Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rain at Cathedral

I'm not a big fan of long drives and one-day climbing opportunities, so when I say that I'm a bit frustrated with the recent weather patterns here in New England, I'm saying this whole rain / occasional threat of thunder / periodic downpour BS is getting a bit old. Still, despite the constant threat of getting soaked and / or electrically shocked out of this world, Saturday was a productive day overall, if only a little disappointing in the end.

I rode up with "Ratherbe", "Cracklover", and "KITT" Friday evening for what was assumed to be a one-day turnaround Saturday afternoon. We initially were going to camp at the MITOC cabin just outside of town, but then we realized that there was a slog up a hill before a quarter-mile hike in to the cabin. This was on top of the cabin being about 20 minutes away from the cliff. When we realized the effort it was going to take just get to the site, we opted for my super-secret camp spot near the base of Cathedral instead. I guess we were lucky the next day because, despite the apparent moisture in the air, the rock was pretty well dry and climbable. "Ratherbe" and "Cracklover" met up with "Ambler" and headed off to tackle Bombardment (a crack "Ratherbe" has been hoping to get on for a while) before hitting up the Barber Wall later in the day. "KITT" and I headed off toward the Siagons (5.8), which were on my list, and then off to do Pooh (5.7) for "KITT"'s second trad lead ever. I also wanted to get on Book of Solemnity (5.10a), as I was feeling strong and confident but also leery of the potential for wet rock.

Still in Saigon / Miss Saigon (5.8) - Two pitches - Mixed (mostly sport) - bolted anchors - Greg led

Approach: These two climbs are odd because they are literally the first and second pitch of each other, and not really two separate climbs despite their separate names. The approach to each is easy, but there are two different methods. The climbs are just up the hill from the ultra-classic Thin Air (5.6), so the trail leading to Thin Air is an obvious path to take. To take this path, find the Thin Air sign off the main road and head straight ahead toward the cliff. The path will look a little mungy, but that's OK. Once you get through the dirty gully, and you're standing at the bottom of the imposing, blank face, head left up the staircase path to the top. There is a tree that is at the top of the hill, just below and to the right of The Prow.

The other option is to take the Recompense trail. The portapotties are normally located in this parking lot. Go past them and up the hill to the small talus field. Head left at the sign that warns of protecting the ecosystem where the path seems to lose its way. Keep following the path until you get an intersection of going right or left. Head right and up the two wooden ladders to the base of the Thin Air face. The route starts just at the tree. You should see a bolt about 15 feet off the deck.

Pitch One - Still in Saigon (5.8) - 155 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors

This entire route is essentially a sport route. There are bolts and pitons throughout the climb to the point that one probably doesn't need gear if one is a competent 5.8 climber. In fact, between the two pitches, I think I used only two pieces of gear (one on each pitch). One of the pieces was a #2 Camalot on the second pitch that protected the crux, so I'm not saying that this is entirely a sport pitch. Despite it's healthy coverage of bolts, I still recommend bringing a few cams just in case.

Climb from the tree up the white streak and follow the bolts / pitons on the path of least resistance. The crux is the mantle about two-thirds of the way up, but it is not so difficult if you get your feet right. From the mantle, fade left up into the shallow flakes and then right up to the large belay ledge and anchors.

This route was fairly dry despite the wet feel to the atmosphere. I have to say that I did enjoy this climb (mostly large finger ledges that aren't quite small enough to be crimpers), but there wasn't anything exciting on it that thrilled me. It was definitely 5.8 because of how well-spaced the holds are, but none of them were overly challenging. This is a good option if Thin Air has a congo line on it (which it most definitely will regardless of weather).

