Saturday, August 13, 2016

FA: WATSI WALL - THE INFINITY POOL (VI 5.11+ A2 R)

WOW. Likely a good place to start, as it was the first word I thought of and said when looking down the Tehipite Valley. Imagine the world famous Yosemite Valley, but requiring more than twenty miles of hiking from the nearest trailhead to get to, without the roads, crowds, SAR teams, rangers or people in general. No camp 4, ice cream stands, cell phone reception nor the shitshow scene. A wild place with poison oak, rattlesnakes size of anacondas, the last grizzly bear in the state of California, multiple Native American tribes and dinosaurs. OK, there are no dinosaurs, but I am not kidding when I say the place is FUCKING WILD.

I have been to a variety of remote parts of the High Sierra and the world, yet the Tehipete Valley made me feel more vulnerable than most. A few hours into the hike, we ran into a couple who has a cabin in the area. "Are you guys packing? There are big rattle snakes down there!" Imagine the size of those things, if people bring firearms for protection! :)

In mid July of 2015 Daniel Jeffcoach and I decided to check the place out for ourselves. He found a low resolution photo of some supposedly unclimbed wall that seemed to be over two thousand feet tall! Over two thousand feet tall?! Yes, I could not believe it, yet it was further down the valley and across from the biggest dome in the state of CA and likely the biggest granite big wall in the lower 48 - the Tehipete Dome - rising 3,500 feet above the valley floor. To no surprise, all the climbers visiting the place were unable to walk by it. On the other hand, we had the self-control thing dialed and our priorities straight! Seriously though, looking up at the Tehipete Dome made me want to walk further down the valley, towards our modest objective, the smaller big wall.

We fished, we climbed, we battled hard. On one of the slab pitches Daniel led, he was close to taking a 80 foot fall when his foot started to slide a few feet below the stance he wanted to drill a bolt from. I have no explanation to why the foot stopped sliding, yet I was psyched my sweating hands did not have to pull in loops of slack as Daniel's body cheesegrade past the belay. Hauling out our gear was gonna be a challenge, having to add a 6'4 guy on top of it didn't seem particularly appealing. Below that pitch was a 120 foot lay-back, which accepted only three out of approximately twenty camalots I had on my harness. Lucky for me, it wasn't harder than 5.10a, yet when you are on a first ascent, you have no idea how hard the next move is going to be, the objective is simple, climb up. On the first day we got up a good ways and were shut down by the difficulties approximately three fifths up the formation on the second day. It was a hard pill to swallow, yet to bail was a logical choice. We were running out of water while the climbing was only getting harder. We could no longer free climb, nor pull on pieces in order to maintain the necessary pace required to top out. At best, it was gonna take full on aid, but we did not bring the aiders or jumars. The decision was especially tough because it was the only long climbing trip Daniel could afford that year. A five day trip was a luxury for a man with two kids and a family. I personally could have returned in a few weeks without much trouble, yet for my friend it wasn't an option. I value my failures, enjoy them even. They remind me that I am picking appropriate challenges, they allow me to learn lessons, humble me a little and keep things interesting. Being in the mountains is success, yet when I climb with friends without the same amount of time, I want them to go home satisfied. Daniel is a true explorer at heart, so I thought it would take a miracle for him to stay interested in a place that he has already seen.

Rough outline. About 3000 ft of climbing on a wall whose vertical height I have a hard time estimating. FA: Daniel Jeffcoach, Brian Prince and Vitaliy Musiyenko 
Daniel and Brian having a quite moment, before the descent into the wild valley
Fishing!!
Cool pool on the descent down the Crystal Creek - my first time canyoneering! :)
Obvious why most people don't walk by the Tehipete Dome.
Me getting a good look at the wall we were going to attempt
Daniel SENT the gnar
Yum
The milky way. Night photography was a good way to make the time pass in our two-butt bivy
In 2016 we managed to work out a miracle. Literally! In order to do so, I had to cancel a trip to Alaska with Brian, Chaz and Adam, which was a big sacrifice. However, all of them were happy with the trips we did instead. With Chaz, we established a close to two thousand foot route on the unclimbed NW face of Clarence King (IV-V 5.11) along with two cool routes on an unclimbed NW face of Mt. Gardiner  (IV 5.10- and IV 5.11- R). With Adam, we did a new route on the sheer East Face of Mt. Whitney (V 5.11 R), two new routes on the NE face of Mt. Hitchcock (IV 5.11 and IV 5.11-) and a fun route on the Arctic Lake Wall (III 5.10). As a good friend and the organizer of the aborted outing to Alaska, Brian got the bigger slice of cake, an invitation to join the trip to Tehipite! Lucky for us, he accepted. :)

Three knuckleheads, one fishing pole and a bunch of gear. We split the approach in two shorter days in order to feel less worked when we get on the wall. Not sure how many climbing parties carried own climbing gear out there, but for me hauling own shit is a habit. Never employed porters or mules, yet to tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind a helicopter. Credit where the credit is due, Daniel's friend Norm, hiked out there a day earlier to see what the hell we were up to and took a part of our rack to help out. Thanks Norm!

