Monday, 5 October 1998. Yosemite National Park, California.
F***ing weather forecast. Cloudy with a slim chance of showers. It had sprinkled on and off all day. Leading out on pitch seven, the sprinkles were starting to turn into rain. The topo said "hook move or two". Right, hook move or three to a dowel. What's a dowel? A quarter inch aluminum rod pounded into a drilled hole. Plenty strong enough to hang off of, but would it hold a fall? More hooking and dowels continued for a 60' traverse around a corner before finally reaching solid bolts. Continuing up the pitch, it continued to rain. Luckily I was wearing my GoreTex top and staying reasonably dry. Aiding up a large flake I could hear water rushing inside the flake. Pulling up over the flake, I could see a river of water rushing down the face. Rushing right over my route! I guessed at the next cam placement, shoved the cam through the river and into the crack behind it. Aiding up I was now getting soaked. As I reached the belay the rain passed, and the river disappeared. Of course the haulbag got hung up. As I waited for Bob to reach the haulbag I hung from the anchors and shivered. When Bob finally finished jugging the pitch I threw on a few more layers.
Between when I'd left Yosemite with Jamie and when I had returned, summer had been replaced with fall. I was greeted with cool unsettled weather. My first task was to look for a climbing partner. The note board at Camp Four (Sunnyside) always has notes of people looking for partners. I found Mark at his campsite and we decided to head to Glacier Point Apron the next afternoon. I needed the morning to obtain a campsite and to get settled.
Mark and I were heading over to the Apron to climb Mr. Natural. I'd followed the climb before, but wanted to lead it. The approach climb, Apron Jam, still unnerved me. And I had plenty of Mark's gear for it: #3.5, #4, #4.5, #5 camalots! We each wanted to lead Mr. Natural, so Mark headed out first. After two hangs, he decided to back off. He cleaned his gear and I reracked. Having climbed the route before I wisely brought my slippers for the thin foot holds. I felt much better on the harder Mr. Natural than I had on Apron Jam. Very enjoyable climbing on a great finger crack.
Saturday ended up as an unplanned rest day on account of the rain. Yosemite is definately an outdoors kind of place. There aren't many rainy day activities here. So I spent the afternoon hiking up to Nevada Falls in the rain. Couldn't see much of the valley, but I still enjoyed the hike.
My primary reason for returning to Yosemite was to attempt another route on El Cap. Mark was a reasonably good climber, but not interested in a wall, so I put up a note looking for a partner. That evening, Bob Scheier came by and expressed interest in a route called Lurking Fear. Given the current weather, we put off things for a day or two.
Sunday afternoon cleared enough for Mark and I to get in a couple of top roped climbs over by lower Yosemite falls at Sunnyside Bench. Monday morning, Bob and I started the wall ritual of sorting gear in the parking lot. Gear sorted, we humped our loads to the base of Lurking Fear. Lurking Fear is on the far west side of El Cap. It took over an hour of trudging to get our gear to the base of the route. Having learned from my previous El Cap experience, I carried my gear in my big internal frame pack. Definately the way to go with a heavy load. We fixed two pitches, hauled up the haulbag and rappeled down. Our timing was pretty good, we avoided the rain until we were back on the ground.
Tuesday morning, Bob and I returned to the route. Hiking up we passed a Japanese climber who was going to solo the route. His ropes were fixed to the second pitch as well, but he still had to haul his haulbag. At the base was another party, but they didn't have any ropes fixed. So we jumped ahead of these two parties and jumared up.
Lurking Fear is rated VI 5.10 A2 and considered a trade route. I found the climbing to be pretty straight forward for the most part. On this route I'd do several things for the first time. On pitch three I walked cams and did my first pendulum. On pitch twelve, I'd do my first lower out.
We had hoped to finish the route in three days, but planned for four. To finish in three days we'd have to lead six pitches a day, which was going to be tough. The first night we spent in our portaledge at pitch seven. That night we rigged the portaledge's rain fly, but didn't need to deploy it. The big wall guidebook and word of mouth advice said that it was stupid to have a down bag on a wall. While in SF I went to the North Face outlet and purchased a synthetic bag. It was now money well spent even though my bag didn't get wet. Having a stove was great for hot meals in the cooler weather. Our route didn't get sun until nearly noon, and with the overcast weather it kept us wearing several layers.
