WOW. Likely a good place to start, as it was the first word I thought of and said when looking down the Tehipite Valley. Imagine the world famous Yosemite Valley, but requiring more than twenty miles of hiking from the nearest trailhead to get to, without the roads, crowds, SAR teams, rangers or people in general. No camp 4, ice cream stands, cell phone reception nor the shitshow scene. A wild place with poison oak, rattlesnakes size of anacondas, the last grizzly bear in the state of California, multiple Native American tribes and dinosaurs. OK, there are no dinosaurs, but I am not kidding when I say the place is FUCKING WILD.
I have been to a variety of remote parts of the High Sierra and the world, yet the Tehipete Valley made me feel more vulnerable than most. A few hours into the hike, we ran into a couple who has a cabin in the area. "Are you guys packing? There are big rattle snakes down there!" Imagine the size of those things, if people bring firearms for protection! :)
In mid July of 2015 Daniel Jeffcoach and I decided to check the place out for ourselves. He found a low resolution photo of some supposedly unclimbed wall that seemed to be over two thousand feet tall! Over two thousand feet tall?! Yes, I could not believe it, yet it was further down the valley and across from the biggest dome in the state of CA and likely the biggest granite big wall in the lower 48 - the Tehipete Dome - rising 3,500 feet above the valley floor. To no surprise, all the climbers visiting the place were unable to walk by it. On the other hand, we had the self-control thing dialed and our priorities straight! Seriously though, looking up at the Tehipete Dome made me want to walk further down the valley, towards our modest objective, the smaller big wall.
We fished, we climbed, we battled hard. On one of the slab pitches Daniel led, he was close to taking a 80 foot fall when his foot started to slide a few feet below the stance he wanted to drill a bolt from. I have no explanation to why the foot stopped sliding, yet I was psyched my sweating hands did not have to pull in loops of slack as Daniel's body cheesegrade past the belay. Hauling out our gear was gonna be a challenge, having to add a 6'4 guy on top of it didn't seem particularly appealing. Below that pitch was a 120 foot lay-back, which accepted only three out of approximately twenty camalots I had on my harness. Lucky for me, it wasn't harder than 5.10a, yet when you are on a first ascent, you have no idea how hard the next move is going to be, the objective is simple, climb up. On the first day we got up a good ways and were shut down by the difficulties approximately three fifths up the formation on the second day. It was a hard pill to swallow, yet to bail was a logical choice. We were running out of water while the climbing was only getting harder. We could no longer free climb, nor pull on pieces in order to maintain the necessary pace required to top out. At best, it was gonna take full on aid, but we did not bring the aiders or jumars. The decision was especially tough because it was the only long climbing trip Daniel could afford that year. A five day trip was a luxury for a man with two kids and a family. I personally could have returned in a few weeks without much trouble, yet for my friend it wasn't an option. I value my failures, enjoy them even. They remind me that I am picking appropriate challenges, they allow me to learn lessons, humble me a little and keep things interesting. Being in the mountains is success, yet when I climb with friends without the same amount of time, I want them to go home satisfied. Daniel is a true explorer at heart, so I thought it would take a miracle for him to stay interested in a place that he has already seen.
|Rough outline. About 3000 ft of climbing on a wall whose vertical height I have a hard time estimating. FA: Daniel Jeffcoach, Brian Prince and Vitaliy Musiyenko|
|Daniel and Brian having a quite moment, before the descent into the wild valley|
|Cool pool on the descent down the Crystal Creek - my first time canyoneering! :)|
|Obvious why most people don't walk by the Tehipete Dome.|
|Me getting a good look at the wall we were going to attempt|
|Daniel SENT the gnar|
|The milky way. Night photography was a good way to make the time pass in our two-butt bivy|
Three knuckleheads, one fishing pole and a bunch of gear. We split the approach in two shorter days in order to feel less worked when we get on the wall. Not sure how many climbing parties carried own climbing gear out there, but for me hauling own shit is a habit. Never employed porters or mules, yet to tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind a helicopter. Credit where the credit is due, Daniel's friend Norm, hiked out there a day earlier to see what the hell we were up to and took a part of our rack to help out. Thanks Norm!