Pitch Two - Miss Saigon (5.8) - 75 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors

Supposedly this is the better of the two climbs, and based on the few moves that make up the crux near the top, I'd agree. But it's also so short that it leaves one longing for something just a bit more. From the anchors, head up on the ledges to the right and straight up to the horizontal crack just below the far left edge of the Thin Air ledge. Moving through the horizontal crack is the crux, as all the holds are solid and comfortable but angled in the wrong direction. A series of underclings and side pulls gets you to the anchors at the top.
Descent: One can traverse right across the awkward slab to the main ledge, and that is what we were going to do in order to walk off the top (to walk off, just continue to follow the path to the main road, and head right to the seemingly endless walk downhill). But after I put "KITT" on belay so that he could walk across, we realized that it was too slick to continue. We also realized that the start of the climbs were pretty close to Pooh (5.7), our next climb. With no one below us, we rapped down instead. With two 60m ropes, one can rap all the way to the bottom. Anything less than that will require two raps, but that is OK as both stations had rap rings on the bolts.

Pooh (5.7) - two pitches - Trad - Make your own anchors - "KITT" led

Approach: Head up the Recompense trail from the portapotties and fade left at the sign where the trail seems to disappear. Follow the path to the intersection and take a left. Stop when you come to a couple of shallow right-facing corners with the left-hand corner having roots from one of the several trees above filling it. Carefully scramble up the roots and step right onto the small ledge about 25 feet above the path. Pooh is the right-hand route with the blocky notch in the roof, while Funhouse (5.7) is the stem-corner on the left.

Pitch One (5.6) - 80 feet - Trad - Make your own anchor

The Webster guide notes this as a 5.6, and while I've always heard that this really is 5.6 if done right, I've never seen the 5.6 version. Unless you're lucky, smart, or have really good beta, assume this is closer to 5.9 than it is 5.6. The notch section is not to be overlooked. In fact, a fall of the upper part of the notch could result in a dangerous fall onto a ledge below and / or into the right-facing wall in the notch itself.

Head up the blocky section to the left of the slab that is directly below the notch (the blocks separate the belay stances of Pooh and Funhouse). Protect the upper crack below the tree with a #3 Camalot (or larger if you can) and use long slings even if climbing with two ropes to avoid drag going through the notch. Walk right across the slab and protect the initial moves in the crack on the bottom of the left side of the notch. Be aware that this crack widens on both ends, so either use opposing nuts or use a cam (.75 Camalot works fine - I definitely feel that a cam would work best and that opposing nuts would require solid, nut-placing experience). Use the jugs just to the left of the inside of the notch and rock up onto the central boulder. Then find the crimps on the left face and fight the swing. Once your feet are settled, head up to the next ledge and walk right to a belay tree that is below an obvious 10-foot crack.

This was "KITT"'s first bold lead. He had already led all of Upper Refuse (5.5), including the runout first pitch. He claims that he was far more confident in his gear placement in what was his second trad lead ever, but the notch was anything but obvious and / or basic. As I noted above, once in the notch, a fall is potentially very dangerous. I strongly recommend a helmet and a good belayor who understands the difference between the need for a soft catch and a painful decking potential. Also, if your gear isn't solid in the lower crack, it'll definitely rip out and that would send you back into the left-hand corner and blocks that make up the initial 30 feet of the climb. Not only that, but the lower boulder in the notch is steep and slick without good feet, especially when wet. To top it off, the left-hand holds higher up are in such a location that one feels the need to barn-door off said slick holds. To do this well, one must commit to uncomfortably unsteady feet, and then stem through the upper part of the notch.

