Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Summer Highlights & FA of The Emperor (V 5.11+ A1)


Reflecting on a seven week trip to Peru, slowly but surely helped me shift towards rock climbing. Narrow escapes and multiple recent deaths remind me that the choice was not a bad one. I do not know many dudes that want to die, but having a mother with multiple health disorders, a grandmother battling dementia, I simply cannot afford to! If humans have souls or spirits, mine would suffer through true hell knowing I left my family to satisfy my desires. For someone passionate about climbing, the difficulty of mountaineering routes on my hit list was rising, so was the objective danger - it would be a game of Russian Roulette if I wanted to continue growing, and at this point in my life I will not play. To my surprise, I quickly realized rock climbing is a lot of fun! It has own risks, and freak accidents do happen, but most of the time the climber gets to decide the difficulty of the route and acceptable risk that comes with it. Amazing thing about the Sierra Nevada is that it offers a lot of rock climbing and exploration on large mountains, with little objective danger. The weather is stable and the season is long. The dreams of soloing new routes on 8000 M peaks are inspiring but on hold, at least till I reach mid-life crisis. In any case, I had a super fun summer in my home range.
Bubbs Creek Wall - The Emperor (FA) V 5.11+ A1
Caitlin and I climbed a new 1100 ft route that went up the SE arete of Castle Dome. The right skyline of the most prominent peak. Great line.

FFA of Brutus of Wyde Memorial route V 5.11a (goes up the middle) and FA/FFA of Parasitic Nematode IV 5.10+ (crack/corner system right of the center) took place on this 1000 ft wall
New 1800 ft route on the Sphinx Daniel and I climbed
Friends and I climbed multiple new lines on Tokopah Dome and Santa Cruz Dome
When I was into mountaineering finding a big goal to train for was easy, there were simply too many inspiring mountains that grabbed my attention. As I did more rock climbing there were not that many single or multi-pitch climbs that got me as motivated to make big changes. Some of my friends have big goals that they aspire to achieve one day – free climbing Half Dome, putting up a new route on one of the striking walls in Yosemite, doing a first free ascent of a particular aid route, sending their first 5.12, 5.13, 5.14 and so on.Things that would take a long time and lot of dedication. In late 2010,  a day after top roping one of my first climbs at Donner Summit, or anywhere for that matter, I watched Tommy Caldwell’s presentation about his Dawn Wall Project – an attempt to free-climb one of the big aid lines on El Capitan. If done free, it will be the most sustained big wall free climb in the world. Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgensen and a few other top notch rock climbers are still working on this project, 4 years after I saw his presentation. All these guys had long term girlfriends, in case of Tommy and Kevin I would say it was a full on marriage, me on the other hand – all I had was quick hook ups – Astroman, Rostrum, Sunspot Dihedral, SW Face of Conness, Dark Star, The Rainbow Wall, Positive Vibrations and the list goes on. Hit it and quit it. In some cases, I would, do the climb again, but was I crazy in love? Did thinking of them give me a sensation of butterflies in my stomach? Not really. My friend Luke suggested I find a route on the Hulk that would involve projecting and make it a long term goal. Even though Tradewinds (IV 5.11c) gave me a good spanking, it wasn't something I was gonna put on a pedestal.
New two pitch variation - splitter through a roof. Thin to wide hand jams through a slightly overhanging headwall (5.11a). The FFA of Brutus of Wyde Memorial Route
Feeling happy after completing the FFA of Brutus of Wyde Memorial Route. I spent several years trying to find this wall and another 8 month gathering courage to attempt the climb.
Bubbs Creek - home of the giant snake and a fat bear

