HIMMELGEISTER HORN AND TWIN NEEDLES
August 29-31, 1981
The plan was to get back into the Crescent Creek Cirque with a strong
party and give a hairy looking crack route on Himmelgeister Horn an honest
try. That whole story will be told next. I had the 29th off and decided
I would use it making a leisurely solo approach up the Barrier and enjoy
an extra day in poking around the fairyland of Stump Hollow while the
rest of the party made their way in the next day. I decided to keep an
accurate log of my split times on the various segments of the approach,
and was amazed how quickly and easily the route went especially when
my memory of our 1973 approach struck anguish in my heart. I was particularly
impressed that the Over and Up to Terror Creek leg took only 20 minutes,
when the 1973 time was a dismal, dank hour. I popped up to the top of
Barrier Flat in less than 1 1/2 hours. This Barrier route was more like
a Sunday stroll.
I made camp on a heather bench in sparse alpine firs at 5340' and turned
in early. That afternoon, Russ took off early from work and drove to
Newhalem and hiked in to the end of the overgrown road at Over and Up
Creek and set up camp there. Silas and Lee worked nearly an honest day
and got up to the end of the drivable road just before dark and car camped
August 30. The crud blew in overnight. I woke up to zero visibility
and wondered if my companions would be able to see my green tent, pitched
200 feet off of the natural line through here. At about 10 AM I started
to give out with hooting shouts every 10 minutes in case they were trudging
by, unnoticed in the fog. After an hour or so I'd had enough of that
and decided to move my camp to Stump Col where they couldn't miss me.
On the way up I detoured a bit to investigate the Barrier Goat Crossing
that Tabor and Crowder had described in their 1968 Routes and Rocks in
the Mt. Challenger Quadrangle. They described a goat path that began
just below the highest trees on The Barrier at 6160'. I was wondering
if this would be hard to find when I ran into a large cairn left behind
or built by the Boealps party, which I quickly dismantled. This spot
can be easily located at the end of the largest rill that diagonals across
Stump Hollow to its eastern edge.
There are enough trees on the upper part of the goats' descent NE into
Terror Creek to give a sense of security, then the path angles across
a small green basin that was wet and exposed enough to stop my solo exploration.
It will definitely take a rope for me to cross this with a pack.
On arriving at Stump Col, I discovered that with the snow gone, there
weren't really any decent flats to pitch a two-man tent, so I descended
300 feet into the mist in Crescent Creek then turned up towards Terror
where I thought I spotted a level area on one of the ridgelets between
two streams. The level area at 6200' turned out to be an uninviting place
with large angular boulders unsuitable for camping except that one boulder
was so large and more or less flat that I was able to fit my tent on
top of it, placing big rocks on my tent stakes to hold it in place. I
blew up my Thermarest, crawled in my bag, and took a short nap.
After dinner, I pulled up some boulders for a chair and used part of
my tent platform for a table, and started writing some notes to myself.
"It's Sunday night 8/30/81 in the Crescent Creek Cirque. The weather
is being just bad, not really nasty, like it's able. I don't even know
the peak that looms right above me. I can't see the top and I haven't
memorized the bases yet. The basin is a curious succession of vertically
oriented green heather ridges alternating with all sizes of mauled talus
bowels in between. The heather sprouts from the firmer, higher rock.
The first sweep of rock down from Stump Col is uniformly (nearly) rust
colored. My tent is rocked down on a huge rock that approaches flatness,
though it will lean me east and slide me to the bottom of the tent. My
desk and chair are quite incredible, I hope the picture turns out.
Wave after wave of floating magic carpets of clouds drift slowly up
the slopes, pushing a little clearing before them. Soon the cloud reaches
me and I am surrounded. Sitting on my rocky pedestal in this soft wettish
blow, I wonder if I'm really floating.
I'm here alone. Alone in the human sense. Picas poke out, never really
looking at me, but they see me. They are the predominant animal here
with their rough little "cheee" sound. They quick about, some
gone as soon as you see them, others sailing low over the rocks for some
distance before vanishing. There are always marmots too in rock piles
like these, looking like little sea lions perched up a prominent rock,
on guard, ready to blow the whistle on any intruder. If you surprise
them, they are gone in a second with a loud saddish whistle-scream-cry
that quickly decrescendos. If they are not the guard marmot, they will
often watch you from a distance, knowing how slow you are, always giving
themselves enough time to waddle without noise into their hole, half-peeved
that you've disrupted their basking session. Birds are quickly here and
gone: The brown wren, a red shafted flicker displaying his white fanny
pack as he flies off and spiraling hawks bothering the marmots.
