Thor Peak's Stemwinder (5.4)

Where: Sierra Nevada, California
When: July 2006
Partners: Rick Kent
Route: Stemwinder (5.4)
Mileage/Gain 7/4,000

The south face of Thor Peak

Stemwinder is an easy 5th class route on the impossible-looking south face of Thor Peak, in the Sierra Nevada above Whitney Portal. At a glance, you just don't believe that an "easy" route can possible work its way up this face...but it does! And it's a fine route!
The start of the route

After a short initial hike up the Mount Whitney Trail, one leaves the trail near Bighorn Park and bee-lines it for the start of the route at the base of the face. A short, awkward chimney move leads one to the crux of the route, a steep chimney with a hard first move that suggests greater difficulty than the route's purported 5.4 rating.
Looking up at the crux chimney

Above this pitch, a flurry of class 3-4 scrambling presented itself, including a semi-memorable, steep 4th class pitch up a chimney with poor rock.
A little steep class 4-5 on the route

While climbing this stunning, wonderful, thrillingly easy yet stimulating route, we couldn't help and look over at the rest of the face we were on and marvel at the improbability of it all...a big face!
Looking across the south face

Finally, a final, steep slab pitch presented itself. Not really technical, the exposure on this frictional pitch was enough to make you watch you step. We again pulled out the rope, Rick offered to lead, and we pushed through it in fine style.
Exposed traverse near the top of the route

At the end of the technical difficulties, I coiled and put away the rope.
Coiling the rope at the end of the difficulties

Hiking and scrambling the rest of the way to the top, the smallness of the world once again made itself plain. Rick and I happened to bump into a nice young man named Mike Schasch just below the summit. Mike was hiking up from the easier chute route above Whitney Portal. Mike and Rick, as chance had it, had also bumped into each other on a Sierra peak only two weeks earlier. Small world!
CP on the summit


Photos courtesy of Rick Kent