Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Trip Report

Yosemite 2010

My father died just before Christmas. His death left me somewhat at loose ends over the winter. I found intermittent solace in skiing, a fresh activity for me, but did not climb or ride the bike. My family was a source of great comfort.

Here’s a glimpse of DC in snow:

I also gave swimming lessons:

And did bicycle repair work:

Nothing soothed the soul. I made a plan to go to Yosemite before my son comes home from his first year at West Point. He likes boxing.

But I don’t get it.

I struggled to begin riding the bike in early March. By April, the races started. At first, cold rain fell and the results were indifferent but, in the last race, I was in the money and one spot ahead of a recent 40+ national champion in a contested sprint. There was small but lasting joy in that result.

The weekend before I left for the Valley, my friend Sandy and I put up seven new routes from 5.7-5.11 at a small cliff near our cabin in WV. It’s close to here:

Early domesticity.
Despite the last minute climbing, I was essentially off the couch. My partner, Steve, on the other hand, had spent seven weeks climbing 300-400 pitches during his winter road trip. Climbing has a very different role in our respective lives but we both like it very much. Here he is:

But I get ahead of myself. On day one, I explained to Steve that, on previous trips to the Valley, I had blown myself out immediately and regretted it. I said that I wanted to avoid this phenomenon. We went to Arch Rock.

Supplication (10c), a perfect corner, was the first order of business.

He said it was easy for the grade. I demurred.

Anticipation (11b) followed. Supplication is visible to the right.

Then Mid-Term (10b, heh) which, in this picture, lacks perspective on the long squeeze and doesn’t look at all like it feels:

Last but not least was Leanie Meanie, an 11b work of art from Jim Donini:

So, afterall, I blew myself up on the first day even though I knew better.

Not content with the first day’s thrashing, the next day we did Gold Wall (V, 5.11, A0). A party of Kiwis let us pass on the first pitch. They wanted to free it at 5.13. We just wanted passage.

Here I am following Steve on the burly first free pitch for us:

Steve kept us rolling on the next strenuous 5.10 pitch.

We went higher. The orange granite was excellent.

Here’s a long pitch.

It was 200’ to the belay. Steve is less than half way there.

The following pitch had the most amazing bottomless bombay chimney to a belly crawl and final sweet corner.

Steve’s head is visible at the belly crawl exit.

We had a few more pitches above the roof. Yet more great rock.

I was getting spent but we wanted to finish. So I continued. Having a motivated partner is good.

Previously a large block resided in the dirt but now its pieces are in the trees.

Last moves.

Finally, we reached the end of the difficulties and took the obligatory vanity shots.


Say Captain, say wot. Say Captain, say wot.

Leaning Tower and Bridalveil Falls (617’ tall) for scale.

Sweet descent, although Steve’s wonky skinny rope spooked me at first.

Getting to the car well before dark was a bonus.

Caught some beautiful light on Leaning Tower.

Gold Wall goes up the left cliff through the obvious roof at mid-height. Ribbon Falls is the waterfall. At 1612’, it is the longest free falling waterfall in North America.

A rest day of five moderate pitches at Five Open Books took up half the next day. Yosemite Falls was gushing.

I really like this type of climbing (easy and clean).

On the first descent.

The scenery was tolerable.

More moderate fun.

On belay!

Steve cruises another pitch.

In the afternoon, we hiked to Washington Column so I could scope Afroman, the route I wanted to rope solo. It scared me but I probably should have gotten closer to the base instead of looking at it straight on. Routes are always scarier looking from the front. I decided that the Prow might be more my speed.

I slept poorly that night. In the morning, I made the instant coffee too strong and heaved it up in the parking lot. Everything was not all right in my world.

Still, with Steve’s help, I slogged a load to the base.

Steve climbed Jo Jo, a 10b splitter, as a reward for carrying my gear. The Prow follows the white streak on the right side of the headwall above Steve for 12 pitches (about 1,500').

Steve tried the 5.11 pitch and then I hauled the pig with the food to get it off the ground and away from the animals while I went back down to fetch the rest of the gear.

I finished my fetching, jugged the rope, hauled the rest of the stuff and led another pitch. I would have preferred to do another lead but it was 6 pm and I decided to set up camp instead.

Nice views of the sunset on Half Dome and Clouds’ Rest.

And Glacier Point.

Gratuitous self-portrait.

One more shot of the view a little later in the evening.

I had some of the comforts of home.

Gratuitous shoe shot.

Big wall still life.

