Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Beyond Lunacy (7 pitch 5.11c)

Unlike many I find winter to be as enjoyable as any season, especially for climbing in Yosemite Valley.  With decreased amount of daylight it is much more difficult to complete long climbs, but it gives me an opportunity to focus on shorter climbs of higher difficulty. Also it is a great time to sum up the favorite climbs of the year and pick a few goals for 2014, but more on that in the next blog.  
No matter how much I go here, I keep coming back
Cool snow flakes on Merced river
Reed's. Beyond Lunacy goes pretty much up the middle and tops out on top of the formation
So aside from going to Indian Creek, Red Rock, and flailing at Arch and Cookie cliff, I got to complete one of the newer multi-pitch climbs in the park – Beyond Lunacy (7-pitch 5.11c).
Established in 2008 as a 5.10c A1, it was climbed free in 2009 and rated as 5.11c at the crux. This climb is a continuation to Lunatic Fringe, which is already one of the most classic single pitches in the Valley. I found a few posts about several attempts at Beyond Lunacy, but none that actually completed all seven pitches. Even though no report described the whole route, all people who attempted it agreed that pitches they have done were really fun and worthy.
With an available topo and positive reviews, it was not hard to convince Tom to give this route a try. Even though it snowed only about a week prior to our attempt and morning temperatures kept us wrapped in down, by 10:30 we finished our coffee and decided to make our way up to the base. The approach was exhausting – two minutes! Since I never led Lunatic Fringe I asked Tom if I could take the first pitch, and he was more than happy to let me have it. After the first pitch we swapped leads all day and continued to the top of the formation. To my surprise we both led and followed the whole route completely free and without falls or takes.
Lunatic fringe is the obvious crack with a white streak. Pitch two goes up from pedestal up the broken up cracks above
Tom cranking on the 2nd pitch.
The monkeys don't place gear
First pitch is stellar and involves all sizes from fingers to perfect hands. The crux of second pitch involved a really thin crack and a lot of stemming. Delicate pitch of high quality. Midway up the thin section there is a little flake that was flexing, I wonder if it will stay there for long.
To start the third pitch I walked left and around an arete. Short handcrack in a corner was a little wet but after I reached the second tier it was quality dry climbing to the top. Pitch four required a committing step left off the belay and a mantle to a decent knob, before you get to clip the first bolt and exhale. Tom and I thought the crux was when the knobs disappear around the third bolt. I thought I was gonna fall on this section but some miracle kept me climbing. The roof in the middle of the pitch was really fun and not as hard as it seemed from the bottom.

Tom on pitch 3
Climbers climbing Reed's Direct
Tom on pitch 4
On pitch five I had a WTF moment. To protect the move over a roof I tied off a knob above it. After taking a long time to figure out the move over, I went for it, and in the process knocked off my "protection." I was in the middle of the not so easy crux with another knob tied 20 feet below. The sequence I figured worked good enough that I mounted the knob and was able to tie another one before clipping the "thank god" piton, there was a happy ending to this mini epic. Another roof that was less dramatic and a sea of knobs took me to the belay below the crux.

Me on pitch 5, trying to figure out how to mount a knob without any footholds above it
Tom on the crux 5.11c
Traverse to the anchor is fun
Tom led it without looking too bothered. On the other hand it took every little gram of strength and endurance to keep my half of first knuckle in a jam and a lie back to pass the left facing corner above. With a pump through the roof, the "hammock traverse" was super exciting following it with 20ft between protection pieces. I was happy the pads of dirt allowed my passage, and am sure someone in the future will not be as lucky :) Per topo the last pitch is a 5.10d/5.11a and was my last lead. I knew it was the only thing that stood between us and climbing the route all clean so I fought the temptation to forfeit my lead to Tom and did my best not to screw it up by climbing with confidence. Mounting a knob to a first stance was exciting since it is right off the belay ledge and involves climbing an overhang. Than you get to clip a bolt and do a few more insecure moves before you clip another two and come up to the final mantle.