Mama bear says "stay the f*** away from here!"
Sweet crimping on a wild dike - Cris following 2nd pitch on What's Up Bubb (Bubbs Creek Wall)
The up and right leaning dihedral is an 5.11c layback which leads up towars the main dihedral system, which turns into a corner capped by the roof in a form of a scythe. Prior to the 5.11c layback pitch one has to do a four pitches - 5.11 b/c, 5.11a, 5.11c/d and a 5.11c. Above the "Scythe From Hell" is a cool 11a pitch (Railroad Dikes) followed by a super fun 10a (11th).
Caitlin following the first pitch of the Emperor - most of the pitch follows a fun dike. On that day neither of us thought it was easier than 5.12a. I redpointed it at 5.11b/c. It is nice to ignore what seems to be impossible at first and work hard to make it doable, even if it is barely doable in the end.
Me about to redpoint the 2nd pitch.
I would be pleased to complete the Nose in less than 24 hours and sending every pitch on Astroman does sound like a lot of fun, but these goals became secondary - not because I consider them lame, simply because I believe they are very achievable. Making significant changes for achievable goals never worked for me. Recently I switched my focus to exploration. Usually going for lines that have not been done at all or have not been free climbed. In some cases, like on Castle Rock Spire it led me to an epic 'failure' - 18 miles of mostly cross country travel, close call with a boulder nearly missing my head as I down-climbed 4th class and all that to complete two out of five pitches. But failing on an objective that was to me oh so precious seemed like a sweet success. Standing across from the Spire, I watched the last rays of sun illuminate the knifeblade summit. Having an opportunity to enjoy such a magical moment made me appreciate every step I took to get there. If health and time allows me to return, I will be back for another round. Maybe I will find the illusive “success,” maybe I will be humbled over and over, but above all I appreciate the journey - “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”
Cris leading pitch 7 on What's Up Bubb - 5.12a. It is really wild that it goes free.
What's up Bubb? -The rain is about to hit, we better undo the cluster fk and bail ASAP!
How can you not get a little obsessed with a wall like that?
No junk will be found on this wall.
On the other hand this is the original Fred Beckey bolt. Gangsta! Who wants to clip it?
Exploring new lines on peaks deep in back-country rarely make someone train to become a 5.12 climber, right? At least I didn't think so. Having read about Bubbs Creek Wall from multiple internet threads, I wanted to see it for myself. After a friend bailed on a proposed trip to explore it, Caitlin and Daniel quickly agreed to give it a shot. Both the East and the West side of the wall have large open space that could take a route or two. Daniel and I thought of giving the left side a go, but when I got to the base with Caitlin, I was not inspired. Even though I saw obvious crack systems, they seemed overgrown with vegetation. The corners and roofs resembled hanging gardens, not a classic rock climb. After putting up a number of routes earlier this summer, quality seemed to matter more than the quantity or success. Looking at the old photo of the wall I saw four lines. Two left of the center and two to the right. Thoughts of a line splitting them down the middle crossed my mind, but chances of that seemed slim to none. This wall has routes put up by Dave Nettle, Richard Leversee, Peter Croft, Fred Beckey, EC Joe and Brandon Thau - a true all-star team of backcountry first ascent smashers. It is mind-boggling how many quality lines these men have put up, and I was 99.9% sure they wouldn't let anything half-decent stay untouched.
Pitch 10 (Railroad Dikes) on The Emperor
Pitch 9 - The Emperor. Previous pitch has an incredible crack in the corner, as one of the two possible variations.

Cool features on The Emperor
If there was no Super Burrito in the end of the tunnel, life would be pointless.

