Friday, 18 September, 1998. Yosemite National Park, California.
A climbing road trip would not be complete without a stop in Yosemite. Not only is the scenery impressive, the climbing incredible, but Yosemite has an important place in the history of climbing. Legends were established here. Back in the 60s and 70s, the world standards of rock climbing were pushed to new heights. On my post-college road trip, I'd spent a few days as a hiker-toursit in the Valley. As a climber I knew I had to return.
Jamie Leef managed an impressively low fare of $220 (hopefully round trip) to fly to Sacramento. I meet him there on Wednesday, September 9th. Somehow we managed to miss all signs of commercial activity while driving from the airport. In every other city I've ever been in, its possible to see shoping centers, etc. from the road. Not here. We also took the scenic route from Sacramento to Yosemite. The airy, winding roads made me wish for my Integra again.
We spent the first night in Upper Pines campground, a typical national park campground. Reservations for camping are a must in the valley. But we didn't intend to stay long. The long time climber's campground is called Sunnyside, or Camp 4 to the climbers. No reservations, first come first served. Which means waiting in line for two hours before the ranger arrives. Settled into our campsite, we wanted to get climbing. But first we had to stop at nearly every bend to marvel at the incredible rock walls looming over us. Our first climb was Reed's Pinnacle Direct. Nice 5.9 warmup crack. Jamie started the first pitch, but backed off early. So I launched into the crack. The first pitch wasn't that long, but I was getting way pumped. This stuff is hard! The second pitch really started to kick my ass. I didn't fall, but hung twice. Welcome to Yosemite! We did a few other climbs at the Five and Dime cliff before returning to our campsite.
Surprisingly camping at Camp Four was much quieter than I had expected. Our previous campsite was much noisier. Lots of litter though. But all around us were climbers from all over the world. Sharing our campsite (six people per site) were two climbers from Spain. We managed to communicate in broken English, Spanish and a little French.
That evening we ran into who else, but the ever present Steve Angelini. Friday morning we went over to Glacier Port Apron for some crack pratice. Steve lead us on some interesting things including the very thin Lonely Dancer (5.10c) and the incredible Mr. Natural (5.10c). Mr. Natural was a beautiful finger crack, that felt much easier than Reed's Direct the previous day. Of course, Reed's was very steep and Mr. Natural was a moderate angle. If other parties weren't behind us, I'd have lead Mr. Natural. Before leaving we each lead the bolted "Quincy Quarries" style Green Dragon (5.11b). The climb is rated R/X, but there were plenty of bolts on the first pitch which we did. Jamie and I fell off a few times, but Steve was clean as usual.
The one constant at Yosemite is other people climbing what you want to climb. On Saturday we hoped an approach would keep the crowds away. Too bad there was a slow party infront of us on Braille Book. The approach says a trudge approach (very true!) is rewarded by excellent climbing. I didn't think the climbing was worth the effort.
By now Jamie and I were itching to do some aid climbing. The climbing on my trip so far had been all free climbing. In free climbing, hardware is placed for protection and movement up the rock is done by pulling on the rock. In aid climbing, movement up the rock is done by pulling on the hardware placed into the rock. Aid climbing means lots more gear and much slower climbing. But it can take you some places too difficult for free climbing.
Just to the right of the beautiful Yosemite Falls lies the Lost Arrow Spire. Loaded with three ropes and lots of climbing gear we hiked four miles up hill to the valley rim. Of course there were climbers infront of us, so we had to wait our turn to climb. From the rim, you rapel two ropes tied together to reach the base of the spire. Then the climbing begins. The two pitches of pretty easy aid climbing take you to the top of the spire. At this point you're about 80 down and out from the vally rim. How to get home? This is the fun part! The rapel ropes were fixed at the rim and we had been trailing them along with us. Now we fixed our end to anchors at the top of the spire. Then we lowered across the chasm and ascended back to the rim. The last person has to take additional steps to not leave any ropes behind. I was happy to have completed my first aid climb (I'd bailed out on two previous routes) and to have ticked another 50 classic climb.
One aid climb behind us, we were psyched to climb a longer route. Not having a porta ledge, our options were limited to climbs with big ledges for sleeping. Jamie wanted to do a route that required pounding pitons (ie a nailing route). We selected Southern Man (5.8 A2) on Washington Column. It shares the first three pitches with the most popular Grade V (two day route) in the Valley, The South Face of Washington Column.
