Happy Anniversary: Let’s Climb the Third Pillar of Mt. Dana
Peter Croft is a legend in climbing, known for his long and sometimes difficult backcountry climbs in the Sierra Nevada, often alone. He also writes guidebooks (notably “The Good, The Great and The Awesome”) and Betsy and I have enjoyed his writing style for years. You would think reading a climbing guidebook would be a little like reading a phone book, but Peter’s humor comes through, and you can tell that regardless of the difficulty of the climb, Peter clearly enjoys just being in the mountains.
So for our wedding anniversary this year, Betsy had the idea of climbing with Peter Croft, if that was at all possible, so that we could climb something in the backcountry that we otherwise would not have been able to do by ourselves. It turns out Peter does guide through Sierra Mountain Guides of Bishop so Betsy got on the phone to arrange a climb. At first we wanted to do Charlotte Dome, a 3 day class 5.8/5.9 (moderate) climb, but three days was too long. Betsy and the guide service settled on the Third Pillar of Mt. Dana. As Betsy explained to me, “It is a super classic backcountry climb so good that some people in Europe come to the Sierra to do just that climb. And its rated 5.10b.”
5.10b? Backcountry 5.10b at 11,000 feet? I climb 5.10b on a good day on a top rope. Bets is a better climber than I am (although off topic, I might nevertheless mention that I am a better kayaker than her) and I was quite sure she would do fine on the climb. But I started to have visions of being at the bottom of the rope, my arms completely spent, looking up. Peter Croft and my wife would be at the top looking down, saying, “You poor, poor, little man”. So I slipped in some extra pull ups in my workout and hoped for the best.
The big day came. I felt great through the moderate sections, but I did struggle a bit and I did fall at one 5.10 section (caught quickly by the rope, the reason for a guide). However I was able to recover and climb through without any drama. It turns out that Peter, known for being a nice guy, actually is a nice guy and was helpful in the difficult sections by pointing out small holds and describing techniques. He also seemed genuinely impressed with our speed and confidence climbing the moderate 5.8/5.9 sections. He had told a friend he may or may not be available to get him at 5:00 that evening at the Mammoth airport, but we topped out on the climb at noon, in time for lunch, with only an hour hike out. We did just fine and it was as advertised, a super classic, fantastic climb with incredible views of Mono Lake and beyond.
We had flown into Lee Vining airport and camped on the ramp near our plane, the only plane at the airfield. We rode our fold-up bikes into Lee Vining for dinner and then went to bed shortly after sunset so we could get up early to meet Peter at 5:00 am (he was nice enough to pick us up and drop us off at the airport). We ate at Bodie Mikes, but were not impressed. If you are in Lee Vining, stick with the famous Whoa Nellie Deli at the Mobile station or eat at the Mono Inn.
By the way, now that it is over and we (I) were successful – great idea Bets! Happy Anniversary and I love you!