Since I walked nine miles to get to the base of the wall, I thought it wouldn't hurt to check a little further. First thing I noticed after walking bellow The Samurai Warrior - one of the few established routes on the main face of the formation, was a beautiful dike leading into the void. Further up I saw another dike, to my surprise there were a few crack systems to supplement it. The climbing looked challenging. After aiding a few spots and whipping a few times by the end of the day I finished the pitch. Blankness of the wall above did not give me much hope this line would continue, but after looking around for a while I saw the first stance for drilling. We ended up returning the next day, and weekend later I returned with another partner and fixed my lines. The process was repeated over and over. Every trip drained me mentally, physically and emotionally.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Lao Tzu
On one of the "rest days" I jugged a thousand feet of fixed lines to add a few bolts and hiked over to the other side of the canyon to check out other possible lines and to enjoy this view. I spent over two hours sitting on my ass and looking at granite. Sounds a bit lame, but it was a great day.
Pitch 9, looking the other way (The Emperor)
Each pitch seemed highly improbable, but simply being on such a beautiful wall yielded great satisfaction. After four days of work I had five pitches done. I was able to redpoint one of the four pitches, but the other required direct aid even on top rope. With such a grim beginning I could have lost psyche, I could have abandoned this madness, but instead, I couldn't keep it off my mind. When I was at work, I would stare at photos of the wall and ponder about overhanging corners above. Is it possible to get to them? Would the giant roof allow a free passage? When I was at home, I had trouble falling asleep because I was not sure if the moves on the pitches I did would go free - my desire was to find a beautiful free climb, not an aid line.
Jim Donini and I after climbing some fun route at the Black Canyon.
Pro in Black Canyon was supposed to be sketchy. It was usually not too bad. :)
Pavel enjoying the exposure on the The Emperor

Looking down at 5.11c pitch 5 (5.11c enduro layback/stem corner)
Another photo of Brian on the Railroad Dike (pitch 10) - Dikes on Bubbs Creek wall are quite fun to climb on...or between :)
When I went to Colorado to climb with Jim Donini for 5 days, I could not wait till I return to Bubbs. We had fun climbing at Black Canyon and he told me many stories about incredible first ascents he had done around the world. Likely the only thing he learned about me is that I like to climb and have a project in California. I was so eager to return, I payed 75$ extra to take an earlier flight. It allowed me to arrive in the Bay Area in reasonable hour to make it out to Bubbs. By reasonable, I mean I got in my car at 8pm, drove to Kings Canyon for five hours, woke up by 6am the next morning and did a 18 mile day-hike so I could rope solo on my fixed ropes. I rehearsed moves on some of the pitches and added a few more bolts. The trip to Colorado was supposed to be the highlight of my summer. I find it kind of funny, but sad at the same time, the highlight of my trip was spending a day in the place that took over my mind. During that outing I realized most of the sections I worried about were most likely free-able. But with A LOT of falls on that day!
Luke should be sponsored by Redbull. Does the guy ever get tired? Have not seen it!.
Me leading the 11th pitch on the FA of The Emperor. Another fun pitch that climbs two different dikes

