Climbing Abiathar Peak via southeast ridge

Share experiences and news about hiking, peak climbing, pack-rafting, ski/snowboard mountaineering, or whatever in Greater Yellowstone.

Moderator: TomTuriano

Post Reply
Site Admin
Posts: 166
Joined: Thu Dec 02, 2004 11:02 am

Climbing Abiathar Peak via southeast ridge

Post by TomTuriano »

From Zachary Park, Gardiner, MT


I was getting to the summit of Abaither via the Southeast Ridge. I was going solo, like I do perhaps far too often. I had a blast getting up through the waterfall amphitheatre and making my way along the narrow ridge, trying to stay on sheep trials. As you wrote - the last portion of the ridge is very knife edged with steep cliffs on both sides. Moving along this section was exhilarating - thanks for leading me to it - probably one of the coolest ridges I've walked along.

It was when this ridge ascended to summit and began a steep upward climb, crossed with vertical cracks, that things got dicey. Firstly, a light snowstorm started blowing in, getting the rock wet. Yet at this point I was determined to get to the summit. There's a picture in your book in the section covering this ascent that shows a guy climbing along this very section. In fact, I came to the rock where he was placing his foot to make what looked like a traversing move to get around the top of this section of the ridge. I tried this move - and kept testing this rock with my weight. I was very hesitant to commit to the move (the fact that I'm 6'5" and about 225 lbs doesn't help in these situations).

Along the ridge to this point, tons of footholds and handholds along the way had crumbled under my weight, which I'm pretty used to in this area. Yet at this spot, if any of the holds were to fail, it would mean certain death. I had a hard enough time getting a grip on the wet rock, even if the hold was solid. So I tried to move along the ridge higher, but loose rock hoodoos along the top edge impeded my advance.

I moved around to the west side of the ridge, opposite the side where the picture was taken. Here I found a few decent footholds in the breccia, and found hand holds along the tops edge of the ridge, just below these hoodoos. I advanced about another 20 feet or so. I'm pretty comfortable because along this side of the ridge a couple of rock chimneys rose from the steep slope that stretched from the ridge down about 20 feet to the top of the 1000'+ foot cliff drop-off. I could sit in the saddles of these chimneys for a secure rest between advances, allowing me to plan the next best route. My last move got me off of one of these chimney saddles onto perhaps the steepest section of this slope yet. Once I put all my weight on a foothold, it gave way. I made a dive back to the chimney, and caught my fall. The rock that had popped out was about the size of a softball. It dropped about 10 feet and bounced off another rock below, pitching it outward over the top off the cliff and into the abyss. As I laid frozen still, clutching the loose holds near the chimney saddle, it seemed like an eternity until I heard that rock hit bottom at the base of the cliff.

The crashing noise echoed along the cliffs at the base of the summit. That seriously freaked me out so I headed back. At this point just getting back to where I could stand on top of the ridge was difficult enough, with shaking limbs, cold hands, and wet rock.

So have you done this climb yourself? I'm no hot shot climber like some of the guys I've met through the years, but I've done enough to question the 3-4 rating on this route. I'd give it a solid 4. Maybe it's just because of the loose rock. Compare it, say, to the Upper Exum route (5.6?)which I've led and considered a cakewalk. I'm from Northern California originally, and the rock there is great for climbing, too. I guess the loose rock in the Absarokas just freaks me the hell out. If I can trust the hold, I can trust myself to make the move successfully. If not, than forget it. I had a very similar experience climbing Pilot Peak a few years ago.

Luckily, there's still a ton of great stuff around here that's not like this. But I'm curious, what considerations do you make when factoring chossy rock into route ratings?

-Zachary Park
Gardiner, MT
Post Reply