What Our Ascent of the Evolution Traverse Means to Me


Last week Konstantin Stoletov, Shay Har-Noy, a rubber duck (“Ducky”), and myself completed a Winter Ascent of the Evolution Traverse, the biggest and most daunting High Sierra technical climb yet to be completed in Winter, and thus far the only Winter Ascent of one of the “Big Four” Sierra technical traverses. Nine 13,000′ peaks in the Evolution Range linked for a total of more than eight miles of climbing on the ridge. Almost 15 years after it was first attempted in Winter by Jerry Dodrill’s team, this was the first time it was completed. That’s big for the High Sierra in general, and for Pullharder, our climbing collective. In the Alps (and more generally, in alpine climbing), the recognized “big three” types of ascents are First Ascent, First Winter Ascent, and First Winter Solo. For getting on such a big route in hard conditions, Pullharder is helping to push the sport forward.

That’s the official version. How do I really feel? STOKED! SO STOKED! I ALMOST DON’T BELIEVE IT IS TRUE, I CANNOT GET OVER IT, THE ROUTE IS SO AMAZING, THE FACT THAT OUR NAMES ARE NOW INEXTRICABLY TIED TO THE ROUTE, NEXT TO PETER CROFT’S NAME, WITH THE PULLHARDER STAMP. NO ONE CAN TAKE THIS AWAY. SO STOKED!!  (4 out of 5 people think it’s bad to be stoked…be the 5th guy in this vid, not the other 4.)

Stoked, but…tired. Tired, hungry, brain-dead. Evo was extremely difficult, even though we were fit and experienced. Seven days out there, including four on the route proper. 36 climbing hours; 60 hours total of movement. Low of at least -7F, winds as high as 90mph, probably gusting higher. Lots of high elevation sleeping, all of it over 11,000′; much over 13,000′ on small ledges.

I ate so much food in the ensuing few days after our return but still remain rail thin. Sunburned, gaunt, frail. Haggard. I ran 4 miles yesterday and then slept almost 3 hours. It felt like the exhaustion from a 20-mile run. But this will pass. The stoke is eternal!

Being tired is understandable, but why so stoked?  First, the Evolution Traverse is regarded as the best traverse in my home range, the Sierra Nevada.  Home is important. Local is important. I like knowing my home.

Second, the Evolution Traverse was the vision of Peter Croft,  probably the greatest Sierra Climber, and one whose attitude has highly influenced me. “It’s a lost, or it’s kind of an ignored idea, the idea of magnificent failure rather than a mediocre success.”- (from here). This idea is central to the Pullharder Alpine Club, and Croft did the First Ascent of the Evolution Traverse in Summer. To be associated with Croft’s route is a very cool thing. We took this vision of going big in Summer (still Evo has seen only ~15 Summer ascents) and we pushed it bigger, into Winter.

Third, it’s about Evolution. Yes, that is just its name. But evolutionary psychology is the backbone of my worldview, and climbing plays a key role in that. I believe that both physically and psychologically, being as close to how humans have lived for hundreds of thousands of years is important. Putting value on community and personal interaction. Getting lots of physical exercise. People went out together to hunt in those times, which is in most ways a lot like going out to the mountains with your friends now. It’s very psychologically satisfying. I have more on this topic, but not in this post…but the Evolution Traverse’s name attracted me.

I was already almost satisfied with the Winter climbing season even before we got on Evolution. I had a big season [spray alert], here’s a summary of my winter climbs with details in the links. Six Winter ascents, including three Sierra First Winter Ascents (Strassman Memorial, Venusian Blind, and Evo) and two First Winter Solos (linkup on Whitney and on Lone Pine Peak). Not to mention Joshua Tree and Red Rocks. Evo was just the exclamation point, an out-of-orbit finish…

Last, I wanted to elaborate– why was this Winter season so good for me? In essence, I ran a lot of ultramarathons last year, and have wedded that new excellent cardio with some newly gained decent (5.11 trad lead) technical rock climbing proficiency. Together with mountaineering and soloing experience from several years climbing in Kyrgyzstan meant that everything was there for a big Winter Sierra season. I was able to introduce single-push Winter climbing into my repertoire.

While single push is my MO in Summer, I had not done it before on big peaks in Winter, usually taking multiple days on route, as is standard. With this new cardio, four of my ascents this Winter were single push. I feel good to be part of the ushering in of a new generation of climbing in the Sierra in Winter. Car-to-car and solo aren’t just for Summer anymore…

Add to that a light snow year, meaning easier approaches and less time snowboarding (despite what people who aren’t going to the mountains tell you, the powder is still excellent in the High Sierra and the approaches are still very gnar this Winter, just not quite as gnar as usual). And some more free time this quarter for various reasons, and things had the making of a banner Winter season. I was tired after each climb, but had just enough time between climbs to recover. Hardly any time or energy to surf, but hey, that’s the story every year…

I feel very blessed to have had such a fortunate string of events that allowed me to climb so much and so well this Winter Sierra season. It gave me a lot of joy, tranquility, camraderie and confidence. Sending Evo was just a bonus.ImageShay and I strike the Pullharder pose! First peak of the traverse, eight ahead…

The official Pullharder trip report is here; the beta/gear list is here.

About zoomloco

I zoom-zoom loco like the pony express.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Great Nature, Physical Exertion, Pondering and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Our Ascent of the Evolution Traverse Means to Me

  1. Teresa Kae Herrick says:

    I love all of your adventures 😉 Very inspiring! I’ve done some backpacking trips myself, but nothing compared to this.. T

  2. Pingback: Climber: California’s High Sierras take you closer to God | La Jolla Light | La Jolla Light

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