Pavel following pitch 4 on The Emperor (a sustained 5.11c? pitch). It starts with a deadpoint move to a shitty crimp, goes through a very insecure slabby traverse, continues up through more improbable sloping holds and finishes with a few fun moves far above the last bolt. For a pitch no longer than 90 feet it packs a lot!
Starting pitch 6 on the FA of The Emperor (this pitch had some fun climbing on the arete)
Next two days I had to work and I was back again. Four more pitches in three days. Pathetic? Maybe. Excitement-destroying? HELL NO. I was as excited as ever. The climb was shaping up to be a beauty, with several pitches of crack climbing and several pitches of quality face climbing. I aided quite a bit and drilled a hole through a blank section. This section seemed unlikely to go free, but I had hope If not I, someone else could do it. Three days at work, and I was back again for four. This time we noticed a way to pass the blank section a few feet to the side. I found a way over a roof that looked intimidating from the belay and onsighted my first pitch of the climb – the eleventh. It was the easiest climbing I encountered since starting at the bottom, possibly no harder than 5.10a. Next day the leader cleaned and aided, while the second climbed free. There were a few more difficult sections and spots that will require addition of bolts for leading, but in the early evening Luke and I stood on the summit. During the weeks that led up to it, I wondered how would I feel if the route topped out. Honestly, I thought I would cry of happiness. I put so much time, work, thought, money and heart into this wall that my x girlfriends would be extremely jealous. Out of sixteen pitches, I led thirteen. Two of the three I didn't lead was a simul climb led by Luke since he had done the last 400 ft of the climb while finishing What's Up Bubb. This was a very different experience than pioneering a new line in a day. It felt like raising a baby, and when we did top out I didn't feel like crying. The fact that before I can send this baby out to College – finish equipping, free climb and do a bit more cleaning so the others could enjoy it too - was the truth that slapped me right in the face.
Luke is as excited as ever about leading the 13th pitch of The Emperor. Another fun pitch!
View of Charlotte Dome
TOP!!! The day we topped out The Emperor.
I have no idea how much more time, money and energy this undertaking will require. I don't know how many partners will be excited to help me work out the hard moves, red-point pitches or add bolts. I have no clue if this climb will ever go completely free, for me. What I do know is that I have never been as excited about working on one climb and that I put a lot of work to make sure other people will enjoy it too. I know I never been as happy to look across the valley and watch a thousand foot waterfall flowing or a peregrine floating below me as I try to get rid of the pump in my forearms. I know that my life is usually not boring, but it is hard for me to come up with a single segment of it when I felt as excited about living. I know if health will allow, I will be back there putting in many more hours to make The Emperor go free. I know I will cry if I can do it, but for now it is time to enjoy the journey and thank my partners, god and Bubbs Creek spirits for helping me get this far! During the last several months I spent about 25 days working on The Emperor and climbed Samurai Warrior – Ronin (V 5.11 A0 or 5.12), possibly did the 2nd ascent of Aquaman (IV 5.10+) and climbed first seven pitches of What’s Up Bubb (recently free climbed by Luke Stefurak and Casey Zak at IV 5.12a). To finish my season I succeeded at free climbing the first 8 pitches car to car – 5.11b/c, 5.11a, 5.11d, 5.11c, 5.11c, 5.11a, 5.11a and a 5.11b. Few moves on pitch nine are still A0, but Luke was able to follow it clean, so I know it CAN go. I redpointed pitch ten at 5.11a, the eleventh is a 5.10a, pitch twelve was followed clean and will go at a solid 5.11. Thirteenth will likely go at 5.11a. Fifteen foot section on pitch fourteen is a big question mark. Both fifteen and sixteen were free climbed on the FA. There is obviously not nearly as many questions or uncertainty left, there is no shortage of motivation to work hard during the winter and the craving to climb on rocks is peaking. I am very excited about the snow coming in, taking several months off from doing the weekly march to the base of Bubbs Creek Wall and climbing other routes. Hopefully some old classics as well as few new routes. California has no shortage of rock, no bad weather weekend, just not many climbers who are excited to explore and too many damn classic climbs to choose from!
Cristiano following a 5.11b/c face pitch on Ronin
Surprised to top-out Ronin in daylight!
What can you do after the First Ascent is complete, 13/16 pitches are climbed free, and you are sick of going up one trail every week? You can go to a climbing gym, boulder and draw pointless topos! Out of 101 bolts on the route 24 are belay anchors and 31 were added after the FA to protect free climbing/seal a few runouts. Hope those who will come to climb the route will like it and appreciate all this work I put in. I did not want it to suck.
Hope everyone had a kick ass summer! It is not time to get strong for 2015! :)



HUGE thanks to Brian Knowles, Caitlin Taylor, Cristiano Pereira, Daniel Jeffcoach, Luke Stefurak, Nate Weems and Pavel Burov for working hard, patient belays, putting in your time and listening to me yell "TAAAKKE." Even though things like drilling and route finding take a while and we didn't get to climb more than a few pitches a day (at best), I hope you guys also enjoyed this place and doing something different. Special thanks to Luke for bringing positive attitude and topping out the route with me. His friend Casey and him had quite a weekend, a few days later when they sent 'What's Up Bubb' as a free climb - 2nd free route that leads to the summit of the formation! So big congratulations to Luke!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Sphinx (9,146 ft) - Cotton Mouth Khafra (FA) 1800 ft, 5.11-

