Juno Tower, Clean Break

July 25, 2007 / 5.10c, ~17 pitches, trad.

After climbing Sisyphus, a long clip-up on the Goat Wall near Mazama, we drive the bus to Winthrop to refill our water tank and stock up on groceries. We spend the night on the parking lot near the library. The next day, we get up expecting another rest day, and a return to WA Pass to wait out more wet weather. But Lucie checks the forecast early morning, and both NOAA and Weather.com are forecasting a 3-day window, starting Tuesday (tomorrow). Gotta take advantage of that! We spend the morning (still parked at the Winthrop Public Library) preparing the food and other gear for a 3-night camp in the Silver Creek basin. Our climbing objectives are "Clean Break" and Rebel Yell, two good quality 5.10s we'd been thinking about for a month. After making copies of the topo at the library, we drive the bus back to the pass, this time parking at Cutthroat TH (which is just far enough from Blue Lakes for us to not violate the 14-day limit on NF… you have to move at least 5 miles and Cutthroat is 6 miles from Blue Lake, at least as measured along the road...). Once there, we spend the whole afternoon packing. We need the gear ready to hit the trail early enough tomorrow, before it gets too hot.

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Clean Break follows the obvious sun/shade ridge line in the center of the photo to the Juno Tower.
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Packing at Cutthroat Lake trailhead (our camp, not the start of the approach) for a 3-day trip in Silver Creek Basin.
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Hiking up through the woods.
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Watch out for wasp nest! (see text)
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The trail follows the bottom edge of this boulder field for a while.

Tuesday, July 24: Up early. We drive to Silver Creek (just a couple of miles away from Cutthroat and not an official trailhead), and hike up to a camp near the base of Clean Break. The trail is relatively easy to follow to the head of the valley, except in a couple of spots where it fades in and out. Remember to watch for a wasp nest about 1/3 of the way in, under a tree fallen right across the trail (tree is maybe 8" diameter, 4ft above ground, at a area where the trail comes very close to the creek, see picture above). Fortunately, we had beta about the nest and went around it just fine. If you come through this spot in the dark, by headlamp... better watch out! Once at the head of the valley, start traversing up and across the slopes to your right (W), initially up an obvious boulder field (just past a flat, grassy/swampy area), then through open forest, heading for the obvious col (the one you'll come down from on the descent), and skirting areas of slabby rock here and there. This long ascending traverse eventually leads to open boulder fields below the col and to the right (N) of Clean Break.

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Taking a break on the approach (bad, bad mosquitoes!).
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The open boulder field at the head of the valley (up this, before making a long lefward (SW) rising traverse around the west side of the basin).
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Open area along the way.
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Boulder hopping below the Juno Tower, in search of a good camp.
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Small but picturesque bivy spots very near the base of Clean Break (no water).

We had hoped to find a suitable camp here (good enough to set up a tent for 3 days). We looked around for maybe an hour, but didn't find anything too appealing (the best we found was a large flat rock in the middle of the boulderfield; good enough for a one night bivy, if that's your strategy). Leaving Lucie at that rock to watch the packs, I hike further south in search of better camping opportunities. I find the bivy sites mentioned by Nelson & Copperfield, at a group of trees very close to the start of Clean Break. The bivies are not very good: small, and no water nearby.

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Home sweet home, on a beautiful bench below Burgundy Col.
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Thankful for the headnet as the mosquitoes are horrendous.
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Preparing to leave camp the next day (Burgundy Spire in the background).
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The lower pitches of Clean Break.
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Eric starting the first pitch.

From that vantage point though, it looks like better opportunities might exist further south, the first one just below a moraine a few hundred meters past the bivies. I go back to where Lucie is waiting we carry the packs to that spot. Nice, pleasant bench, with water right there, but nothing quite flat enough for a tent… the only promising spot is still half-way under snow, and a pool of water. On again: Eric leaves his pack and goes ahead to explore. In the meantime, Lucie pumps some water. He finds a good site, several hundred yards further, in a lovely grassy area among larch trees, and directly below Burgundy Col. Great views of the spires and the entire ridge, and a beautiful stream nearby. He finally returns with the good news and we make one final carry (long traverse, boulder hopping) and set up camp. With all this exploring, it is now quite late (4:30 PM). We hurry to get water, make dinner and go to bed ASAP. We plan on climbing "Clean Break" tomorrow. The mosquitoes are horrendous. Luckily, we just bought head nets to protect ourselves. It would have been unbearable without them...

