Thursday, August 27, 2015

First Ascent of the Granite Creek Spire!

Recent internet chitchat about things that don't really matter gave me something to dwell on as I crawled up a steep, sandy slope. While simultaneously fighting manzanita, I used the thicker branches to aid the slow progress through the brush. Thank god it was about an hour till the sun rose and the beam of my headlamp allowed me to focus on twenty foot sections of what was ahead, any more and it would be a bit overwhelming. At some point the sun did come up but it was often hard to see further than twenty feet anyway. It helped me stay "focused on the present," as my yoga instructor suggested! At this point the reader may wonder where in the world was I going and what was I dwelling on. I was going up the south fork of the Granite Creek. According to Google Earth, own eyes and photos from the internet there is a big spire with giant summit that overhangs on all sides, a spire with no recorded ascents.

Heading into the mist of unknown. Outline of Granite Creek Spire, what we named the formation, can be seen through the smoke in the distance. Range of light delivers the goods! Photo cred: Brian Prince
Looking up at the giant Sequoias - Redwood Meadow
First time we came across a backcountry giant Sequoia grove.
Brian capturing the goods
The air quality did suck on the way in. The smoke from the Rough Fire obstructed our lungs and the views.
Granite Creek
Preparing for the battle. Soaking our feet in the water, life is rough.
Friends which have done adventure climbs with me in the past may praise the lord they couldn't be on this one, unless your are Daniel - the single person I know who expressed voluntary interest in going to Granite Creek. One of the few people I know who is genuinely excited about diving head first into the unknown. Someone I am pleased to call a friend. Even though at moment he is likely sharpening a giant needle to prick Voodoo doll Vitaliy, to prevent me from climbing other formations that belong on his hit list. Daniel is the guy who was crazy enough to invite a complete stranger from the internet to participate in the First Ascent of the Fortress. It was in the end of summer of 2012, our first true adventure climb, armed with much stronger Tom Ruddy. Fortress was the spot from which I noticed multiple domes on the ridge-lines south of the Angel Wings. From the limited information available in the comprehensive Secor's Sierra Nevada guidebook I knew there was plenty of adventure to be had in the area. Aside from a few sentences about the first ascents of the major formations available in the American Alpine Journal, I was unable to find any record of other humans getting out there and had a lot of excitement about diving into the unknown.
First view of the giant
Granite Creek Dome
Yeeehhhaaaawww!
There were a few pleasant things to look at though.

The bushwhack was so horrible that we moved down to the creek-bed. As Brian and I continued the never ending approach I looked at my pedometer and calculated that on average we had covered less than one mile per hour. WAYYY less. Boulder hopping from one slippery rock to the other I thought about my own motivations to participate in such outings. But it was a different thought process than what is usually found in the whiny "Why do I climb" write ups. My legs had already acquired multiple cuts, the body was covered in orange dust, the shirt was soaked with sweat, we had no directions for approaching the peak we intended to climb, likely an un-climbed one. Being able to explore things for myself is one of the main reasons I climb and even though this particular approach was especially grueling, there was no second guessing of the decision to come see what it is like. I was wondering what is it in particular that attracts me to the climbing with uncertain outcome and why was I actually enjoying the day. It was tough, but did not feel like a 'suffer fest' - label I see climbers using to describe something that they supposedly enjoy.
The beast looming above
First pitch - scrambled in approach boots..seemed easy at the time. It wasn't.
Brian hiking the first pitch.
We took the buttress on the right. Four rope stretchers and one more pitch later we stood on the incredible table-top summit.
Looking down at the first pitch
Another jam crack we "hiked"
 Few more hours of trucking and we got close to the slabs that led into the unknown. I scrambled up the lower angle dihedral, but after 40 ft of 'hiking' had to pull several solid moves I would use a rope for. Another 20 ft of climbing 5th class slab in approach boots had me fairly terrified and reaching for my harness. Brian and I wisely changed into our climbing shoes and roped up for the next pitch. If I tried to continue 'hiking' it would mean certain death. We un-roped for another 300 ft of scrambling and roped up for five pitches above it. To no surprise, the rock was solid and the face features incredibly cool. That's what I am used to climbing on multiple Western Sierra formations. Knobs and large chicken heads reminiscent of the rock on the Tokopah Domes and the Shuteye Ridge. Even though the climbing was fun and the route was pushed to the knife-edge summit ridge, we did not know if it would be possible to summit the formation till I traversed out from the belay and reached over the low point in the bulge. I was able to grab a chicken head and heel hook another feature so I could mantel onto the final slope which led to a perfect table-top summit! By a table top, I mean a table that could cover the whole dining room - a giant FLAT summit, on top of an airy overhang!!!
Brian running it the F out.
Best rock in town! :)
Tied off chicken heads for pro, with the heaviest imaginable rack. Photo by Brian Prince
WOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!! Awesome face climbing! Photo by Brian Prince.
Chicken heads led to the final knife edge and the overhanging summit
Suddenly we were in heaven. Shoes off, getting stuffed with snacks, in comfort, far above the bushwhacking and surrounded by the magnificent views of the other High Sierra formations. Even the smoke from the near by wild fire was now appreciated and added a mystical touch to the sight no one had ever experienced. In our modern goal oriented society it is a small step away from the norm of ticking off objectives - having the chance to explore an unknown valley without move by move instructions of what is required to conquer the summit. Figuring one thing at a time without knowing if everything you do is gonna work out. The harmony of mayhem, where I find my peace. There was nothing to dwell on. At the moment I am in the right place - a place where I belong. The place where I feel alive.

Brian below the summit overhang!
Top of the formation as seen from Eagle Scout Creek Dome
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!STOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Little register I left. 5.9 could be a bit of a sand-bag, there may be a need for a BIG R and the route may be a little longer than 1000 ft after the re-calculation. Who knows, most people would find the effort to tough to be worth it! :) First and last ascent - KABOOM! . :)
Place where I belong
West side sunset near our cozy camp
Philosophical discussions aside, we had to get off our lovely formation. We walked all around and found no opportunity for a natural anchor, no bolted ones either. We were definitely the first ones to reach the top! After drilling a bolt for an anchor, first and last of the day, we rapelled to the notch. Another roped pitch of down-climbing and we were off. We hiked over to the ridge-line to stare at the granite formations in the neighboring drainage. Several hours of hell on the way back to camp and we had our dinner. The challenges of the day that passed, the bruises, the cuts, it was all overshadowed by the excitement about the near future. What do we want? What are we gonna end up with? The possibilities seemed endless, North Fork of Granite Creek it is!

5 comments:

  1. SHOULD CHILDREN BE SENTENCED TO DEATH WITHOUT A TRAIL BY STEVE FINNELL

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    Job 3:3 "May the day perish on which I was born. And the night in which it was said, 'A male child is conceived.'(NKJV)

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    Rebekah do not conceive nonhuman fetuses. Children struggled in her womb.

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    Posted by Steve Finnell at 5:15 AM No comments:
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  2. huh . . . nice report there, Mr. V . . .

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  3. Nice! As close as I ever got to that formation was checking it out on google earth!

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    1. It looks cool on Google Earth but better in person! :)

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