Other crags seen from Beyond Lunacy
Campfire was also a success
I have not done the mantle on the Nutcracker, but with the last bolt way below me I worked hard not to f-up the exit. Tom followed clean and we both took in rays of sun before starting the rappell. Both of us were really excited about climbing this not yet well-known, but soon-to-be classic.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

North Face of The Rostrum (IV 5.11c)

Getting out to Yosemite is always fun, but even better when a good friend is celebrating his birthday. Hamik and I have not climbed together since Peru, but were psyched to try something difficult.

Two psyched guys + birthday climb = The Rostrum

We talked about working up to this route since the Spring. I was skeptical about getting on this Yosemite test-piece in 2013. Concentration of 5.11 pitches seemed high and just a few weeks earlier I got spanked by Don Juan Wall (5 pitch 5.11b). I did not want to fall all over this route and cause a traffic jam. However, I saw photos of other people climbing the Rostrum, got excited about trying it for myself and wanted to see if I can correct some of the things that went wrong on Don Juan. In addition, Gleb and Mark were also joining us on the route to maximize the stoke.
Me starting up the first 5.11 a crux
The Rostrum

Reed's Pinnacle
The Rostrum turned out to be as good as I expected. Pitch after pitch of steep crack climbing made me wonder how did the nature create such a perfect climb?! My personal battle was to avoid overprotecting tough sections and to commit to hard sequences once I managed to place adequate gear. After Hamik led the first pitch, I got my first test – a thin 5.11a section. It was went well and I did exactly what I planned to do. I placed a piece from a good stance, fought off fear, and climbed past the crux till it widened enough so I can get a semi-solid hand jam. It felt good. Hamik took the third pitch to the large ledge where we had lunch and discussed how thin and scary the crux pitch looked. Before jumping to pitch four, I must say the third pitch is one of the best pitches on the route. Not hard enough to spit us off, but very sustained and interesting. It has challenging sections which involve lie backing, stemming, and straight jamming. 
Hamik on pitch 3 (5.10b)
Me on 5.11c crux
Hamik on pitch 5 (5.10d very fun pitch with a powerful lay-back crux)
Hamik higher on pitch 5
Since pitch four is the crux, we used ‘rock, papers, scissors’ to decide whose lead it was. Last time we played this game was on the summit of a 6,001 meter Chacraraju, in a whiteout. We wanted to determine who will abseil from the sketchy anchor first. On the Rostrum this game was much more pleasant! Like on Chacraraju I won. Since I never led a 5.11c pitch I was a little intimidated. I can’t even ‘flash’ 5.11c in the gym! But after picking the rack (mistake #1) I started up. To my surprise I found good finger-locks, placed adequate number of cams, and ran the 5.11c fingers section to a rest stance. The rest stance is sort of active, and I couldn’t get a no-hands rest. I went into the ‘5.11b lie back’ and found it to be very different from what I imagined. It was more like a delicate face climb through a series of flakes. Here I made my second mistake – I got pumped placing a piece right before making the last few moves to the intermediate anchor. Even though I transitioned into the final crack on my left, I did not have any juice to do a thin hand jam. It was a little frustrating because after I fell and took a few minutes to rest the moves seemed trivial. Even though I did not “send” the pitch, and no longer could glorify my mountain-project tick list with “soft, flashed the 11c pitch brah,” I was proud of my attempt. By the way, my first mistake was taking all the gear to link the two mini pitches. Even though it helped us with time management, it did not help me carry less weight. Who knows, if I dropped off all the gear larger than a single BD .5 cam, maybe my ticklist would be a little more impressive!? : )
Mark is stoked!
Showing off the butt or something at 5.10c traverse (pitch 6)
Guy from Europe cruising pitch 5
He is moving through the powerful lay-back on pitch 5
Back to the climb itself, Hamik took the next pitch. Eh… just another one of those amazing cracks with a fierce 5.10d lie-back at the end. If you saw that gnarly youtube video and wondered “How the fuck am I ever gonna climb the Rostrum?!” yes, this is THE pitch. Hamik took a BIG fall going for the glory on the lie-back. If it was my lead I do not think I would have a chance in hell to get it clean. My arms were feeling like spaghetti on the final moves, but somehow I got to the final jug. With the pump through the roof it took me forever, and a small fall, to figure out the 5.10c traverse to start the sixth pitch. Not sure what my mistake was on this section, maybe I just suck at face climbing? But after figuring out the traverse I was surprised by the strenuous climbing ahead. I expected to walk the next section, but getting to 5.10a OW required work, and the OW itself was a bit burly. I expected an Indian Creek style splitter but was rewarded with hand stacking and calf jamming through a few bulges. After I thought about it, I agreed with a 5.10a for this section. If Generator Crack is 5.10c and Vendetta is 5.10b, than this has to be a 5.10a.

