This is the place, the place the place the place. Ahhh so good this place.
May 11th- Sunnyside Bench, Bishop’s Terrace and Black is Brown:
Our first day in the valley. I went with a group to the Church Bowl to climb Bishop’s Terrace, a classic old two pitch 5.8. It’s going to take the students a bit to get used to the long pitches, the gear anchors and the gear conserving when they’re on easy ground. The old cliche of “when in doubt, run it out” evidently holds true here in the Valley. These young climbers are going to have to figure out the fine line between placing to too much gear and running out or placing too little and putting themselves at risk. The route was great and when on top we chose to rap down into a clear area free of flakes and trees. The area had a strange recent rockfall look to it. Low and behold, a local guide let me know after that the week prior rockfall had ripped down and obliterated the trees there and had been closed until now. Oh well, live and learn…and not die. We finished up with a student leading a not so classic and quite sandbagged 5.8 called Black Is Brown. I this student’s case, there was luckily no brown but he did have his eyes open to what 5.8 can mean in other climbing areas. The group is charged!
May 12th – Manure Pile Buttress, one of the most famous multi pitches in the world, the Nut Cracker:
The next day I went with a group of 4 students to the Nutcracker. This route is famous the world over for being one of, if not the first multi pitch routes in North America to be protected completely by removable chocks, or nuts, as they are now commonly known. At 5.8, this is a pretty stout line with long pitches of at least 40 meters, 5 pitches long and gear anchors through out. The sun blazed down as we made our way up the route, with at least 10 people below us. The students kept asking why me had to start so early? On a Saturday, in this valley, on this line? Take a wild guess. You may ask how we climbed this route in a group of five? I was Mr. Invisible that day, riding my soloist device up behind the two leaders of each team checking gear, anchors and general climbing skills. The soloist is coming in super handy as a way of being there as a Guide without being a part of the rope team. I just hung out on a leash and slapped on the soloist when I needed to go up. The temps reached 85 but a breeze kept us sane. Our Greek team member chose to climb without a shirt to bronze his Helenic back. Guess what? Greek males burn as well and he had to deal with a sore back and wearing a pack for the next few days. We topped out, lounged a bit and hiked down, all members well and truly psyched at how good a world class line can feel.
May 13th – the first big day…Royal Arches, 15 pitch 5.8 with six people:
Today I woke at 4am, hurriedly ate cereal and had two cups of instant coffee and was walking by 445 with our group. Walking by headlamp, packs on and with a big objective for the day is one of the key parts of climbing in Yosemite. Arriving at the base in the dark we saw our starting pitch, a glisteningly slick polished chimney. From there the day just got better, as we made our way through the lower pitches mixed in with much 3rd class, on up the middle section where you encounter some awesome crack pitches and finally the last third, where you do a small pendulum to get past a blank wet section and end in the blazing sun on top of the Royal Arches. I was guiding Dave, a guy from Ecuador, who was interested in actually being guided instead of leading himself. This was a new thing for this program, allowing students to get some instructor time in the form of pure guided climbing. I’m not convinced that this was a good idea as it is really their trip and we’re there to coach and coordinate, not bring up routes. Anyways, we blazed to the top by noon and chilled in the shade of the one tree on the ledge waiting for the four others. This route is a mega classic that anyone loving multipitch climbing hoes to do interior formative years. I missed out on this so it was my first time up RA. Two hours later our second part of students came up, this time one student practicing some guiding of his own by guiding another student up the entire route. Sean and Iaonnis were psyched, especially Iaonnis, our Greek ambassador because he had never thought he could get up a route so long. Sean is unusually fast so they were up by 2. Party after party passed by, heading for the walk off descent instead of the rappel line. Most were classic Yosemite locals- moderate climbers trying to climb too fast using ridiculous techniques because speed is the game here, not difficulty or technical proficiency. Too many 5.9 climbers believing they are truly Honnold -style bad asses without having any if their basic systems or climbing skills smooth or polished. Our students were passed my many many soloists as well, the other main figure in Yosemite rock climbing. So many people soloing in approach shoes, looking so blasé about the chances they were taking. I’m not saying soloing is wrong, not in the least. Just don’t try to make it more lighthearted or casual than it really is. Case in point was a man who appeared and soloed past us to finish the route by the walk off path. He was Irish and maybe it was his first time but there but he started to climb way way of route and into a steep dirty section. Things started to look grim, he started to shake a bit, and we wondered if we were going to see someone slip right off the lip of the entire wall. We called over, asking if he wanted a belay across the final section. He was able to climb over to us on our little ledge and we popped a rope on him and gave him a well needed belay across the slick polished final slab and onto freedom and life-yay:[ long story short, the students were a bit aghast at his sketchy decision making and couldn’t really get their minds around why people would do this. Interesting to see them learning that the climbing community is far more difficult to define than any of them imagined. Our final team appeared, looking sun glazed and weary and we rappelled using the rap route, 11 rappels long. The raps took us 3.5 hours and we got to the ground at 730pm. Long day considering we began climbing at around 530am. Great route, classic.
May 14- A Yosemite Restday- today was a real rest day, with a bit more time to sleep in and nothing to get up to for the whole day. I ended up heading out towards Mirror Lake on a run in the am, checking out the amazing view of Half Dome’s steep North Face and trying to find out where the Northdome Gulley descent route comes down. A I ran underneath Washington Column Astroman and Quantum Mechanics were a glow with morning sun, what a wall, incredible. Shower, Internet, reading etc took up most of the day.
