Virginia Peak, Twin Peaks

13 Jul 1996 - by Jim Ramaker

In mid-July, Cecil Magliocco, Bob Suzuki, and Don Martin joined me (Jim Ramaker) on a trip to these two 12,000-foot peaks in northeast Yosemite. It was my first trip leading experience, and I was unprepared for the flurry of last-minute cancellations by Silicon Valley workaholics, including one at 10:30 on Thursday evening!

But no matter -- the four of us met at the Green Lakes trailhead on a beautiful Saturday morning and headed up the trail to Green Lake. Moving fast, we reached Virginia Pass in 3 1/2 hours and got our first glimpse of Virginia and Twin. The east face of Virginia looks almost vertical from here, and the view once inspired Peter Maxwell to exclaim "My Gahd, it's fifth clahss!!" Despite the appearance, it's safe class 3, but I was concerned to see steep snowfields high on the face, covering up the class-3 rock, because I hadn't told people to bring crampons.

We continued cross-country for a mile to the beautiful lake at the foot of Virginia Peak, set up our tents, and napped to ward off the effects of our first day at altitude (10,300'). Cecil was hot to do a peak, as we had many hours of daylight left, but clouds were gathering, and by 3 they were very black in the south, with occasional rumbles of thunder.

So we settled into an extended rest period and bull session, and I studied the face looming above, trying to figure out a way up that avoided the steep snowfields. At 4:30, we had tea time, which gradually merged into an early supper. Raindrops pattered a few times, but nothing serious.

Next morning we left camp at 6:45 and wandered up the scree to the steep black triangle in the center of the east face. The normal route goes up the right side of the triangle, but a huge steep snowfield blocked the route, so we went left of the triangle and climbed rocks alongside some smaller snowfields in that area.

This face has plenty of loose rock lying around, but the underlying rock of the mountain is solid, with nice incut holds -- a pleasure to climb. Soon we were up on the buttress in the center of the face above the black triangle, and at 8:30 we climbed onto the summit. The weather was so clear and mild we rested on the summit for a full hour, indulging in the usual snacks and photos.

Then we dropped down the class-2 northwest ridge to a saddle and started the traverse over to Twin Peaks via its south ridge. This ridge is class 2 most of the way, with wonderful views west to Whorl Mountain and Matterhorn Peak. The last part of the ridge is blocked by large pinnacles, and normally you can traverse on a class-3 ledge system on the right that goes on for several hundred feet and takes you past the pinnacles. But on this day I couldn't find the ledges, and both Cecil and I commented that the climb seemed harder than when we did it last October.

I wondered if we were off route, then realized we were too high on the side of the ridge, and the ledges were below us, buried under steep snowfields clinging to the rock. We continued on, edging carefully across steep snowfields without crampons, or else climbing on the rock above the snow. Several times we took to the moat between rock and snow in order to make progress. A couple hundred feet short of the summit, we almost hit a dead end in a 10-foot deep section of the moat, with smooth rock on one side and vertical snow and ice on the other. After some false starts, I was able to chimney my way out with my back against the snow and feet on the rock. The others followed, and soon we were climbing the last class-3 rock slope to the summit. The west half of Twin Peaks has three large rounded humps on top, and the third one is the summit.

We had another nice rest there and admired the view, which included not only the familiar Yosemite peaks from Tower Peak down through Conness and Dana to the Cathedral range, but also Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Banner and Ritter. Finally, it was time to descend.

The challenging climbing was over, which was okay with us, and we dropped into the 1500-foot scree gully that takes you down to the beautiful meadows of upper Return Canyon. On the way down the gully, we admired the multicolored rock -- grey, red, white, brown -- and the fantastic cliffs and rock towers on the right-hand gully wall. It's hard to believe that rock so shattered and broken can form cliffs that are vertical and even overhanging.

We got back to camp at 1:30, packed up, and hiked out as the sky clouded up and dropped a few raindrops on us, just like the day before. We got back to the cars at 5:30 and home by midnight -- another PCS weekend packed with fun climbing and alpine beauty.

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