Friday, December 18, 2015

Two New AWESOME Routes on Hamilton Dome!

The giant West Face of the Hamilton Dome turned out to be a home to fantastic rock, limitless possibilities and the best moderate route I have climbed in the High Sierra! It is almost as wide as it is tall - about 1,700-1,800 feet of climbing from the base to the summit. First, I noticed the giant slab from the approach to Hamilton Lake. The North Ridge and the West Face had routes, but I didn't know of any established climbs going up the South Face, which looked as big and impressive as the North. Several weeks later, Brian and I got a closer look, while climbing a new route on Eagle Scout Creek Dome. "The face is BIG, the rock looks good!" week we set up a camp in Eagle Scout Creek and found the rock to be even better than we imagined! :)


South Face of Hamilton Dome with the route outline
Base of the Hamlet Buttress. Subliminal verses goes up the sunlit buttress to the left. Two roofs can be seen in the photo.
On the first day of climbing we started up a clean left facing dihedral that led to mostly moderate face climbing with a few cracks here and there. Two thirds up the formation we discussed the options above while having lunch on a giant balcony where a battalion could comfortably bivy. We settled for a chicken-head covered near-vertical fin to take us to the top. Plenty of other ways seemed less challenging, but the fin looked like the wildest option. It was very steep and tall - about 400 feet! Slinging the knobs and chicken heads allowed the leader to find adequate protection on otherwise crack-less monolith. We ran the rope out for 60 meters and simul climbed at times. Third pitch from the ledge, featured a wild jump across to gain the upper Hamilton Dome proper and exposed section of easy 5th to 4th class led us to the summit ridge. We thought we were lucky to find a route with such awesome climbing. I thought it was no worse than the mega classic South Face of the Charlotte Dome. To my surprise, the next day produced a route that was even better!

Subliminal Verses goes up the sunlit buttress in the middle. One of the roofs is visible, just right of the prominent dihedral. The route later joins the higher dihedral, after which the angle kicks back.
Heading for cracks!
A cave?!
Nice crack to a cruxy steep face on the Hamlet Buttress
Cool fingercrack high on the Hamlet Buttress
400 ft steep fin high on the Hamlet Buttress!
Brian cranking on the steep fin. It is like a 5.9 steep jughaul, WELL protected by bomber chickenheads. No cracks or bolts on this pitch!
Brian on top of the fin
Looking down at the exposed fin
We picked a line that was steeper and more intimidating than the day prior. Even though we scoped a cool splitter at the base, it seemed like the only apparent crack in sight. Couple hundred feet above it was the first of the two major roofs that looked troublesome. After the long first pitch, we were psyched to find a hidden crack that led to the first of roofs. Prepared to aid climb it, it was awesome to pull over the first roof at easy 5.10. The cracks were hidden from the base, but turned out the route had plenty. Even though we brought a #4 and a 5 camalot, there was no need to carry gear larger than a #3! 
As we gained elevation, our smiles grew bigger and we were blown away by the awesomeness of this climb. Three more pitches of fun cracks took us to the second roof, which was passed on monkey-bar-like jugs. Face climbing above required placement of a few bolts to keep the climbing adequately protected. Past the second bolt we traversed left to a belay station. After the traverse, the face features grow till they transform into large jugs that could easily be slung for protection. More chicken heads, two dihedrals, a bit of slab and several more cracks took us to the top of the difficulties. We climbed the route in seven LONG (full 60 meter pitches, with simul-climbing at times) pitches. Four more hundred feet of 3-5th class scrambling with an amazing view of the West Face took us to the top one more time. The summit panorama is one of the best in the whole range - Castle Rocks to the West, Eagle Scout Peak, Kaweahs and the Hamilton Spires to the East. All the rock spires (which had one or two ascents EVER) of Granite Creek to the South. The Angel Wings, Prism, Cherubim Dome, Mt. Stewart, the Globe and the Saber Ridge are seen to the North. A stunning summit with plenty of space to relax. 
Splittah! Woot! Start of the Subliminal Verses (IV 5.10).
Couldn't believe the giant roof was perfectly protected and went at low 5.10! :)

The rock was TOO GOOD!
Cracks and great face features. Solid, without any trace of choss.
A bit tilted, but hey, if it was that steep this pitch would be 5.11+! :)

7/5 star granite! 

