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Yosemite Valley

last edited 10-2003

Well, this is just starting, but a bit of stories of climbing and living in Yosemite Valley in Northern California.

I rolled into "The Valley" 5-2-01 where I moved all my food from the truck to a bear box (a rather large undertaking) and ran into a number of people I had seen at previous climbing areas. That afternoon I went down to the Cookie Cliff with Aryeh and got schooled on Waverly Wafer (a very physical 5.10c) (but I made it up). then the much easier wheat thins (supposedly 10c also) and butterfingers (.11a) flashed on TR.

Struggling at the top of Five and Dime (5.10d)
picture of five and dime

I mostly climbed shorter stuff below the main valley, including Reeds direct, lunatic fringe, five and dime, midterm, separate reality, cookie monster... etc. Also Moratorium, and the east buttress of El Cap.

Sometimes finding partners was a pain, as I knew a lot of people there, but often they already had partners. I ended up climbing Commitment with "Silly Otter". He had virtually no gear and borrowed a harness, belay device, and nut tool from me. One day out of frustration I hiked up the Yosemite falls trail and enjoyed the views up there. Some days I just sat by the falls and read a book.

As a member of "team bivy" I got to hear about a lot of the tricks and scams necessary (or superfluous) to staying in a place with a 7 day limit. As far as I know the only people told to leave were the residents of the "Corona Van" just about the most recognizable vehicle on the planet after the weinermobile.

Emi and Curtis by Vernal falls
picture of Emi and Curtis

I ran into Emi and Curtis White at the Ahwahnee hotel (they were there for Emi's parent's anniversary). They were mostly doing family things, but I did get the chance to catch up and we went on a day hike up past Vernal and Nevada falls. These were quite spectacular with all the water.

Big Walls

A number of other people were climbing some big walls, and I got the fever too. After my ascenders had been up 2 walls without me, it was time for me to take them up one. Unfortunately I had no partner and not quite enough stuff to be able to just do it by myself or take someone w/o any gear up.

Leaning Tower

Leaning Tower and Bridalveil falls
picture of  leaning tower

Dennis was looking to do a big wall, so we decided to do the west face of Leaning Tower. 10 pitches of overhanging rock just south (right) of Bridalveil falls. We decided to link every 2 pitches so it would only be 5 rope stretching pitches. I sorted and made and packed up my gear while Dennis was dropping someone off at the airport. We were supposed to meet the night before to get gear packed etc. but I never saw him. rather despondent, my packing lost steam. The next morning I waited around 'til 10 but he never showed. harrumph. I biked to the base of El Cap and watched Dave and Rob get up onto Dolt Tower on the nose. Then back to Camp, where Dennis was waiting. I quickly threw my stuff together, and we headed off. but looped back to grab my rope. We left the parking lot around 1 pm and headed up to the base. I was carrying the houl bag AKA The Pig. oof. It was a hot sweaty approach up through the talus. then up a ramp to the base of the climb (it started about 400 feet off the ground). Bruce was still belaying James (2 Canadians also staying at site 10 in Camp 4) up the first bolt ladder pitch when we got to the other side of the 4th class traverse. There were also 2 others ahead of them, and Ahwahnee ledge slept 4. So we decided to fix our ropes up to the ledge and then sleep back on the ground.

Dennis led the first pitch, a straightforward, but steep bolt ladder with a few bits of other gear. While he was partway up, it started raining. pouring really. This was sort of cool, as we were under the overhanging tower, and didn't get wet. The sun was still shining for a bit of it, and the large drops looked like snow floating down onto the trees 400 feet below. the rain wasn't so much fun for Dave and Rob on the Nose, they got soaked. When Dennis had finished, I cleaned and then headed up the next pitch (each of these was originally 2 pitches, but we were linking them). My pitch was pretty straightforward, but traversed a bit, and also had less fixed gear, so I had to place more gear myself. I got up to the ledge around sunset, where the peanut gallery was assembled to watch me make the last 5.6 free move (there had been much cursing from above earlier). It wasn't a problem, and I fixed the rope, and rappeled down cleaning as I went. Back to the ground in the dark where we slept.

