Minuteman Tower

July 16, 2007 / 5.10a, 7 pitches, trad.

On July 16, we climbed the East Face of Minuteman Tower, a 7-pitch line on the small formation just South and in front of Concord Tower (near Liberty Bell, Washington Pass). Minuteman is not as committing or long as other routes in the area (the descent is via rappelling), so we got a late start. After getting the packs ready, we left the bus around 10:30AM. We drove the jeep to the pullout near the pond (just East of the pass) and did the steep 45 minute hike again (we had just climbed the East Face of Lexington two days before). We lost the "trail" this time too, but made easy progress straight up to the talus and the base of the route (actually the top of the moraine, 200 feet from the base of the formation, with snow between us and it). We got geared up, had a bagel and some water, then headed up the snow.

A good size rockslide had come down the gully at the south edge of the Minuteman while we were hiking the approach, so we were a bit leery of starting the route in the gully, as recommended by Nelson. Instead, we planned on taking a direct line from the center of the east face and improvise. Once we got to the top of the snow slope though, we were confronted with a 6' wide by 20' deep moat… ouch. We moved further south along the edge of the moat and fortunately found a collapsed portion of the moat and a snow cave of sorts that afforded easy access to a slippery dihedral right on the SE arete. This may be the dihedral in Nelson's description, or one dihedral to the right (north) of it. Not sure. We changed into our climbing shoes and tossed our approach shoes back down toward our packs, which we had left at the top of the moraine.

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The climbing route is shown in red. The rap route we used is shown in yellow.
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Hiking up toward the base of Minuteman.
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The first crux was to find a passage across the moat.
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Eric inside the moat.
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Roping up at the base of the route.

The following is our recollection of the route we followed, which - I think - is about as direct as can be and very close to what Nelson describes, if not right on (pitch lengths are very approximate "guesstimates"; see red line on our topo):

P1 (5.7, 120ft): Straight up the relatively steep and polished, orange left-facing dihedral with a good crack for pro. Lots of rubble and dust on the slopy holds, and loose/rotten rock near the top. At the top of the dihedral, exit right onto a slopy ledge (with rap slings) and belay below a slanted roof in good horizontal crack.

P2 (5.8, 160ft): Straight up from the anchor through the wild roof (horizontal jam crack to finger traverse then step over roof; stiff for 5.8 but good pro in the hard move). Get good pro in another crack above and slightly right of the roof, then traverse straight right ~20ft on low angle slab to a blocky/rotten steep section (5.8'ish, bad pro) that leads into a bushy through. Climb up that through and follow it to the end of the rope. Belay where you can find a decent anchor.

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Starting up the first pitch (5.7).
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The first pitch follows a corner with lots of loose rock.
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Eric at the belay atop the first pitch.
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Views from the belay.
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Lucie following the second pitch.

P3 (5.6+, 100ft). Continue straight up the same crack/shallow corner system to just below the roofs and a tree belay.

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Starting pitch 3.
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The third pitch follows an easy corner (5.6+).
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Eric higher on pitch 3.
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We belayed at the tree just below the small orange roof.
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Looking back toward the Wine Spires.

P4 (5.8+, 120ft). From the belay, traverse almost horizontally but initially slightly upward on small egdes and good holds, below a couple of bushes and a 6ft evergreen (good pro, including slinging the bush). Traverse across a rotten shallow depression just below an obvious alcove, and climb 15ft straight up bad, insecure rock (bad pro) just to the right of the depression, to a good belay in the alcove at the base of the 5.10 flake (great crack for bomber anchor on nuts and small cams, about ½" to ¾" sizes).

P5 (5.10a, 90ft): Climb up and left from the alcove, up the obvious finger crack/flake with great pro (5.10a or so). The flake turns into a perfect hand crack in a leaning corner. This short pitch leads to a final overhanging move up a tree (rap anchors) onto a slopy bench with an awkward belay anchor (3" horizontal crack).

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Eric starting the traverse below the lower roof (pitch 4, 5.8+).
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The traverse begins with some easy and well protected climbing...
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...but ends on gritty rock.
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Eric in the belay alcove just below the flake/crack pitch.
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The crux pitch follows a sharp finger-to-hand crack (5.10a).