A few splitters to the top
Brian with the West Face in the background
This view..DOES NOT SUCK!
Me enjoying the great day

Heavenly camp
To descent, scramble east towards the notch. A short 4th class down-climb will take you to the first rap station - webbing around a horn. Three more rappells will take you to the notch. One sixty meter rope works well and the anchors are bomber. Even though at this point you may be really excited about the climb, or dreading the hike back, make sure to watch your ends and not get destructed till you are safe at the base! 
The lengthy approach without a trail to the base of the formation is a blessing in disguise. For those who plan to venture out and repeat either of these climbs a true adventure is in store. There is no "best" way to get there, but plenty of options. A map and backcountry navigation skills are preferred. :) The camping in the upper Eagle Scout Creek is spectacular and there is plenty of rock around to find own new routes, scenic photo-ops and fishing would be incredible! Personally, I can't wait to go back there!

Hamlet Buttress (IV 5.9+ - 1,700 ft)****
Subliminal Verses (IV 5.10a/b - 1,350 ft w/400 ft of 2-4th class to the summit) *****
FA: Brian Prince and Musiyenko, Vitaliy (September 2015)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rowell Tower - First Ascent of Full Nelson (IV - 1,200 ft, 5.10+ R)

Largest of the Hamilton Towers, I suspect it was the one described as the most difficult and climbed by Greg Henzie, Chris Jones and Galen Rowell in 1970 (R.J. Secor's High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails). Although the North Face of the formation looks challenging from the High Sierra Trail, the view of the striking South Face surrounded by impressive spires forced me to demand a week long vacation as soon as I was back to work. It allowed Brian Prince and I to return five days after the initial sighting from the Eagle Scout Creek Dome. Other than the original route from the North, prior to our ascent the peak had no other routes we were aware of and no specific name. While enjoying the stunning views from the summit after climbing the peak, we decided to think of a fitting name for such a proud peak. To honor one of the first ascentionists, we named it The Rowell Tower. In memory of a renowned climber, photographer and writer, who made the adventure accessible to the masses through numerous stories and photographs. His spirit is well alive here in the Sierra Nevada, where dozens of worthy un-climbed faces and untraveled canyons allow a life-time of exploration.

The Rowell Tower. Red is our route, arrows are rappells and yellow is the scramble off
Brian on the approach from Hamilton Lake to Eagle Scout Creek. Not a bad spot to take it all in.
Formation we climbed is the prominent one on the left. Hamilton Dome is the big thing on the right.

Second pitch
During the prior outing, we found heinous bushwhacking approaching the neighboring spires through the Granite Creek drainage, so we decided to set a basecamp at Hamilton Lake, which would allow us to attempt several peaks in the surrounding area. Without assistance from pack mules, we hiked in nine days of food and climbed a new route on the Cherubim Dome day following the 16 (or 17) mile approach. On the third day we crossed over the ridge that drops down from the Eagle Scout Peak and forms some of the Hamilton Towers. We gained about two thousand feet and crossed the ridge at the notch east of the spire we dubbed The Serpent's Tooth. We brought four days of food and set up camp next to a stream, only fifteen minutes west of a beautiful lake. As striking as this tower looked from across, the route we found was not something I would recommend to a friend. There may be better options up the central part of the South Face, but we didn't see continuous crack systems. The eastern part of the South Face looked too straight forward to be challenging to us, but may be a great adventure for someone who wants to do a moderate new route on a gorgeous rock monolith.
Brian on the 4th pitch
The other climbing was shit, so here is Brian on one of the summit pinnacles! :)
Brian on the true summit
View of the Angel Wings, Cherubim Dome to the right. The Globe can be seen to the left in the backround, on the same ridge with the Saber Ridge.
Brian prior to rappell. 
 We begun by climbing un-roped up a pitch that did not look too bad from the base. It turned out to have a 5.8ish crux, which was plenty challenging in hiking boots, with a heavy load of gear and a death fall potential far away from any sort of help. If there is anyone who want to do a second ascent of this route, I would advise to rope up at the base, put on your climbing shoes, or better climb one of the other routes we have done in the area. From the top of the initial pitch, we took the left leaning weakness on the west side of the south face. Three more long, at times dirty, difficult and plenty runout pitches took us to a large ledge on the western flanks. By than, we were fairly worked by the approach from Hamilton Lake and the burly climbing we encountered. The continuous steep crack systems above had a vertical section that would likely involve a bolt ladder, so we discussed bailing. After a 30 meter rappell, we traversed further left, where we found a system that allowed us to continue bailing upwards. We climbed another five pitches (actually four, but we simul-climbed for about 400 feet), which were not much less scary or loose than the initial pitches. The final pitch involved negotiating around stacked flakes that could have killed Brian if I looked at them too hard. Fortunately they remained fixed to the mountain for a little longer and bombarded down as Brian applied pressure from a safe stance. It was a great show, but nothing new, as we had at least four of those by than. 
Second rappell anchor :) Bomber brah!
Didn't think I would ever have a chance to see a bear take a dump in the wild. Fresh and warm!