Dennis starts up the free hanging rope
picture of jugging leaning tower

The next morning we weren't in any rush, as the 2 groups were still ahead of us. We left some of the water and our sleeping bags on the ground, planning to get all the way to the top that day. In case we didn't we still took our pads and some warm clothes and a fair amount of water. Dennis ascended the fixed lines first. After lowering out, he was at least 30 feet from the wall. I tied the pig into the end of the haul line, and then lowered out, unfortunately, there wasn't enough slack in the line, and my weight pulled the pig off the ledge. It swooped down below me, as I steeled myself for the ride. I whipped back and forth and spun around in a rather alarming manner. cliff sky cliff trees sky trees cliff... I was afraid I would puke. Eventually the swinging and spinning slowed down to a manageable level, and I ascended the line. (ascending and cleaning was accomplished using ascenders, which attatch to the rope and act like one way ratchets. They are also attatched to your harness and to aiders, which are webbing ladders. Depending on how steep the terrain was, and how tired you were, you either had a foot in an aider from each ascender, or both on one ascender. alternating small steps, or a big step and sitting down. the small steps are much easier, but very tiring on free hanging terrain. If you are cleaning, you take the gear out or disconnect from it as you pass it. Easily done on vertical or less than vertical rock, rather difficult and sometimes scary on traversing or steeply overhanging rock.) back to the story. When we got to the ledge, the slow party was just starting to lead the next pitch. So we waited and waited and waited.

Eventually Dennis started up the traversing pitch. Somewhere in here, he dropped one set of aiders. It took them a long long time to float down to the ground. By the time he had traversed to the right, and then back to the left, it was 4 pm, and I doubted we would be able to top out following these guys. So I left the haulbag and started cleaning. Traversing pitches are a pain to clean, but I facilitated things with the now unused haul line. Then I started up the next pitch. This one took a while, although I did bust a few free moves, they were a real pain with all the gear I had on. When I was about 1/2 way up, the people above us bailed, and rappelled back down. I did manage to remove a stuck cam on this pitch, which is always gratifying. The two pitches I was linking consisted of one very long pitch, and a short one. I fixed the rope, and cleaned it on the way down. (sunset by now). I didn't realize how much this one overhung/traversed, until I was cleaning it, and swung 20 feet away from where the gear was. I was pretty exhausted that night, especially my shoulders from wearing the huge rack of gear. Sleeping was fitful on the ledge without a sleeping bag and some rocks jabbing me in the back. Luckily it wasn't too cold, although I did end up wearing all my clothes, and would have gone for the haulbag at around 4 in the morning if it was much earlier in the night.

Once again morning found us jugging back up our fixed lines. Dennis led this last pitch which started up a pretty steep roof, and continued on and out from there. When I finally lowered out the haulbag it was at least 40 feet out. As I have mentioned earlier, cleaning overhangs is a bit of a pain, and I cleaned this one too. (I cleaned every pitch on the route). We got to the top before noon, and then started the arduous process of getting back down. This involved a number of rappels down a gulley. I got greedy on the last rappel, and didn't get all the way down, so I was hanging from a bolt anchor on a smooth face, wishing I was on the ground, and feeling very raw on my hips where the harness was rubbing. I hollered up to Dennis to reset the rappel at a higher anchor so that we wouldn't have to do it at the hanging belay. While he was doing this the haulbag knocked a 3/4 fist sized rock off and onto my head. BANG on the helmet, and I saw it arcing straight out into space about as hard as I could throw it. (Thanks for the helmet mom and dad, it definitely saved me a lot of pain and blood). Then back to the ground for staggering down through the talus to the car.

To put this all in perspective, Leo Houlding freed every pitch but the initial bolt ladder, and then did the entire route in just under 2 hours.

El Capitan (The Nose)

El Capitan (the nose approximately follows the shadow line)
picture of El Capitan

Just before leaving for leaning tower, I ran into Josh Merriam (from Texas A&M) in the parking lot. He was mighty keen to do The Nose, and I wanted to do it too. His timetable was tighter than mine, so we planned to head up after one full rest day, and half a day of packing etc. On the rest day I drove down to Mariposa with the plan of e-mailing and restocking my larder, plus getting some wall food. Of course the library was closed on monday... grrrr... but I did get food.

We assembled the necessary stuff (lots of borrowing), thanks Dennis, Evan, and Dave. First it was to be a threesome, Josh, Dennis, and I. But then Dennis dropped out, causing a last minute scramble for some gear (some of which Josh purchased). Finally we packed up and headed up to the Captain to fix lines up to sickle ledge. There were 2 parties on this stretch of rock, and one rapping down from the ledge, so we were pretty bummed. We ended up jugging up the fixed lines and hauling our pig up to the ledge. I carried the pig up to the base of the climb. This was nice because it was pretty short and a decent trail, but awful, because haulbags aren't very comfortable to carry, and it weighed a lot. (50 pounds of water alone). The jugging was much lower angle and easier than leaning tower. The pig was really heavy, and the hauling sucked. So, we didn't actually "climb" the entire nose, except we were aid climbing, so we didn't climb a lot of it. Think of the ropes we went up as a lot of "fixed" gear. Plus we heard the first four pitches were the worst (and maybe some of the hardest aid?) We found out that one of the groups was planning on starting the next morning early, another the day after that, and the last was really slow, so we figured we'd better be ahead of them.

