Trip Report
Angel Wings - First Ascent on The Golden Pillar! (V 5.11+ C2)
Thursday October 8, 2015 10:43am
Angel Wings - Killing In The Name Of (FA: V 5.11+ C2 - 1,700 ft)
(Vitaliy Musiyenko, Adam Ferro, Luke Stefurak)

Getting our butt kicked on the previous attempt was not encouraging. Numerous burly, exciting and sustained 5.11 pitches ran us into the blank rock. Being worn out, dehydrated and lacking the vigor that brought us far up the steep wall, led to a decision to pull the plug. As we rapelled, I did not look at our attempt as a failure. It was a GIANT step forward. A step towards completing a new route on the Angel Wings - my dream! Many readers, friends and acquaintances may point out that when it comes to planning new routes, I have MANY walls on my mind. But the Angel Wings is special - it is one of the largest walls in the High Sierra. It stands out above most by not only the size, but by appearance and rich history to go along with it. Personally, I consider it to be one of the most bad ass formations in the range that I love, so I was willing to bust ass for it.

Credit: Vitaliy M.
The Golden Pillar is the buttress on the west (left) side - well lit up by the sun.

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Angel Wings and Cherubim Dome

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The Golden Pillar - Angel Wings

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Precipice Lake

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The A5 traverse (5.11+, possibly the technical crux of the route...but maybe not, there are many cruxes!) I was able to send it...barely.

Day following the first attempt, I was gonna rest before climbing the Valkyrie. Rest....I DID NOT. I opted for a hike to the top of the formation across from the Golden Pillar. In order to spy a way to connect the crack system and avoid a need for a rivet ladder, I took multiple close up photos of the wall with my large lens. Usually I do my best to eliminate artificial ways of making upward progress by all means. There is a limit to what I am willing to do in order to push the line higher. To me, rivet/bolt ladders is a sure way to kill the impossible. I don't climb to satisfy the thirst for glory, so keeping retreat as a real possibility is important - to try my best, have a reason to train and improve a variety of skills, physical as much as mental. If every climb led to a send, I would likely not be attracted to attempting new routes. The challenge of a mountain, the mystery above, the unknown outcome and the ability to seek out your own path up the intimidating peak allows me to deal with difficulties as they present themselves. One at a time. A way to concentrate the attention on one task and truly live in the present. There is no worry about sending the crux moves, choosing the right beta, yoyo pinkpointing a pitch. Pure climbing - start on the bottom and finish on top. Exactly why I knew I found the right partner after chatting with Adam - "I don't care if we fail!"

What my lens allowed to detect was encouraging, but scary in the same time. Turned out we were slightly less than half way up the wall and the two hollow flakes may allow a passage onto a prominent ledge. From the ledge a giant system of steep chimneys, gnarly-looking stacked blocks led to the slabbier terrain and in turn to the summit pyramid. Can it be done? Wouldn't hurt to look! Or maybe it will hurt, who knows? The chimneys looked intimidating. Few weeks later we were making the 17 mile trek to Hamilton Lakes.

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Me on the third pitch (from the 1st attempt)

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Adam on the second pitch (5 star climbing here!)

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Adam on the 3rd.


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Adam following the traverse. Steep, exposed and REALLY good.

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Adam on the pitch after the traverse. It is MUCH steeper than it looks. Slightly overhanging maybe, or pure vertical. Hand jams, fists, laybacking and some OW too! Great crack climbing for the next 100+ meters.

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Adam getting to the ledge

A few miles before reaching the Hamilton Lakes, we saw The West Buttress. It was illuminated by the golden glow of the early evening sunlight - "The Golden Pillar." Adam, his sister Alissa and girlfriend's brother Grayson were impressed by the massive formation. Don't think anyone was as impressed as me. Even though it was not the firs time I saw it, I was taken aback by the geometry of the wall, it was close to perfect. Steep on all sides and with not much of a weakness, a worthy challenge. To no surprise, a challenge first tried by Fred Beckey and several other climbers decades before we showed up.

Next morning we woke up early, hiked to the base and started climbing after it was light enough to ditch the headlamp. I didn't mind doing the initial pitches again. Steep cracks and powerful face climbing. This time I managed to lead or follow all the pitches free to our high-point. Including a redpoint of the "A5 traverse," which went at 5.11+. For our first long climb, Adam and I climbed well together. Usually I wouldn't do anything this committing with a person I have never climbed a multi-pitch with. But we got along well as house-mates in Chalten, did ascents of a few fifteen foot boulders and had a chance to team up to cook dinner. How bad could it be?! He also has an impressive record of climbs on Fitz Roy, a few First Ascents in Patagonia and is on Black Canyon SAR I felt like I couldn't really ask for a much better partner! And again, he was out to try hard and had a great attitude. I was lucky to have such a partner.