Aside from spending time with two of my favorite partners and guys I have the honor to call friends, one of the highlights of the outing was the fishing! Before I got into climbing I loved to fish.Taught by my grandfather in the Ukraine as a nine years old, it was one of the few activities I had that made me appreciate nature. Since then, I fished mostly for carp and catfish, but fishing for bass was also enjoyable, as the thrill was higher. Compared to the last year, I killed it fly fishing, catching four trout compared to only one last summer. Fly fishing is way harder than the regular fishing I am used to. Kind of like trad climbing vs bouldering, much more expensive gear and a variety of new techniques to learn. Makes me want to purchase a fly fishing set up, yet I know I don't take enough rest days to use it. Editing photos, taking an online class and reading has been more than enough to keep me occupied lately! Daniel and I hiked further down the valley, as I tried to pick up a few tricks from the master. One of the fish he hooked got swallowed by a giant brown trout! It was a sight to watch and the adrenaline rush he received must have been comparable to the nearly 80 foot fall a year prior. Unfortunately the giant brown cut the line and got away, but no big deal, we had enough for our small army. Because Daniel had a load of food, he let Brian and I have all the fish on the second day, preferring a packet of tuna instead. Even though we both had plenty of food too, refusing freshly caught trout, a day prior to getting on an intimidating big-wall, did not seem like an option either of us would consider.

One of the pools in Crystal Creek
Tehipete Valley panorama as seen in the morning, from our bivy ledge. INCREDIBLE. Or simply WOW.
Trying to improve my B&W skills
The approach is actually kind of cool. Aside from being very long.
P O!

Our modest aid rack to the rescue
Yum




Looking towards the dreamy pools
Day started as planned. We got busy with climbing by 6 am, blasting pitch after pitch with good speed. To make the runouts more reasonable, we put the male ego aside and added three bolts to the runout pitches a day prior. Some people get enraged by the thought of someone adding bolts to their brave leads of the past, yet we end up "dumbing down" our own route without much hesitation. Instead of cutting right to the easier corners that went at 5.9 and 5.10 we took a direct line up crack systems and slab that went at 5.11. On one of those pitches I fortunately drilled a bolt 40 feet out from my last piece of gear. Fortunately because as I went for a seemingly better hold out of reach, my foot slipped and I busted my chin into the granite wall as my body fell only to be caught by the rope. Even though there was a bit of blood coming out of the seemingly little wound, I couldn't let it affect my climbing, as we had a lot of terrain to cover before stopping would be acceptable. I got right back on the pitch, climbed up to the stance where I stance drilled the bolt from and made it to a good hold using a slightly different sequence. The feet smears seemed featureless and I was surprised with the ability to keep my balance right after the stress of a fall. Further up the pitch a foothold broke and I nearly took another fall, yet my fingers were able to hold on to a sloping hold while my feet quickly shuffled to a desperate smear.

Regrouping on the big ledge, we decided I would take the next three out of four pitches to our previous high point, as Brian and Daniel divided the first seven pitches to start the route. From there, we would switch the leader once again. When Daniel mentioned using a hook for a belay on one of the (exciting, with the first pro about 40 or more feet off the deck) pitches, I did not think much of it, I didn't remember the gear there being particularly bad, yet it took me about 15 minutes to construct somewhat of a safe belay. Somewhat safe...NOT! As one of them shifted at the belay, one of the bomber-looking placements crushed the rock around it and nearly popped out. It was being held in the crack by two lobes and no it wasn't a totem cam. The three of us had a little panic as the other part of the anchor was a micronut and a tiny offset in a semi-detached flake. It is hard to describe the terror that we experienced up there with words, yet I likely set a speed record for the fastest drilled bolt on the climb and while reaching for the blow tube Brian had a moment of brilliance "just hammer the fucking thing in for god's sake." It is scary to think that a year ago it was likely the first gear placement to protect 5.10+ climbing off the belay, most bomber piece of which was the hook!






