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