"KITT" managed to rock up onto the lower block several times only to realize that there was no place to go once he was up there. He backed down three times much to my dismay. I wasn't disappointed in the fact that he down-climbed. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, one of my slogans is "Trad Climber's Credo - Downclimb." What I was worried about was the potential fall that I was trying to catch without taking away his freedom of movement. Each time he lowered himself off the block was a moment that I felt that if he slipped then he was going to swing dangerously down to the slab with me having little room to keep him from either swinging into the upper notch and hitting his head or twisting an ankle on the slab below. Each time he went back up was a struggle to find both gear placements and hand holds. Once he swung up to the lower block, he always had the urge to sit on it because it is too slick to stand on comfortably. But that only made it more difficult to swing back left to the upper part of the notch. After about 30 minutes of climbing up, down-climbing, scouting the holds, and lots of heavy breathing and swearing, he finally was able to place a C3 Cam that gave him enough confidence to swing and stem into the upper part of the notch. Once he was up there, he was happy to be on easier terrain. I still think that this is much more difficult that 5.6, but I'm a firm believer that just because something feels sandbagged, it doesn't mean that it is. It just means that I haven't found the sequence yet. Maybe someday I'll figure out the moves, but until then I'll stress that this could be a 5.9 climb if not done properly, and it is easier to not do it properly than it is to find the sequence.

Pitch Two (5.7) - 110 feet - trad - Make your own anchor

This pitch may confuse people because it the Webster guide both says that it is the same as Funhouse (actually, the Pooh description doesn't say this, but the Funhouse description lists the Funhouse second pitch as the same Pooh, but the photo in the book shows the two as being separate all the way up) and shows it as two separate climbs. In any case, this belay ledge should be just above the belay ledge for Funhouse, and both will use the same crack at this point. And while Funhouse will fade left after the crack, Pooh will stay right. Both will finish at the weird offwidth at the top just below the Upper Refuse ledge.

Climb the crack to the trees, and climb up keeping the lichen just to your right to the offwidth. Either climb the offwidth (two to three awkward moves) or walk left to skip this final crux. Despite the difficulties of the previous pitch (or maybe as a result of said difficulties), "KITT" didn't like this section as much as the first section. Still, I remember leading this when "Jello" and I did Funhouse in 2007. I enjoyed the lower crack, but I admit it just didn't have the same excitement as the first pitch.

Descent: The best way to descend from either Pooh or Funhouse is to head up right to the Upper Refuse ledge. From there, either climb Upper Refuse (5.5), or find the path to the left that allows for a walk-off to the top. Beware, however, of the walk up to the Upper Refuse ledge. There is a class five scramble that many people rope up for. It is only about three moves, but one slip could send you all the way to the base of the cliff, otherwise known as about a 200 feet down a bumpy ride to the bottom.

Black Lung (5.8) - Essentially two to three pitches - 90 feet for the main, first pitch - Trad - Make your own anchors

Approach: There are several methods to get to the base of Black Lung: either rap off Book of Solemnity (only recommended for those who know this rap and how to avoid climbers on the Book), walk down from the top of Cathedral (not sure where this is, so you're on your own), or climb up the many climbs that lead to the Upper Refuse ledge (including but not all inclusive: Bombardment, Pleasant Street, Pooh, Funhouse, etc). Black Lung is the diagonal crack between Upper Refuse (the obvious, low-angle slab that is to the far left of the ledge and just right of the large, obvious right-facing corner) and Book of Solemnity (the slick and seemingly featureless stem-slab and roof to the far right).

Black Lung itself is only one pitch, but it finishes on the final two pitches of Upper Refuse. Essentially climb the diagonal crack up the top and step left onto the face that is the top of the first pitch of Upper Refuse. There are two pins in the corner just below the awkward dihedral for belay. Alternatively, one can continue and climb to the ledge that is above the two pins. However, this may not be recommended due to rope drag (despite the fact that it is OK to do this on Upper Refuse itself). From the two pins, either climb to the ledge and belay there before continuing to the top, or simply climb all the way to the top (it is advised to climb the right-hand cracks if you do this in order to avoid rope drag).

