One for the ages - and a 'must' for any local climbers. The Eagletail wilderness itself was worth seeing. The colors, sharp ridges, and deep-pocketed bighorn caves made for a beautiful approach, but a rough one.
We set out across the desert on Friday evening, intending to backpack the flat miles in the dark. Packs were a little heavy carrying all that water (I had 6 liters), but we were at camp in 1:30, using a half-moon for all the light we needed. The night was beautiful, temps in the 50s with a light wind, and we all crashed early.
At first light, we snapped photos then made our way up the main notch on the NW side of the Eagletail ridge proper. The climb was steep and loose, and that would be the case the entire rest of the way. Once on the ridge, the scenery is spectacular! We climbed a shallow, water-polished basin, which was shady and showed signs of bighorn sheep everywhere. Exiting this and reaching the Eagletail knife ridge was horrendous - loose, shifting rocks that moved under any weight that you placed on them. Brutal. The knife ridge offered the first view of Eagletail itself, and though incredibly exposed, was somewhat solid. We picked, scrambled, and downclimbed our way across, at which point Shawn tapped out, after re-agrravating a groin injury he'd got earlier. It was a bummer to leave him behind, but we'd have him in line-of-sight and earshot all the way to the summit, so we felt comfortable leaving him alone here. From Eagletail Saddle, we stuck to the south (right) side of the ridge, which looked more solid - and was - than the nasty gully that looks like the obvious approach to the final pitch. The final pitch itself - wow! I think all of us took a moment to ponder what we were doing (and why?
). The exposure is intense, but the climb itself didn't look too bad.
Eric led, and made quick work of the pitch. Brian followed and cleaned, medium-sized cams and nuts were adequate for protection. As loose as Eagletail is, the pitch had good placement options for pro. The bolted belay/rappel station up top is in a small notch between the top of the pitch and the summit proper, so we moved the climbing line into this notch, which is near the rappel line. This route is less exposed, and has more face-climbing, but more plentiful holds. I'd call it a 5.6, but that's entirely opinion. I went first on this line, the first half was very easy, followed by a smooth slab that required some finger-crimping and stemming to overcome. Not bad - then used a chimney to finish the climb. And then, there it was - Eagletail's summit! What a rush, especially with the dizzying exposure. Ken followed and was on top soon, then Eric rappeled off to make room for Katrina. We cut the old, faded webbing down on the anchor and rebuilt with new webbing. Katrina then climbed, making quick and easy work of the pitch, as I belayed her, then she and Brian soaked in the summit views. Then it was rappel time, and it is an awkward start to the rappel as you have to push off the opposite wall so you don't smash your face into the overhanging lip...but after that, it's smooth sailing. By 12:30 we had all safely climbed and rappelled down. Celebration time! Almost...we still had to get back.
We found Shawn enjoying the breeze, and he could watch most of our climbing progress. Then it was a long slog back to the cars, but the cold beer at the end was motivation enough! What a trip - great group, great day.