Monday, July 13, 2015

Bubbs Creek Wall - The Emperor Goes Free! :)

Over the last two years I spent about thirty days in the Bubbs Creek Wall area. I hiked over two hundred and twenty miles and drove much more then I would like to admit. This was the first time that I had a real "project" - a route with approximately 2,200 feet of climbing, eight miles deep in the High Sierra. A route with sustained climbing and a few cruxes ranging from 5.10 to 5.12 on every pitch. The roller coaster begun from attempting to put up a new route ground up and transitioned into a quest to free climb it. It turned out much more sustained then I wanted, but the incredible setting and quality climbing had me hooked. Encouragement from friends mixed with a little bit of obsession kept me returning no matter if a trip resulted in major progress or doubts of the line going free. Countless hours of battle against a self-created obstacle - so pointless, yet so rewarding.
The Emperor
Luke and I on top on the day we completed the First Ascent (2014) to the top of the wall. This guy has been encouraging me to push myself and believe that I can do things that are semi-delusional. Turned out lying to yourself could work quite well! Blank looking walls have holds and it is possible to gain results from hard work. Mr. Energizer - Luke Stefurak my hat is off and the only regret I have is not climbing the FFA together. Wish I could do it with every person that has helped me in this quest. First team free with the direct finish and every harder variation is a possibility for the future though! I don't think my light version of the Emperor would be enough for you anyway, you are too strong to be challenged by it!
Brian Knowles following the traverse on pitch 9 (2014) - "It is too blank to free climb!" We climbed five pitches (6--10th) in two days of hard work. Sent completely free 1/5 during those days. Two seemed impossible and one seemed like a hard 5.12.
Cristiano Pereira and I on top after climbing Ronin - Samurai Warrior. We climbed on The Emperor and the Sensei during the 5 days we spent at Charlotte Creek camp that week.
Caitlin Taylor following the traverse on pitch nine. We started and finished the route together. Watching her gain skills, maturing and growing as a climber is quite awesome. Even more awesome then me climbing this piece of rock. She went from single pitch sport, to doing 1,000 ft first ascents with me last year. In 2015 she helped me to free the Emperor. Even though I am sure she has gained many positive memories, learned a lot and seen even more, I still feel like I owe her a giant THANKS for helping me in my at times selfish plans. 
Pavel Burov enjoying the day on the wall. Similar story to the weekend with Brian. Full day on the wall and two new pitches. We knew one would go free. On my second attempt to top rope it I fell ONLY two times! :)
Don't know why I could not find photos of Daniel Jeffcoach on the wall but he was a vital part of the early stages of the FA. He is a very encouraging friend, a mentor who taught me to drill and invited me on our first real backcountry FA - The Siege on the Fortress in Castle Rocks. Can't say enough good about this guy, he is awesome to talk and to climb with!  
ENTERTAINING STORY: when I was climbing with THE Jim Donini in CO, I took an earlier flight back to CA. I arrived at 8pm. Why? Because I got in my car and drove straight to Kings Canyon.  I got to the trailhead after 1 am, woke up at 6 am, hiked in the 8 miles to the base of the wall so I could rope solo on my fixed lines. I worked out sequences, added a few bolts and cleaned a few cracks. That day I found a new variation to pitch four, which later allowed it to go free. It was a tiny step to free climbing the 17 pitch route, that was not even complete to the top at that point. Even though hiking out, driving home and having to be at work the next day f***ing sucked, I was damn happy with my decision to spent the day on the wall. Now that I think about it, I can't believe I was so driven and hooked on this thing...
When Alaina Robertson and I went up the route a week prior the free ascent, she encouraged me to work out the moves on the 9th pitch till I got them to work. It was too blank and I never got anything to work there no matter how hard I tried during the previous outings. Only Luke made those moves go while following the pitch in 2014. "I will belay you till you get them," she said, "this does not look as bad as the stuff you have climbed lower on the route." I don't know if I trusted that it was easier or was tired of flailing, but I figured the moves and sent the pitch from the belay that day. Turned out it was the last big hurdle and the 14th pitch was not as blank as I remembered it. Thank you for your patience Alaina!
