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!

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