This is my second time sending this route. The first time was last year with "Jello" and we were trying to beat oncoming rain and a crowd of newbies working their way up Upper Refuse. Naturally, this was felt much the same. While we weren't waiting for other climbers to clear Upper Refuse, we were thinking about the possibility of oncoming rain. My memory of the climb was that there was a definite crux, but once in it, the crux is far easier than it initially feels. I had the same experience this time around, too, except it felt easier this time than last time. All one has to do is get one's hands in the proper sequence for the pull-through. It's the getting the hands in the proper place that is scary, but I did OK. The fact that the rock was supposed to feel wet but wasn't (note: I'm talking about a mental block here, not a physical one) didn't help matters, and yet I still actually felt kind of strong (though later "Ambler" and "Ratherbe" later told me that they thought they were watching a soon-to-be death climb, but they weren't really paying attention).

I guess the only disappointment is that I really felt as if I had the head to finally get on Book of Solemnity. I felt strong enough to do it, but as it is time and again, I let barriers keep me from jumping on it: the rain was coming and I didn't want to get stuck on it, the climb was probably above my limit, the party I was climbing with was already on the route and half-way up so they would have had to have waited for me, etc. I'm disappointed in myself, but I'll get over it. Big changes could be just around the corner for me, so we'll see what kind of courage I really have. Still, it is nice to know that I'm getting on 5.8 now and not feeling a thing these days. Maybe it's time to start moving into the 5.9 range. I'd love to be able to climb 5.9 comfortably by the time later September rolls around.

For Pics of Cathedral, Click Here - newest photos are first.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yosemite Day Two: Zossima's Servant

"For the world says:

'You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don't be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires.' That is the modern doctrine of the world. In that they see freedom. And what follows from this right of multiplication of desires? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, envy and murder; for they have been given rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their wants. They maintain that the world is getting more and more united, more and more bound together in brotherly community, as it overcomes distance and sets thoughts flying through the air."

- The voice of Father Zossima as told by Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

As noted in the previous post, at the end of our first day of climbing, "Ratherbe" and I scouted the Church Bowl area in order to determine our second day's climbs and found nothing we could link from the cliff to the guidebook. This ended somewhat of a frustrating day for all of us; none really had a fulfilling first day and it was apparent that we had somewhat different goals: either push the head or calm the soul, with each of us being in an exact linear position in relation to each other, from one extreme to the other. Since we had cragged on Sunday, it was time to get on something longer and easier the next day.

Monday: Five Open Books and Church Bowl

Five Open Books
Munginella (5.6) - Two Pitches - Trad - Make your own anchors - Greg and "Ratherbe" led

Approach: If you are staying in The Valley, then you should have a parking pass that allows you to park at the Yosemite Lodge. If parking there, park at the far left if facing the lodge with the road behind you. You should be right across the street from Lower Yosemite Falls picnic area / restrooms. If staying at Camp 4, then just walk past Swan Slabs, as the walk to the lower falls isn't more than 15 minutes or so. If you don't have a pass, then park in the parallel parking near the Yosemite Falls shuttle stop. One note, if you're not staying at Camp 4, don't park there, as there is a separate parking pass for this campground.

Walk on the paved path toward the falls while looking left and uphill into the trees. Look for a short, brown post with a picture of a carabiner on it. Follow the climber's trail and carabiner posts until you get to the last post that is about 10 feet from the cliff. Look for a small, left-facing corner / ramp that would lead diagonally up to a small tree and ledge if it went all the way up. You'll pass some bushes on the way up. The SuperTopo guide says this is a 3rd class pitch, but I think it is closer to 4th class with maybe a couple of easy 5th class moves. This scramble is technically the first pitch. Belay the next pitch from the shade of the tree.

Pitch One (5.6) - 130 feet - make your own anchor - "Ratherbe" led

Climb the right-facing corner and face past several trees to a small ledge / alcove on the left.