May 15 – Serenity Crack to Son’s Of Yesterday- First day on in our last set of three saw me heading up one of, of not the best 5.10 crack multi pitch in the free world, Serenity Crack to Son’s Of Yesterday. I’ve climbed this before but hadn’t been to the very top in years and years. I was guiding Cat, the strongest girl on the expedition and behind us were Sean and Martin, the two strongest guys on the trip. We owed Sean some quality time as he had been patiently climbing routes which were very very easy for him and not pushing his own leading at all. My god this routes good, some of the most consistent quality crack climbing lasting for eight pitches with a crux of 5.10d. Sean almost on sighted the crux, whipping at the last third of the finger crack section. He cruised everything else, as did Cat, following my leads. All three, Martin, Sean and Cat thought it was one of the best routes they’d ever done. As we rappelled we passed a party climbing the final pitch who were both Search And Rescue team members in the Valley. Pete and Amanda were really impressed when they learned that three of our party were students in an adventure program. As we rappelled past them, taking care to build separate stations, share anchors, keep our ropes out of their way and pull ropes up every time a leader was climbing below. They both said that the students were some of the most accommodating and dialed in multipitch climbers that they had ever met. Kudos to the students that day. Serenity Crack into Sons Of Yesterday remains one of the best 5.10’s I’ve ever climbed. Period.
May 16- The Regular Route on Sunnyside Bench- Our second day in our last set of three was a mellow day where I went and climbed a short multipitch route, The Regular Route up Sunnyside Bench located just right of the Lower Yosemite Falls. I climbed with Martin, Cat and Chelsea, with myself simply being a seconding climber that day. The route was fair, with a bit of chimneying, traversing on face hold and solid hand cracks with some face holds thrown in. We had been told that there was a set of pools above the falls that we should go soak our feet in after we summitted, so we were looking forward to the end of the route. At the top the heat was stifling. We searched around and found the stone cairn marked trail to the pools. However, our soaking was not to be, the pools were at the very lip or the falls and would have meant certain death if you happened to fall in. Some bad beta for sure, no pools and certain death for us. We hiked off down the descent trail, kept hiking, wandering in the blazing sun, questing around for the easiest way down. All we found was a traversing side hill trail made of sand wandering above the edge of a huge cliff drop. Not inspiring but the only way. We carefully made our way down in the still, close scotching heat and all swore off ever doing that route again. Ug
May 17 – Half Dome-Snake Dike- The big day had arrived, our last day in Yosemite and a three rope team party had been chosen to try the famous Snake Dike, which climbs Half Dome’s southwest edge. Our planning was extensive, the day before we had chosen the students who would best deal safely with the extremely runout nature of the face climbing and also the close to 15 miles of hiking that took us to the base and then back down the other side to camp. Bags were packed, ropes coiled, food, water mixed with electrolyte powder, topos handed out and e were all in bed by 9am, anticipating the 3 am wake up time. At 10 pm Sean, our strongest leader woke me up with the news that he had stubbed his big toe and in the process cut it open and was unable to fit it in a climbing shoe. Ahhh, last minute plans are a changing. We woke everyone up and hurriedly swapped students around to keep the dynamics of each group. The other teams were going to climb the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, a more difficult crack climbing objective but with a shorter approach and descent. Added into this was the fact that one of the SD crew had an infected thumb and couldn’t put it into cracks, so he couldn’t switch. Cat didn’t want to switch as she was getting guided up SD, Iggy our Icelander was set on SD but luckily Thompson, our youngest and burliest student was up for the challenge Of SD. We set off at 4am and nailed the quick approach trail, getting to the base of SD in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Fast for around 6 miles of uphill hiking. Thanks Martin the Ecuadorean for pace setting there. We blasted up the route in three teams of two, starting our climbing at 710 am. We stayed just far enough ahead of each other than the groups never stopped moving, getting to the top at 12 noon. The final 1000 feet of the route consisted of easy 5.0 slab that was climbed stretching the ropes out 60 meters to gear anchors for 3 pitches, then switched to using terrain belays and hip belays as the stances improved and finally coiled up the ropes, put them on our backs and scrambled to the top. The views? Incredible. Looking down at Washington Column and Astroman and far behind to Mt. Watkins, Clouds Rest and off in the distance Cathedral Peak. About 30 minutes behind us was a German couple in their late 50’s at least who climbed up and hiked down with the same pace as us. Pretty inspiring. We began the 9 mile hike down by descending the cables, which were still lying on the slabs and not propped up for the summer tourist season. After hand over handing down those, we switched climbing for trail running shoes and hoofed it down the trail. Trail runners were the way forward as they were much lighter and more comfortable than approach shoes. Martin and I ended up running most of the trail because of it’s gentle downgrade. We were back at camp by 4. An awesome day for all, on one of the most unique mountains in the world, on one of the most uniquely featured lines of all time. It was really like climbing a dinosaur’s plated backbone for 2000 odd feet. The end of our climbing expedition was a satisfying one. Early morning wake up tomorrow, 4am, pack the bus and start the long drive home.
May 18- The Drive Home…- as we drive, having just hit up a Starbucks for a morning coffee, I relate a few last minute details of my Yosemite trip. Last night my good friend Tim Emmet showed up late in the Valley and we caught up. So good to see that UK mate again. In two days I’ll be in Kamloops BC, then drive to Penticton to climb with my Lovely Lady Mandoline. I have 4 days to spend with her before flying back to San Fran from Vancouver and heading back to the Valley to climb with Jesse Huey. Hopefully it will be on the captain,, hopefully climbing all these moderates has kept me fit but also rested from hard climbing. Time to turn it up a notch.