Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Angel Wings - First Ascent on The Golden Pillar! (V 5.11+ C2)

Getting our butt kicked on the previous attempt was not encouraging. Numerous burly, exciting and sustained 5.11 pitches ran us into the blank rock. Being worn out, dehydrated and lacking the vigor that brought us far up the steep wall, led to a decision to pull the plug. As we rapelled, I did not look at our attempt as a failure. It was a GIANT step forward. A step towards completing a new route on the Angel Wings - my dream! Many readers, friends and acquaintances may point out that when it comes to planning new routes, I have MANY walls on my mind. But the Angel Wings is special - it is one of the largest walls in the High Sierra. It stands out above most by not only the size, but by appearance and rich history to go along with it. Personally, I consider it to be one of the most bad ass formations in the range that I love, so I was willing to bust ass for it.
The Golden Pillar is the buttress on the west (left) side - well lit up by the sun.
The Golden Pillar - Angel Wings
Angel Wings and Cherubim Dome
Precipice Lake
Sending the A5 traverse (5.11+, possibly the technical crux of the route...but maybe not, there are many cruxes!)

Day following the first attempt, I was gonna rest before climbing the Valkyrie. Rest....I DID NOT. I opted for a hike to the top of the formation across from the Golden Pillar. In order to spy a way to connect the crack system and avoid a need for a rivet ladder, I took multiple close up photos of the wall with my large lens. Usually I do my best to eliminate artificial ways of making upward progress by all means. There is a limit to what I am willing to do in order to push the line higher. To me, rivet/bolt ladders is a sure way to kill the impossible. I don't climb to satisfy the thirst for glory, so keeping retreat as a real possibility is important - to try my best, have a reason to train and improve a variety of skills,  physical as much as mental. If every climb led to a send, I would likely not be attracted to attempting new routes. The challenge of a mountain, the mystery above, the unknown outcome and the ability to seek out your own path up the intimidating peak allows me to deal with difficulties as they present themselves. One at a time. A way to concentrate the attention on one task and truly live in the present. There is no worry about sending the crux moves, choosing the right beta, yoyo pinkpointing a pitch. Pure climbing - start on the bottom and finish on top. Exactly why I knew I found the right partner after chatting with Adam - "I don't care if we fail!"

What my lens allowed to detect was encouraging, but scary in the same time. Turned out we were slightly less than half way up the wall and the two hollow flakes may allow a passage onto a prominent ledge. From the ledge a giant system of steep chimneys, gnarly-looking stacked blocks led to the slabbier terrain and in turn to the summit pyramid. Can it be done? Wouldn't hurt to look! Or maybe it will hurt, who knows? The chimneys looked intimidating. Few weeks later we were making the 17 mile trek to Hamilton Lakes.

A few miles before reaching the Hamilton Lakes, we saw The West Buttress. It was illuminated by the golden glow of the early evening sunlight - "The Golden Pillar." Adam, his sister Alissa and girlfriend's brother Grayson were impressed by the massive formation. Don't think anyone was as impressed as me. Even though it was not the firs time I saw it, I was taken aback by the geometry of the wall, it was close to perfect. Steep on all sides and with not much of a weakness, a worthy challenge.  To no surprise, a challenge first tried by Fred Beckey and several other climbers decades before we showed up.    

Next morning we woke up early, hiked to the base and started climbing after it was light enough to ditch the headlamp. I didn't mind doing the initial pitches again. Steep cracks and powerful face climbing. This time I managed to lead or follow all the pitches free to our high-point. Including a redpoint of the "A5 traverse," which went at 5.11+. For our first long climb, Adam and I climbed well together. Usually I wouldn't do anything this committing with a person I have never climbed a multi-pitch with. But we got along well as house-mates in Chalten, did ascents of a few fifteen foot boulders and had a chance to team up to cook dinner. How bad could it be?! He also has an impressive record of climbs on Fitz Roy, a few First Ascents in Patagonia and is on Black Canyon SAR I felt like I couldn't really ask for a much better partner! And again, he was out to try hard and had a great attitude. I was lucky to have such a partner.

