The name of the game was to climb all nine in one day so we would have to repeat a few from our previous trip. Further complicating the problem was it wasn't clear which one of the bunch of bumps up there was #6 so we decided we would climb both of them, one as indicated by Steve Roper and the other as indicated by RJ Secor. This became the "Plus One". At 6:15 AM we headed up the Cathedral Lakes Trail and took the cutoff for Budd Lake. At 8:30 we were standing on top of Wilts Col, which separates #8 and #9 from the rest of the Echo Peaks. Wilts Col is one of the cool places in the world. It is wide and sandy and the views on one side are of the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral and environs and the views from the other side are of the spectacular Matthes Crest.
On this day it was also windy and cold. We decided to put off #9 until last since the climbable face was in the shade and wind. This meant we would have to come back to #9 after #4, if we got that far. We hiked up to the top of #8 which is to the left of the Wilts Col. It is easy class 3 and takes only a few minutes to climb. Next up was #7, which is on the right side of Wilts Col. This Echo Peak is considerably harder than #8 and requires some airy moves at about 3 plus or maybe class four. There are footholds on the left side on the narrow part or a "butt scoonch" move or two can be made straddling the narrow rock section. Next up was one of the #6s. The problem is it is not clear which bump is #6. Using Roper's The Climber's Guide to the High Sierra then the bump just off the main ridge between #7 and #5 is #6. Echo Peak #5 is the next easily identified peak right on the ridge itself. Dee and I had climbed the Roper version of #6 on our previous trip and we went and climbed it again. No matter what reference is used this annoying bump is decidedly not class 3. On our initial attempt on the Echo Peaks, Dee and I climbed the right hand edge of this formation up a series of cracks past a couple of loose sounding blocks. This is about 5.4 or so. This time we climbed the easier looking chute about 20 feet left of the right hand edge. This was also about 5.3 to 5.4 or so but was rotten for about half the route and scary. There are no rappel slings or bolts on the top of this formation so getting off requires down climbing. Just a point to keep in mind. Anyway, the next Peak along the ridge is #5 and is modest class 3 and is really a lot of fun to climb.
The top of Echo Peak #5 gives a view of a thin fin of rock between #5 and the twin Echo Peaks #1 and #2. This thin fin is Secor's Echo Peak #6. The ascent of Secors Echo Peak #6 is done by climbing the right hand side of the north end of this fin. The north end faces Cathedral Peak. The route goes up easy third class to a gap which is crossed and then the route ascends the knobby face. This is about class four or so, steep and exposed enough that most climbers will be happy to have a belay. Next up is Echo Peaks #1 and #2. These are right next to Secorss Echo Peak #6 and a saddle connects the two of them. This is where Dee and I ran out of enthusiasm on our first attempt. We had climbed the saddle between the two peaks and sat there staring out at #3 and were wondering where # 1 and #2 were, like something out of an Elmer Fudd cartoon. "Now where did dat silly wabbit put dose Echo Peaks #1 and #2?" Classic.
We expected that we would have to descend from Peak #2 and go around to the south to get up on #3 so we left our packs at the base of the two peaks. Echo peak #1 is easy class 3 from the saddle and Echo Peak #2 is somewhat harder. An interesting and exposed ledge on the north side affords easy access to a wide flat ledge on the north side and it is an easy few moves to the summit. From the summit of #2 it was clear we could just stroll over to #3. Annoyed, we retreated to the base of the saddle and retrieved our packs and re-climbed peak #2. Echo Peak #3 is easy class 3 up the ridge between #2 and #3.
The last peak along this line is Echo Peak #4. This required down climbing the set of vertically running furrows on the northeast side of the ridge connecting #3 and #4. This requires about a 350 foot loss in elevation. Echo Peak #4 is rated class 4 and I am not sure if this down climb is included in this rating but getting down these furrows is probably low fifth class. The fact we didn't use a rope amazes me since it was difficult, scary, and somewhat rotten in places. It was dangerous and not fun. Echo Peak #4 is modest class four from the platform thirty or so feet below the notch between peak #3 and #4. We down climbed to get off of #4. Both going up and coming down Echo Peak #4 was easier than the down climb from #3.
Now all that was left was to get over to #9 and finish the project. We debated the merits of rappelling down and then hiking over to #9 or to go back up #3 and go around that way. The one left over rappel station was attached to a dead tree, not exactly my idea of a safe anchor, and it looked like the one live tree would leave us with a rope pulling problem so we opted for heading back up #3. We used the rope this time and it was as hard going back up those furrows as it was going down. This was done in two long pitches plus a little simul-climbing. From the top of #3 we headed over the top of #2 and back down around #6 (Secor's), #5, #7 and down Wilts Col to the base of the route on Echo Peak #9.
We climbed the Southwest Side route in two pitches, setting a belay just below the little roof system. This time I turned back towards the left after the roof and went up a little 5.6 hand crack off the shoulder. This was a little weird since the rope was zig-zagged all over the place. There is a rappel anchor built into the bottom of the hand crack that apparently can be used to rappel into the gap between #9 and #8. The first time we went straight up from the end of the roof system. In any case there are a lot of ways to get up this face. It is a little loose and we succeeded in blowing off a knob or two. We cant seem to climb Echo Peak #9 without some technical difficulties and this time we succeeded in knotting up our double rope system at the belay. We rappelled off the top in two rappels. The first rappel brought us to an intermediate station that is just above the roof and to the left. From there we rappelled to the base. Echo Peak #9 has a lot of knobs and flakes sticking out and getting a rope stuck would seem to be a problem. We escaped from the stuck rope problem this time and I pulled the rope down to the packs just as it was getting dark.
We headed up Wilts Col from Echo Peak #9 at about 8:15 PM. Using our headlamps we hiked out past Budd Lake and back to the car. It was a little less than 16 hours car to car. This included climbing all the known Echo Peaks #6, just for good measure, and Echo Peak #2 three times and Echo Peak #3 twice. It turned out that this project required 4000 feet of elevation gain, which surprised us both.
The next day was to be a trip to Mammoth for an ascent of the Crystal Crag but the excellent weather collapsed unexpectedly and dramatically Sunday morning. It was massively overcast and raining all over the place.
Final Notes: This was a fun project and pretty much pushed Dee and me to our limit as to what we could do in a day. We have no idea which bump is the real Echo Peak #6. We liked the Secor version better, it is safer and easier and the fact is it is right on the crest while the Roper bump #6 is removed from the crest somewhat, but then, so is Echo Peak #9. Go figure. A better approach to this project would be to hike up and over Wilts Col or around the base of Echo Peak #3 to the base of Echo Peak #4 and start from there. It is supposedly class 4 to the notch between #3 and #4. This avoids the wretched down climb from #3 and puts #9 at the end when the climbing face is in the sun. A 50 meter double rope system was used but it may be possible to use the rappel station in the 5.6 hand crack on #9 to get down into the base of the gap with one rope. I dont know this for a fact. A set of aliens, a couple of camalots, and a small selection of stoppers were brought along. They were all useful in one place or another. The only fifth class is really on Echo Peak #9 with the exception of Roper's version of Echo Peak #6. The remaining hard stuff is maybe hard fourth class.