Despite this being the first long(ish) climb of the trip, and with us being completely alone in this area, and despite the need for me to feel as far away from civilization as possible, I started up this route feeling as if I were carrying extra baggage. The peace and calm that I was seeking was staring down at me from above in the form of a blank, void-of-crowds face that was seemingly high above the hordes of tourists snapping pictures of the falls off to my right. This should have been the perfect moment to put the previous day's frustrations behind me, but they persisted in a piercing and oddly both subtle and direct manner. I just couldn't get comfortable, and yet I knew there wasn't another soul other than my own, "PBR"'s, and "Ratherbe"'s near me. The sun will occasionally sap my energy, but rarely my spirits. I can handle low energy well, but only if my spirits are untouched. Somehow it was my attitude that was twisting my soul such that I couldn't focus on the task at hand: enjoying myself. It wasn't the sun and it wasn't the route, but the problem was both enigmatic and real.

Pitch Two (5.6) - 120 feet - make your own anchor - Greg led

Climb the right-facing corner to the shady belay ledge at the top. Be very careful when moving around on the ledge, as the ledge is full of small-to-medium-sized loose rock. It is very easy to simply step onto the ledge and unknowingly knock biner-sized rocks onto anyone who happens to be below.

I seconded the first pitch and "PBR" came up third. "Ratherbe" had found a nice ledge to belay from that had a small amount of shade in the corner. Because I was leading the next pitch, "PBR" crawled into the corner and dozed off for a few minutes.

Whenever I feel stressed I always try to revert back to what I know works best: stay calm, remain relaxed and composed, and listen to my heart. Waiting is the key, and action is the bitter to my preferred sweet and sour. By allowing whatever actions that will happen to occur, I allow myself to gain perspective and the knowledge, understanding, and confidence to tackle whatever it is that is bothering me. So I took a moment, sussed out the route, began to breathe - slowly and methodically, and worked my way up the face and liebacks in my comfortable, deliberate manner. This felt good, and I felt strong all the way up. But it wasn't enough. I needed the pitch to go longer for some reason. When I got to the top, I felt as if I had started on a long process of relieving whatever was eating at me on the inside, but that time had run out on me and there I stood, naked and exposed without a clue as to whether or not it was going to rain. Patience isn't a virtue, as it certainly foils the man who lives and succeeds off instincts and action. It also prohibits me from finding my needed answers when I need to think quickly. How difficult is it to overcome and move beyond the unknown?

I belayed "Ratherbe" and "PBR" to the top, and as soon as they were both safe, "PBR" walked off to find the rap station.

Descent: If your back is to the cliff that you've just climbed up, head up a bit through the trees and left along a path that walks along the top of the cliff. Walk for several minutes and a few hundred yards until the brush downhill on the left begins to fade. You are close to the bolted rap anchors when you can see the base of the cliff again. Rap down the easy slab to the path below (angling right to get even lower). We had two 60m ropes and rapped with ease. The SuperTopo guidebook says that a single 60m rope would work as well.

Being at the top made little difference in how I was feeling. I knew that we'd get another climb in that day, but would it be satisfying? Even the rap felt rushed for me and I snapped when I was told that I had put my rap device on backwards. It was an odd moment for me, because I was clearly wrong. But at the same time I felt as if I just needed to do my own thing; to be wrong, to discover it, and to fix it. Ever feel that moment when you have too many balls in the air and you just want the world to stop, as if you had a pause button and could just cease juggling for a few moments while you collected yourself and composure so that you could later go back to juggling the same balls as before but with a fresh mind? I knew at that point that was what I wanted. I wanted to pause, gather myself and go back without dropping any of the balls. I certainly could have dropped whatever balls I had in the air that were least important, as that would have lessened my load, but remember, I still wasn't sure what it was that was bothering me. So to drop any ball was to drop all balls for the sake of clarity and rebuilding, and sometimes even more patience is needed before making such a knee-jerk decision. I was happy to be able to see the scenery a bit more clearly now, but the view was still being covered up by something I wasn't sure was helpful or not.

