Monday, April 23, 2012

First Ascent: Diggin' for Dreams



Probably what draws me most to climbing is adventure. Sometimes the uncertainty of the day is an integral part of success - whether you top out or not. I love getting out in the mountains with good friends, doing long, aesthetic routes. Whether on snow, rock, ice, or all of the above, a beautiful line is what draws me to the mountains time and time again. 

Perhaps the most adventurous climbs are those that have never been done. There is such limited information - there's no topo, no Mountainproject beta on your iPhone, no certainty of success. On the first ascents I have done, the biggest piece of information was simply a picture we took before climbing the route. 

One of my favorite new routes that I have done is Diggin' for Dreams, a line that I climbed with two of my best friends this past summer. We were climbing on the South Early Winter Spire up in Washington Pass the previous day, and spotted a nice-looking cliff across the valley. I had looked at the face probably a dozen times but never went up to try and climb it. The next day, Alan Rousseau (who guides for AAI in Alaska) and Rob Schiesser (a guide and the guy who taught me how to climb back in college) we were at the base after a mild two-hour approach. We brought the kitchen sink - aid gear, pins, tons of cams, but in the end only used two pitons and a standard rack, freeing freed the whole route onsight, ground-up, with no bolts. Though I do think that adding a few bolts would make the route a little friendlier, I like the idea of a completely traditional route.


Alan leading the crux pitch 5 - a clean, techy thin corner to mantel move


Diggin' for Dreams is on the NW face of Choi Oi Tower, a subpeak of Half Moon. The Half Moon, Choi Oy, and Hai Tower massif forms a giant open book, easily visible from the nearby Liberty Bell Group. In the picture below, the peaks of Halfmoon (L), Hai Tower (Middle), and Choi Oi Tower (R) are shown with the established lines that Beckey (1965, Left) and Kearney (1986, Middle) established on the face.


The NW Face of Half Moon from the South Early Winter Spire

Diggin' diverges from the giant dihedral after two pitches. After one more pitch in the corner, the crack seams up and roofs out, prohibiting passage without a lot of cleaning and bolting. At this high point in the  dihedral, we spotted an old piece of webbing, likely from an exploratory attempt. It was bleached white from age. After emailing a number of Washington climbers, we have heard no information about this previous ascent. So, we are claiming a "likely first ascent."

The climbing on Diggin' was incredible. The line covers nearly 1000' feet in 9 pitches. With the exception of two runout pitches at the top, the entire route was well-protected and sustained at 5.10 and above, climbing clean cracks from base to summit. Wow! What a pleasure it was to climb this route.

There was one 10-foot section of crumbly rock (the only poor rock on the route) on pitch 4. While I led it, I threw down yet another fistfull of granite down, trying to get to good rock underneath, to which Rob yelled up, "You dig for that dream!"


Here is a brief pitch by pitch description: 
   P1: 150’ 5.10- right facing corner
   P2:  70’ 5.10+ jam/lieback right-facing corner to face climbing on right.
   P3:  160’ 5.10+ Slab to undercling and strenuous fist crack behind flake.
   P4:  80’ 5.10 Steep corner with poor rock to left trending corner
   P5:  70’ 5.11 Thin seam in an open book leads to finger crack in right-facing cornerending with a difficult mantel.
   P6:  70’ 5.10 Zig-Zagging hand to fist crack leads to a left-facing corner.
   P7:  150’ 5.10-  Begin up left-facing corner for 15’ then traverse right 100+ feet on the face.
   P8:  140’ 5.8 X Lichen slab. Pucker up!
   P9: 110’ 5.10 the pitch begins with 20’ of thin 5.10 face moves without protection.  The rest of the pitch is mid-fifth blocky terrain leading to the climbers left bat ear summit of Hai tower.
   Descend off the back side via two single-rope rappels and walk North to reach the col visible on the climber's left side of the route photo.

Alan leading the start of the route


Pitch two - clean crack climbing



The beautiful and exposed traverse pitch 7


The lichen slab on pitch 8 - a scrub brush is helpful and a good lead head is essential


Route summary:
   Diggin’ for Dreams - IV 5.11
   9 pitches, ca. 1000’
   Rack: doubles through #2 Camalot, single #3, #4. Finger-sized offset cams useful. 1 KB and one angle pitons.
   8/25/2010 Mike Pond, Alan Rousseau, and Rob Schiesser

Now, as I warm up to climb in Alaska this summer with Alan, I remember the success that we had on many levels on Diggin' for Dreams. It was a clean line, a beautiful climb, done with two great friends in the heart of the summer.


"These are the days of the endless summer
These are the days, the time is now ...

These are the days now that we must savor
And we must enjoy as we can
These are the days that will last forever
You've got to hold them in your heart."

      -Van Morrison. "These are the Days"


--Mike Pond, instructor and guide

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