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Emigrant Labor - A First Ascent Journey through the Emigrant Wilderness

Original Post
Ryan Myers · · Tempe, Arizona · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 2,605
Emigrant Wilderness
For years, my friend Damian has been talking about planning a trip together to the Sierra. At first thought peaks such as the Incredible Hulk, Mt. Russell, and Mt. Whitney all came to mind. But Damian had other ideas. We were going to head into the Emigrant Wilderness. Having spent a lot of time as a child in the mountain town of Pinecrest, Damian was familiar with the terrain and had dreams of returning to explore the mountains of his youth with a developed set of skills. I was happy to be invited and psyched to check out an area I knew very little about. Me and Damian have been climbing, canyoneering, and working together since 2010. We’ve been on a lot of really great trips together and have gained a strong sense of trust in one another. This trip was also a little more meaningful than all the rest because I was soon to get married and this would be the last trip before the wedding. A getaway from the heat of Phoenix and the stress of the big day. A very nice gesture from a great friend and a groomsman. Flights were booked, bags were packed to the max, we knew the area we were heading to, but other than that it was all up to us what we were going to make of the trip.


We flew into San Francisco, a city I have never visited. Before being mountain men we did the tourist thing, got some chowder and went to see the Golden Gate Bridge. The city was beautiful and I’m glad we took a few hours to check it out, but we were here for the mountains so off we went. Leading up to the trip, Damian had been in contact with Brad Young, a local first ascensionist and guidebook author for the Sonora Pass Highway area. Brad is a great guy and welcomed us to his home to purchase his guidebook and gather beta for our trip. After a pleasant conversation and looking through this huge guidebook with 100s of routes in the area, we were ready. We knew what we had come for and that was adventure. We set the guidebook aside and decided to try and find something new.

It had been a long day of travel and we were finally in Pinecrest just before sunset. Looking out across Pinecrest Lake, the smell of pines and clean mountain air put a huge smile on my face. I was glad we were there and excited to see what we would find. A burger, some beers and a ski slope bivy were all we had left in us for the first day of our trip. It was a beautiful night to be sleeping under the stars. We literally woke up on a ski-run that is a part of Dodge Ridge Ski Area, good thing it was August. After drinking a beer for breakfast and repacking our bags, we were off to Crabtree Trailhead.

Hiking in

Our packs were not light! Weighing around 55-60lbs at the start of the hike. We were carrying all the basics, food, water bottles and filter, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, bivy sacks, two ropes, double rack, climbing shoes, extra clothes, you name it. We were ready and the weather was great. The first few miles were a cruise and the conversation was good. The scenery was impressing me more and more with every step. As I see granite features coming into view my excitement grows. At Camp Lake we had a decision to make. We decided to trek on to Piute Lake but somehow while we were talking we missed the trail and continued on accidentally to Bear Lake. Not wanting to backtrack we decided to head off trail around Bear Lake and head towards Meadow Lake. This was an awesome part of the day as we found our way across the granite and through the pines. The surroundings were incredible and we began to see cliffs with potential. We bypassed climbing on Day 1 in order to get a little further into the wilderness area as we continued past Granite Lake to our first campsite at Meadow Lake. After a great day we were exhausted. We made some food and passed out.

Off Trail

We were in good position on day 2 to make some more progress into the wilderness area and hopefully have some luck and get to climb something. We made some breakfast, filled our water bottles and set off towards Toejam Lake. We hiked off trail over a ridge and down into a meadow. This was a nice place to take a quick break before climbing uphill for a few hundred feet. It was nice knowing as we hiked uphill that another beautiful alpine lake would be waiting for us. And it was a nice one indeed. Toejam lake was stunning. Out in the middle was a rock that stood out above the waterline. It wasn’t big, just a mini island. I jumped in and swam out to it. What a nice way to spend a day. We hung out at Toejam Lake for about an hour. Damian fished and I found some boulders to climb on. We had a snack, looked at the map and continued on towards our now main objective, the West Fork of Cherry Creek above Paiute Lake.

I think we found something

Even though we met the guidebook author for the area he had almost no information about previous climbing exploration in this particular spot. We were looking for something totally new and I think we found it. As we were hiking down through this awesome canyon we noticed some great walls on our right. It was getting a little late in the day but we decided to rack up and go check them out anyways. We schwacked our way up to the base of this beautiful 500ft buttress and started climbing. 3 awesome pitches later we were standing on top of what we were calling Heart of the Artichokes (5.7).

Heart of the Artichokes Topo

The first pitch started up on a 10ft boulder leaning against the wall directly under a roof. The roof accepted some good gear placements so I stepped off the boulder and climbed left underneath the short roof and into a short dihedral. I was able to get another piece of gear in the dihedral before running it out up the featured face above. The climbing was great and protection was available in some form or another if you are creative. The climbing was easy and enjoyable and the first pitch ends on a nice big ledge. From there pitch 2 took me out to the right off the ledge into a short hand crack section followed by more featured face climbing up to another big ledge. We were moving efficiently and in one more short pitch we were at the top. Pitch 3 climbed up and to the right using broken crack systems and a short dihedral to the summit. We enjoyed the moment and a victory cigar. It felt amazing to have found such a nice line that climbed perfectly. After getting back down to our packs we fixed a delicious meal and ventured on into the night in search of our next suitable camp site.

