Friday, August 7, 2015

Valhalla Diary pt. 2: Angel Wings - Valkyrie (V 5.11+/5.12-)

During the not-at-all restful rest day, Luke and I discussed our options for the remainder of our stay. My preference was to attempt a direct new route on The Prism. His was the Valkyrie - a recently established V 5.12a which goes up the Angel Wings proper. Both options seemed tough and preferably followed by a rest day. Since we had three days left, one of which is reserved for a 17 mile hike out, rest day was not an option. We had to compromise, AKA suffer - climb the Valkyrie first, wake up as early as possible on the following day, move camp to the Lone Pine Creek cut off and climb a new route on the Prism. Fortunately sussing out plans at camp is not as hard as executing them...
Valkyrie takes the right prominent buttress in the middle of the formation. A really aesthetic line.
Hamilton Dome and other granite domes as seen from the last pitches of Valkyrie
Luke in an exposed chimney high on the route
Slot canyon on the approach to Hamilton Lakes
Valkyrie seemed like a great way to top out Angel Wings. It follows a beautiful buttress on the SE face for 2,000 feet - an intimidating line you stare at from the pit toilet at Hamilton Lakes. The climbing stays sustained in 5.10 range for majority of the climb, with tough 5.11 pitches and a single 5.12a. We split the route into blocks of three with Luke getting the first. For a route that has likely seen less than 6 ascents, the quality was good and most of the pitches were clean. The exposure reminded both of us of something that belongs on El Cap - BIG AND STEEP.

The rack in the topo was spot on and the route finding was straight forward for the most part. Luke got one of the mental cruxes of the route - a 5.11 pitch with difficult face climbing ways above the last bolt. Following the pitch, I was not sure I could have led that one if it was a lead of mine, but with his beta and a top rope I was able to climb it without a fall.

What I liked about the climb is the variety: well protected face, some runouts, hand cracks, offwidths and laybacks. What I did not like is the garbage bolts in a few spots. It was mostly well bolted with stainless 3/8ths, but there were more than a few that will not last, or are already not safe.
The day was partially cloudy but not rainy. The Angels were on our side...
Lower Hamilton Lake
Start of the route - Luke is on top of the 1st pitch
Me on an awesome splitter. Pitch 4, or somewhere around there...
About half way up the route something fell out of the bag we were hauling through difficult sections. "Yo, seems like I dropped your shoe!" said Luke. I could not help myself, but laugh. The descent will not be as comfortable. But if I had to scramble, I would feel more comfortable right? Glass half full! After the news, it was also time for me to lead the 5.12- crux. By lead, I mean you go off the belay ledge, clip a high bolt, down-climb and do the crux traverse on a semi-top rope. Usually, I do not try the crux over and over if I can't get it the first time, but feeling close to getting the move and being close to the belay I went back multiple times before sticking the move. If I was climbing with someone other than Luke, I might have not tried as hard, but his positive energy and encouragement pushed me to do my best. He followed the pitch clean first try (not a surprise) and I got owned like a mule on the next pitch - a physical OW. The route finding past the wide part was not obvious and I was not able to get in the desired pro to continue up a flaring groove. In addition I had incredible amount of rope drag, so I asked to be lowered and back cleaned several pieces of gear before climbing back up and making several thought provoking moves to the belay ledge.
Me following fun face climbing
Hanging out on a cool ledge most of the way up the wall. Hamilton Lake in the background.
Trying to figure out how to get into that corner with a small left crimp and shitty foot jam level with my crotch. After many many failed attempts I got it right.
 Next pitch was mine, but the little coward within was begging I offer the lead to my stronger partner. "SHUT THE F*** UP," said I, "It is only 5.10 and you can deal with another 140 ft." According to the topo there was an "incredible splitter" on this pitch, how can I say no to that?....but also there is a chimney. When Luke got to the ledge he knew I was worked and offered to lead. I said I can continue as planned. Even though the "incredible splitter hands" turned out to be a short section you mostly stem in the back of a vibrating flake, the 5.10 section was not hard and the chimney above it was also mellow. Luke swong straight into the next pitch and found own mental crux of the route. He followed the chalk patch that Mike took on the day when it was raining. While he was dealing with complicated route finding and linking the two pitches to get us to the top of this beast, I was dreaming of Ramen and tuna. Even though I brought what seemed to be a NIAD snack bag, I managed to run out. 
Luke starting the last pitch on Valkyrie - Cherubim Dome in the background
Hamilton Lake
Hamilton Lake from high up on Angel Wings


Insert joke of your choice. Also, this is our summit photo, far below the summit. We looked a lot worse on top! :)
The patch Luke followed was not for those with lack of mental strength. VERY R, and likely pretty X. When we topped out I congratulated Luke with his ability to keep it together. Both of us were amazed with Mike's ability to do this section in a full on rain, but Mike freed multiple El Cap routes and has mental strength of a rock ninja, so no biggie. Rest of the night was spent hiking back to camp and dreading the next morning...

TO BE CONTINUED

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