View towards TD during the night. Too bad I did not bring the shutter release! :)
How we felt in the morning
Brian pulling over the roof above the ledge
Me finding the way into the chimney
Brian in the final chimney!
I was glad to leave the belay and place a few widgets into hollow sounding flakes. For the first time in the last hour I felt somewhat safe. Best part about the pitch was getting to a part I aided a year ago, yet pulled hard and was able to free climb at about 5.11+. I bypassed the shitty belay ledge with runout low 5.10 climbing off the deck and linked into the next pitch, with a much better ledge, more important a much better anchor. Daniel swong into the next pitch, which had a fun pendulum to the anchor below another pitch I took which got us back to the highpoint. We were psyched to reach it with a few hours of daylight left and got out our secret weapon - Brian! He decided to climb up a different corner in hopes it would be more promising than our choice a year ago. Observing him execute desperate moves into a shitty stance about 20 feet above his last placement, I asked "are you ok up there? Watching you Brian!" "Yeah," he replied, "it looks fucking blank above me, I'M GONNA GO FOR IT!" Yeah that's Brian. After my lead block ended, the pain in the chin and the headache was no longer covered up by the intense focus on the importance to move with efficiency. I was belaying Brian on top of a nice ledge, happy to not be up there facing stress of the sharp end. It is hard to accurately describe the experience of climbing far above the last gear, some of which very questionable, in a remote place like the Tehipite Valley, with horrible consequences in case of a slip. To do so without making the situation sound dramatized, is a very difficult task for me personally - Vitaliy the author - as when I am Vitaliy the climber, I face fear constantly and have to keep control over my mind in order to stay calm enough to function. I find it hard to describe something partially blocked off by my consciousness, to the reader, as at times it could seem exaggerated to me from the point of view of a climber.  Sad truth is that we are climbers while in the zone, climbing, and only when we are climbing. Trying to describe our raw experiences can be an important step to us personally, to understand them better, but to keep some dignity, it is hard to draw the line early enough to prevent the narrative into cheap pornography, yet giving proper justice to the moment.

Brian got up to the belay and I turned into a climber for a bit, admiring his lead on the follow. Last part of the pitch was a pendulum for the leader. Brian was apologetic that for me it was going to be something like a sideways fall, yet it was a much better option than facing the consequences he faced while leading out into the unknown. It looked completely blank above us, with a roof above a crackless groove. We traversed a large ledge system to a larger part of the ledge. Above us was a similar overhang without much features which would inspire hope of pulling over it without having to drill a bolt ladder. Daniel tried to clean out a dirty seam in order to get across to another ledge fifty feet higher to the right. He did, yet found nothing useful for upward progress. He rapelled back to the ledge from the bush. While Daniel was on his lead Brian and I discussed the only way that appeared semi possible, yet still kind of hopeless. I did my best to be positive, "we got where we wanted to be, above the high point on a bivy ledge, with the food and the water for the night! Tomorrow we will see what the valley looks like from the summit!" The conversations we had were not filled with sincere positive emotion, yet fake excitement is better than honest hopelessness. Brian was gonna try this pitch with the full on aid rack and ladders and got the first fifty feet done before lowering back to the ledge from his high point.



Edward Lau continues to ascent peaks.






WEEEEEEEEEEE

The infinity pool. Can I use the word 'awesome' one more time?! 
It wasn't a plush bivy, yet it worked out. Daniel found an exhilarating spot on the edge. Brian and I sat with our feet stretched above the void. To make the time pass I practiced a bit of night photography and tried to capture the milky way, partially hidden by the overhang straight above. To my surprise we got some sleep in and in the morning the secret weapon found the solution to the overhang, without a bolt ladder. Tricky mix of free climbing, aid and a pendulum got Brian over the left edge and onto a giant ledge, from which we continued our assault. My internal confidence did not intensify till we were in the big open chimney, approximately five hundred feet below the summit. I could not believe we were within a striking distance. All of us really were completely stunned to be on top. Just a bit over 3,000 feet of climbing distance, counting the traverses, on likely the largest unclimbed granite wall in the lower 48. A dream come true. An experience of a lifetime, a fucking fairy tale! Yes, the climb did not seem real, along with the descent. A likely canyoneering first descent down Crystal Creek - an incredibly beautiful slot canyon that allowed us to fully hydrate, take a bunch of photos and slide into heavenly pools. I said it before and I will re-enforce it here, the heaven is here, on earth. Along with hell. It is a personal choice for most individuals, although not all,  which one to move forward. Concentrating on the negativity of the daily grind won't get you closer to a place like Crystal Creek, so choose your Infinity Pool wisely.

Few hours later, we crossed the North Fork of Kings River and were back at camp. Enjoying the extra food and trying to take in what we have experienced. It was one of the few outings that will likely provide lessons for Vitaliy, the person, for years to come, so it was important for me to document the events and the emotions, in writing along with the visual slides captured by our cameras. For a long time I thought of a proper way to end the written part of the report, yet I am back to where I started. WOW.

The horseshoe brought us luck! Well at least it is a eastern block superstition..
Not sure if I like the color or the black and white shot of these trees better?

On the way out
Dreamy place.
Till another time!