Richard Shore leading the 11b variation to pitch eight. First day on the route in 2015. An ass whooping for me. Hopefully Richard liked climbing the first twelve. Even though we did the Nose in a day together and have climbed in Patagonia, we decided bailing after the first twelve would be much more fun then continue to the summit in the dark. Happy about decision and chomping on instant mashed potatoes back in camp. 
 This journey, significance of which I can't articulate with words, was a giant test to my patience. A mixed bag of challenges, emotions and little memories I won't forget. It was about the joy of hiking up a beautiful canyon and challenges of bringing up the big loads of gear. Finding the next stance to drill and taking a 40 ft fall when my foot slipped from the stance. The fun of figuring out that a particular move will go free with a subtle shift of my body and core tension. Twisting ankles on the approach. Watching the hammer bounce to the base after Daniel dropped it as he tried to drill the first bolt from a heinous stance. Taking over four hours to lead a single pitch. Solving mystery of route finding and rehearsing the moves on top rope. Watching the beautiful sunsets and drinking instant coffee to jump start our day at five in the morning. Connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts and lonely rope soloing up fixed ropes. There was some of everything - surprises, happiness, fear, embarrassment, sleepless nights, frustrations, injuries and many learned lessons. It was about taking it all in and feeling alive. In the end, this experience is an opportunity to admit that there is a lot to be proud and embarrassed about when you pick a real challenge. Personal journey I had a pleasure to share with multiple people whose presence and help is much appreciated and never will be forgotten. In particular, my friend Caitlin was there for the first day I started up the route. Neither of us thought the first pitch was easier then 5.12 crimps, by the end of the season she went out with me and I free climbed the first eight pitches. After several months off, I went out to the wall on four consecutive weekends and figured out a way to free climb the 9th pitch. On the last of these Caitlin volunteered to support me in my attempt to free the line. It was quite impressive to see someone gain so much competence in under a year. Going from single pitch sport climbing to being able to follow a route no shorter then the Regular NW. Face of Half Dome. 
Bubbs Creek is an awesome spot
Charlotte Dome and Bubbs Creek Wall 
Mama bear
Pitch five is a pretty cool layback. Not too long, but pumpy, fun and has a deadpoint move to a giant chicken head in the end :)
The day produced a bag of surprises. After figuring out a way to free the 9th pitch a week earlier I fell trying it again. I fell again and again. After almost sticking the move, I fell again, and again. I was getting frustrated. Over a 1,000 ft off the ground my patience was on the edge. For me, the move involves no hard crimping and is all about balance, so getting pissed was not gonna help my cause. I lowered to the belay again, tried a slightly different sequence and moved on to much better holds. Part of me was psyched, but there was another tricky 5.10+/5.11- crux in the end of the pitch that could have been a heartbreaking to blow. I took my time and passed on to the belay. From there it did not get easier. The next pitch had a difficult move that took me two tries to send. Pitch after that was much easier, but quite exciting because 140 feet of climbing are protected by a total of five bolts, one of which is right above the belay. After the eleventh I took in some of the last food I brought and tried to regain the momentum. The previous week had several thunderstorms which resulted in significant seeping on pitches twelve through fourteen. At first I did not think it would be doable to free them, but they turned out to be dry enough to continue trying. After barely sticking the 5.11 mantel on pitch twelve, getting scared as hell climbing a moist groove with no good holds and a little plant crimp breaking - which would result in at least a 35 footer - I stuck the tricky layback on the thirteenth.