The fog opens enough to see Stump Col for a second. It looks impossible
in this flat light, but I was just there. Now above me the "Barrier
Pinnacles," peculiarly shaped, now gone. The southernmost was a
bullet-shaped knob with steep sides, the next I think, was blocky, squarish,
then an unusually symmetrical castellated higher formation to the left.
Mom and Dad, in that order, are no doubt concerned, but hopefully have
reasoned that I will exit tomorrow if no one else shows up.
Ten minutes later now and the unmistakable "Whoo-Whoo-Whoo" of
one of the gang comes clearly through the white nothingness from the
direction of the invisible Stump Col. 16 sparrows dip and rise in flight
above me, land, and flit off."
I hooted back and received more hoots in return. We then set to yelling
slow short staccato sentences.
"Who.....Are.....You?" I inquired.
"Kroe...ker," came the reply. I recognized the hoot, but the
voice wasn't right.
"I.....Don't.....Know. I......Am.....Alone. Nothing... But....Cliffs...
"You.....Are..... Too.....High. Go... Down... Un..til... You...
See... The... Way."
"I... Did... Not... See... A... Way. I... Am... Ra-pell-ing."
In a half hour at 7:16 , Russ came puffing into camp, following my locator
hoots. He told me the story of how he'd left work early yesterday and
had hiked to the end of the overgrown road and camped. He took off alone
this morning from Over and Up Creek at 7:20 after waiting for Silas or
Lee and made his way to Terror Creek. He then tackled the nose of The
Barrier instead of bearing right and up. He did a number of delicate
moves through the slick lower cliff bands and felt lucky to have found
his way here, especially since the visibility was zip and he had never
been up The Barrier or into Crescent Creek before. "I definitely
went to school on The Barrier today," he mused.
August 31. There was fog in the Crescent and Goodell valley floor when
we got up, but the sky over the Spires was deep blue and definitely a
go. We were going to try to do both Twin Needles this day, and hope that
Silas and Lee would turn up with the good weather to give us some support
on Himmelgeister Horn. From our Rock Camp the Needles looked like the
pincher on a crab.
When we got to the base of the Needles, the 1932 route did not look
as straightforward as it was described, probably because the snow had
melted down the south faces, exposing more vertical rock. We chose a
wider broken gully to the right, which would lead us into the couloir
separating the two Needles. The first hundred feet or so was athletic
scrambling then the gully was barricaded with a huge, ugly chockstone.
It looked like it would stop us for sure, but Russ took the lead and
fussed and wiggled looking quite awkward, facing out and almost doing
a back crawl up the right side of the rock. I followed thankful for the
top rope. The route was non-technical into the separating couloir until
another chockstone blocked us shortly before Eye Col , the low point
between the Twin Needles. Russ again performed his magic and we arrived
at the col with the weather making a turn around. The peaks to the SW
were going under and the dark, greasy sky was descending. East Needle
would be left for another day and we carefully climbed the somewhat loose
east side of West Twin Needle for a 5th ascent. A light snow started
falling. This was not where we wanted this to happen and we wondered
about the route down on the steep and slick polished rock of the couloir
between West Needle and Himmelgeister Horn. It turned out not to be so
bad, though rappel anchor spots were sometimes hard to scout up. Three
raps and plenty of butt-dragging down climbing brought us safely to the
By the time we reached camp, it was raining in earnest again. We made dinner
with us inside and the stove outside. Since my Gore-Tex tent was already
saturated from the wetness of the two previous days, Russ scooted inside
his coated bag, then crawled inside the Gore-Tex tent he'd brought along,
and this all inside my tent. Waves of rain battered the tent all night
long, and my tent was accumulating water like mad. The water all ran to
the bottom of the tent on my side, since this was the cant of the flat
boulder we were camped on. My lower bag and feet were soaked. At about
3 AM , I turned on the flashlight to see what the problem was and ended
up draining the tent by stabbing the floor of my tent with my knife at
the deepest part of the puddle. It was still coming down when morning came,
17 hours of steady, hard rain. We mashed everything into our packs and
headed home into the gray.
Copyright 2004, John W. Roper, MD.
All Rights Reserved.