P6 (5.9+, 130ft): Move up and left a few feet along the wide crack/flake to the overhang. Make wild gymnastic move up the overhang (5.9 with solid hold and good pro) and continue up the obvious crack in the upper slabs. Watch for rope drag going through roof. The crack above takes varoius size pro (1 to 3") and is 5.8 in very good rock. Belay on another slopy ledge with rap anchor on dead (!) tree.

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Eric higher on pitch 5.
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Looking back toward Liberty Bell.
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Starting pitch 6 (5.9+).
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The move over the roof is commiting but protects well and is very positive.
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Above the light colored roof, pitch 6 follows a crisp 5.8 hand and finger crack to the final slab.

P7 (5.8, 70ft): Not recommended - see variation below. We went straight up from the belay, following the short left facing corner with a 3" crack, to some flakes and horizontal cracks (questionable pro), traversing a few feet right to the obvious licheny slab, and climbing this unprotected 15ft 5.8 slab. This is scary, completely unprotected climbing on thin holds, just above a ledge with a sharp spine of rock. No fall zone or you'll deck on the ledge below. Belay on easy ground above the slab.

P7 SAFE VARIATION: the safe way to go is to traverse straight right on the ledge below the slab and into a rotten dihedral/crack system on the other (right) side of the prow. Climb this with decent pro (but some loose rock) to the same belay, a few feet below the summit block.

P8 (class 4, 30ft): climb the summit block (easy, around the right side), take a picture, and downclimb back to the belay (no anchor at the top).

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Views from the belay.
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Eric starting the last pitch.
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Tackling the final runout slab.
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Summit shot with...
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...the steep east wall of the Concord tower looming behind.

Descent: Many options but I think we followed a very good one: 1) from the belay at the top of P7, downclimb North about 100ft (easy 5th with decent pro; this is the crack system of the P7 variation described above) to the ledge then a bit further down to an obvious sling anchor on a large sliver of rock backed-up with a bad nut. Exercize care with the good size block that is insecurely jammed between the anchor block and the wall to the left. This block rotates wildly as you step on it (it is the natural stance for setting up the rap). 2) Rap 150+ft down the steep north wall to sandy ledges. The minimum length of this rap may be about 130ft or so, to the highest of the ledges, so I am pretty sure you'll need two ropes regardless; I didn't see any intermediate anchor or good places to set one up; this wall is almost vertical. 3) Scramble north-east about 30' to another rap anchor on a tree. 4) Rap about 120ft, staying in the fall line (NE), to a good anchor on a live tree (avoid the other obvious anchor on a dead tree a few feet below and to the south) 5) Rap about 100ft down and slightly to climbers left to another tree anchor in a left facing corner (you won't see this anchor until you look into the left-facing corner). 6) Rap about 120ft to a final tree anchor in a steep wall (awkward, no stance below anchor). 7) Rap 150+ feet from here and onto the snow slopes (probably snow free in late season). This rap route deposited us 200 feet northwest of the top of the moraine and our packs.

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Starting the long rap descent.
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Looking back toward the crux pitches from the bottom of the 2nd rap.
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Five double-rope raps and some downclimbing bring us to terra firma (actually snow at this time of the year).
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Eric's impressions (click for movie - 1.7Mb).
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Hiking back to the road.

Gear: small Aliens (1 each, black and blue); double set of cams from green Alien to #2 Camalot (hand size); One each #3 (fist size) and #4 Camalot (#4 optional but we used it for a belay or two); A couple of hexes (medium to large); one set of nuts; many slings; two 50m ropes (climbing on doubles is recommended); material to set up/reinforce rappel anchors.

Overall, an adventurous day… a lot of ugly, unpleasant climbing up the apron to finally reach two short pitches of excellent climbing (felt easy at 5.10), followed by a stressful descent. Not sure it's really worth doing just for the two good pitches. Climb it to do a route on that formation, but maybe not for the climbing itself. Just our opinion.

Note: the routes shown in the photographs in both Nelson and Potterfield's and Beckey's guidebooks appear to (incorrectly) suggest that, from the top of the apron, the route goes around the prow, onto the darker North facing wall. This is not the case. The route follows the obvious sharp cracks in light-colored rock at the right edge of the yellow roofs (as correctly described in the text in both books).