As we got to the highpoint, I managed to do some thin, clean aid up the two hollow flakes and drilled a bolt to pendulum off after a hook move. We reached the giant ledge and stood under the giant chimney system. It was composed of massive flakes. Some hollow, some fairly solid. I don't want to bore anyone with the description of a pitch by pitch or move by move description of the climbing we found. But I will summarize it with, BURLY, sustained, FUN, challenging and committing. By the time we were few pitches above the ledge, the sun was getting close to the horizon. We did our best to climb quick, which was not really an option with difficult pitches and tricky protection. To avoid a cold bivy we pulled on a cam a few times to save time and energy. It was a hard work and the fun was long gone. After the light faded, we put on headlamps. I led an exciting pitch to the top of the formation and set the belay bellow a pyramid which I knew was the summit. As Adam came up and racked up for a cruxy boulder problem, I was full of excitement.

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The first chimney pitch. Burly fingercrack (5.11) led to a cruxy bulge and an entrance into a COOL chimney. Easy and fun with an airy 5.10+ stemming to come out. Adam took this pitch for full 60 M as I remember.

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Steep cracks and flakes on the upper part of the wall

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Time to get off this thing!!

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The summit!!!!

At 9:42 PM on July 24th, we stood on the true summit of the Golden Pillar. Partly in disbelief and high on life we let out a few celebratory monkey calls towards the Hamilton Lakes camp. Turned out Grayson was shooting night photography and caught the light of our headlamps while we had a small celebration on top. Surrounded by thousands of stars, we felt like one of those shining objects around us. Climbing a new route, in a day, on the Angel Wings! A route which only has about 30 ft of aid climbing and 1,700 ft of challenging free climbing! God, even if dreaming, we couldn't ask much more!

The descent went without an epic and the following day was dedicated to rest. However, something was off. We had another two days to climb and a plan of attempting a new route on Cherubim Dome. Internally, I had no desire. Hard work to free the Emperor on Bubbs Creek Wall, East Face of Castle Rock Spire, a hike out to Erickson Crag #3, the 7 day trip to the Valhalla just a few weeks earlier and a plan to hike in to the Tehipite Valley after the four days of work (a supposed 'break' after the return from the present trip), had me feeling like a f*#king hamster. I was running in a never ending climb, climb, climb zone. Climbing big new route on the Angel Wings or the Bubbs Creek Wall, although exciting and challenging, took a lot of the energy and led me to an exhausted state. State I was experiencing - an accumulation of physical and mental fatigue. Watching other people dive into the Hamilton Lake, I wasn't sure if I want to continue this marathon. For a bit I complained to Adam and his sister Alissa. There was much to think about. Even though I knew I was visiting places I want to visit, doing the things that I love, maybe the frequency was too intense to maintain homeostasis? The soreness of every muscle in my body and the broken skin on my dry fingers was a physical sign that the rest may help repair the damage. The smell of morning coffee after nine hours of sleep may present better answers than my dog-tired brain could offer? I quit whining and dove into the sobering water of Hamilton Lake one more time. As usual, the solution was simple....

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At 9:42 PM on July 24th, we stood on the true summit of the Golden Pillar. Photo by Grayson Tamberi

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The healing waters of Hamilton Lake

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Angel Wings, Adam and I :)

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  Trip Report Views: 4,966
Vitaliy M.
About the Author
Vitaliy M. is an annoying gym climber from San Francisco.


Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Oct 8, 2015 - 10:49am PT
You are on such an amazing roll, Vitaliy! All year, I think your climbs and trip reports can't possibly get better, and then you post your next one and prove me wrong.

Thanks for yet another gem.


Trad climber
Menlo Park, CA
  Oct 8, 2015 - 10:49am PT
Thanks. Love your photos

Trad climber
  Oct 8, 2015 - 11:00am PT
Great report, great pictures!

Great climbing!

Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
  Oct 8, 2015 - 11:04am PT
Brilliant. Great photos and TR!

Trad climber
  Oct 8, 2015 - 11:40am PT
Glorious! I love Precipice Lake too. I have some terrible old film photos I took there that just don't do it justice. The vividness of the colors bring it back for me a bit.

Any route potential rafting across the lake and going up the wall on the other side?

Social climber
  Oct 8, 2015 - 11:51am PT
Excellent! Your photography is starting to get as good as your climbing. What a combo.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Oct 8, 2015 - 11:52am PT
Amazing photos and trip report.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Oct 8, 2015 - 12:00pm PT
Any route potential rafting across the lake and going up the wall on the other side?

The wall above Precipice is short, looks vegetated and the wall above it has several lines going up it. It looks cool from Hamilton Lake, but as you get closer, it is honestly uninspiring (to me). Some things are made for pretty pictures, not climbing. :) However, I could be totally wrong! Someone could start a line after swimming across and climb uo the direct buttress. Maybe there are beautiful 5.10 splitters on it? No clue! But I didn't see them.

Thank you all for the comments. This summer has been great to me as far as the climbing, partners, luck with weather and health. Even though I am a bit injured up now, still manage to get out and climb (much more than I expected).
How is the photo size? Should I make them a bit smaller, or is this good?

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Oct 8, 2015 - 01:25pm PT
Way to get after it! The route and rock look superb.

4 Corners Area
  Oct 8, 2015 - 03:01pm PT
Congrats, Vitally on a killer looking line on an amazing rock.
So much potential on that thing.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Oct 8, 2015 - 03:11pm PT

that's a the mana right there, man!!!!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Oct 8, 2015 - 03:24pm PT
So much potential on that thing.

