Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mount Watkins - First Ascent of THE DIKE

Day before going up on Zodiac, Brian Prince, Chris Koppl and I went back up to finish a route Chris and I started a few years back on Mount Watkins. It is a crazy dike that overhangs for pretty much the whole way from where it shoots off from Escape From Freedom. In fact I remember how Bruce Morris told me to check out this dike and that it would make for a crazy route. It is probably the wildest feature the three of us ever climbed on and I hope I can be strong enough to free climb the whole thing, one day. From big powerful moves, to techy sharp crimps on perfect rock, the climbing is simply amazing.

Putting this route up was very difficult because of its traversing and overhanging nature. 99% of the time we climb something ground up - starting from the bottom and climbing up, placing bolts from stances, if needed. As we wanted to make a worthy free climb, we decided to go top down and see if it is even possible, as GU approach would involve 1) a huge bolt ladder or 2) bolt, a shit ton of hooking, bolt, repeat, but we needed to figure out best clipping holds and if it would be worth bolting the feature in the first place, there are is no way to drill from stances on this dike. Yes, it would be possible from hooks, but as I said pretty much the whole 1000 ft dike overhangs and it would suck to put up three pitches and encounter a totally blank spot. If it was more reasonable to go GU it would be amazing as we wouldn't need to put so much pure labor into it. Two years ago, Chris and I spent days working individual pitches on fixed ropes, placing chalk marks for possible bolt placements, then switching and climbing the same pitches again to see if the placements make sense to the other person, then do it again. Because pretty much every 6 feet involves at least a 5.10 to 5.11 move and some moves we were only imagining, the process was taking so much energy that in the end of the season we close to drowned in a thunderstorm/downpour and bailed on this project returning to finally completing it from the bottom to the top, having at least one of us being able to perform each individual moves free, yet totally a redpoint. It is unclear if some of the moves will be reasonable at 5.12 to people with less than a huge ape index. Chris at around 6'4 is able to do a few big moves Brian and I could not do, yet at least. We are not short at 6'2 and 6ft tall, maybe we had bad beta, but who knows?? Hope the route will go all free in the future for us, but I am 100% sure that if not for us, it will go free for someone much stronger. Though we hope to complete our prozh before it is tried by other climbers. :)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

North Dome: First Ascent of the Lucid Dream (V 5.11 A2)

In April, at about 11:30pm I received a text from Richard Leversee "It's the straightest, longest, most direct line up the center of "the El Cap of King's Canyon! And it is in your back yard with an easy approach! Call in sick...go tomorrow!" A few minutes later, "You gotta ask yourself..."How am I going to feel reading someone else's TR on how amazing the First Ascent of this killer line was?" He had a point. He brought it up about a year prior. One of the reasons I was likely subconsciously ignoring this beautiful feature was because it would obviously take hard work, and a part of me was intimidated by the potential of a long project, especially after The Emperor on Bubbs Creek Wall took over 20 days to work out...but dreamy lines like that are special, don't get climbed too often and are worth the effort.

Richard is a true legend when it comes to climbing difficult, long and mostly free routes. He was one of the pioneers of difficult free climbing in the backcountry and established or was first to free climb some of the most inspiring walls in the Sierra, including iconic peaks like the Angels Wings, Castle Rock Spire, Tehipite Dome, Bubbs Creek Wall, many routes in the Needles, and on the above mentioned North Dome. Even though he does not climb any longer, his level of excitement is contagious and the fact that instead of talking down to every other climber, which is the common online theme, he actually shares the routes in his 'black book' speaks volumes about the man's character. Although, I did not skip work and went the following day, I could not ignore his call to arms and fortunately was able to recruit my good friend Daniel to join me on a recon trip. Daniel and I tried to establish a route on North Dome once before, but were shut down. Last time we climbed together was about six month ago. That day he broke both his ankles. Being far from the road, up a difficult approach which involved scrambling and a river crossing, I immediately said he should use his InReach device to call search and rescue. Instead he put in hours of work crawling down a steep hill, rapelling, crossing a raging river (with our assistance) and crawling back up a steep poison oak infested hill. I was truly impressed and realized Daniel was one of the toughest humans I have met.