We spent Monday getting ready for our big adventure. We spread out a trap and sorted gear for most of the afternoon. All gear needed tie in loops to avoid dropping them. Being new to wall climbing, we didn't have a real haul bag either. Jamie brought the bag to his bongo drums. On Monday it seemed like a pretty tough nylon bag. Time would tell.
Tuesday morning we shouldered our huge packs (est. 65+ pounds) and slogged to Washington Column. The approach was pretty short, but still took an hour. Even with a reasonably early start, we were behind another party. We took an alternate line on the first pitch, which didn't help at all, but was still pretty easy. But we learned that our haul bag wasn't quite up too snuff. Just hauling up the first 80' abraded the bag pretty badly. The second would be forced to babysite the haul bag to avoid major damage. Luckily we were going only three pitches to our bivy spot. Hauling is hard work. Just one pitch gave me big blisters on my right hand. Luckily a party bailing out, gave me a pair of gloves.
The choice line on the second pitch was taken, so Jamie aided up an alternate line. It was slow going, but we finally made it. A short free pitch took us to Dinner Ledge, our bivy spot. The ledge is pretty big, four of us spent the night comfortably. When we first arrived we were sure to be tied in tight. But the next morning, we were walking around unroped. Interesting how exposure mellows. Jamie had built an hanging stove, for use in aid climbing. The ledge was big enough not to require a hanging stove, but a warm dinner was appreciated none the less. We spent the evening hanging out with our new friends from Holland, Floris and Bos. They were even newer to aid climbing than us.
The next morning our route diverged and the adventures began. Jamie started nailing in pitons on the fifth pitch. Aid climbing can be slow, especially when you're new to it. It took Jamie three hours to lead one long pitch (two shorted pitches run together). Whew! The next pitch was mine. We weren't quite sure where the route went. At one point I started traversing left. I hammered in my first piton, hoping it would hold. I continued stepping left, and reached out for a flake. The flake didn't seem very strong, but I only needed it for a quick move to a better stance. Stepping left, the flake broke off! Falling, the piton pulled and I continued to fall. Luckily a solid nut stopped my fall. Jamie estimated that I fell about 25'. A true whipper. Not shaken, I jumared back to my high point and continued climbing. You'd think that aid climbing would have less fear, since you're continually putting in gear, right? Wrong! Aiding out an expanding flake, I really wished I was on a free route. Time had no meaning as I lead the sixth pitch.
It was getting late, but we needed to continue up to a suitable rapel station. Jamie started the next pitch, but was blocked by a large chimney. Only our largest piece, a #5 Friend would fit. Needing more big gear, Jamie down climbed. It was late, so we left behind a few nuts and rapelled down. We had carried in two gallons of water each and had plenty left over. The new arrivals on Dinner Ledge, welcomed our extra gallon of water. We finished our rapells in the dark and hiked out. Exhausted, we headed over to Curry Village for pizza. The pizza deck at Curry Village is a happening spot. People aside, the scrounging racoons are amusing to watch.
The first thing on Thursday's agenda were much needed showers! Feeling pretty good, we headed over to the base of Nutcracker (5.8). The approach was short, we had light gear and we were excited to free climb. But first was the three parties infront of us. To pass the time, Jamie lead a 5.10 bolted starting variation. After rapelling back to the base, we started the regular route. I lead an awesome 5.9 starting variation. Thin moves lead to a great hand crack. Four pitches of excellent climbing later, we topped out. The descent was an easy walk off back to the base.
Friday we were determined to beat the crowds. Up at dawn, we headed to Central Pillar of Frenzy (5.9). The second pitch was an incredible finger crack, what fun! We were on the last pitch before an other party started on the route.
We'd put up a note that we were looking to purchase a porta ledge and haul bag. Mark, from Florida (what climbin is in Florida? :-), was selling off his gear before driving home after a season of working for Outward Bound. Jamie scored a A5 double porta ledge in excellent condition for $400 with fly. Jamie was running low on cash, so I bought a well used haul bag for $50. Hopefully it will last for a route or two. Now equiped, we're planning spending the night on a wall. Yet another adventure!