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 :)

No comments:

Post a Comment