Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Serpent's Tooth - FA of the Wild West Crack (IV 5.11+)

For a climber, finding the direct line from the bottom of the peak to a spire-like summit is equivalent to winning a lottery.  Emilio Comici's most famous quote is, "I wish some day to make a route, and from the summit let fall a drop of water, and this is where my route will have gone." While fighting our way over the Hamilton Towers from Hamilton Lake, Brian and I were dreaming of awesome crack systems, but we did not expect to find an incredible crack system that led to a spire like pinnacle. Possibly unclimbed summit pinnacle.
A 800 foot+ spire with a splitter going straight to the base of a 40 foot summit pinnacle
Yes, there is a perfect KNEE JAM! (photo of me following the 2nd pitch, by Brian Prince)
Me in a nice rest spot on pitch 3. Route is a crack climbing heaven!

WOAH. It is really difficult to describe what I felt after the initial excitement of seeing this crack system wore off. Although beautiful, it was VERY steep and  intimidating. "We gotta try this thing before we leave," exclaimed Brian. "Hell yeah!" After looking at it for a few more seconds I added, "it looks burly though. Especially the bottom and the top. Two wide overhangs! Not sure if we will have the gear for it. But we can't leave this valley without trying!" For the next three days we focused our attention on everything else that we wanted to climb, saving the beast for last. Deep down, both of us knew we were gonna get our asses kicked by this thing, so we saved it for the last day.

Brian snapping photos on the approach
Brian, the Angel Wings and Cherubim Dome
Back side of the Eagle Scout Creek Dome
A day for a 17 mile approach to Hamilton Lake, a first ascent on Cherubim Dome, a first ascent on the Rowell Tower, two long first ascents on the South Face of Hamilton Dome. Can we put up our fifth route in five days?! We ate our last food, grabbed a bar or two each and made the approach to the base of the forbidding spire. Usually when you get closer, rock climbs appear easier, not this one, it was still scary as f***!
Brian on P2
Steepness of the pitch. That's the tag line hanging in the air!
Brian following the 3rd pitch. Great Rock!!
Pitch 4 - Spliterzville continues!
After fourth classing for a bit, Brian and I roped up. Another heads up pitch with 5.10 face climbing got us to an exposed stance below the business. Brian solved a 5.11 boulder problem to get into the initial squeeze chimney. It evolved into a really cool pitch that I enjoyed on top rope. For Brian it was likely quite gripped due to the fact that our largest piece was a #5 Camalot that he left behind after 40 feet of climbing. Up ahead he climbed the flare which evolved into more excitement in form of face climbing. Some stemming and eventually it turned into a nice crack which accepted protection. We swung leads and I found the next pitch well protected, although I got a fair share of adrenaline. As I climbed up a steep corner, I was rewarded with a great jug. It was flexing, so I didn't want to hang out on it for long. Steep terrain requires a dynamic move to get into a solid hand jam up above, from which I was planning to place gear. As I gained momentum, the jug broke. To my surprise, prior to riding the Drop Zone, I had enough momentum to sink the jam and absorb the shock with my shoulder. After that, a tricky 5.10+ or 5.11- crux got me to another belay stance where I built an anchor. Brian led a great pitch of 5.11 jamming in the continuously challenging corner which I had to try very hard to get clean on the follow. What I saw when I got to the belay station, was what I was fearing for most of our trip to Eagle Scout Creek.
Getting to the top of the 5th pitch
Overhanging slot ...The V SLOT! How is it gonna be?!
Steep and crazy! Check out the tag line to understand HOW steep it is.Me gettin into the V Slot :) This pitch was probably the technical and the wild factor crux. WILDER than the Harding slot! :) 
Get me the hell out of here, 2 hours later!
Brian getting through the overhanging flare

Above us, was a steep corner that culminates with an overhanging flare. A chimney reminiscent of the notorious Harding Slot guards the path to the summit. It was my turn to rise and shine. After the burly flaring hand and fist crack pumped me out to an absolute limit I was facing the overhanging slot. What happened next, will remain a mystery and only those who repeat the route will know if you are able to climb it as a squeeze, offwidth through an overhung flare, face climb or do all of the above. What matters more, is that it was the wildest pitch of my life. A pitch that drained me for two hours and spit me out to the base of the final obstacle - 40 feet of unprotected face climbing to the smooth summit pinnacle.

In the notch, I saw a part of an ancient rappell anchor that likely belonged to the members of the Rock Climbing Section of the Sierra Club. They claimed an ascent of these towers from the North, in 1953. As I started up the face, I expected the top to have an anchor as well, or some sort of a crack where I could make one.  When I climbed up the smooth and unprotected 5.7-8 face climbing, the top was as featureless as the bottom. I sure as hell was not gonna down-climb back to the notch risking death, so I doubt anyone did climb the actual summit in 1953. I drilled a single bolt on top and belayed Brian, who found the pitch as wild as I did. We drank the last of our water and had no more food to enjoy. All that was left is taking in the views and getting a breather after getting utterly zonked out by the monster route we discovered. WOW. Than, we had to find a way down off the formation, hike over the col, pick up the camp, hike back over the pass and find the way down to Hamilton Lake. We had no food, but at least there was more water and we had enough daylight - glass half full!

Five First Ascents in five days and we were not done yet! :)
Brian climbing up to the top

Me on the summit (by Brian Prince)
The Serpent's Tooth is the obvious steep face on the right. The big one on the left, we climbed and dubbed The Rowell Tower (report to come later). As seen from Eagle Scout Creek Dome.
For the most part, the quality of the rock and the climbing was great. If this formation was in the middle of Yosemite, crowds would fight for the right to go up first. Knowing that it is miles away from the trailhead, I would be fairly surprised to hear about the second ascent happening in the next few years. I would say it is a bit wilder and burlier than Astroman, but not as long. The exposed summit block and the direct line of the climb, of course is unmatched. The views of other spires, domes and high sierra peaks are priceless as well. A five star backcountry route!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cherubim Dome: TWO NEW ROUTES!