A lot of discontinuous, flaring cracks. Not much that connects or protects. That's why it took such a long time for Valkyrie to go up free, even though one could sort of see the line of cracks snaking up all the way up the buttress.
From what I heard it took a month to put up Val Kilmer, which veers left part way up the wall from Valkyrie.
Several lines to the left have been attempted but have not gone free due to the flaring nature of cracks. However, it is a big canvas. I am sure some other lines will go up it in the future. The ones that look like straight forward free climbs look like sh#t though. There is a system to the right of the buttress we have climbed. It goes into the notch between the buttress and the rest of the formation on the east side. Looked wet, loose and uninspiring. Could be a new route for someone!

  Oct 8, 2015 - 05:59pm PT

Social climber
Sierra Eastside
  Oct 8, 2015 - 11:55pm PT
Excellent photos. Way to get after it. Best TR's on the Taco!

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
  Oct 9, 2015 - 05:17am PT
the climbing looks great.
excellent scenery.
looks like good company.

better than beer with my morning coffee.

thanks vit
Stewart Johnson

Gym climber
top lake
  Oct 9, 2015 - 06:15am PT
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Oct 12, 2015 - 12:14pm PT
Don't try to distract us with the cracks to the right in the recess.
The route to do is on that multi colored wall to the left.

You route looks killer and a great line by the way, nice work, you must not have a job or a girlfriend!

Ha! If you are talking about the two domes above AW, in the left hand upper corner, to no surprise we climbed it later in the summer. People dubbed those formations "The Tits" due to the appearance. We gave the bigger one a better name - The Globe. Fits better with The Prism, which is a little further up the canyon. Also, my partner and I were reading the Hamlet during that trip. Shakespeare performed his plays at a famous theater called the Globe, so we named the route we climbed on that peak 'Standing Ovation" 950 ft 5.10. Great climbing and very interesting rock up there.
Job is flexible and girlfriends....seasonal. :)

This is so cool, man. I wish I could climb hard so I could go with you on one of these.

Don't have to climb that hard, as long as you are healthy and excited!

Trad climber
  Oct 12, 2015 - 01:07pm PT
Beautiful route, beautiful pics, fantastic TR! Congrats to you guys!!
Spiny Norman

Social climber
Boring, Oregon
  Oct 12, 2015 - 01:44pm PT
One of the best TR's I've seen on the taco. Congratulations on the route and thanks so much for sharing your awesome photos.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Oct 12, 2015 - 01:47pm PT
Whoah. Proud route.

You guys are pioneering a new Golden Age of hard long Sierra lines! Way stoked for y'all. Thanks for the effort to keep shooting rad photos and writing up reports.

smith curry

  Oct 12, 2015 - 02:59pm PT
The Alpine

The Sea
  Oct 12, 2015 - 10:45pm PT
Do you have bionic knees!?

  Oct 13, 2015 - 10:33am PT
Proud climb and fine report. Congratulations on wrapping it up. Thanks for taking us along.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Oct 15, 2015 - 10:26am PT
Do you have bionic knees!?

Likely will at some point. Especially if I continue to average 30 miles a week . Hope I can manage without a surgery though. It is about the balance and strengthening different little muscles in the ankles, hips and around knees. This off season will be all about that....and lots of hangboarding.

You guys are pioneering a new Golden Age of hard long Sierra lines! Way stoked for y'all. Thanks for the effort to keep shooting rad photos and writing up reports.

As I like to say...GOLDEN AGE IS NOW!!! :)
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Oct 15, 2015 - 11:16am PT
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Oct 16, 2015 - 09:35pm PT
I'm getting really tired of you, your fantastic climbs, your first ascents, and all of your adventures. (:
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Oct 17, 2015 - 11:45am PT
I put this thread in SuperTopo Climbing News here: >>
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Oct 17, 2015 - 12:09pm PT
Totally confused by the water baler comment, even though maybe I should be flattered. Does it imply I have some sort of grace? Because that is not true! Put me on something crimpy in the gym and you will see!

Thank you Chris! Angel Wings area is a must visit for all backcountry enthusiasts!

Trad climber
  Jan 14, 2016 - 11:15am PT
This is really great, thanks a ton.
Don Paul

Social climber
Washington DC
  Jan 14, 2016 - 11:30am PT

Oakland, CA
  Jan 14, 2016 - 01:17pm PT
Holy sh#t, V, this is fantastic. Great photos, great work by you and your partner. What a feat!

Love the image of your light on top among the stars. These experiences are priceless - they will stay with you forever. Thank you for sharing.

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  Mar 11, 2016 - 05:34pm PT
3 months later.. am still in awe of this ascent. Stellar effort.

In a day first ascent on the Angels Wings, blows my mind. With so little aid and cracks that look tasty, please hook us up with a topo!
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  May 1, 2016 - 11:34am PT
Bump for a great TR.
Love this stuff.
Vitaly, your passion is infectious.

Trad climber
Punter, Little Rock
  May 1, 2016 - 01:50pm PT
Whoohoo! Great TR again.