Everything about Angel Wings is big. The approach, the climb, the roof, the cracks- there is a reason why the South Arete Direct has a special place on the High Sierra Hardman Ticklist.
After approaching for 18 miles along the High Sierra Trail, you finally hit basecamp at Hamilton Lake and can gaze up at the massive walls of Valhalla- Angel Wings, Cherubim Dome and Hamilton Dome all rise up precipitously out of the lake forming a deep hall of highly featured granite.
What makes it even sweeter is when your climbing partner, Matt Meinzer, just happens to be friends with the trail crew stationed at Hamilton Lake and they put you up in the nicest digs imaginable!
For two days after hiking in the weather was a bit unpredictable, so we hung out around the lake reading, playing on pool toys in the lake, drinking beer and frying up all the fresh trout we could catch! Trail crew rocks!
|Base camp scene. Books, New Yorkers, PBR, what more do you need?!|
After we were fully relaxed and rested, we got after the matter at hand, the South Arete Direct on Angel Wings. Put up by in 1991 by perennial badass Dave Nettle and partner Jim Nowak, this route probably gets climbed by one party per season, and it shows. Watching Matt lead the first pitch, nut tool in action digging out grass and dirt from the cracks, before launching into burly squeeze chimneys, I started feeling the Anti-Stoke rumbling pretty good. It was probably just the under-hydrated Mountain House meal I had eaten the night before, but the effect was the same.
|Oh, you say my feet are going to scorch for the next 11 hours? Better massage them now...|
Once we got about 600' up the route we came face to face with the crux, the Black Roof. It is given 5.11+ on the topo, but I can only imagine how hard onsighting the roof while gardening it would be. As it was it was probably A2+ before the wild unprotectable knob traverse above the roof into the chimney system. It was super hot and our feet were excited to get out of the black rock bands.
|So much squeeze chimneying meant the camera stayed in the oack most of the day...|
Upon reaching the chimneys and climbing out onto the South Arete proper, the rock changes into a very featured, yet brittle, orange Red Rocks kind of experience. But with more grass and less gear.
Six more long pitches of fairly demanding climbing got us up to the top of the pillar and to the true summit of Angel Wings.
We chose to take a little longer but more obvious descent off the north side down to the Lone Pine Creek trail, and made it back to camp just as it got dark. Our friends Galen and Nick monkey called us into camp and greeted us with a hot meal of pork chops and veggies, with a bottle of whiskey to wash it all down. Didn't I say that Trail Crew rocks?!
I have to work in a couple days so I hiked out solo and drove back to Mammoth in one day, stoked to have ticked off a major climb in my Sierra bucket list.
Thanks again to Matt, Galen (full given name Galen Alpine, how COOL is that?!) and Nick, and even to Dave and Jim (despite the fact that I was cursing their names on"Jim's Double Fisted Cracks" pitch!)