Another day in the books
A little outline of the area

"The Beautiful Lake"
The top of the formation was spectacular, with exposed twin summits and a sharp knife edge that led to the high point. Neither of us two could believe that it is possible we were the second group to enjoy the views from this peak. For those willing to walk a little further, a whole world of exploration is available in the local hills. A lifetime of climbing with no signs of humans anywhere in sight. Eagle Scout Creek in particular may see one or two hikers a year, or in ten years. The only other person I have met who has gone out there was a worker from the Bearpaw Meadow Campground who went up the valley to see it for himself and camp in solitude. He hiked from Bearpaw via the trail leading towards Redwood Meadow and cut cross country up the creek. It may be an easier way in, but I personally have no experience with that approach. From the summit, we rappelled east with a 60 M rope. On one of the rappells we used a chicken head for an anchor. Anchor which was easy to recover with a flick of a rope. On the next rappell our sixty meter rope did not reach the ledge, which was awfully close. Fortunately, we were able to down-climb scary and exposed 5th class vegetation to reach it. From there we continued to scramble towards the notch and the base of the mountain. All the other routes we climbed in this valley during the following three days were much more enjoyable and better in quality. Personally I would give those four to five stars, while this would get two. As far as the adventure and the views, it would get five as well, but it is safe to say our route is not the most enjoyable way to the summit. We called it Full Nelson for a reason, not only because we enjoy the sound of Limp Bizkit as we hike.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Globe - FA of The Standing Ovation (1000 ft - III 5.10)

While climbing different formations in the area, I noticed two attractive domes on the same ridge-line with The Prism and the Saber Ridge. Variety of sources revealed that the local climbers dubbed these as Choss Boobs. However, no one knew if one or the other had actually been climbed. Likely due to both of the faces being steep, with multiple intimidating roofs cutting across and the rock which seemed funky. The bigger of the two was especially impressive and at least over a thousand feet tall. The Prism and the Saber Ridge, both of which I climbed earlier in the summer, are composed of solid white granite with awesome features. The rock on the domes looked unlike anything I have seen in the High Sierra, with much of it composed of different shades of red.
The Globe is the bigger of the two. First to climb the other formation, gets to name it! :)
Nice spot to camp in the Lone Pine canyon
Base, with the head-wall looming above
Brian is beat by the sun, but excited about another awesome climb!
The smaller of the two domes, is not that small!
Both Brian and I were puzzled by the mystery and excited to see what it is like for ourselves. From the High Sierra Trail, we took the Lone Pine cut off and continued towards the Elizabeth Pass. When we were slightly above the domes, we cut below the smaller of the two, on its west side. Up close, both of them still looked steep and complex. After some discussion, we decided to take a direct line up the middle of the bigger formation. Go big or go home. Hopefully both. It was the last day of a week long outing, during which we already climbed five new routes. We were happy with how the trip went and focused on finishing it without an accident. The day went better than we expected, with fun climbing, enough protection to keep things from being very runout and awesome views to all sides. The red rock was covered with awesome features, which allowed us to pull several of the roofs on large jugs. Hero climbing at a very moderate grade. Even though the climbing was never too hard, it was never too easy. Terrain we covered had no sign of previous passage and neither had the summit. Much of the face allows for 'have your own adventure' sort of climbing on good rock. 
Add caption
Steep! Amazing crimps give way to big orange jugs!
Brian about to pull the final crux
But there is still a big roof ahead..that goes at 5.8 JUGS!
What a great final day of the trip! Back side of the Angel Wings, Hamilton Dome and the towers in the background
The top!!
While climbing, we did not find a nipple and the rock was the opposite of choss, we named the formation the Globe, so that it could fit in with its neighbor to the east - the Prism. During the week long outing we read Shakespeare during the time we did not climb, eat or sleep. Since many of his plays were originally performed in the theater named the Globe, we named the route Standing Ovation (1000 ft - III 5.10), for the wonderful climbing it offered. Even though, we had enough time to attempt the smaller of the two domes, we decided to report it as possibly un-climbed and hope it will attract other climbers to have own adventure in this pristine area. Recent years brought plenty of climbing activity to the walls surrounding the Tamarack lake. Now, the area is rich with established modern gems and much potential for further exploration still exists.