Aside from spending time with two of my favorite partners and guys I have the honor to call friends, one of the highlights of the outing was the fishing! Before I got into climbing I loved to fish.Taught by my grandfather in the Ukraine as a nine years old, it was one of the few activities I had that made me appreciate nature. Since then, I fished mostly for carp and catfish, but fishing for bass was also enjoyable, as the thrill was higher. Compared to the last year, I killed it fly fishing, catching four trout compared to only one last summer. Fly fishing is way harder than the regular fishing I am used to. Kind of like trad climbing vs bouldering, much more expensive gear and a variety of new techniques to learn. Makes me want to purchase a fly fishing set up, yet I know I don't take enough rest days to use it. Editing photos, taking an online class and reading has been more than enough to keep me occupied lately! Daniel and I hiked further down the valley, as I tried to pick up a few tricks from the master. One of the fish he hooked got swallowed by a giant brown trout! It was a sight to watch and the adrenaline rush he received must have been comparable to the nearly 80 foot fall a year prior. Unfortunately the giant brown cut the line and got away, but no big deal, we had enough for our small army. Because Daniel had a load of food, he let Brian and I have all the fish on the second day, preferring a packet of tuna instead. Even though we both had plenty of food too, refusing freshly caught trout, a day prior to getting on an intimidating big-wall, did not seem like an option either of us would consider.
|One of the pools in Crystal Creek|
|Tehipete Valley panorama as seen in the morning, from our bivy ledge. INCREDIBLE. Or simply WOW.|
|Trying to improve my B&W skills|
|The approach is actually kind of cool. Aside from being very long.|
|Our modest aid rack to the rescue|
|Looking towards the dreamy pools|
Regrouping on the big ledge, we decided I would take the next three out of four pitches to our previous high point, as Brian and Daniel divided the first seven pitches to start the route. From there, we would switch the leader once again. When Daniel mentioned using a hook for a belay on one of the (exciting, with the first pro about 40 or more feet off the deck) pitches, I did not think much of it, I didn't remember the gear there being particularly bad, yet it took me about 15 minutes to construct somewhat of a safe belay. Somewhat safe...NOT! As one of them shifted at the belay, one of the bomber-looking placements crushed the rock around it and nearly popped out. It was being held in the crack by two lobes and no it wasn't a totem cam. The three of us had a little panic as the other part of the anchor was a micronut and a tiny offset in a semi-detached flake. It is hard to describe the terror that we experienced up there with words, yet I likely set a speed record for the fastest drilled bolt on the climb and while reaching for the blow tube Brian had a moment of brilliance "just hammer the fucking thing in for god's sake." It is scary to think that a year ago it was likely the first gear placement to protect 5.10+ climbing off the belay, most bomber piece of which was the hook!
|How we felt in the morning|
|Brian pulling over the roof above the ledge|
|Me finding the way into the chimney|
|Brian in the final chimney!|
Brian got up to the belay and I turned into a climber for a bit, admiring his lead on the follow. Last part of the pitch was a pendulum for the leader. Brian was apologetic that for me it was going to be something like a sideways fall, yet it was a much better option than facing the consequences he faced while leading out into the unknown. It looked completely blank above us, with a roof above a crackless groove. We traversed a large ledge system to a larger part of the ledge. Above us was a similar overhang without much features which would inspire hope of pulling over it without having to drill a bolt ladder. Daniel tried to clean out a dirty seam in order to get across to another ledge fifty feet higher to the right. He did, yet found nothing useful for upward progress. He rapelled back to the ledge from the bush. While Daniel was on his lead Brian and I discussed the only way that appeared semi possible, yet still kind of hopeless. I did my best to be positive, "we got where we wanted to be, above the high point on a bivy ledge, with the food and the water for the night! Tomorrow we will see what the valley looks like from the summit!" The conversations we had were not filled with sincere positive emotion, yet fake excitement is better than honest hopelessness. Brian was gonna try this pitch with the full on aid rack and ladders and got the first fifty feet done before lowering back to the ledge from his high point.
|Edward Lau continues to ascent peaks.|
|The infinity pool. Can I use the word 'awesome' one more time?!|
Few hours later, we crossed the North Fork of Kings River and were back at camp. Enjoying the extra food and trying to take in what we have experienced. It was one of the few outings that will likely provide lessons for Vitaliy, the person, for years to come, so it was important for me to document the events and the emotions, in writing along with the visual slides captured by our cameras. For a long time I thought of a proper way to end the written part of the report, yet I am back to where I started. WOW.
|The horseshoe brought us luck! Well at least it is a eastern block superstition..|
|Not sure if I like the color or the black and white shot of these trees better?|
|On the way out|
|Till another time!|