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Bear Creek Spire, 7/17-23/09

By Elizabeth Scott, age 7 [with minor stylistic edits by Jim]

So we all started out at mosquito flat in the pouring rain, I know not a very good start. But after a few minutes it stopped raining. After four hours of hiking in on and off rain we made it to Dade Lakes. Now you have probably been wondering what the names of the people in our group were. Well there's my mom Sidney, my dad John, my brother Ian (age 10), my friend Kara (age 10), Kara's dad Jim, and myself Elizabeth (age 7). Jim had left his tent fly at the car which was a problem later.

Thanks to California's fiscal Armageddon and the windfall gutting of Child Protective Services, Team Pipsqueak kicked it up yet another notch continuing their ferocious alpine sending spree. Free at last from adult supervision and those nagging, repetitive, and not all that friendly reprimands from Child Protective Services, we marched the tots up the stunning North Arete of Bear Creak Spire (13,770ft)...twice.

Kara and I headed up a day early to negotiate the nightmarish backcountry permit process, finally salvaging the day with a run up Fairview's classic Lucky Streaks. Being in direct sun on an absolute scorcher we left the water behind as it's a slippery slope in today's entitlement culture from liquids to an expectation of food. Plus the serene setting is so much more peacefully enjoyed when their cute little parched tongues are pasted to the roof of their mouths. Kara, a child who could be charitably classified as "discerning" when it comes to what she'll swallow, had to be restrained on the descent from sucking dry stagnant mosquito ponds.

Hooked up with John, Sid, Ian, and Elizabeth at their Virginia Lakes Yurt that evening and then headed over to Rock Creek's Mosquito Flats trail head which it was in deed! The stunning four hour hike into basecamp with my 20 year old cast iron backpack and gear toasted my back, after which I wasn't much in the mood to listen to John swoon over his uber-light, micro-compact space age gear; I will certainly be plunking down the big bucks for a duplicate setup next go. Not that it hasn't been personally rewarding single-handedly financing my chiropractor's college fund.

The next morning we started climbing. At pitch five it started raining. Hard. So for twenty minutes my mom and I huddled up in the pouring rain while everyone else made a decision at the next ledge. The first thunderbolt helped them decide. And that's why we ended up rapping in the pouring rain and hail the size of chocolate chips.

With a combined 50 years of topo reading between us, we were totally spanked trying to decipher this beginner trade route, veering off route within inches of leaving the ground. The (admittedly not child friendly) variation was not met with universal enthusiasm. Eventually we returned to the route and dissipated some of the kiddie drama which made Kara's whipper onto Ian's hand -- the hand draped over a sharp rock -- all the more unfortunate. As Elizabeth astutely observed when later told about this "Oh, that's why I heard Kara scream and Ian cry."

At the top of P5, as the rain and hail started and Ian's hand throbbed, John, Ian, Kara and I regrouped. John busied himself calculating how soaked we'd get if we continued up. [Kara and I, being no raincoats fundamentalists, shared a shredded $2 poncho.] John endearingly called down to Sid, who was hunkered down with Elizabeth, and asked if she'd like to continue up. Fortunately we were out of ear shot for her reply although Sid's well practiced eye roll effectively conveyed her preference.

Meanwhile I wrestled with the exhausting mental calculus of how to spin this to Anne as my way honed spinning skills are invariably tripped up by Kara's infuriating honesty. Like when she was 4.5 years old and I let her sleep in the back of the van on the way home from our first backpacking trip. You'd think the very first words after a gorgeous high country backpack might not have been "Mommy! Daddy let me sleep in the back of the van without my car seat and seatbelt!!!" Nevertheless, continuing up an exposed arete in a fierce hail storm with her first born would hardly have required my most inspired spin.

Admittedly this careful contemplation of the intricacies and consequences of weather patterns has never been a real strength of mine. But things are no longer as simple as bull headed forging ahead. For in the new paradigm, sucking it up and grinding out your commitments is for quitters! Rather it was time to get all mavericky and quit! You betcha

Plus it wouldn't have been fair to Alex.

Alex "Danger Boy" Murphy is Greg's 9 year old psycho son. Alex, whose first ride on a two wheeler was down a flight of stairs and whose first entry into a swimming pool was a running jump into the 8' end and who once asked his dad if the snake he had just captured and was holding was poisonous, is a spirited little boy. As tedious as it gets being Greg's idol, it is endearing being Alex's superhero ever since I let him untie on an exposed belay ledge.

But danger boy is a sweetie so you can't fault him for trying to throw his dad a bone with this heartfelt Father's Day card even if he did misspeak in suggesting that even on this one day Greg's game is up to Daddy Jim's ("gim").

Alex would have been too distraught had Kara, Ian, and Elizabeth got to dodge lightning at 13K without him so we bailed.

The raps, lowers, and damp downclimb made for a slow and tedious descent. Kara, whose endless admiration for her dad isn't limited to a single arbitrary contrived day of the year, became somewhat unglued watching me downclimb in the hail. Fortunately, Sid's reassuring "Don't worry. Your dad is very safety conscious," restored her equilibrium and some levity to a tense situation. Kara, with her biting pre-teen "Can you try it without the chuckle next time?" retort, schooled Sid in the effectiviness of a good eye roll.

The next day had beautiful weather but my dad had to work so we left our camp and returned to try again two days later. We hiked back to our camp and camped for a night.

Not being the chosen Boulder ones with their cute little 10 min Eldo approaches returning home in time to attend to their well sculpted, chiseled hard bodies, we introduced the children to the proud CA redpoint: rap to the base, pull the gear, burn insane volumes of gas, pretend to work, no sleep, drive 6 hours back, hump into basecamp, climb. [With the mandatory gridlocked bridge crossing of course! Those notorious lightweight East Bay wankers work me!]

Regrouping at the trail head we were in no mood for the lousy forecast having just spent 12 of the last 36 hours schlepping to the bay area. So instead we went with the faith based forecast.

Then the next morning we hiked to the base and started climbing. At the same place, it started raining - again. But fortunately, it cleared and we made it to the top! We hiked down, ate dinner, and continued down to the car. It was a long day.


John's photo essay:

To be continued...

Team Scott & Herson headed out for another 3 day climbing adventure.



Our Target – The North Arete on Bear Creek Spire



We hiked in 6 miles and up 1,400 feet to “base camp” at 11,600 feet



The next morning we awoke early and crossed snow fields to reach the base



Looking back at our campsite and the valley we hiked up from the car



A snowy start to the route



Pitch 3 and a bit off-route



Final shot before we were caught in a hail and thunderstorm which forced us to retreat – 5 rappels



Drying out at the base of the route and re-packing for a run back to camp between hail and rain



We hiked back into Bear Creek spire late Wednesday afternoon (we had left our base camp intact and hiked out Monday morning after being rained off on Sunday). We arrived about 6pm and 5 minutes prior to a big down pour. It rained most of the night and we waited around for several hours Thursday morning before deciding to at least start the hike from base camp to the route and see if the weather would improve. It did, and before long we were back on pitch 2 enjoying the sun.



Approaching our earlier high point



The route follows a knife’s edge with spectacular views of the valley below.



Nearing the summit



Standing on top – 13,770 feet. Elizabeth, Ian, and Kara signed the summit registry as likely the youngest team to ever summit Bear Creek Spire via the North ArÍte.



The car now waits 7 miles and 3,500 feet below – we made it before sunset. Note the summit where we stood a few hours earlier †in the background



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