As we got to the highpoint, I managed to do some thin, clean aid up the two hollow flakes and drilled a bolt to pendulum off after a hook move. We reached the giant ledge and stood under the giant chimney system. It was composed of massive flakes. Some hollow, some fairly solid. I don't want to bore anyone with the description of a pitch by pitch or move by move description of the climbing we found. But I will summarize it with, BURLY, sustained, FUN, challenging and committing. By the time we were few pitches above the ledge, the sun was getting close to the horizon. We did our best to climb quick, which was not really an option with difficult pitches and tricky protection. To avoid a cold bivy we pulled on a cam a few times to save time and energy. It was a hard work and the fun was long gone. After the light faded, we put on headlamps. I led an exciting pitch to the top of the formation and set the belay bellow a pyramid which I knew was the summit. As Adam came up and racked up for a cruxy boulder problem, I was full of excitement.

The first steep chimney pitch
The summit!!!!
At 9:42 PM on July 24th, we stood on the true summit of the Golden Pillar. Partly in disbelief and high on life we let out a few celebratory monkey calls towards the Hamilton Lakes camp. Turned out Grayson was shooting night photography and caught the light of our headlamps while we had a small celebration on top. Surrounded by thousands of stars, we felt like one of those shining objects around us. Climbing a new route, in a day, on the Angel Wings! A route which only has about 30 ft of aid climbing and 1,700 ft of challenging free climbing! God, even if dreaming, we couldn't ask much more!

The descent went without an epic and the following day was dedicated to rest. However, something was off. We had another two days to climb and a plan of attempting a new route on Cherubim Dome. Internally, I had no desire. Hard work to free the Emperor on Bubbs Creek Wall, East Face of Castle Rock Spire, a hike out to Erickson Crag #3, the 7 day trip to the Valhalla just a few weeks earlier and a plan to hike in to the Tehipite Valley after the four days of work (a supposed 'break' after the return from the present trip), had me feeling like a fucking hamster. I was running in a never ending climb, climb, climb zone. Climbing big new route on the Angel Wings or the Bubbs Creek Wall, although exciting and challenging, took a lot of the energy and led me to an exhausted state. State I was experiencing - an accumulation of physical and mental fatigue. Watching other people dive into the Hamilton Lake, I wasn't sure if I want to continue this marathon. For a bit I complained to Adam and his sister Alissa. There was much to think about. Even though I knew I was visiting places I want to visit, doing the things that I love, maybe the frequency was too intense to maintain homeostasis? The soreness of every muscle in my body and the broken skin on my dry fingers was a physical sign that the rest may help repair the damage. The smell of morning coffee after nine hours of sleep may present better answers than my dog-tired brain could offer? I quit whining and dove into the sobering water of Hamilton Lake one more time. As usual, the solution was simple....

Angel Wings - Killing In The Name Of  (FA: V 5.11+ C2 - 1,700 ft)
(Vitaliy Musiyenko, Adam Ferro, Luke Stefurak)

Our headlamps on top of the Golden Pillar. Photo by Grayson Tamberi
Angel Wings, Adam and I :)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eagle Scout Creek Dome - FA of Direct West Face (IV 5.11 C1)

Initially, I saw the Eagle Scout Creek Dome in 2012. It was my first time in Sequoia National Park and my first BIG adventure climb - FA on the Fortress, the climb that foreshadowed my preoccupation with the unknown. 

Eagle Scout Creek Dome isn't the biggest or the most striking wall around. In fact there are badass spires to the south, north and to the east as well! BUT, it resembles a miniature version of Half Dome, which I find to be awesome! 

Earlier this year, while approaching the Angel Wings, I had a chance to look at the thing from up close. As I was inhaling brownies at Bearpaw, I put on the zoom lens on my camera and snapped a dozen photos of the steep west face. As soon as I returned home and looked at the close ups, I was scheming an outing! 

Eagle Scout Creek Dome - the west face in full glory (about 900 ft)

View of four valleys that include the Hamilton Lake area, Eagle Scout Creek, North and South forks of Granite Creek. A little out of view is the Tamarack Lake area.
Brian leading the steep second pitch. The climb was fairly STEEP and BURLY
But well worth the hike and hard work on the route!
My friend Brian returned from a few month of salmon fishing in Alaska. To my joy he was immediately on board for any sort of adventure climbing, so we planned a trip to check out the South and the North fork of Granite Creek. After climbing over the Timber gap, over ten miles of hiking, much bushwhack and an ascent of an unclimbed spire in the South Fork, we decided to go after the West Face!

The fun of pre-dawn approach via creek bed. The return was much more epic with us stumbling and falling into the creek repeatedly.

