November 22, 2018

The Thumb- S Direct: Retracing the past with a new generation

On November 21, 2018, Carson (my 17 year old son) and I left our warm car, the only one in the Gate Buttress parking lot, at 8 am all bundled up for a cold morning. We anxiously watched for the summit of the Thumb to begin glowing as the morning torch letting us know morning had really arrived and that yes, the sun would actually rise and warm the rock before us.  On December 1, 2000, I first climbed the Thumb S Direct, with KC Tubbs. 18 years ago, and Carson wasn't even born yet. I remember being shocked by the two crazy run-out pitches on the ocean of granite. This, with my son would be my first time back since then. This time, a new inspiring generation forging his own steps of history.

We stashed our packs at Plumbline believing we were going to do the down-hike from the summit. We then traversed over to the base of the Thumb proper. Now out of the sink of the canyon, with gear ready to roll, it was warming up and Carson was stoked to climb! This would be Carson's first ascent of the Thumb buttress and to the top. Boasting more than 1,200 feet of granite and  10 or 11 pitches of incredible climbing, spectacular position in the canyon, ascending it is a real Thumbs up trip and makes for a memorable adventure. 

Feeling like Tommy Caldwell, well maybe, Carson donned his brand new La Sportiva TC Pros and we soloed the first 5.3 pitch, which is about 100 feet in length and goes up a right facing trough and then angles to the left to the start of pitch 2.

Pitch 2, next to the chimney, climbs about 110 feet or so, first next to the chimney then up a slanting, right facing corner with some fun lie back moves and then moves steeply left into a notch to fixed anchors. Carson led this pitch with confidence.

Pitch 3, the beginning of the Indecent Exposure variation climbs a double crack face and then goes into some trees that are embedded into a trough. The first 20 moves of the pitch are fun crack climbing. This pitch did not have fixed anchors at the belay, at least we couldn't find em. About 120 feet long I'd guess. Carson also led this pitch and loved the first part as the morning rays poured down on us.

Pitch 4, the climbing enhances on this pitch with a lovely hands to fist, to arm crack that then contours a small corner with a fun lay back and then onto the incredibly featured lunch ledge. I led this one and we both really enjoyed this pitch.

Pitch 5, after some Snickers and Gatorade and high fives, Carson set off on the incredible first pitch of the ever classic S Direct route, leading up the 80 degree ramp/arete. This pitch is caked with black chicken head features. The climbing on this pitch gets 4 stars in my opinion. Carson crushed it, laughing and gasping with excitement, making it to the anchors about 100 feet up next to a roof.

Pitch 6, the iconic entry into the ocean of white. The pitch starts up another chimney with an awkward move, to an old piton and then a crack wide enough for a number 3 Camalot. Beyond that the vastness of the sea of granite opens up before you and the first bolt is about 20' up wards. With fun smearing on a nearly featureless face, you move past 4 run out bolts to the anchors. The crux was between the first two bolts. I led this one and did not get the same shock as I did 18 years ago. It felt like a new additional bolt had been added (too bad).

Pitch 7, another run out slab pitch. Here you can take the original line up to a bolt and then to the right and then up or just head straight up for a little harder direct variation. We chose the latter as I had already done the original.  Up we went past two run out bolts then over two or three small overlay roofs to the chains about 100 or so feet up. This pitch had chicken heads for slinging to the left the third overlay which took the run-out down to 30 feet or so.   Carson, following was shackled with carrying the day pack and my approach shoes. He loved these two pitches!

Pitch 8, another run out pitch but easier goes straight up right of a crack to the roof under cling. This roof is where Spring Fever also ends. Under clinging the roof, I plugged a number 2 Camalot, then wrapped around, slinging a small tree and then up to a tree for an anchor.

Pitch 9, Carson led us up the remaining rock which became lower angled, directly to the base of the summit pinnacle.  We flaked the rope here and then walked next to the trees to the west ridge.

Pitch 10, a short but exposed and fun-filled pitch takes you to the top of the Thumb Pinnacle.  Carson was excited about the Summit! it was now 1 P.M. He did incredible. Here we met up with Chris and Madison of the Gear Room in SLC.  These two young studs had just climbed/flown up all of the hardest contiguous pitches on the Thumb. Starting with S Crack, Knob Job and ending with Robbins Crack. They had apparently each climbed the Thumb 25 times!! They knew the buttress like a mom knows her child. They shared some really helpful descent beta as Carson and I had decided to rappel the route.

Back when I first did this, KC and I with only the beta from the Ruckman guidebook with double ropes rappelled the Thumb and I remember we stuck a rope. It required me to prussik ascend the rope to free it. Luckily this time, for Carson and I it was smooth abseiling, with a single 70 meter. I did overshoot one anchor at the 9ht rappel. After 11 rappels, we reached the ground.  I could not be more proud of Carson. He was so excited as was I!  It's a new generation. We got back to the car at 4 PM.

Pitch 1
Carson, heading up Pitch 2
Carson, pitch 3
Carson, incredible pitch 5
Carson, "bold elegance on a sea of granite" Ruckmans
More of Pitch 6
Carson topping out Pitch 7
Looking up Pitch 8
Carson the Thumb Pinnacle, pitch 9
Chris and Madison, speeding down the Ocean of Granite
Carson and one last look
Taken day after

Rappels 70M single:
1st- West chains summit
2nd- Down buttress to trough
3rd- Down hike or belay down to top of offwidth roof (top of Spring Fever)
4th- Top of roof to top of pitch 7
5th- Top of pitch 6
6th- Top of pitch 5 to Lunch Ledge
7th- Below notch below Lunch Ledge
8th- Down towards S Crack- don't overshoot the intermediary anchors!
9th- From intermediary anchors
10th-Last down lateral to top of pitch 1
11th- Final to the dirt

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