Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Yosemite Valley

I recently retuned from a three and a half month trip to Canada and the US. One of the highlights was spending two months of that time in the fabled Yosemite valley. During my time in the valley I focused on the walls. Tassy has enough quality short routes that compare to the shorter free climbs! First up was a solo of the classic West Face route on Leaning Tower. Though rated C2, this is a very easy aid climb. For non-climbers, aid climbing is the process of climbing a crack by putting a piece of metal that fits the crack, and then attaching slings to the piece to stand in. then repeating the process. Aid climbing becomes hard when you have to trust many placements that might not hold your weight. This was an overnight affair with a comfy night spent at the spacious Awahnee Ledge. If only every bivy was so good! Upon reaching the top of the 11pitch route then sun was fading quickly. Knowing the descent was going to be epic, I opted to bivy once more on slim rations. Ill never forget topping out over the tower top that morning. I staggered over the rim to see El Capitan in all its glory lit up by the morning sun, no photo will ever do that wall justice! I started down. The descent involved abseiling/scrambling down this horrible loose gully, with a 45kg haul bag(pig). It was the workout from hell. One abseil involved going over a boulder, then free-hanging in space for 10m before touching down again. Unfortunately I followed Supertopo’s advice and had the pig on my back. I was upside-down for those 10m!!

I thumbed a lift back to Camp 4. Not always and easy task when your unwashed for three days! Lucky some ‘tourons’ gave me a sympathy vote! I returned triumphant to an empty camp! Soon the boys returned and before I knew it Tony had convinced me to come do the Direct on Lost Arrow Spire in a few days. This is an amazing feature, visible from anywhere in the eastern end of the valley. It was 1500 feet long and rated 5.8 C2+. The approach was killer!! We managed it in one trip, the effort nearly killed us but we were eager beaver! We started up and from the word go we were cruising. The first day was trench warfare in a loose 5.10 offwidth, one of my hardest leads… ever! Once that was dispensed we cruised to the spacious First Error Ledge. We had time so we fixed the next few pitches. This saw me take my first proper aid fall! I had to do this crazy mantle onto a slopey gravely ledge, it took me a few goes! All the while we got to watch one of the biggest waterfalls in north America a few hundred meters away. I got lost myself gazing in those falls so often, that’s what gri-gri’s are for! We had planned 3 days but late on the second day we were close so we decided to punch for the summit. We made it easily. We took the abseil route down, no-one had set up the tyrolean yet! Back down on the ground I was toasted. Time for a few days off!

After a few days Garry and I set of to climb the Prow on Washington Column. We walked up one evening and the next morning saw us on the route. All day I watched grey clouds growing behind Half Dome. Garry had just done a great job leading pitch 5 but unfortunately a blown fixed head stopped us dead. It started to rain lightly and without any rain-gear I wasn’t keen to hang around! On our way down we passed a soloist, Chris. He was bailing too. We waited for him to get down and took his ropes so he didn’t have to do two trips with the gear. He returned the favor by driving us back to camp. The next few days were a bit miserable. I was psyched. It was time to step up and climb the captain.

I chose the classic, Zodiac as my first El Cap route. I would be doing it solo. After a few days packing Jake gave me a hand carrying all the junk required up to the base. I fixed a few pitches that evening then blasted the next day. On day 2 on the wall I had caught up to another soloist, Aaron. He was a top bloke and good fun to have around! I took a rest day so that he could continue and put some distance between us. So I sat back in the portaledge and chilled. This was almost the crux though! Being able to retreat easily made it a real mental battle. The allure of the mountain bar room, only a few hours below was hard to ignore. But luckily for me I had a special haulbag, not like any other. My pig is a one-way pig. The good folks at metolius installed a gravitron deflector that only allows it to travel up! So retreat was out of the question! I had watched both a Korean party and my mate Aaron hammer through the crux pitch on the Grey Circle. I was a bit nervous, with good cause. Hammering placements destroys the rock, making ugly ‘pin-scars’. On most routes its my personal goal not to hammer unless absolutely necessary. I hand-placed four peckers in a row to pass the hard section. I then had to do a crazy mantle move to get the next good piece, nice and spicy! I continued up, flailing my way past the Nipple to get into my comfy ledge. A few more days saw me close to the top. I had ended up passing Aaron. He had heaps more stuff then I did so my hauling went way quicker. I topped out in the arvo and was soon heading down the East Ledges descent. This is two hours of pain and suffering, made worse by soloing. Having to carry all that gear and a portaledge almost killed me. Never have I been so close to just giving up and dumping the thousands of dollars of gear. Somehow I made it back in time for the last shuttle bus. While I was climbing the others had moved camp, so I had to then lug my stuff around a bit longer till I found them. I was stoked!

Before I had even recoverd properly from Zodiac I was packing for Freerider (35 pitches grade 27). With food for six days packed we headed up, jake with the goal of freeclimbing and me in support, just sniffing the roses. Hot weather on the valley floor led to some quasi-alpine starts to climb the slabby pitches without the hinderance of the sun. All went to plan for the first few days, with all pitches going free. After reaching the alcove late one night an easy day was in order. Taking it easy that day jake climbed the monster offwidth (40 meters of size 6 camolot goodness, which took 2 hours to climb) and fixed a few pitches above. The alcove provided a much welcomed respite from the baking sun. The next day, day 3 on the wall led to disaster...

The Huber boulder pitch, the technical crux of the route. It features small holds and smaller feet with a sideways dyno to a jug. After a few tries jake was looking strong. try number three, desperate gaston, get those feet up, jugs... sooo.... close... double dyno!!! jake launched, all points off, i watched, stoked!! He had the jug!! but whys he falling now?? And whats that in his hands!?!?! As we watch the victory jug fly off into the abyss the rope comes tight. Thirty seconds pass before i ask if jakes ok. We both just stare, dumbfounded by what just happened. Jake tried to work out a new sequence without using the now-missing jug but to no avail. Freerider is forever changed. We continued up to the block and set up our bivy. Later that arvo we rapped back down to try the pitch on top-rope but with skin failing jake had to leave it till next time. He also tried the other variation, the teflon pitch which was done by todd skinner. Jake did all the moves but was tuckered from the previous days intense events.

the next few days saw us continuing to the top. jake tried to free as much as possible but the dissapointment of not doing the boulder combined with being baked in the sun led to just getting up the route!! after a night at the scenic long ledge, positioned above the salathe headwall we topped out, jake already making plans to return.

What happened next was almost the end of me…

Well my time in Yosemite anyway! A storm had rolled in across the Sierra’s and we were copping some rain and general miserableness from it. It continued for days, making the valley seem so small! With so many tourons around we were going crazy! I was hit by two big bills by the bank and I was broke, my trip was done. Lisa, a friend from home, showed up for a quick visit to the valley. We managed to dodge rain-drops and run up the classic Royal Arches (5.7ish). I had changed my ticket already to head home a few days early, but something inside of me didn’t want to go. I decided to borrow some cash off Lisa to realize a dream, a solo of Mescalito. This is a sustained aid route up the proudest wall on El Cap. Even writing these words, listening to U2 my emotions stir. I set off on a 10 day adventure. Every climber has seen El Capitan and every climber dreams... i had faced my dream and lived it, learning more in 10 days than I have in 22 years.

No comments: