace. The standard procedure from here is to move 50’ west and climb a wide corner. Instead, I go up and right on decent rock to a belay near the arete. The fourth pitch includes the exciting crux, and sets you up for the final, 100-foot lead.

Before you go up, you have to step slightly down onto a sloping edge with only a mono-digit pocket for hands. Fortunately, this heady move is well-protected, being just below the belay. Then the route climbs a steep, beautiful crack system with good holds. One must resist the temptation to continue up as it becomes 5.9 fingers. To keep it 5.6, follow a sidewalk back west to the arete. Now a small dihedral goes right up the crest for 70’ of quality moves on great rock.

Quartzite gives way to broken Slate / Shale just above the final belay, and the ridge goes horizontal. Its possible to scramble south for a mile and walk off to the west, but several rappel lines to the East are what most climbers employ. The cleanest option is to go south for 200’ and then zigzag down to a solid horn with slings. One rapp of 35 meters puts you on easy ground. A short scree slope leads back to the base.

There is no better way to enjoy the high Wasatch than on the Global Warming Arete. The down hike is in the afternoon sun, but who cares? You’re going with gravity! Now the trail is crowded with day-hikers, sweating their way up. As you step out of their way, you gloat with the satisfaction of having gotten up early, scaled a beautiful arete, and beaten the heat. When the trail crosses the creek just above the carpark, hopefully you’ve cached a few of your favorite beverages in the icy waters. A shady, creekside bench is the ideal place to toast a perfect summer day.

- Tyson Bradley

1 comment:

  1. Had a chance to do this climb with UMA. It was spectacular! And oddly enough, even on a hot summer day, it really did get cold on the "gully pitch" shaded by a massive roof. This pitch also had a lot of loose rock that, if released, would funnel down the gully at the belayer, so you've got to be really careful. The fourth pitch is the money maker! The overhanging part really didn't seem that overhanging to me. The crux is actually after that part. Like Tyson said, you've got to move up with nothing but a silly crack, (in which I couldn't find the finger lock), and no feet. Once you're threw, find a good stance and rest! It's pumpy if you're like me and have bad technique. Mike Kaserman made it look so easy. He was static through the whole thing. I don't know how I got through it, but it was sloppy and desperate! Ah, but what a great climb! From there you continue up, turn a corner, and finish up on a nice ledge for the final short pitch. Reaching the top and looking out over the basin gives you an enormous feeling of accomplishment. This is the best view of all 3 lakes! It is also a very interesting view of the trees as they all seem to point in different directions from this perspective, as if they were being filtered by a spherical distortion. This climb is a must do!