Hiking in - not the best weather
One of the days on the route in 2014
Caitlin on the Groove
I want to go to sleep, can we please be done with the hard climbing?!

Heavenly views from the route

Time of the day was running out and I still had to add two bolts, one on the thirteenth and one on the fourteenth. Fourteenth was the big question mark in my head. A year prior I made a few rivet holes and aided it on hooks. On the first ascent, in the end of the day it seemed too blank to free climb. Even though Luke said he free climbed it while following, that was no guarantee that the pitch would go for me, Luke is a much stronger climber. But to my surprise after placing the bolt and trying the moves they did not seem that tricky. I lowered back down and sent the pitch as the sun went below the horizon. I could not believe that the madness we started a year prior was almost complete. Before Caitlin got to the belay a few tears of joy came down my face. We climbed the remaining five hundred feet of easier terrain in the dark and she even shared a few bars with me on the summit. The day was a good finish to one of my battles on the Bubbs Creek Wall. I like the climb so much that I will make sure to climb it again. Maybe find a direct finish to the upper pitches? Maybe improve my skills and sent the harder variation to pitch - I took the 5.11B variation on the day of the free ascent. Linking up different routes in a day? Climbing the Beckey? Sky is the limit, but I will make sure to take advantage of a small break from this wall! 
Fun climbing on pitch 10 - the double dike. Brian Knowles stemming and pinching. 
After I finally sent the 9th pitch, week prior to the attempt to free the whole route.
PITCH 14 GOES! So does the Emperor! YAY! 500 feet of climbing in the dark later we are on the summit!
Topo - I will make a MP page soon and will post one with better quality. In the mean time, anyone can ask me for one and I will be glad to sent you a pdf.

To conclude the report, I would like to mention that this experience, even though very satisfying as a personal accomplishment, will not be as pleasing if other people will find the route to be shit. I did my best to clean the loose rock, equip the belays with good hardware and even placed rap rings for most of the pitches, all the way to the 13th pitch. It is possible to rap most of the route with two 60 M ropes, or even with a single 60 if you are ok with leaving several carabiners and rapping off single bolts. Pitches that were onsighted on lead are left with the same number of bolts as were placed on the FA, but those that I rehearsed on top rope after aiding, I made sure to equip with a safe number of bolts to suit a climber trying to onsight the pitch. It is not a scary route, but could be quite exciting in spots, which should not scare anyone off - guy that constantly falls off v4 boulder problems in the gym could do it! The ratings are my best guess. I did my best to honestly rate the pitches and asked my partners who have climbed them to give their honest opinion so there is some sort of a consensus. I will make sure to update the topo if I have more feedback. The ratings can be adjusted if people feel something in particular is easier or harder. I think the quality of climbing on the Bubbs Creek Wall is worth a trip, especially now that there are THREE FREE ROUTES WITHIN 300 feet of each other. Ronin - The Samurai Warrior, The Emperor and The Sensei are all grade V 5.12 or 5.11 A0. All are in a spectacular location and could be linked with possibly the best 5.8 in the Sierra Nevada, the South Face of Charlotte Dome. As many of you know, I get out to the mountains quite often, and would not stick around one place if it sucked. So get out there, have your own adventure and please share the experience. I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Unicorn Peak - Direct North Face (5.8 A3..or 5.9+ish)

Cathedral Peak seemed like a great objective for my 'opportunistic climber' friend Julia. The SouthEast Buttress is a sweet 5.6 with incredible views of Toulomne Meadows. A bit crowded, but how bad could it be on a Sunday with a 40% chance of thunderstorms? We can leave early and be done by the worst case it will be a scenic hike to Cathedral Lake. At least, that's what I told her...
With backcountry first ascents, onsight of the Evolution Traverse car to car, climbs of multiple 6,000+ M peaks and other things worthy of spraying under my belt, I did not expect the Cathedral Peak to be a difficult objective. Especially after I have free soloed it, along with Tenaya and Matthes Crest last year. Hell, I have hiked the Budd Creek trail at least five times over the years. 
North Buttress of Unicorn. Route we climbed goes directly up the center.

