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.

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