By: Eric Beck
I soloed Babe five years ago Easter Sunday, found the mountain dry, the climb easy and had the mountain to myself. Lori still had not climbed it, and with our impending move to Bishop, Babe would become remote indeed as it is already a 8.5 hr drive from San Diego.
So, vigilance of the Weather Channel convinced us that we might indeed squeeze it in and we made the drive on Friday, this time hoping to do the SE arete. Two other parties, one ahead of us, also had designs on the SE arete. Saturday was very windy, and the higher we got the windier it got. We decided that it was too windy for the SE arete, but noted that with our early ( 5:17 ) moonlight start we could run up the standard route and still easily have time to drive to Tipton (which Lori also hasn't done ). We dropped all the extra hardware at the base of the slabs and headed up and around the west face. As we turned the corner to the north side of the mountain, we entered a different world. There was deep snow and all the rivulets were frozen. The standard Forbes slab was a sheet of ice with a 15 foot ice cone at the base. At this point, another person appeared, with no pack, provisions and wearing what I would best describe as basketball shoes. He also had a pistol! He said he had climbed Babe before, and thought he knew a variant off to the left. We saw him poking around up there and assumed he would soon give UP I was able to climb dry rock to the right, but there was no protection for 50 feet until I could tie off a bush. The next section, basically a broad ledge when dry, was a frozen snow slope leading over a cliff, so we belayed this. Had we brought boots, we might have been able to kick steps, but only had our rock shoes. After a short section through trees, one makes the move around the chockstone and up an easy gully to the crest. The chockstone was almost buried and the gully full of frozen snow. I was able to get onto 4th class slabs on the left about 30 feet above the chockstone and led up to a tree. I led another slab pitch up and left and then a short pitch up a short wall to the right. After dropping down a little, we were back on the route and on easier terrain.
We had a quick bite to eat on the summit, where we left a note in the register for the SE arete parties recommending against descending the Forbes route.
Due to lack of rappel points for single rope rappels, we decided to downclimb all the slab pitches. We were down two of them when our soloist friend appeared descending in the main gully! He had climbed up behind us. I had him use our rope as a hand line down the last two pitches to the top of the Forbes slab. I then lowered him, and then Lori, and set up a rappel for myself. A doubled single rope reached to the top of the ice cone. The soloist, also an Eric, lived in the little village of San Miguel. I suggested to him that he could learn some about how we do this stuff and that with proper equipment and technique, he might be able to do climbs considerably harder with much less danger. We enjoyed the abundant flowers on the lower mountain which we missed in the moonlight and arrived back in the campground a little after 3, enjoying some beverages and the Vermilion Flycatchers.
The first SE arete party appeared at 6:15 and said the wind was gusting to 60 and that they often had to flatten themselves against the rock. The second group we learned arrived at 11. We spoke with them in the morning and they remarked that the route description bore almost no relation to what they climbed. Also, due to the chaotic state of the register, they had not seen our note and had quite a bit of trouble on the descent.
In retrospect, bringing a single axe would have made this a fairly routine ascent. However I recommend people interested in Babe defer the project for at least several weeks.
An addendum to my report. The following quote is on the form one fills out when paying the campground fee ( $5.00 / day ): WAIVER Baboquivari District is not responsible for any physical attack, death, injury, or emotional trauma, from the result of a sighting of the Lion.
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