Hamik leading the last crux pitch (5.11b)
Campfire that night was awesome
Yosemite as usual was stunning
The Rostrum. Doing the route without falls is a big goal of mine for 2014
Pitch number seven was a bit burly and took us some time. It featured an overhanging hand crack and another mix of crack climbing to the anchors. The final thin crack seemed like the crux to me but I managed to get it clean. Since we started a bit late, took our time climbing the route, and let a party pass, the light left us earlier than we wanted it to. Pitch eight had to be climbed by headlamp. Even though this pitch is considered to be one of the easiest sections of the route, it sure did not feel trivial in the dark. Getting over the roof and into the OW was not easy! After both of us joined my friend Gleb on the summit we walked back up to our cars with moonlight illuminating the path. All of us were impressed by how good the climbing was. Even though I had two hangs, I felt happy about correcting some of my usual mistakes. One step at a time and climbs that I have on my bucket list will end up on the list of goals for next season! The weekend basically kicked ass and I had a lot of fun that night with old and new friends. On the other hand, in a semi-comical fashion, the birthday boy suffered a shiver bivy at a camp ground!  

Thursday, October 17, 2013


During the last month I did not pay much attention to my blog. Not because there is nothing to write about, but mainly because I worked increased amount of hours, tried to focus on rock climbing and trained. Thanks to my chocolate cake loving partner Hamik I gained some weight in Peru – easiest way to take responsibility off my shoulders is to blame others. And thanks to week long alpine outings I lost strength for pure rock climbing – there is always an excuse for not “sending.” Training harder and rock climbing more often helped. I feel better already, and weight 11 lbs less than I weighted in the end of August. For the first time since my addiction to the outdoors took off in 2010 I am more excited about pure rock climbing than mountaineering. My plan is to focus on rock climbing and set some ridiculous goals for 2014. If my rock climbing psyche does not die down, it will allow me to climb harder rock routes in Sierra, and hopefully give me the ability to put up own route or two. Oh, and like a true cragger I will need to buy a camping chair. :)
Me rappelling from Eichorn Pinnacle after climbing West Face Direct (photo by Chad)
Panic Pillar - glad I didn't blow it on the last moves :)
Storm clouds in Toulumne Meadows
Since I got Evolution Traverse out of the way, I was able to tick a few more climbs off my list. One of them is the legendary Steck-Salathe (IV 5.10b) in Yosemite. Expecting burly chimneys and trashing I left my camera behind. To my surprise Alix and I started the route around 10 am and survived without an epic. Actually I can’t call it “survived,” the route was enjoyable and we topped out with plenty of day-light for a safe descent. What makes this route stand out is the sustained nature of pitches. While 5.6-5.9 pitches seemed a little harder, 5.10s seemed rated appropriately. Both of us managed to climb this route without falls or hangs with Alix leading ‘The Narrows’ and me getting the ‘Wilson Overhang’ and a 5.10 flare below the narrows.
Sentinel Rock - one of the few major formations I had left to climb in the Valley. Steck Salathe was a blast!