Finally we can see them!
Shiet is STEEP!
Bushwhacking was Old Skool 5.10. Not 5.12 RX like the previous day.
Beginning of our route
crack on the 4th pitch
From the approach we noticed this wall to be REALLY steep and REALLY blank. As we got closer to the bottom we spotted the system I had spotted while scanning the photos. It was intimidating and we walked a little further to see if there were other system that would look good. As we got closer to the North face, the rock continued to deteriorate, so we decided to harden the f*** up and climb the original objective. 

Brian following the 1st pitch. Very fun and steep

Brian leading the third. The beginning is really good. 
But it gets a bit burly in the end
The BIG South Face of Hamilton Dome...BEFORE it had two routes ;)
Angel Wings in the left lower corner. Saber Ridge and the Prism are in the upper right corner. The Globe, before it had a name, is seen in the upper left corner.
From the ground, the beginning did not look too bad. But after placing a tiny widget and performing splits so I could stem up the otherwise blank corner, I felt a lot more engaged! These first 30 ft allowed a taste for the things to come. The crack system included everything from thuggy fist jams, perfect hands, offwidth, awesome stems and burly boulder problems. The quality was mostly good to great but some sections required pulling on gear. We thought about bailing because things were not as easy as we wanted them to be, but remembered the bushwhacking we had done to get there. We decided that the send was required, so we faced the challenges one at a time and completed the climb a few hours prior to sunset!

"We have a long way back to camp brah!"

Hellz yeah!
The views are incredible!!!!
Hamilton Towers...before the south faces had routes :)

From the summit, we had glorious views of the surrounding walls. Especially impressive was the South Face of Hamilton Dome and the spires along the ridge to the east. They were as stunning as anything you would find in the Needles, but BIGGER, more rugged and being 15 miles from the closest trailhead, likely a little more committing. After we returned home, first thing I did, was asked Brian to avoid spraying the photos of the formations onto the interwebs before we return to send the gnar, which without a doubt was gonna happen sooner or later! Second, I did some research, which showed no routes that ascent any of the formations from the South - all were climbed from the Hamilton Lake side. The seed has been planted! The wheel of fortune revealed a return was possible in mere days after our previous outing - I was lucky enough to get a whole week off from work! 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

First Ascent of the Granite Creek Spire!

Recent internet chitchat about things that don't really matter gave me something to dwell on as I crawled up a steep, sandy slope. While simultaneously fighting manzanita, I used the thicker branches to aid the slow progress through the brush. Thank god it was about an hour till the sun rose and the beam of my headlamp allowed me to focus on twenty foot sections of what was ahead, any more and it would be a bit overwhelming. At some point the sun did come up but it was often hard to see further than twenty feet anyway. It helped me stay "focused on the present," as my yoga instructor suggested! At this point the reader may wonder where in the world was I going and what was I dwelling on. I was going up the south fork of the Granite Creek. According to Google Earth, own eyes and photos from the internet there is a big spire with giant summit that overhangs on all sides, a spire with no recorded ascents.

Heading into the mist of unknown. Outline of Granite Creek Spire, what we named the formation, can be seen through the smoke in the distance. Range of light delivers the goods! Photo cred: Brian Prince
Looking up at the giant Sequoias - Redwood Meadow
First time we came across a backcountry giant Sequoia grove.
Brian capturing the goods
The air quality did suck on the way in. The smoke from the Rough Fire obstructed our lungs and the views.
Granite Creek
Preparing for the battle. Soaking our feet in the water, life is rough.
Friends which have done adventure climbs with me in the past may praise the lord they couldn't be on this one, unless your are Daniel - the single person I know who expressed voluntary interest in going to Granite Creek. One of the few people I know who is genuinely excited about diving head first into the unknown. Someone I am pleased to call a friend. Even though at moment he is likely sharpening a giant needle to prick Voodoo doll Vitaliy, to prevent me from climbing other formations that belong on his hit list. Daniel is the guy who was crazy enough to invite a complete stranger from the internet to participate in the First Ascent of the Fortress. It was in the end of summer of 2012, our first true adventure climb, armed with much stronger Tom Ruddy. Fortress was the spot from which I noticed multiple domes on the ridge-lines south of the Angel Wings. From the limited information available in the comprehensive Secor's Sierra Nevada guidebook I knew there was plenty of adventure to be had in the area. Aside from a few sentences about the first ascents of the major formations available in the American Alpine Journal, I was unable to find any record of other humans getting out there and had a lot of excitement about diving into the unknown.
First view of the giant
Granite Creek Dome
There were a few pleasant things to look at though.