That night we slept on the ground. The next morning we got up pretty early and headed back to the wall. We were behind one party, but didn't have to wait too long for them before we started. But after a pitch, we realized that we would be behind them waiting at almost every pitch if we didn't pass them (they were doing no almost no free climbing). So Josh busted the move into the stovelegs by traversing instead of doing a pendulum. This was fine and good except that in our haste, I headed up the "don't go here" crack instead of the stovelegs. What was supposed to be 5.9 liebacks turning to perfect 5.8 hand jamming might have been 5.9 turning to 5.10 and up liebacking. Yucko. I started to aid. Also the wind picked up to rather high levels. (aiders streaming sideways in the wind, etc.)Then I finally saw the anchor, except that it was the rap anchor, and not next to the crack. I ended up climbing higher and building a small anchor and swinging over off of a string of slings. But then we were back on track and eventually up to dolt tower where we ate lunch (at 4 pm) (pre cooked pancakes and nutella for me, with cookies and fig bars, english muffins and jelly for Josh). We also drank a fair amount of water, as we didn't have enough handily excessable, and it was hot and windy, (so we were dehydrated).

Digging in the bag on El Cap Tower
picture of El Cap tower

The trip from Dolt tower to El Cap tower was fairly uneventful, and sweetened by my finding a "booty" ascender, aider, daisy chain, and locking biner on a ledge below. Easily retrieved and added to our growing booty pile that also included a bong that Josh fished from a crack (a bent metal piton designed for cracks about 3" wide, now almost completely replaced by camming devices (named for the noise they make)), a fifi hook (used to quickly hook onto a piece of gear or daisy chain), and a number of biners, including a locking one from the party we passed (and left for them on an anchor). By the end of the climb our booty total was over 10 biners, 3 draws, 2 slings, at least 4 nuts, a snickers bar (from a tiny ledge), and the aforementioned items. (but no cams). One pitch I led involved aither some pretty strenuous wide crack climbing, or pretty easy wide cam pulling, so with a cam in each hand, I cranked my way up in fine time. We got to El Cap tower with a bit of daylight left, and set up camp. It was 3 plus feet wide and maybe 25 feet long, with a number of other ledges also available. We ate our dinner looking out over the edge, (pre-cooked pancakes and tuna fish for me, canned corned beef hash for Josh). Then watching the stars, the other lights on the wall, and the looming headwall above as we went to sleep.

The morning found us eating canned fruit (really really hit the spot). Then up to the top of Texas flake. I should have chimneyed up to the top of this large flake separated from the wall at the top, but partly due to the immense ammount of crap clipped all over the harness, and other's advice, I headed up the west side. This was the moment I was most scared on the wall, as I didn't have my climbing shoes, there was considerable rope drag, few good holds, and worst, it was horribly runout (no protection for a ways behind me). I couldn't decide if it would be better to fall behind the flake or outside of it.... So I bear-hugged the 1.5 foot wide steep ramp, and slapped my way up, somehow tweaking my left shoulder. This injury plagued me for the rest of the climb, particularly when cleaning traverses, and at random times when I reached for things with my left hand (like deep into cracks). Unfortunately as of 6-9-01 it still isn't 100%.

The next pitch followed a bolt ladder to the "boot flake" and then up to the top of the flake. Josh led this, and ran out the entire boot flake (it is shaped like a boot). When I got up to the last piton of the bolt ladder, I clipped in, and Josh lowered the rack down to me.
taking the king swing
picture of the king swing
Then I put on my climbing shoes and started running back and forth as far as I could. This is the "king swing". Unfortunately the wall wasn't perfectly flat, and I'd sail over the indented portions of the wall, and hit the far side pretty hard. After a few false tries, and lowering a bit more, I managed to snag an edge and weasel my way into the crack. Then I climbed up, running it out for the next 60 or so feet (at first I was on top rope, but then it became a side rope. I did walk a cam up with me for much of it, and employed some aid too. I stopped and set the anchor where there was another traverse to avoid climbing up and doing another pendulum. Josh led this pitch, and then we left the pig tied to the anchors there, to pick up later (after traversing off to the left, and then coming back. We traversed and climbed up to Camp IV (not nearly as luxurious as the camp in the valley, in fact the size of about 2 school desks, and not too flat or clean. We ate lunch there, then continued up to the great roof, which was my pitch. (and a long one). After aiding through this pitch, which wasn't too bad, I am very impressed with Lynn Hill's free ascent. As Josh follows, he asks if a small nut is fixed, I say "it was" after it pops out dropping him for a few feet of pendulum. About this time it was sunset, and I rapped down 2 pitches to pick up the pig. Of course the end of the rope got stuck below the pig, but eventually I got it up. By the time I had jugged back up to the anchors, It was dark, and Josh was ready to climb. First the pancake flake which went quickly, but then it turned 5.11 back in a dihedral, and we had to resort to aid (much slower). I jugged up, and Josh led off again by headlamp, taking us to camp V, where we spent the night. We were both mighty tired when we got there, and it took a while to set up camp and eat dinner. (spaghettios for me, thanks Geoff). Finally we got to bed, on a rather slim ledge (2.5 feet wide, and tilting west and south (down to the left and front). It was after 1 am, but I didn't sleep too well. It was too bumpy, and I kept migrating over the edge. (well, not OVER the edge, but enough to make me have to squirm back up onto the ledge.)