Since I did not take any photos on the Steck Salathe, here is Alix on Book of Job- another awesome wide outing!
Me on Silk Road (IV 5.11) - YES, it is this epic!
Another climb I managed to tick off was The Panic Pillar. Even though less than a pitch in length, and rated as a 5.9, it was a tough mental exercise. Due to lack of protection, a fall from the upper ten feet of this pillar would lead to major injuries and possibly death. “Onsighting” climbs like this is not easy. These last twenty feet of climbing became much more memorable than climbing the West Pillar Direct (III 5.10b) on the Eichorn Pinnacle to start the day. It is exciting to climb on typical Toulumne knobs with a chance for decking, especially when you know that sometimes these little fuckers break off. My partner Chad said it best “Maybe it is 5.9 but no question this is a few steps above Thunderbolt summit block no matter how you shake it.” He loved the outing and took some of the best hero shots of me when I was on top of Eichorn. In addition, we witnessed a full on rescue operation, and helped one of the members of the party to get back to the trailhead. Crazy day.
The Needles.
My friend Chad on Eichorn
Chad on Matthes Crest
With 20% chance of snow showers and high winds in the forecast we decided to climb the Matthes Crest on the following day. Even though I climbed it North to South in 2011, we were chased off the summit by a storm and did not get to climb the Southern end. This time we had enough will to climb the southern section in a progressing wind storm. Even though the south section had less technical climbing, it was still very fun and plenty exposed.

During first week of National Park closure I had plans to climb the Rostrum and the Salathe wall. Since those plans were ruined at first I was a little irritated by it. However, after a four-day trip to the Needles and a three-day trip to Calaveras dome I feel blessed the closure forced me to explore other places.
Me on Matthes Crest (Photo by Chad)
Shadow of me on the Panic Pillar
Rescue helicopter after picking up a person from Eichorn
 In the Needles my partner and I got on Thin Ice (3- pitch 5.10b), Airy Interlude (3 pitch 5.10a), White Punks on Dope (6 pitch 5.9), Don Juan Wall (5 pitch 5.11b), Spooky (2 pitch 5.9) and Fancy Free (3 pitch 5.10b). All of these routes were awesome. Don Juan Wall especially - it totally kicked my ass. I onsighted a few 5.11a climbs outdoors, but on this 5.11b I was not even close. Personally, I think being humbled by the rock was a good thing. It provided me with motivation to work harder and exposed many of my weaknesses.
Pavel following an incredible 5.10b pitch on Fancy Free
Me and Pavel on top of the Voodoo Dome after we climbed one of the best 5.9s in CA - White Punks on Dope
Alix climbing on Atlantis (5.11c)
Since this blog is more of a personal record and no one reads the shit I write anyway, I will post what I need to work on here to see if I can make some adjustments for future climbs. First mistake was placing too much protection on terrain that was sustained and insecure. Even though protection is good, placing it from shitty stances is a big waste of energy, especially when there is a semi-comfortable rest stance less than a body length up. Finding the right gear would also help. On the opening moves I was unable to grab the right cam and got my left hand pumped out of my mind while fiddling with gear. Being too pumped kicked me in the ass till I clipped the anchor. Another problem was tunnel vision – I focused on the crack, while there were really good edges for feet. Next problem was strength and endurance – even though I was able to do all the moves on second pitch, I was too burned out by how sustained the climbing was. So get stronger, pay attention to all the holds, place less gear from shitty stances, and don’t get pumped! I wish climbing at my limit was as easy as talking about it. Anyways, I loved the Needles and as my partner Pavel said “it is like Phantom Spires on steroids.” Solid rock, 3 mile hike to warm up for the day, challenging climbing, and spectacular scenery. What else could a rock climber want? In addition, a few more friends came up for the weekend and we had a few more people to share the good times with.
Pavel following first pitch of Thin Ice (5.10b)
Are the Needles cool or what?
Pavel leading one of the best 5.10a pitches anywhere - Airy Interlude
Calaveras Dome was a great destination, and I am already planning to return. The trip turned out to be very enjoyable not only because the climbing was good, but because my partner was a fellow “internet wanker,” with a great sense of humor. Not only great sense of humor, but he was also a very skillful climber who gave me more than a few useful tips. Not only a skillful climber, but also an amazing cook…since Luke is married and I am straight I will start talking about climbing before this entry gets awkward and transforms into a hero-worshipping thread.

