Granite heaven (with a bonus top five list)

With a heightened sense of paranoia stemming from being caught twice in rain storms, we played it safe by cragging for a few days until the weather forecast looked to be in our favor. But finally our last day in the Valley arrived signaling our last opportunity for a “big” climb we had been anxious to do. Then three days later we were fortunate to do another mega-classic route in the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park. So since week three was all about getting some real climbing done, I’d thought I’d provide a little insight into what it’s like to climb a long-ish wall which in our world is about 1000 feet. (As a reference, El Cap is 3000) Disclaimer: this experience may be different depending on a particular climber’s skill and experience. . .

The alarm goes off at 5:00a.m. We quickly change, eat and drive off. About an hour later we’re parked and hiking to the base of the route. There are a couple reasons for starting this early. First, it’s an attempt to get started on the route before other parties, particularly those that are larger and/or slower. Also, it ensures that we have plenty of extra time to deal with any unexpected delays and still get off the route before dark.

By about 6:30a.m. Josh heads up on lead carrying about 20+ pounds of the gear that he’ll use for protection on the climb. I follow, carrying a smaller load, a backpack filled with shoes, jackets, food, water and first aid stuff. On Wednesday we sent an old-school Harding route, with sustained 5.8 – 5.10 moves from the first pitch to the last. For the next 8-9 hours we alternate climbing and belaying. Through ant-infested trees and dirt-filled cracks, we reached the end; exhausted, sun-burnt, and out of water but rewarded with fantastic views of the El Cap and the Valley. We didn’t stick around to enjoy the view as dark clouds were on the horizon.

There are two ways to get down from a route; rappel, or hike down the other side of the formation. On this route we did both; hiking down a steep, rocky, mosquito-filled (our sunblock and bug repellant were left in the bear box) gulley that required two rappels to get through un-hikeable sections. About two and half hours later we finally got back to the truck, about 12 hours after we left. Dinner tasted great that night!

Josh on Middle Cathedral

After a couple days R&R we headed up to a different area of the park, called Tuolumne Meadows. Where the formations in the Valley command attention, the gently sloping granite domes of the Meadows are more subdued and refined. Our day started about that same, though at 9000 feet elevation (compared to 3000 down in the Valley) we were already breathing hard after the short approach hike in the chilly morning air. (The base of the route is still covered in snow) Our goal was slightly shorter and of an easier grade. Well, it was supposed to be until Josh found the first-pitch crux still wet with snow run-off. He finessed his way through this slippery section and several other balancy sections quite well only to be rewarded with fierce, biting winds the rest of the way up. This time we were able to reach the summit of the dome and 360 degree views of snow-capped peaks. Thanks, Dana for recommending this fantastic route!

Aminda on Fairview Dome

This Weeks top five…

Lots of rain-induced down time in the Valley gave us plenty of opportunity to hang out and people watch. These are a few of our favorite Yosemite characters. It’s hard to really do some of them justice in writing, so the next time your sitting around a campfire with us, remind us to tell you the full story.

The cyclist. This poor man hitched a ride into our campsite so bonked from riding his bike 130 miles in two days from Reno that he sat down to put up his tent. Since then he’s barely moved from his picnic table, just sitting there all day for three days just watching the cars drive by and campers come and go from the pit toilet. As Josh can attest from doing his own 3- month bike tour…bring a book, dude.

The guy who shouldn’t have skipped his morning coffee. As we were packing for a climb one morning we noticed a climber wandering around Camp 4 wearing his harness, gear and carrying a rope. Fifteen minutes later, hiking towards our route, we ran into the same guy looking rather dazed and confused. Apparently upon topping out on the route, he had hiked down, not back to the base of the route where his three friends were waiting, but all the way back to camp.

Bi-polar Mike. We briefly shared a campsite with Mike, a pleasant outgoing 20-something guy. At least that’s what we thought until a little smoke from his camp fire unleashed a tyrade of agonizingly painful wails (MY EYEEEEES!!!!) that would have prompted us to call 911 had we not been there to see that he was quite alright.

The “PB’s” (park bums). While the Valley has a long, proud tradition of amazing rock climbing feats, the dark side is a long and not so proud tradition of homeless, jobless youth hanging out for long periods of time trying to become amazing climbers. Modern PB’s go through some pretty creative antics to skirt the Park’s current 7-day camping limit and also, apparently challenge each other to get the most “freebies”, allowing themselves to save their own money for their Macbooks & iPhones.  They will bum hot water from other campers for their morning coffee, rides to the crag after breakfast and then for lunch will go to the cafeteria and collect un-eaten food leftover from the tourists.

Daniel and Obi. We encountered these guys on short route, The Grack, where they seemed to be smart and solid climbers despite inexperience given away by an entire ensemble of shining new gear (everything, really. From neon ropes to unscratched cams & helmets to their rainjackets and clip on walkie-talkies). That was the last of our interaction with them (well, except when saw them wearing the helmets and rack around the visitors center) but we thoroughly enjoyed the tale from a climber who followed them up a route shortly thereafter.

This climber had gotten behind them on the long but relatively easy out on the Royal Arches formation. Catching up to D & O pretty early on the route, the asked diplomatically if they could pass the slower party (perfectly common to do). D & O weren’t comfortable with that but did graciously offer the other climbers some coffee (with cream and sugar), which they dug out of the oversized pack they were carrying with them. A few hours later the faster party tried again to get by. They were denied again but this time offered a lunch spread of assorted cheeses & sausage from the seemingly bottomless pack.

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