Spring Fever

The weather has been warming in Salt Lake City and spring is definitely at our doorstep.  We’ve had several days of warm sunshine, birds chirping, and tulips popping up in the garden amidst quick-changing weather involving wind, rain, and even snow.  On March 31, Hilary took a much needed break from school work and we climbed Spring Fever on The Thumb in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  The Thumb is one of the longest rock climbs in the canyon; our route was 9 full pitches and 3 shorter ones.  Spring Fever is a great route on The Thumb that doesn’t see the ‘traffic’ that S-Direct or the Standard Thumb receive, leaving you with even more adventure.  It’s also not as sustained as S-Direct though the crux moves are more challenging, going in at 5.10a/b.

The steep, beautiful slab of the upper Thumb.

The steep, beautiful slab of the upper Thumb.

We approached The Thumb from the Gate Buttress parking lot at 7:45am, following the obvious path past the Waterfront buttress to the base of the route, Plumbline where we stashed our packs.  The weather forecast had called for a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon but at that moment it was clear skies and cool temperatures in the shade.  From the Plumbline route there is a faint trail leading west 200 ft and then up to the base of a chimney at the start of the Standard Thumb route.  The “approach pitch” is an easy 5th class scramble on the face to the right of the chimney, until you are above the overhanging chimney section and can re-enter the gully at a bolted anchor at the start of pitch 1 (we split the approach pitch into 2 shorties for better rope management).

The second pitch of Indecent Exposure, an exposed traversing hand crack to Lunch Ledge.

The second pitch of Indecent Exposure, an exposed traversing hand crack to Lunch Ledge.

Pitch 1 of the Standard Thumb is an easy wet gully about 50 m long to a bolted belay, one of the hangers had been obviously damaged from rockfall.  The above pitches in the gully are unappealing, so I climbed the Indecent Exposure 2-pitch variation, a 15 m enjoyable crack to an unpleasant bushwack through bushes and trees in a groove to a fantastic, albeit short and easy angling crack leading to Lunch Ledge.  S-Direct starts directly above, in a short corner filled with “chicken-head” intrusions.  We climbed the first pitch of S-Direct and traversed left under the roof to the anchors atop pitch 1 of Spring Fever rather than climbing pitch 1 of Spring Fever, rated 5.9+R with significant loose rock.  Pitch 2 of Spring Fever was a moderate slab pitch trending right to a steeper section of slab just before the bolted anchor.  While getting a bit anxious to reach the glory hold below the anchor, my feet slipped on the steeper slab and I took a 15 foot fall.  The fall was mostly clean, though I did catch a large chicken-head with the back of my right heel, luckily amounting to nothing more than a bruised foot and ego.

Hilary climbing pitch 3 of Spring Fever, a beautiful granite flake that you wished went on forever.

Hilary climbing pitch 3 of Spring Fever, a beautiful granite flake that you wished went on forever.

Above Lunch Ledge, the route receives direct sun and we were very thankful for the cooler spring temperatures.  Pitch 3 of Spring Fever was an amazing beautiful thin flake 5 m above the belay.  In order to reach the flake though, there was an unprotected delicate slab mantle required directly above the belay.  This would be an awful place to fall as the climber would kick their belayer while taking a factor 2 fall onto a 3 bolt belay (two of the bolts being 1/4″ buttonheads, yikes).  Above the mantle, is a bolt which protects the delicate 2 m traverse to the flake.  The jamming and laybacks are great fun and you’ll wish this feature continues for several more pitches, but it ends after 20 m and traverses left into an easy corner and slab to the bolted belay below the flaring roof.  For a complete change in climbing styles, the flaring roof pitch is supposedly rated 5.8 but it was awkward to say the least.  While not altogether difficult, climbers should be prepared for a grunt-and-a-half.  From the bolted belay at the top of this pitch, it is possible to rappel S-Direct with a 70 m rope to Lunch Ledge and then using the anchors at the top of Indecent Exposure to rappel to the base.

Hilary climbing Spring Fever's interesting but awkward pitch 4 offwidth.

Hilary climbing Spring Fever’s interesting but awkward pitch 4 offwidth.

As convenient as the rappels are, the summit is worth tagging and Hilary was letting me short-rope her back to the base to practice for my upcoming American Mountain Guide Association Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam.  From the top of Spring Fever, it’s a bit of wandering uphill through 3rd and 4th class to the upper arete of the summit Thumb feature.  The summit is a short, easy 5th class pitch starting on a boulder platform, above a large ‘hueco’ feature.  Clip the bolt on the left of the arete and complete a few easy bouldery moves to the summit!

The walk down descent took about 1.5 hours back to the packs (a bit slower than normal, but all the same it’s a lengthy descent).  The descent requires a 60 m rope to rappel from the summit to the northeast side.  There are two more short rappels from trees about 100 ft from the base of the summit which put you on a series of slippery scree ledges.  Continue down the main drainage until a 25 m bolted rappel station above a slab.  From here, the descent is on more scree slabs and ledges that involve a bit of downclimbing, but nothing too challenging.  The descent finishes just below the packs at the base of the Plumbline Wall, so be sure not to miss the turn back to the backs.

The summit of the Thumb looking out towards upper Cottonwood Canyon.

The summit of the Thumb looking out towards upper Cottonwood Canyon.

We packed up the gear and headed back to the truck, excited for a full day of adventerous climbing on a longer route in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  The cheer wore off quickly though, when we came back to the truck to find that the window between the cab and the camper shell had been broken.  Bummer!  We don’t leave anything valuable in the truck, especially in the canyon because unfortunately we’ve been broken into before and Salt Lake City recreation areas are renowned for petty car theft.  We had left the camper shell unlocked so wanna-be thieves could open up the shell, see that nothing is inside and bail.  However, this pain-in-the-ass criminal decided to break a window that he couldn’t even fit through.  In addition to having a big clean-up effort the window replacement was $200 and took 2.5 hours of my time the following day.  Besides a frustrating end to the day, the climb was exposed and adventurous; it’s always great getting up high in Little Cottonwood Canyon!

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