Immediately after I saw the Sphinx I wanted to climb it –  striking feature rises over 4,000 ft above the Kings Canyon and overshadows the surrounding formations. That was in October of 2011 on the approach to ascend the mega classic South Face of Charlotte Dome. With a little research, I learned of a few short technical routes that were climbed to the top of the Sphinx’s striking sub-summit. The massive Northeast portion of the peak remained ignored. Back in 2011 following a detailed topo of a multi-pitch 5.8 route seemed like an epic adventure – putting up 2,000 foot first ascents was not in the cards. The time passed and rock climbing became more addictive than I would like to admit. With the addiction came the abilities, desires and the most important – passionate partners. 
Our route takes the NE buttress and gains 1800 feet. Not bad for a day-hike FA!
The big overhanging sub summit - a cool feature!
Last water of the day!
 For me and Daniel, the summer of 2014 did not turn out as free as we would like, but that did not prevent us from making ambitious plans. Wake up early, do the approach that gains 4,000 feet, descent down an unknown canyon, climb a new route up the menacing east face and descent down to the car – at least it sounds simple! 
The day turned out to be a wild one. Looking at the East face from across, we did not spot a free-climbable weakness. Through the binoculars, we saw multiple cracks filled with vegetation and blocked with roofs. Unwilling to back down we chose to descend down the unknown canyon and look for a line that would trace the Northeast Buttress. The challenges arouse from the git-go. We expected a straightforward romp up the face that would gain approximately 700 feet and brought only a liter of water each, a bare minimum. Descending deeper down the canyon meant climbing many more pitches than we expected. In addition, the variation we took to descent and traverse to the start of the proposed route was getting into 5th class territory. 
The Sphinx as seen from Kings Canyon, on the approach.
"Looks big!"
Alpine columbines in the gully!
Massive fucker
Looking down into Kings Canyon
After surviving the approach we looked up the “weakness” that split the massive overhangs. I got the first lead and found solid 5.10 moves off the ground. The protection was tricky and a ground fall from 30 ft was an option I managed to avoid. The climbing however was surprisingly fun. After I climbed partway up a an easy hand-crack in a corner I reached a left leaning fingercrack and built an uncomfortable belay. Daniel went up the next pitch and pulled a ballsy lay-back with an insecure mantel and minimal pro. 

Bubbs Creek - I thought of this water a lot through the last 2/3rds of the climb!
 
Looking up at the start of pitch 1. Looks "fun" (Picture by Daniel)
The fun of pitch 1! (Picture by Daniel)
Good rock, fun climbing - pitch 2 (Picture by Daniel)

He protected the next section of face climbing by hammering a knifeblade in a seam. While following I was impressed with his effort. The belay anchor was from gear I would not trust my backpack to and a bolt he hammered from a terrible stance. I had to follow up his impressive lead by more ballsy climbing. Clean face climbing on tiny edges took me to a flake where I finally placed a first solid piece, 25 feet or so up from the belay. With solid pro I pulled over the easy roof and avoided a dirty looking wide overhang by running it out right on a prominent dike. This pitch was probably not harder than 5.9 but after I built an anchor I took in a deep breath of relief.

 
Do I really want to climb that?
"Yes, I DO!"
"YWAAAHHH"
Monkeys are sendin



Next pitch was straightforward. It took us to the giant ledge one-third up the formation. Lack of water and unknown difficulties ahead led to a quick discussion about bailing. Neither of us gave it much thought before Daniel led the first pitch off the ledge. We expected the climbing here to be easy, but ran into a thought provoking move on a dirty traverse. Next pitch was mine and ended up being a true epic. 