Emigrant Labor

At about 11 pm we saw a massive dark shadow on a steep wall to our right. We stopped and admired the grand feature being illuminated by moonlight. We plopped down played some chess and waited for sunrise. The next morning, we looked up and saw the perfect objective! The huge dark dihedral that drew our attention the night before was right there in front of us, staring us down. I was beyond psyched! I rushed to get breakfast and coffee going so we could get to the wall and check it out. I wasn't for sure if I was going to have the skill and strength to climb to its summit but I knew I was gonna give it one hell of an effort. That sounds so corny but it's true. I was a bit nervous. After a quick morning ritual, we racked up and headed up the slopes to what looked to be a perfect climb. I was so excited because it looked challenging but doable.

Pitch 2

The first pitch started off with a strange 5.9 off width section to a really cool, small roof that you climb under to get established in the dihedral. The pitch was a great warmup and the setting was perfect. Pitch two was a classic. Climbing off the belay on great features up the dihedral was so much fun, not too difficult. At the end of pitch two was a really sweet 5.10 sequence moving left under another roof feature. After pulling the crux of the pitch and finding a nice little sloping ledge I built and anchor and brought Damian up. There was a nice offwidth to the right that would take a climber up to the big roof where they could traverse left underneath and then up a nice dihedral or go out the roof to the right and up the steep face. Either would be totally badass and I hope to go back and try both variations. The offwidth would have required bigger gear which we didn’t have. Option 2 was to climb up on top of the flake the anchor was built out of and onto a 30ft blank slab below the awesome looking and massive roof that will take great gear. This for sure was going to be the crux of the route. We were so close too. I had to try it. We beefed up our anchor a little bit and I got my game face on. The next gear placement once I unclipped my PAS was a good 30ft away. And it looks like 5.10+ Slab. I was feeling ambitious and slowly started making my way up. I got about 15 feet above Damian and that's when I had to decide. One move further and there was no chance of retreat. At the spot I was at the fall would have been acceptable but not great, and the only thing to catch me was the anchor Damian was on. I could gun for the roof above me and probably (maybe) make it. If we would have brought our hand drill I probably would have just stood there and hammered away for an hour then gone for it. But it was when Damian reminded me that I was getting married in a month that I thought about being injured at my wedding and realized it probably wasn't a good idea to go for it this time. Not willing to bail from such a great climb because of that section I decided to down climb and traverse about 30 feet to the left to join a diagonal crack that headed towards the top of the massive roof feature I was just trying to get to.

Emigrant Labor Topo

Perfect we are back on track and the climb still might go! The crack didn't look to hard but it ended up being a bit more difficult than expected. With only a few more feet of hard climbing to go, I fell! I gave it three more good tries all ending with me hanging from the rope. I started to get frustrated. Everything since Tuesday had been going so great, now I'm 50ft from the top of one of the best climbs I have ever done and I can't figure out the crux. I'm tired and pumped. One more try I tell Damian and then I'll aid past it. I try a better sequence and get so close. But fail. We've come a long way and we’re so close, at this point the only one that cares is me. I know I have the skill to make this set of moves work now it’s just a matter of strength. One more try… Damn that next belay ledge felt great after pulling the moves. Another sweet victory cigar and the incredible granite views surrounding us. We hiked back down to our camp in high spirits. Emigrant Labor (5.9+) was in the bag.


Now all that's left is our hike out. We had under 24 hours from the time we got back into camp to hike out 10 miles and drive 3.5 hours back to San Fran to catch our flight. So that's what we did, made some dinner packed our packs and hiked out of the wilderness under a full moon. We got back to the car at midnight totally worked and not all that psyched to be heading back into city lights. But we left knowing that the trip was a success and that hopefully there will be a future trip in the works to go put that bolt in and go for it! Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Myers

PS - We ran into insane traffic about 15 miles from the airport delaying us for over 2 hours. We nearly missed our flight, almost ran off the jetway again! Ended up making it by seconds and got a first class ride home! Great trip!
FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Well-written and interesting. Thanks, Ryan!

Matt Carroll · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 35

Cool TR, always nice to read about people getting after it.

Ryan Myers · · Tempe, Arizona · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 2,605

Thanks guys! This was my first stab at writing a real trip report. Enjoyable process for me and i'm glad you liked reading it. Feedback is great. More to come in the near future.

Jon H · · MD/DC · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 123

It was an enjoyable read, thanks for sharing!

Paul R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0

Sounds like an awesome trip! One of my goals is to get out to do a few remote climbs in the Sierras, it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

Walter Galli · · Sint Maarten · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 1,956

Nice stuff, thanks.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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