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Traversing into the huge ledge at the base of the 2nd pitch.
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Belaying Lucie at the base of the 2nd (crux) pitch.
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Starting up the amazing 2nd pitch (5.10c).
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Higher on the incredible thin crack.
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Resting on a small ledge halfway up.

Wednesday July 25: Up not too early (yesterday was a long day). We make the quick traverse back to the route (about 30 minutes), leave some gear on the boulders just below the route, then proceed up the short snow slope, into the moat (not bad), and up a bit onto good ledges in the chimney. Here, we change into climbing shoes and rope up. We start climbing at 8:30AM. The first pitch goes up the rest of the chimney then traverses right onto a huge, flat, solid granite ledge and a single-piton anchor at the base of the 5.10 crack. Note that we broke pitch 1 of Nelson's description into two (climbing the 10c crack pitch after making a ~20 feet traverse just did not seem to make sense...). Hence the pitches described next are off from Nelson's description.

The second pitch is the business: sustained, mostly thin hands and off-fingers (.75" and 1" Camalots) jamming up a dead vertical wall. The crack leans slightly, which makes it even harder. Definitely felt like .10c to me and my big hands… A classic pitch by any measure; would become instantly popular in Yosemite. Amazing granite!

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You gotta strech those forearms!
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The 3rd pitch is fun & technical (10a).
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It follows cracks, flakes and roofs in the break.
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Views from the belay atop the 3rd pitch.
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Starting pitch 4.

(3rd pitch) Next is a fun, technical pitch up the cracks, flakes and roofs in the break (5.10a). We escape to the left at the end of that pitch instead of continuing up the flared dihedral. It looks like most people do, as the crack in the dihedral looks plugged with moss, and the dihedral itself is quite mossy as well. Anyway, I end up traversing left a few feet into a loose corner and belay Lucie up.

(4th pitch) Next, I continue up the dihedral, to a tree, then downclimb a bit on the other side of the flake to make a traverse back right, into the other crack system, which continues to a belay below the thin crack.

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Traversing right into another crack system.
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More views.
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Climbing the thin crack of pitch 5.
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Reaching the left crack system after the very thin 5.10 traverse.
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Eric at the belay atop pitch 5.

(5th pitch) The next pitch goes up the thin crack to the fixed pin (partially driven KB, which can be backed-up with a tiny nut) then makes a very thin 5.10 traverse left into another crack.

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Views from atop pitch 5.
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An easier pitch leads to...
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...a good ledge just below the diagonal crack.
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Taking a break.
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Starting the 3 inch left-leaning diagonal crack of pitch 7.

The climbing gets less continuous above this, although it stays on mostly very good rock. Highlights are the steep, wide, left-diagonal crack of pitch 7 (which is 3" wide, not 4" as described in both Nelson and Beckey). I get a bit nervous looking at that pitch from below and my slim selection of wide gear (one #3, and two #2 BD). Turns out the crack takes #2's initially (I place them both), then takes a very good #3 the rest of the way. I "walk" that #3 up and over onto the slab (very physical climbing), where the crack narrows and peters out. Good smaller placements provide protection high in the crack for the easy slab traverse into the thin dihedral at right. The dihedral has very thin climbing (fingertip crack) and finishes with a difficult 5.10 move.

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Higher on the same pitch.
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Eric at the belay on top of pitch 7.
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Pitch 8 follows the arete.
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Views from the belay atop pitch 7.
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Looking back toward the belay atop pitch 8.

