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)

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