Me leading 3rd pitch of Don Juan Wall (5.11b)
Really good Mexican food on the way home
The Charlatan. Spooky (5.9) and Fancy Free (5.10b) go up this beautiful spire.
On the first day we climbed “War of the Walls.” It is a IV 5.10c and seemed like a good choice since we wanted to be fairly well rested for “Silk Road” (IV 5.11) – a very sustained climb. I was reminded that at this point I should warm up FOR 5.11, not warm up ON 5.11. I decided to take a 5.11 finger crack as a variation to start the route and got worked. At the little roof before getting into the finger crack proper I made the same mistake as on Don Juan wall – I took a crapload of time placing my first cam from a shitty stance (the pod was tricky). Even though I was able to pull myself over the little roof and into the finger crack my endurance gave up on the last few moves of it and I took a few falls on the same spot. Rest of the pitch went well, but not quick. Majority of it was a thin hand crack, with an overhang in the middle. Red and green camalots size is not my strength, so I took my time climbing rest of the pitch, which resulted in no more falls.
top of the second pitch on War of the Walls. I linked the first two.
Here Luke linked this 5.10c pitch with two more!
Luke following on 5.9R pitch
I linked the first pitch with the next 5.10c pitch and ended up on the belay station with 0 cams! Luke linked the next three pitches into a 70M epic. It started from a really cool 5.10c traverse under a roof, pulled the roof and passed through a 5.9+ corner. 5.9s on this route were not freebies. My next 5.9 pitch was a sustained corner with delicate climbing. Next two pitches were also 5.9, but on slabby face. Luke led the first slab pitch and I led the second. Seemed like his had a few harder moves, and mine had a longer run-out between bolts. At one point you are climbing without being sure at all if you are on the right path to the anchor- you don’t see it! After Luke linked the last two low 5th class pitches we decided to skip the summit and find the beginning of Silk Road. We were down in 5 long rappells and had much better luck finding the start to Silk Road. Earlier that day it took us forever to figure out where the hell War of the Walls begins. 

Top of the 5.11 fingercrack. Variation to first pitch on War of the Walls.
Luke following p3 on Silk Road. 
View of Hammer Dome
Luke starting to lead an epic 180ft lie back
On Saturday we climbed the Silk Road, and were impressed by the quality and sustained nature of this route. It challenged both of us in different ways. I was happy to climb more lie-backs since along with slab, finger cracks, off hands, face-climbs and flared chimneys it is one of my weaknesses. Silk Road however, was more than lie-backs, and was much more burly than its name suggests. Along with sustained lie backs it had interesting crack systems, slabby face, and a really cool stemming section. I was stunned by the quality of this route and thought it deserves much more traffic than it receives. On the money pitch you lie-back up a sustained corner and come to a spot where the crack ends. One must transition into a stem and palm their way up the corner. Luke and I agreed it was one of the coolest pitches both of us ever climbed. We got done with sustained pitches of Silk Road at 3pm. Since there were only about three hours of daylight left and both of us suffered from “snail-eye,” we decided to rappel and devour a few plates of food. Indeed a very good choice. For dinner Luke prepared us tasty dishes on each of the nights. He has a portable three burner stove on which he cooks gourmet food. No wonder he is married, and I am single – who wants a tosser with a jetboil?

Me on pitch 4
Following the long lie-back pitch
After lie back pitch is done with you 
Happy Vitaliy on crux slab pitch
Anyway, this last month was really fun. Not only did I climb at several new spots, tick off a few more climbs, but I also had a chance to climb with a few more people. Even though I like to climb with my regular partners, at times it is important to get out with others and see how they do things. Since Yosemite is opened again I am hoping to celebrate Hamik’s birthday with a well known Valley classic that is sure to have a huge line on Saturday. After that we will be allowed to eat a cheesecake and re-stock for next week – I am turning twenty seven on the 24th!
Luke starting one of the coolest and funnest pitches either of us climbed outdoors!
View of Karakoram Highway. Next time!!!
View from the Calaveras Dome
Luke rappelling after a fun day of climbing