Despite all that gear, I had managed to ignore the beta calling for 3X pieces from .75” to 1.25” and had brought only 1X the 1” and 1.25”. Oopsie but it wasn’t a big issue.

I slept very well and woke at first light. Another party arrived at the base and I hustled to get packed and moving. The next pitch was interesting but not too hard and soon I was on Anchorage Ledge.

The leader of the party below polished off the first pitch in about 15 minutes so I was worried they would catch me very soon. I figured Anchorage Ledge would allow the easiest passing so I stayed there. On the arc of my trip, this decision was an inflection point. I should have just pressed on but I admit I was weary and more than a little intimidated, even though the climbing was pretty chill.

The leader’s partner was not so speedy and I sat on the ledge for a long time before they arrived. It was hot. I had a long and interesting talk with Kevin from Tahoe/Truckee, a real-deal aid climber and skier. He has an extraordinary wall resume with many hard obscurities such as Meditrano and Central Scrutinizer. His partner fell leading the next pitch and generally was not speedy. Kevin offered me additional water but I declined because it would have ruined my excuse for bailing. I am mentally weak.

Eventually, I led the next pitch. Again, it was completely manageable but still very interesting. My only goof was not bringing the haul line so I had to rap down from mid-pitch to retrieve it. I intentionally left the hauling device at the belay so it would be harder to change my mind about bailing.

By the way, the weather was perfectly fine.

As you can tell, I was preparing to bail. The official excuse is: short of water. The truth is: chicken. But here are a few more choice reasons why I did not ascend further: My spouse had to go to Uruguay unexpectedly and I wanted to get home to see her because we were already apart for two weeks prior to my trip. I had a 9 hour mtb relay race coming three days after my scheduled return and I wanted to get home to ride a bit before the race. Wouldn’t want to let the teammates down, you know. North Dome Gully and way too much gear. Cougars on top.

I didn’t have a campsite in the Valley so I spent another night on the wall.

Why do they call it Clouds’ Rest?

Ho-hum Half-Dome again:

Last light. Quarter Dome looks great.

My hands were a little beat from the climbing:

Red wine helps take the edge off.

The Camo-ledge was comfy:

I was happy to get back to the ground but now, of course, I regret bailing. I had no real issues to prevent forward progress and was offered water to solve my major limitation. Diagnosis = mental weakness.

Next time, I will refrain from thrashing myself in the days prior to a solo wall climb. Next time . . .

On the way home, I stopped at Steve’s where they have goats.

Steve cooked a fabulous meal and I dropped off most of my aid gear for shipping back east. Aid climbing is such a bigger hassle than free climbing but, for some reason, I am drawn to it.

I’m home now and feeling good about it. We planted our flowers and tomatoes for the year. My three man team won the 40+ race at the Nine Hours of Cranky Monkey and we took 3rd overall among the three person teams.

I have mixed feelings about the Yosemite trip. Climbing with Steve was great and Gold Wall is a proud route. Still, I feel a little bad about bailing on the Prow without anything to actually stop me from going up. Maybe I am just not cut out for long routes anymore or maybe I just need a bit more acclimatization to the Valley. Either way, it was a mistake to underestimate the challenge soloing a big wall, even a trade route like the Prow.


  1. Incredible photos. Some of the lingo is foreign to me (ok, much of it...) but did you sleep on the wall two nights? That is just crazy to me. I hope you're strapped in good. I'm glad to see you've got a helmet on, given that our family is prone to falling out of ski lifts, but does it really help when you're that high up? I noticed you've got a jetboil. Don't they rock?! When we first bought ours, all our friends teased us for spending so much on such a small cook pot. Of course they eventually shut their yaps after watching us morning after morning sipping our hot coffee as they waited for their pots of water to boil. Is AM belaying yet? Never too young, I say. Finally, I wish Oregon had better climbing, then I'd get to see you more often! Next time you're in Yosemite, let us know and we'll meet you for some camping. Also, we know a few of the park administrators there-- in case you needed a warm house to retreat to. Keep up the blog.

  2. Hey sclarke-

    I spent two nights on the the wall in the portaledge. It's pretty comfortable. You stay tied into the anchors so it's not very dangerous but sometimes ledges capsize with comical results if you aren't careful moving around. The helmet provides some protection in a fall but its main purpose is to protect you from things falling liked rocks dislodged from above or dropped gear if there are people above.

  3. Hey Chris, nice TR/blog! Is the blogging going to be a regular thing or was this just an easy way to diseeminate the TR.

    Nice pics too. No shame in bailing. There is something to be said for not spending all your physical and mental energies early in th e trip before the main event.

    Congrats on the race results too.