Eagle Lakes Buttress Winter Traverse


April 4, 2016 written by Rick Bauer

Ten SMC climbers met at the Eagle Lake trailhead, that overlooks Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe, at 7am, and prepared our gear for the planned traverse of the Eagle Lake Buttress ridge. At this time of year we were sure to encounter mixed rock and snow conditions that would make this mile long ridge even more challenging. We left snowshoes behind, but took crampons, axe, helmet, harness, a very light selection of rock pro and one light 30m rope.

We headed up the trail to Eagle Lake, rock hopped the outlet, and headed for the snow chute(crampons were not used the entire day) that would take us up to the ridge that leads to the base of the headwall at about 8600 feet. Here we put on harnesses and surveyed the rock. The headwall itself has about 10 routes, rated from 5.5 to 5.10, but we chose a lower fifth class scramble up the left side of the wall, where we could make good time without the use of rope or pro. The fun part of this ridge traverse is in route selection, which has many possibilities, and with the added combination of snow, made the climb more intriguing. We all had fun, each leading sections of snow and rock, and we did have to use a fixed rope in two exposed sections where our snow footing could have given way. This did slow progress but it made the climb that much more fun.  We made it to the big rock pinnacles, enjoyed the sunshine, grabbed a bite and exchanged some war stories. From here the going was a bit easier as we made our way along the knife edge, trying to go as far as possible, knowing that we would not make it to the end before reaching our turnaround time. We came to a good spot where descent was relatively easy and being satisfied that we had completed the major portion of the traverse, decided it was time to go down. A short rappel was set up, though some decided a quick downclimb was just as easy. We all made it down safely and it was beginning to be more time consuming making our way on the snow because deep post holing was unavoidable. We had descended on the west side of the ridge and we wound around as close to the base of the ridge as was possible, with the intention of picking up our upward track as soon as possible.

I will include the following events as a bit of education and the importance of staying together as a group. While the majority of the party stayed high along the ridge, three members, thinking they would avoid the majority of the bushwhacking, chose to take a different route. The larger group soon regained the track and descended the ridge and snow chute and waited at the lake for the other three members. The other three members soon appeared at the top of the chute to begin their descent and quickly disappeared. What had happened was that one of the climbers had fallen through the soft snow into a 12 foot deep hole. The lucky thing was that that group had the rope and the members had just viewed the glacier and crevasse rescue training class. The unlucky thing was that they had both radios and could not contact the other members for help. The members waiting at the lake began signaling up to the other three trying to notify them of their presence. Anyhow, the climber was extricated from the hole by use of the rope and anchor set up by the other two and after an hour’s delay made it down to the lake as the other members were about to reascend the chute. It is important to stay together as a group, as bad things are usually the result of separation. Anyhow, back together again, we quickly made our way back to the trailhead. Quite the adventure!