When we approached our intended route, we were delighted to find good crack climbing on first few pitches. It was so straight forward and good that I expected to find evidence from previous passage, but it never showed up. That day ended with me aiding a pitch for about 3 hours. It involved extensive hooking, beaking, some free climbing and placement of two bolts. Even though we realized the climbing was not gonna go all free, 95% of it was and the quality was great, so we both were psyched to return.

The return was humbling and inspiring. We climbed three pitches higher and found more of the same - really good rock and fun free climbing over variable terrain. Above us was a steep wall of rock that we no longer had the time to climb, as it was getting dark and it looked like it would take significant bolting to overcome, if trying a direct line up the arete, as planned. We could have bailed right and into the old Frost route, about 50 feet to our right, but it wouldn't be as aesthetic or challenging as the steep buttress. We descended in the dark, I drove home and slept for at least two hours before I had Pediatric Advanced Life Support class. Thanks to coffee and being decent at suffering, I didn't only pass, but only missed one question on the written test.

We came back for our fourth attempt to climb North Dome in early July. This time we met before dawn and approached to the base before the sun hit. It was a strategic move to allow us enough time to tackle the upper wall and prevent us from getting overheated. I was imagining we will melt in the sun, but although it was warm, the breeze created close to perfect conditions. As usual, climbing with Daniel was a pleasure and we moved up the wall fairly quickly. Likely because we already climbed these pitches a couple times and knew what to do. At our high point, to my surprise I found the steep buttress fairly featured and instead of placing about a dozen bolts, as I imagined, I was able to get away with 5 or 6 in the 45M stretch. There were many positive holds and no looseness at all. Richard was right, if I read about someone else making this ascent I'd be green with envy. :)  

It seemed like we were close to the top with plenty of daylight so instead of merging into the Frost route we took a steep corner, right of it, for a fully independent finish. This finish ended up being much harder than it seemed. Steep, pumpy crack climbing with a few flakes that are exciting to grab when you know no other human has pulled on them prior. It must have especially exciting for Daniel, who broke his ankles a little over a year ago, when a hold broke and he clipped a small stance. We did top out. Magically I didn't call in sick to work the following day and Richard was even more excited to hear about us finally succeeding than anyone else I told. Because it was his idea and a dream line, we gave him the honor of naming it - the Lucid Dream. Very fitting as the following day I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or not, I surely should have been! A huge thanks to Richard and Daniel for participating in this proj and contributing a great experience to my life. 
PS: I tried to propose "We did it for some Dick" for the route's name, but it was shut down by all. :)

The Lucid Dream (V 5.11 A2)
Rack: Doubles to #3 camalot, single #4. Hooks. 2-3 sm to med beaks. 
P1 5.8
P2 5.10
P3 5.11
P4 5.10 A2
P5 5.10a A2
P6 5.10a or 5.10d/11a depending on variation
P7 5.10b-ish
P8 5.11
P9 5.11

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Lone Pine Peak - Winter Chimney (3,000 WI3 M4) Free Solo

"What distresses me is to see that human genius has limitations, and human stupidity has none."—A. Dumas

As I pulled in to a gas station close to my home in Visalia, CA I noticed a man throwing up close to the dumpster a few hundred feet away. He looked to be in his 40s, was wearing a colorful dress up shirt, tight leather pants and white shoes I could see from a mile away. All of a sudden he made a noise similar to one I'd imagine a bull to make after getting shot in the stomach. Even though I grew up in San Francisco, home to one of the largest homeless populations in the country, had exciting teenage years, worked in the ER for the last 2 years and thought that by now I would be exposed to all sorts of buffoonery, what came next shocked me. The guy begun to take off his leather pants! If you can imagine wearing a tight latex condom covering your lower body, you would understand it would be difficult to take off if sober, especially if the condom wasn't as stretchy, yes? Now imagine a drunk clown covered in vomit doing so. It seemed like a job for several sober individuals, not him! After the initial thought of wtf, I wondered 'where are his friends?' 'Why is he so wasted on a Sunday night in Visalia, at this random gas station?' While I enjoyed the show for much longer than it took to fill my gas tank, the dude managed to expose his ass, take a shit and fall over in the vicinity of his vomit, still half wearing his leather pants. All the two other people at the gas station were entertained and though wanting to see where it goes, I knew it was close to 9PM and I had a long drive to Whitney Portal and a big climb tomorrow. I wasn't particularly rested after returning from Chalten, working several 12 hour shifts in a row and didn't actually know if the idea of onsight free soloing one of the most difficult mixed routes in the Sierra in such state is actually dumber than what I witnessed at the gas station. The worst case for the gas station dumbass, are IV fluids in the ER where I work. Me on the other hand, can end up in a body bag. No more climbing, no first world problem whining, no netflix and chill, no nothing. Closed casket. If I believed in afterlife, maybe I'd be ok with this option, but....and so I went.