The bushwhack was so horrible that we moved down to the creek-bed. As Brian and I continued the never ending approach I looked at my pedometer and calculated that on average we had covered less than one mile per hour. WAYYY less. Boulder hopping from one slippery rock to the other I thought about my own motivations to participate in such outings. But it was a different thought process than what is usually found in the whiny "Why do I climb" write ups. My legs had already acquired multiple cuts, the body was covered in orange dust, the shirt was soaked with sweat, we had no directions for approaching the peak we intended to climb, likely an un-climbed one. Being able to explore things for myself is one of the main reasons I climb and even though this particular approach was especially grueling, there was no second guessing of the decision to come see what it is like. I was wondering what is it in particular that attracts me to the climbing with uncertain outcome and why was I actually enjoying the day. It was tough, but did not feel like a 'suffer fest' - label I see climbers using to describe something that they supposedly enjoy.
The beast looming above
First pitch - scrambled in approach boots..seemed easy at the time. It wasn't.
Brian hiking the first pitch.
We took the buttress on the right. Four rope stretchers and one more pitch later we stood on the incredible table-top summit.
Looking down at the first pitch
Another jam crack we "hiked"
 Few more hours of trucking and we got close to the slabs that led into the unknown. I scrambled up the lower angle dihedral, but after 40 ft of 'hiking' had to pull several solid moves I would use a rope for. Another 20 ft of climbing 5th class slab in approach boots had me fairly terrified and reaching for my harness. Brian and I wisely changed into our climbing shoes and roped up for the next pitch. If I tried to continue 'hiking' it would mean certain death. We un-roped for another 300 ft of scrambling and roped up for five pitches above it. To no surprise, the rock was solid and the face features incredibly cool. That's what I am used to climbing on multiple Western Sierra formations. Knobs and large chicken heads reminiscent of the rock on the Tokopah Domes and the Shuteye Ridge. Even though the climbing was fun and the route was pushed to the knife-edge summit ridge, we did not know if it would be possible to summit the formation till I traversed out from the belay and reached over the low point in the bulge. I was able to grab a chicken head and heel hook another feature so I could mantel onto the final slope which led to a perfect table-top summit! By a table top, I mean a table that could cover the whole dining room - a giant FLAT summit, on top of an airy overhang!!!
Brian running it the F out.
Best rock in town! :)
Tied off chicken heads for pro, with the heaviest imaginable rack. Photo by Brian Prince
WOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!! Awesome face climbing! Photo by Brian Prince.
Chicken heads led to the final knife edge and the overhanging summit
Suddenly we were in heaven. Shoes off, getting stuffed with snacks, in comfort, far above the bushwhacking and surrounded by the magnificent views of the other High Sierra formations. Even the smoke from the near by wild fire was now appreciated and added a mystical touch to the sight no one had ever experienced. In our modern goal oriented society it is a small step away from the norm of ticking off objectives - having the chance to explore an unknown valley without move by move instructions of what is required to conquer the summit. Figuring one thing at a time without knowing if everything you do is gonna work out. The harmony of mayhem, where I find my peace. There was nothing to dwell on. At the moment I am in the right place - a place where I belong. The place where I feel alive.

Brian below the summit overhang!
Top of the formation as seen from Eagle Scout Creek Dome
Little register I left. 5.9 could be a bit of a sand-bag, there may be a need for a BIG R and the route may be a little longer than 1000 ft after the re-calculation. Who knows, most people would find the effort to tough to be worth it! :) First and last ascent - KABOOM! . :)
Place where I belong
West side sunset near our cozy camp
Philosophical discussions aside, we had to get off our lovely formation. We walked all around and found no opportunity for a natural anchor, no bolted ones either. We were definitely the first ones to reach the top! After drilling a bolt for an anchor, first and last of the day, we rapelled to the notch. Another roped pitch of down-climbing and we were off. We hiked over to the ridge-line to stare at the granite formations in the neighboring drainage. Several hours of hell on the way back to camp and we had our dinner. The challenges of the day that passed, the bruises, the cuts, it was all overshadowed by the excitement about the near future. What do we want? What are we gonna end up with? The possibilities seemed endless, North Fork of Granite Creek it is!