A bunch of bushwhacking in Toulumne? Seriously? Well at least the views are nice!
Purdy flowers
After getting up at 5am we started up the trail. It did not seem much different then usual, but after about 20 minutes of walking I saw a campground.  There were cars parked near the trail and people walking around with their coffee mugs. I was confused to what the hell happened, but my free GPS app suggested we hiked down to the visitor's center! I was totally confused. For an ego driven male with a liter of coffee in the system, defeat is not an option, neither is common sense. Instead of hiking back up the road and taking the right trail, I decided to cut cross country till we were back in the right drainage. We gained elevation. We bushwhacked. I was still confused to what happened, and I still felt lost because the trees did not allow me to see the surrounding peaks so I could identify our location. Some more walking brought us face to face with a beautiful looking buttress. Was it Cathedral? It did not look like it, probably because it was not. The Unicorn peak was directly above us with Cathedral still a ways to the west. 

A day earlier with Bear Creek Spire in the background.
Julia on top of the Unicorn
Cockscomb, Matthes Crest and Echo Ridge
Can't see Cathedral Peak from Cathedral Peak. Our proj for the summer! :)
The buttress looked large and worthy so I proposed we do some adventure climbing. Julia said it was up to me, and I got fairly excited to climb something I know nothing about. As we hiked further to the base the views opened up and we hiked through a beautiful meadow with a clear stream running down it. We got to the base and I racked up. Since we planned for Cathedral, I brought a spartan rack of singles to a #2 camalot. Taking a direct line up the buttress we made our way up. I had fun. Placing a single cam on the first 60 M pitch and four on the second, I also had a benefit of finding an old pin. The weather was getting a little iffy and Julia realized it was not 5.6. : ( For the last cruxy pitch I took majority of weight and wore one of the packs to make her life easier. It was a 5.9+ish vertical crack with not much cheater holds. 
When we did top out on the summit, the views made up for the suffer my friend had to go through to get there. Well, at least I hope they did! 
On the descent 
More pretty flowers
Bouldering up some sick crack!
Sent the proj brah!
More views
The descent through slot canyons was adventurous and enjoyable. When we got home I was curious to see what route we have climbed and the Secor guidebook suggests it was the Direct North Face (II 5.8 A3). I was not able to find any info about repeat ascents but thought the climbing was no harder then about 5.9+ish. Those looking for something off the beaten path will be rewarded with no lines at the base and some original views of the surrounding peaks.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ericsson Crag # 3 - (First Ascent of) Turn Down For What (1,400 ft - IV 5.10)

When I saw the comments section under Mark's Charlotte Dome trip report, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "Mamma Mia! The sunlit arête splitting the Ericsson Crag #3 looks incredible! Too bad all these people on the internet are talking about it being unclimbed....Damn! It won't be unclimbed for long!"  :(

Mark's TR, see the comments section below:

I asked Mark and his partner Scott to see a bunch of other photos and kept salivating studying different features of the arête. It was steep, there was an obvious spire on it and a clean headwall two thirds of the way up. The line is bad ass! Unfortunately, last year I found a 2,200 ft project on the Bubbs Creek Wall. It took all my energy and I simply did not have the time to make it out to Ericsson Crags. Fortunately for me, a week prior to this trip, I was able to free climb that beast. Now that I am liberated....WATCH YO LINE BROSEF!
Ericsson Crag #3 - a proud peak! Our route ended up being approx. 1,400 ft. IV 5.10 - Turn Down For What Arête! :)
Ericsson Crag # 3 with Mt. Ericsson behind it. Route we climbed is the obvious sunlit beauty! I am a sucker for an awesome line! (Photo by Scott Berry)