After getting to Lone Pine around 1am, I didn't get much sleep, yet woke up way later than I should have. At 7:30am I drank some not warm coffee, ate snacks and left the car at 8. Reading the report about the first ascent of the Winter Chimney a few days later I realized the FA party woke up at 10:30PM, meaning I was either very late or very early. Whatever the case is, I walked up the road, below a large south facing wall and up the avy tracks on the south face. Earlier start would allow easier travel as the snow was getting softer, but at least I saw where I was going, that should help right? After several hours of post holing and dry tooling over a rock band that would be 5.7 in climbing shoes, I hiked and hiked and hiked till I was about a thousand feet above the spot where I was supposed to cut off right. I realized that I was going up the original Winter Route couloir. So I considered going up that original route or bailing. Neither options had me as excited as the Winter Chimney, so I down-climbed and turned to the right couloir. By then, I was alternating between punching through knee and hip deep in places. Slowly I got to the base some time in the afternoon. I was afraid to look at the clock because if I saw something like 3pm I would have to turn around. The technical bulk of the route is only 6 pitches, so I decided I will likely be able to climb it in a couple of hours at most, as I am not pitching anything out. 

First pitch was a nice wi3- or 2+ as advertised but the 2nd had rotten snow above the chimney which did not look like it would support any weight at all. To the right I scoped a crack system that seemed maybe doable and connecting to the ice above the corner, up above. To do a first ascent on a free solo is not something I was planning on, but I told myself that I can always try to down-climb if I have to. I did have a 6mm tagline and a few cams in case I felt it was too difficult to climb down. I climbed a few moves of sketchy ice to a stance below the crack system and executed a set of delicate moves to get established. It felt m4ish and the climbing turned out to be really good. Axe and hand jamming up a nice crack. If I had climbing shoes, I'd be able to get nice foot jams, but ice climbing boots did not do as well. Topping it out I enjoyed more easy walking and climbed some more ice to the M3 overhang, which was chocked with rotten ice. Climbing without being belayed through rotten ice was fairly hairy, as I had to avoid most of it and stem out on little edges. It all worked out and I continued to a wild squeeze chimney that was capped by a very exposed M4 overhang, with more sketchy ice over the lip. Using rock climbing shoes would help me a lot here. The first winter ascent party had the leader change into rock climbing shoes to climb the upper part (crux overhang) yet rated it M4. I got this detail after reading the report about the first winter ascent. Having the M4 rating on the pitch, I expected they rated it as such after drytooling it, but it wasn't the case. In any case, a friend of mine climbed the route a few weeks earlier and reported not changing into rock shoes, but he reported much better ice on the route than I encountered. A few weeks made a big difference and after I got above the chimney and below the big overhang, I sat there for a while trying to figure out a sequence of moves that I had to make. I could not afford to fall there. Don't want to make it more dramatic than it was, but it felt more difficult and insecure when I climbed to and through the overhang and I wouldn't do it if I knew how insecure it was gonna be. After getting through, I felt like I won a world series, a superbowl and a lottery at the same time. Staying alive feels good! I wasn't totally done with the actual climbing and the corner above had nothing resembling solid ice, so I continued to dry tool for the last pitch and when I topped out the route, I saw large dark clouds and precipitation above Mount Langley, over the canyon to the south. With only about an hour and a half of daylight left, I hurried up the slope, as getting down was gonna take time.

Stumbling over soft snow, I was getting worked breaking trail. Occasionally punching through close to my hip. The descent took forever, even though I mostly found my way alright, as I have done the descent last year. One route finding error send me over a steep drop off, using an established rap station, which led me to set up two more raps down a vertical wall step. The most annoying part was punching through every step of the way back to the car, where I arrived around 9:30PM. Much later than anticipated...the guy puking in the parking lot would have a good laugh at my foolishness.