Many, many pitches of ledges and steeper steps, close to the crest or sometimes on the right wall, finish the climb. The climbing here feels a lot more like a ridge climb and we are getting pretty tired of it. After climbing about 10 pitches, we reach a huge ledge and take a long break. It's 2:45PM and we think the climbing is pretty much over at this point. As it turns out, the last pitches will take much longer than we thought. We short-rope (on a 50m half rope, folded over itself) and start climbing again at 3:30PM.

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We stay close to the crest on this pitch.
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On a huge belay ledge atop pitch 8.
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We then traverse right and climb cracks and flakes on the right wall (pitch 9).
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Higher on the same pitch. A fun pitch (~5.8?).
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Another easy pitch leads to a huge ledge where we took a long break thinking the climbing was more or less over at this point (it is not).

We simul-climb for what seems like forever and make at least one routefinding error, which forces us to downclimb 10 feet or so onto a ramp to the right of the ridge. More climbing in gray rock on the right wall, and an hour after we left the huge ledge, we get to what we believe is the "wild 5.10 2-inch crack" mentioned by Nelson. A bit overstated (assuming we're in the right spot). It is really a 10' boulder problem up an overhanging 2" crack in a block, followed by easier climbing to the top. We're finally standing on the summit at 4:40PM, 8 hours and 10 minutes after starting up the first pitch.

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Having lunch on the huge ledge.
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Above the huge ledge, we short-rope and start simul-climbing.
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After what seems like endless simul-climbing, we reach the "wild" 10a crack finish (really just a short boulder problem).
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Almost there.
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Yeah, we made it!

Overall not a bad route, altough the second half is a bit too on-and-off. The rock is very good almost everywhere. The only really unpleasant pitch is the one that leads to the base of the 3" diagonal crack (many trees in the way). I think we did something like 17 pitches in all (10 pitches to reach the huge ledge then endless simul-climbing on easier terrain to reach the short 10a crack). It seems like Nelson and Beckey leave out a fair amount of easier climbing in the top 1/3rd of the route...

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Smiiile!
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Eric on the summit.
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Looking at the upper portion of the descent from the summit..
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Scrambling down into the gully.
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Traversing below the ridge (west side) on easy sandy slopes.

The descent is really easy and straightforward. Down the obvious slabs (S), into and down the gully (SW) a short distance, then traverse right (N) around the rock rib on ledges as soon as possible (no more than ~100' down the gully). After this, just make a long traverse mostly below and sometimes on the crest of the ridge. Easy scrambling most of the way, until the ridge steepens just above the col. One short rap (single 50m rope) to a bit more scrambling to the col. Then down right (E) onto the boulder fields and the long cross-slope traverse back to camp. From the summit, it takes us 1h30 to reach the col. We finally reach our camp an hour later.

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Views from the descent.
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Lucie scrambling down the ridge.
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The long traverse leading back to camp.
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Back at camp with Burgundy and Chianti (our next objective) Spires illuminated in the evening light.
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Topo map of Silver Creek Basin (routes shown).

Approach notes: It took us about 3h and 15 minutes to hike up Silver Star Creek to near the base of the route (small bivy spots here, no water, snow in early season?) with overnight packs and 3 days of supplies. We continued to much better and roomier campsites below Burgundy Col at about 6,600 ft. We're guessing you could do the approach in less than 2.5 hours with light climbing packs for a one-day car to car ascent. The descent from the col gets you back on the approach about 20 minutes below and north from the start of the route.

Strategy: We feel that combining this route with "Rebel Yell" (as we did) or other routes on the East side of the Wine Spires makes good sense. The camping is gorgeous and you're unlikley to see anyone else in the basin. Makes a great multi-day trip with some alpine feel (snow climbing) going up to the spires. If you're only going to climb Clean Break, however, and if you're reasonably fast, it may be a better choice to climb the route in one day, car to car, since the approach with a light pack won't take more than 2.5 hours, and the descent picks up with the approach some distance below the start of the route. I'd count on a 14-15 hour day doing it this way.

Gear notes: We had two sets of camming devices, from black Alien to #2 Camalot + one #3 Camalot + 3 medium/large hexes + full set of nuts. There is no need for a #4 Camalot, countrary to what's implied in Nelson's.