Damn, that's the beautiful Sphinx! Guess who put up a long route on it last year?!
Maxim checking out Mt. Bago and all of the buttresses that may include the mysterious Tower of Delphina. :) 
 Fortunately we live in CA where 99.5% of climbers do not know of life outside of a guide book, 0.1% focus on first ascents in Sonora/SoYo, 0.1% consider a walk to Pine Creek to be an approach, 0.1% are injured/old/on supertopo, 0.1% work too many hours and other 0.05% had a second baby. 16+ mile approach from the trailhead kept the people away and the classic line on the peak has a whopping three ascents, ever! The peak had less than 10 ascents since the new register was placed in 1991! To be honest, the people are MISSING OUT! This was one of the most scenic approaches I have done. A great trail for 90% of the way with straight forward cross country route finding - no bush whacking bullshit. In his 100 Favorite North American Climbs book Fred Beckey describes Vinland, a line he and Alan Bartlette climbed on the North Face as "one of my finest in the Sierra." That is quite a statement coming from the man who everything! The rock is a lot better than the photos I have seen would suggest.
Charlotte Dome from the approach to Ericsson Crag #3 
Bubbs Creek Wall as seen from the other side of the valley. Guess who freed his line on it a week ago?! More on that later! :)))) Kings Canyon IS #DABOMBDOTCOM!!!!! #theemperor #bubbscreekwallproj
Flowers in the soft morning light
Once the sun came out, we saw an alligator on the approach. We did not eat it.
The East Lake
When I saw the central buttress of Mt. Brewer I GOT MEGA PSYCHED to do a new route up it. But found out Dave Nettle did a route up the middle. #stink-eye #iamsuperjealous  
As we approached the route we stumbled upon THE CLEANEST lakes I have seen in the High Sierra.
Max and I (photo cred: the big boulder)
My good friend Maxim and I started early on Friday. From Road's End Ranger Station up Bubbs Creek, to Charlotte Creek Camp. We dropped off our stuff and climbed the first 8 pitches of my new route the Emperor which is another mile up the trail, on the Bubbs Creek Wall (TR coming SOON to the hood near you!). The Emperor is stacked with quality free climbing and guaranteed quality pitches even if we don't find anything on Ericcson Crag #3.
Ericsson Crag # 3 as seen from another peak. Our route takes the prominent sunlit arete that joins the right ridge almost directly below the summit. Vinland/Brujo Dihedrak take the right side of the sunlit buttress to the right and traverse into that buttress about half way up the North Face. (Photo by Scott Berry)
TURN DOWN FOR WHAT (IV 5.10) - left skyline. Lil John Spire and the Crunk Juice Headwall in the profile! :)

Our route takes a GREAT LINE! Up the headwall to the sun-shade line all the way to the headwall, which is climbed on the left and topped out in the center.

The Lil John Spire is climbed up an overhanging hand crack on it's right side, summit, downclimb and go up the right arete above it to belay under the Crunk Juice Headwall. You can see the hand crack at the top of the headwall, it is NICE!!! #ILIKEEEEE
As I mentioned in my Castle Rock Spire trip report, Maxim is some sort of a hybrid between a human and a honey badger that doesn't give a shit, or at least it seems that way. After eight hard pitches and nine miles of hiking on Friday, he did not really give a damn about hiking another 20+ miles (my pedometer said 26.5 miles in the end of the day), climbing a new route and finding a way off from a peak we know pretty much nothing about. Why worry about something you don't know much about. While approaching the beast, at first sight I told him that it is the one. Maxim looked up and asked, "Oh Mt. Ericsson?" Pretty close this time! He is also a master of belaying leaders with one hand and an ATC. It is very helpful when you want to pick your nose as the leader is cruxing. Anyway, advanced techniques like this should be kept a secret.
Me on pitch one. Climb up and into the bulging handcrack splitter above, pull the crux and go over the roof to the right on some sick crimps!
Cool juggy orange rock on the 2nd pitch. I went over to the right and climbed directly over that roof on the right skyline.
Above the roof - awesome face holds and good pro.
Start to pitch 3 - climb over to a traversing giant dike and walk to the crest of the ridge where a juicy hand crack is waiting. Did I mention this route has a LOT of handcracks?
On the other hand, I needed much help from my morning coffee and an mp3 player to get my ass to the base of that wall. The raging mosquitoes kept the pace up as we hiked past the East Lake. As I mentioned above, the scenery was drop dead gorgeous. I love being out there in the backcountry and appreciate ALL the views, but this spot was especially pretty. Views of North Guard, Brewer, South Guard, Table Mountain, Midway, Genevra, other craggy peaks, Lake Reflection, streams, clear as a tear drop alpine lakes, flowers and meadows. Yeah, no wonder Beckey did not mind to hike there twice!
I bet those buttress are unclimbed! Go get em!
Lil John Spire and the Crunk Juice Headwall! TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!!!
And more! #likesuperexposedbrah
First thing you notice as you approach Ericsson Crags is that it looks steep and intimidating, so I turned up the volume - TURN DOWN FOR WHAT! There was a lot of Slipknot and Metallica but their songs do not bear many exciting titles that I wanted to associate with this climb. The thing was simply ongoing fun that kept my attention all the way up, but never got too desperate. I found a sweet direct start below the arête proper -  exciting moves to a steep hand crack which felt like a 5.10c due to a flaring, but very well protected crux. A bit of a traverse right with a move over a bulge got me over the gnar and onto easier terrain where I built a belay on a great ledge, with a rock to sit on. Beautiful.