Still having a lot of fun, but where is the pro?!
Kings Canyon, looking up Bubbs Creek

Daniel climbing up towards top of P3
Daniel and the dome across. Resting on a giant ledge, third of the way up.
When you get into clusters on classic climbs imagine how bad it could get on a first ascent. First, I went left and up. The thin crack over the roof looked hard, it likely would not accept my fingers or cams. I down-climbed to below the belay, traversed right and went over a roof. I ran it out to prevent a nasty pendulum fall for Daniel and placed my first cam. Crap! A flake in a roof prevented me from flipping the rope no matter how hard I tried. I took the cam out and down-climbed about 15 feet, 30 feet above my last gear, before I could fix the situation. Climbed back up and confronted a big overhang. I tried to do an insecure traverse right but the climbing there did not look good and I down-climbed to below a right leaning crack. My position was awkward and protection shitty. I tried to make a blind placement in the overhanging crack, but my gear pulled as soon as I gave it a good jerk. Since the crack was there I knew something would go in and tried again. My next try was successful, but I was unwilling to risk falling on gear I could not see well. After making a few moves I asked Daniel to take and placed a few more pieces before being confident to pull the next (5.11a?) moves over the overhang. The pitch would not let up. Next up was a reachy mantel that took all my height to pull. I tried to continue up a direct line and ran into more trouble. About twenty feet above a solid piece I placed a crappy cam. Climbing above did not look too hard from below and I ran it out for another 20+ feet. After I climbed into another awkward stance, I found the crack I saw from below to be flaring. The obvious belay ledge was only seven feet away. It looked like a 5.10a face move to reach the ledge, but lichen-covered rock, burning muscles, unknown difficulty and being 45 feet above solid pro did not fuel my confidence. I tried to clean the crack and place something that would stay. It seemed like the right spot for it, but the purple cam came out as easily as it went in after every yank. After at least six failures the cam stayed.
Daniel thinking about the moves ahead with a lone pin to his right
Thirsty, hungry, tired, still going!
View of the sub summit
Can you spot Bubbs Creek Wall?!

I trusted it to hold a fall as much as I would trust myself to not eat in an all-you-can eat buffet. I could have asked Daniel for a bolt kit, but with our clown hammer it would take at least 45 minutes to hand drill. My stance was not getting any better and I had to move somewhere. The climb was taking us much longer than we expected and the sun was going to set in a few hours. I rushed into trying to traverse on top of the crack and my feet slipped on lichen. Thoughts of a 100-foot whipper resulted into a death scream that scared the shit out of Daniel. To my surprise, I slid down for only 25 feet before the rope stopped me. The cam I had no business trusting held my fall. To say I was happy was an understatement. I took the obvious ramp to my right and belayed Daniel from a giant dead tree. We were happy to be safe and he took the next pitch back to the ridge crest. His pitch was difficult and fun. On the pitch that followed I pulled another 5.10 layback through an overhang and we reached easier terrain on the crest proper. We swung the lead thrice more and finished the climb with a 400ft simul climb. 
Taking in last rays of sun! Looking good!

How I really felt
Cotton Mouth Khafras!
Yellow - part of the approach
Red- Cotton Mouth Khafra (1800, IV 5.11a)
It was quite rewarding to bathe in the last rays of sun on a beautiful summit with our limbs intact. Even though neither of us had much water or had peed in several hours, we knew that an hour or so later we will satisfy our thirst. A few snacks and photo snaps later, the sun set and massive towers of North Guard got dark. It was a sign to get out.
 
If someone wants to repeat the route, you may, or may not have to cross the line between bad-ass and dumb-ass on multiple occasions. Bringing a drill would not be a bad option, and I don’t think neither of us would care if protection bolts are added. If you like climbs like Windfall-Windchill, Ho Chi Minh Trail and other long adventurous routes, you may like this one. The line it takes is classic, but it is no Serenity to Sons link up.