Dark Angels Have More Fun (IV 5.9+ R - 1,800 feet)
                 FA: Musiyenko, Vitaliy and Adam Ferro

             What Dreams May Come (IV 5.10 R - 1,500 feet)

                FA: Musiyenko, Vitaliy and Brian Prince

Cherubim dome (10,440 ft) is a beautiful rock face towering above the Valhalla. While researching the established rock climbs, I was able to find only one - Archangel IV 5.10+ A0 ( FA: October 1985 EC Joe and Richard Leversee). "Avoiding drilling as much as possible, we took a line up a series of flakes and cracks on the nearly featureless South face. Eight long pitches on superb golden granite," was how the First Ascentionists described their route in the guidebook. With the topo, description and an outline, I was able to locate it on the Southwest side. The whole South Face had NOTHING! Part of me was screaming with joy because it seemed slabby enough for something to go free. However, I did not want to get on a featureless slab that requires a hundred bolts! The wall was well over 1,200 ft in my estimation and per the topo, the original line had only 8 bolts! Not for all the right reasons, I didn't want to place more than that (on both of the new routes we have climbed, we placed only six bolts, two of which for a belay anchor).

Red - What Dreams May Come (IV 5.10 R - 1,500 ft)
Blue - Dark Angels Have More Fun (IV 5.9+ R - 1,800 ft)
Dark Angels Have More Fun - 10 pitches, 45-90 m pitches. Most were 60m. The line of What Dreams May Come can be seen on the left. The white water streak/groove.
Brownies and a sandwich Bryan and I got at Bearpaw for being awesome 
Bryan taking awesome shots near Hamilton Lake
When it comes to climbing new lines, there are many things to consider. One would be the proposed route you are aiming for. Second would be the amount of gear. The line I was proposing to Adam was an obvious white streak that split the South Face down the middle. It was screaming to be climbed! But as we hiked up and examined the dome from across, it was obviously lacking crack systems. We opted for a line to the right. There seemed to be connectable features that would allow us to get by without as much drilling. We were not sure how much, but it seemed like a better option compared to the steeper, feature-less streak.
What Dreams May Come goes through the black bands and into the obvious white streak splitting the face right of the roof. After the bulge, it works left towards the prominent crack system in the middle of the summit headwall. From what I understand, the Archangel goes left of the big roof on the left, and up the sunlit buttress that makes the left skyline. Dark Angels Have More Fun connects cracks, corners and features on the right side of the formation.
An original flaring splitter
Looking down at the cracks below
A bulge!
We found top notch granite and fun climbing up feature-less slab, cracks, corners, knobs, chicken heads and laser cut splitters that appeared out of nowhere and ended just as abruptly. The line was just as enjoyable as the South Face of Charlotte Dome, but with less choss or scrambling. The climbing never got boring or too difficult. We climbed many full sixty meter pitches to the right edge and up the summit head-wall. From there third class scramble took us to the top. 

Than things got a bit runout...for a 100 ft.
Adam on one of the upper pitches
Domes are not supposed to have splitters! :)

Cherubim Dome rising above the Hamilton Lake and Angel Wings
After adding up the pitches, turned out we climbed approximately 1,800 ft! With difficulties to 5.9+, the climb is usually in the 5.6-7 range. The runouts were sometimes long but not severely. Mental crux was making 5.7ish friction moves to a belay stance, 100 feet above the last gear. This was exactly what we wanted a day after the battle with the Angel Wings - a fun romp up perfect granite. In addition to that, it was a big confidence booster which allowed me to believe a line up the center streak would be a possibility for the future.  
The rock was pretty damn cool all the way up What Dreams May Come
Brian is about to start up the awesome 2nd pitch. Obvious white streak!
Awesome rock!!!!!!!!!!!!! 20/10
Starting up pitch 3...getting through the BULGE! 
Can't get enough of this view!
The bulge had steep juggy slopers! Like in the GYMMM BRAH!! :)
Brian on the 4th pitch
The rock says COME CLIMB ME!
Brian at a belay stance on the final headwall
About a month later, I took a week off work and returned with my friend Bryan. Day following the enjoyable hike in, we got on the obvious line that split the South Face down the middle. Bulletproof granite with cool featured allowed for a several awesome pitches before we reached the obvious bulge that we thought was gonna be one of the cruxes. Delicate climbing took me to the bulge. I found sloping jugs just right of the streak, which made the climbing over the bulge, more manageable then the initial section. On the following pitch, Bryan climbed straight up the streak which turned into an interesting thin crack with orange jugs to the right. After about 850 ft of climbing up the streak it grew into an easy groove, so we decided to traverse left and climb straight up the middle of the headwall, which was very steep and intimidating. As with the rest of the route, things managed to work out better than expected, and awesome crack climbing over a few bulges took us straight to the summit proper! 
Brian enjoying the views from the summit.
Adam and I on top!
The Saber ridge behind Cherubim
You can see that streak from space! :)
Oh the sunsets at Hamilton is never the same..
The variety of climbing styles, immaculate rock and the views make both of the routes some of the best climbs the range has to offer. In my opinion, at least one, should be on a tick list for any climbers venturing out to climb the Angel Wings. Two moderates with no need to climb offwidths, or haul anything larger than a single BD#3 camalot! How awesome is that!? With the available beta, a very excited party could link both in a day, especially if the spring is running and you have a convenient water supply at the base. If I had to choose one, What Dreams May Come would be the route to do, while Dark Angels Have More Fun is still a stellar outing. Couldn't have asked for better partners too!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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