Rock Climbing / September 25, 2012

Peter Croft: Angel Wings

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Just got back from a trip deep into the back country of Sequoia National Park. It was not the first time,
not by a long shot. Over the years all four of us – Dave Nettle, Brandon Thau, Greg Epperson and I – had been in there and we’d all been burned. The flame that drew us was the south face of Angel Wings, the biggest vertical wall in the Sierras outside of Yosemite. With different partners or each other we’d failed in our attempts to put up the first free climb up the center of the
wall. We’d been baked off by a mid summer heat wave, chased off by rain and snow, and confounded by rotten rock and lousy luck. Three years ago I got stranded half way up the wall, miles above good gear and looked ready to punch a 100 foot swan dive over the roofs below. Just as the terror and true magnitude of my knuckle-headed-ness sunk in a loud crack of thunder signaled the amount of Hell that was about to break loose. I would have sobbed like a baby girl if it would have done any good.

This year our luck was better, the weather gods were friendlier and we had learned from some of our
mistakes (read: we weren’t quite as stupid as before). A big part of the challenge was to not only find a climb-able route but also to figure out where the best rock was. Subtle features as well as slight changes in the grey or tan granite were the difference between crusty oatmeal and bullet hard stone. After two long days of vertical exploring, however, we found the line. Feeling almost
like we had cracked a code the route now opened up before us. Still five or six hundred feet shy of the top we rappelled to the ground to wait for our buddy Brandon to show up and a one day push.

Summit day started at 3 am with a little bit of food and just the right amount of too much coffee. Then it began. In just over 2200 feet of granite wall there was just about every type of climbing imaginable: thin face and overhangs, splitter jam cracks that allowed fingers to fist, and knees to butt cheeks – even a crux dyno on the 13th pitch. The last 200 foot rope length strung its’ way up the very crest of
the buttress with all the exposure we could drink. After all of our previous epics it seemed odd to be having so much fun. We even got back to base camp in time to toast our success while the evening sun still fired up the surrounding
peaks.

Two days later we hiked the 16 miles back out to the trailhead, dry throated but grinning as we scurried like hobbits under the giant Sequoias. To me it seemed fitting that after climbing the tallest wall in the High Sierra we’d also walk beneath the biggest trees in the world.

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