You & This Route
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This route defies a "normal" route description, and a "normal" rating. The rating above, 5.6 R, is an estimate/compromise between what the first ascent party called it and what we thought it was when we did it - if we were on route (see more below). For people who may seek information about the route I offer a long, but I think descriptive narrative below (most of this was originally posted as a trip report on Supertopo). Also, the route length and number of pitches are listed from where Eclipsed and Venusian Blind Aretes become different routes (that is, they are measured after doing the usually class three/four approach to the base of Venusian Blind Arete):
I try to do a High Sierra climb every season with my friend Jerome. We've done routes as varied as Mount Starr King and the West Arete on Mount Winchell.
Per our normal pattern, this year Jerome gave me a list of routes that had his interest. His suggestions included "something on Temple Crag." I've done the best-known four celestial aretes: Dark Star, Sun Ribbon, Moon Goddess and Venusian Blind. All are excellent routes. The choice for this year was therefore obvious - we'd do the fifth (and for me, final) "celestial:" Eclipsed Arete.
There isn't much information on this route either in guidebooks or on the internet. Having done lots and lots of High Sierra routes, I knew better than to expect true "5.3," the rating given the route in the Secor guide (and presumably the rating given by the first ascent party in 1970). And the route description in Secor is, to say the least, very, very general (and I sympathize; I too am a guidebook author, and I absolutely understand the difficulties of getting information about obscurities).
But it's an arete right? And I've been there before.
Armed with generalities and a suspect rating Jerome and I did the route yesterday.
For those with short attention spans, here's the take-away: Although the other four celestials are among the jewels of Sierra Nevada climbing, Eclipsed belongs in a dung heap (actually, it might aptly be called one).
First, as to the description and rating. The description is fine up to the base of Eclipsed's sister route, Venusian Blind. And yes, from there, a traverse left leads out toward Eclipsed (like the two to the right, Eclipsed isn't really an arete down low). But after that? I have absolutely no idea.
The traverse described sort of leads to the base of Eclipsed, and it sort of doesn't. It ended with a choice of dropping off into a void left by a huge left-facing corner, or climbing a headwall that is between Venusian Blind and Eclipsed. Dropping off wasn't going to get us to the arete, so we did the headwall. This seemed right even after the fact (even the difficulty - 5.6 or 5.7 seemed about right for a 1970s High Sierra first ascent that was called 5.3).
This headwall pitch led us to a lower angle section of wall, where an obvious section of very easy class five then led to the right edge of Eclipsed Arete itself. This is where the route finding became a total mystery.
Eclipsed might be more of a buttress than it is an arete. It has a distinct east face that is 50 and more feet wide. Climbing this was out of the question: this face was near vertical, had few features and surely wouldn't go at anything less than 5.10 (and then with bolts for pro - cracks there are mostly fragile features behind loose crap). At the other extreme was the left side of the relatively clean gully to the right - between Venusian and Eclipsed. This looked like it was easy fourth and fifth class.
But this is an arete route, right? It's supposed to climb the arete, not the gully next to it. So I looked at the right edge/north face of the arete, where some features looked like they might allow some fifth class (and while this climbing did NOT look 5.3, who cares - see the above comments about rating expectations).
I wanted to climb "the Route." But, I admit, I was a little intimidated (we'd brought a limited rack, and I was doing the climb in approach shoes). And the rock quality was obviously suspect (see further comments below). What to do? I tend to be a purist, so I went for the "arete."
All I can say (politely) is "holy, holy crap!" It went. It was the arete. But it was not 5.3 (try solid, sustained 5.7), everything was loose (and I mean everything!) and it was barely protectable. I led 195 feet of what may have been one of the scariest leads I've ever done in the Sierra. YUCK! The rope knocked one large and many small loose rocks off. At least I got in two bomber cams at the end of the pitch (placed with sheer relief, bordering on greed).
And then we got some relief. Jerome was able to lead 100 feet of easy fifth to a ledge, and to the base of the next (and obviously last) headwall. This headwall looked like vertical stacked blocks at best. The climbing looked like more of what I'd found below, but offered only 80 feet of difficulty. I still wanted to do the "pure" line, but I wasn't intimidated anymore. Now I was scared sh#tless.
Jerome came through though. He always does in the end. He came through with common sense and brains. He looked up, and then he looked right, into the gully (the right side of the arete and the gully are very close where he belayed). It seemed like I could hear the rapid calculations that his brain was doing. He saw me looking up. Then he, basically, forbade me from climbing straight up and insisted that I follow the left edge of the gully. I say "basically" because, although if left to my own choice I would have gone straight up, I had (and still have) no idea where the route truly goes, and it didn't seem like a good day to die. I climbed the edge of the gully (at about 5.3) for a rope length before (stubbornly) cutting back onto the arete to finish on it (at least I got some sympathy about our route's poor, poor quality from the climbers watching us from Venusian Blind - we paralleled each other for much of the day).
After Jerome came up he looked up and asked me to lead the next pitch (I am more experienced with these types of routes than he is). OK, let's do it one more time. This effort was exemplary. I was climbing about 5.3 or so, but on stacked blocks and loose sh#t. Pro? Hahahaha. Now the folks on Venusian Blind were (I think) a little worried. The Californian, Scott, was actively coaching and directing me the easiest way to lower angle ground (and like the pro earlier, I was sucking up all the beta I could get).
Finally, Jerome came up. Now we were home free (thanks Scott). Three more ropelengths of what felt like class one, but was probably easy fifth lead to the top of the arete. Done, and thank God.
And finally, in a trip report that is already too long (and no photos - Jerome took some but I don't have them yet), I offer a bit of background explanation to (I hope) lend weight to my comments about this route being loose: I've done over 150 routes in the High Sierra (up to 5.10). I've led over 800 different routes at Pinnacles National Monument (which has a reputation - occasionally deserved - for loose rock). I don't consider that the other four celestial aretes are "loose," any more than is to be expected, accepted and embraced. But Eclipsed? Whoooooa Nelly. Here's one just waiting for the young, still unscarred, maybe even dumb, loose-rock aficionado.
The left-most arete on the northeast face of Temple Crag. This arete is next left from the Venusian Blind arete, and getting to the start of this route is mostly the same as getting to the start of Venusian Blind.
Protection is hard to find on some areas of this route. Bring lots of slings, a set of stoppers and a set of cams to four inches.