The weather on the second day was much better. Clouds in the morning gave way to clear skies in the afternoon. The first pitch of the day was a 5.10 crack that stymied Bob's efforts to free it. The next pitch was much nicer and I freed just about all of it. Rather than setup camp in the dark, we decided to stop at pitch twelve. Hoping to top out the next day, I decided to lead another pitch -- in the dark. I'd never climbed via headlamp before. It was pretty cool, luckily the aiding was pretty easy. I made only a few free moves before nearly scaring myself stiff pulling on a loose flake. I finished the pitch aiding up the 5.1 ramp that I would have soloed in the daylight. Did I mention I was wearing approach shoes instead of rock shoes like I should have been? Nearing the end of the rope and with a nearly depleted rack, I searched and searched for the anchors. Unable to find the anchors, I build a gear anchor and rappeled down.
The first night we had both been a little cold, so tonight we pulled the foam pad out of the haulbag. (The foam pad is used to pad the haulbag from sharp edges). I won the rock, paper, sissors to get the foam pad. Starting out dry and with a pad I slept much warmer. In the morning, I jumared back up to see where I had lead to while Bob packed up camp. My anchor was built in a crack on the ramp. Four feet above this crack on the headwall were two beefy bolts with rappel chains. Argh! At least I was in the right place!
Pitch 17, Thanksgiving ledge. I'm pushing with my legs as hard as I can, but I can't budge the haulbag. Earlier today we'd had a similar epic on pitch 14. The line between fun and not having a good time had been crossed. My friend Simon had quoted a line about aid climbing that was turning true at this point: "Wall climbing is like ditch digging, except it pays less." Between the two of us we managed to get the haulbag, now definately called the pig, to the ledge. I was wasted and not having a good time. We took a break, ate and after sitting in the sun for a while I was back in good spirits.
We'd hoped to finish the route and get down in three days. We finished the route and found a great bivy spot to spend the night at. Sure we could have continued up another few hundred feet of third class to the summit, across the top to the descent route in the dark, but why bother? We had plenty of water and food for another day. We relaxed and celebrated our success with pineapple rings and chocolate (not together!).
After breakfast we dumped our excess water -- 1.5 gallons, still leaving enough for the descent. We'd brought 7.25 gallons up the route. We hauled one last pitch, before shouldering our loads. We still had a few hundred feet of third class climbing, with one or two sketching sections. I was glad to be carrying my alpine pack, not the haulbag during this. My load was heavier, but much better balanced. Climbing Lurking Fear, you get the grand tour of El Cap. We had to cross the summit and down the east side to reach the East Ledges descent route. On the way down we ran into Steve Schneider, his wife Heather and their friend Andreas. They had just completed the North America Wall, Steve's 55th wall. They congradulated me on my first El Cap route. Heather was flying to Baltimore soon, so I gave her some tips on what to see and do.
The descent involved lots of walking down slabs. By this point my toes were well aquainted with the front of my shoes! Three rappels and more hiking took us back to the ground. I dropped my pack and walked back to where I'd parked the truck in El Cap Meadows. After looping back to pick up Bob, we went straight to the pizza deck for a pie. But it was closed! Bummed out, we settled for burgers. Showers were manditory and once clean we returned to Camp Four to sort gear.
Bob and I hit it off amazing well for having just meet. Wall climbing can be pretty intense and we worked well together. I learned from his experience, this being his fourth El Cap wall. And we did the route clean, with no hammering of pitons. We'd taken some, but they stayed in the haulbag the entire time.
Today, is a well deserved rest day for me. My big wall urges taken care of, I'd like to tick a few long free routes before leaving Yosemite. Bob was more interested in another wall, so I put up a note looking for a partner. Didn't take long for Brett to stop by. We're planning on doing the Royal Arches tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will cooperate!
Special thanks to Jamie Leef for leaving me his new portaledge and homemade hanging stove. Both were invaluable!