Climbing, aesthetics of the line, rock quality and scenery aside, what makes a climb great, for me, are good belay ledges. This one has plenty. Pitch two traversed right and up to a roof which is directly on the arete. It looks unlikely, but there are awesome orange hand holds that allow you to pull the roof with not much trouble. I could have gone further left, but pulling a roof on the arête, seemed damn fun at the moment. I tried to keep to the arête as much as possible and found a lot of hand cracks and lots of great rock all the way up the route. A lot of great rock for an alpine ridge that has never been climbed that is. If you are thinking of getting on it, don't expect to find Positive Vibrations, it is more of a Fishhook Arête type of an outing! Lots of cruiser ridge climbing with plenty of well protected 5.7-9 cruxy sections. One can decrease the difficulties by dropping off the crest, but why, you hike a long time in to climb right?! :) TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!
There were a bunch of Polemoniums along the way.

Me on top of the Lil John Spire :) #YEEEEAAAAHH
Charlotte Dome and top of the Bubbs Creek Wall. Looks small from here!

Maxim climbing on the Arête

Some awesome exposure on the arete :) Homestretch

Two thirds up the route we finally hit the white granite spire which extends out of the mountain like a giant...fang. I did not want to drop down from the ridge to bypass it, and was psyched to find a few moves of overhanging hand jamming on the right side, which took me directly to the notch between it and the wall made up of featured red rock of lesser quality. Before moving on, I summited the spire and dubbed it Lil John - YEEEEAAAAAAHHHH!! Turn Down For What!!!! Remainder of the pitch got me to the base of a clean and steep headwall which seemed troublesome from the bottom, but there also was an obvious splitter at the top. After some looking around I found a  way to climb it starting on the left side in a fist crack which took me to the left side of the formation. After about 30 ft of climbing on the left side I was able to step back and transition to the middle of the thing. The beauty of climbing awesome in-cut black knobs on a steep headwall, in the middle of a First Ascent is hard to describe, but it was basically AWESOME! These positive holds and intermittent cracks allowed me to place good pro and took me to the final splitter, which was a cherry on top. Kaboom! Intimidating but not even a 5.10! TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!

Lil John Spire below me!
Max climbing on an AWESOME arete
Me climbing the top of the headwall.
Maxim on the Crunk Juice headwall with our route directly below.

Some Beckey dude was here too. I think I saw his signature on top of the Castle Rock Spire 
Maxim on the summit with Mt. Ericsson 

Houston we got the Summit! #monkeysaresendin #megastoked
The area is stunning...
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS! #stayclimbingatthehulkbrah
Maxim can walk on water! I had much more trouble! #myshoesgotwet
Bonus story: as we are hiking out on Sunday, I ask Maxim if he wants to check out the Boyden Cave on the way out. He asked me how far away is it, so I told him it is a few miles down the road but there is a 10 mile hike to get to it. His reply was "Oh," with not even a "maybe not a good idea after hiking 40+ miles in the last three days. Yeah, the guy is not from this planet. TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!
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Bonus shots from the Boyden Cave!

Happy birthday to me! I don't have to wait for October this year! :)
Hope everyone is having a great summer so far! Stay safe, hang out with good friends and get some good climbs in!