vertical panorama from near the top of el cap
picture of El Cap
Camp V morning
picture of Camp V

Day 3 on the wall. My cuticles are pretty thrashed, and in general I am pretty used up all over. But we are revived by the canned fruit and head off up into the upper dihedrals. Things go pretty well, except for one slow aid pitch Josh has. Luckily I am belaying from a ledge. I tie a knot a few feet down the rope, and keep falling asleep (thanks Petzl, for the gri-gri (self locking belaying device). We weaseled our way up through the changing corners pitch (another one that is pretty impressive people can free climb). We were a bit better this day about removing more of the useless junk clipped to us and trying to free climb more. Unfortunately Josh used 2 of our 3 #1 camalots for the anchor at the start of a rather long #1 camalot sized crack. (I walked it a lot). Most of this last day would have been a great day's climb without most of the aid stuff. Eventually we traversed out of this large dihedral, and up to the final bolt ladder. Josh led this, and when he started pulling up the haul line, there was a figure 8 not tied in the line, and the other rope and the lower out line were also tangled in this know. Of course he couldn't hear me yelling, so I grabbed the rope and untangled the other lines so at least if he hauled it up, I wouldn't get pulled up too. But Josh could hear me screaming something, and rapped down to the lip, and was able to give me enough slack to untie it. Then I followed up the final overhang (incredible exposure with almost 3000 feet of air hanging under my heels). By the time we got the pig up to safe ground, it was nearly sunset. We took the obligatory "we made it photo" and then we walked up to the "summit" of el cap for the sunset (took longer than we thought), and then back to our stuff. We camped at one of the numerous little bivy sites on the rim. We had plenty of water. (we should have drunk more the first day, but even so had a bit more than we needed). Dinner was mostly my left overs. Tortillas with nutella, cookies, and fig bars. Josh built a fire, and we burned some of our trash.

The next morning, we repacked the pig. and stumbled down towards the east ledges descent. This involved a lot of almost trail downhiking/scrambling through manzanitas. Then a few rappels, and more scrambling. Josh carried the pig, I had almost all the hardware and the ropes. This pretty much finished off whatever energy Josh had left. At the end of the last rappel I found Josh splayed out on top of the pig (he was still tied to it from the rappel) sleeping. Finally we made it back to flat ground and Memorial day weekend crowds (it was Saturday). People were everywhere. First stop was Josh's mantra for the descent "Ice Cream". Then shower, clothes, and a buffet.

We made it!
picture of top

Yosemite in 2003

I was in Yosemite again in 2003 starting in May. When I got there it was cold and snowy, and I was wondering why I came, but a few days later things cleared up and heaps of friends were there. I managed to tick a few things off of the list including "serenity crack" and "sons of Yesterday" as well as a long day doing "royal arches" into the direct start of "Crest Jewel" according to the guidebook over 30 pitches of climbing, although we went through royal arches pretty quickly with a lot of simul-climbing. The descent was long and trudgy too, especially with the manzanita bushwhacking we did. Crest Jewel was one of the best slab climbs I have ever done, but it was still a slab climb, and our feet were killing by the time we were done. There were fantastic views of half dome behind us the whole way up. Hopefully I can climb the NW face this year. So far the low points were the nasty weather at first and getting sick right before I left to head to my Cousin's wedding. Highpoints include the above mentioned climbs plus reconnecting with friends and the delicious food (thanks Emily).

The bugs sure seemed to pick up, as well as the heat. This makes jumping in the river better, but climbing in the sun is really hot, and in the shade is really buggy. I am heading to the needles for hopefully better conditions

Tom, Brandon, Matt, Nandini, and Mike in Camp 4
picture of camp 4
Matt and I at the top of Sons of Yesterday
picture of top of sons of yesterday
On West Crack of DAFF Dome
picture of West Crack of Daff Dome