"And it's no wonder that instead of gaining freedom they have sunk into slavery, and instead of serving the cause of brotherly love and the union of humanity have fallen, on the contrary, into dissention and isolation... And therefore the idea of the service of humanity, of brotherly love and the solidarity of mankind, is more and more dying out in the world, and indeed this idea is sometimes treated with derision. For how can a man shake off his habits, what can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less."

Church Bowl
Bishop's Terrace (5.8) - Two pitches - Trad - Varied anchors

Approach: Park in the parking lot for the picnic area just down from the Ahwahnee Hotel. There is a large meadow across the street from the picnic area. As a side note, and this may be completely irrelevant because of the threat of bears throughout the park, but we saw a bear here while climbing and we know of at least two other parties who have also seen bears in this exact spot in the past.

Walk toward the cliff until standing at the base. Head right toward a large, cool-looking cave / chimney that is at the base of a small but steep hill. Walk up the hill to the flat ground and find a bench at the top. The direct start to Bishop's Terrace is directly in front of the bench.

Pitch One (5.7) - 100 feet - make your own anchor - Greg bailed and "PBR" led the next day

For the direct start, which is not the preferred start according to the SuperTopo, climb straight up the initial face and small crack to the beginning of an easy gully with steps. At this point, there are two options: climb right up through the 5.7 offwidth (SuperTopo says this requires large gear), or climb left to the hand-crack / lieback. Climb to the top of either crack to a shallow roof that is well below the double cracks on the second pitch. It was this first pitch where I had my problems.

The one thing that Zossima did not have to deal with was a middle class. In his day there was only the wealthy and poor. Sure, there were discrepancies between the extremely rich and simply comfortable, but the disparity between the comfortable and poor was so great that there was clearly a disconnect in the lives of those with means and those without. In today's world, it is easy to tell the difference between one extreme and the other, and it is even easy to distinguish the middle. However, what is difficult to clearly see are the differences between the middles of the middles. In other words, if looking on a scale of one to 10, with one being poor and 10 being rich, in Zossima's day there were only populations in levels one and then four through 10 with nothing in between one and four. Today, people exist in all levels such that it is easy to go from a person who lives at level four and see the difference between his home and his neighbor's level-eight home, but it is not so easy to tell the difference between the other neighbor's level five home. It is this lack of clarity and understanding that traps today's middle class into feeling satisfied and unworthy at the same time. We have been given the freedom to act as we wish, but without the ability to succeed as we wish. There will always be more that we'll want, and we'll look upon our haves with guilt, pride, possession, and a lack thereof all at the same time.

And to prove that, there I was, standing comfortably on the floor of Yosemite Valley on vacation but with a terrible disposition that was turning the gears of frustration and anger into perplexed apathy. The climbing was not what I expected, our goals as a group were not well defined, the weather was stunting our ambitions, and our chemistry was surprisingly only simmering. We could all see the steam flowing from the pot, but none of us was willing to lift the cover.

"Ratherbe" and I had failed to find Bishop's Terrace the day before. "PBR", on the other hand, was having better luck today and clearly able to point out several routes from the guidebook that we felt were good routes to jump on after Bishop's Terrace. Still, we were below the hill and hadn't worked our way to where the start of the route was. It was then that we heard a male voice shout, "Off Belay!" Immediately, I thought that he was shouting from above to someone below him, as opposed to a second telling his leader that the leader was off belay. My initial thought was that maybe the second was still on the ground and maybe that person was on Bishop's Terrace. I told "PBR" and "Ratherbe" that I was going to find out where that party was in order to find the route we all wanted. Soon after the initial shout, however, I heard the following female's voice shout, "O,eff beelayee." Interesting, I thought. That sounds like "Yorky". I scrambled up the hill quickly so that I could catch her before she climbed. As I came up the last few feet, she turned and smiled with "well, where have you been" eyes and said, "hi" in her distinct English accent. I was relieved to see someone I knew whom I felt I could ask about the route. I don't know, maybe that's a weakness of mine, but I'm far more comfortable talking with someone I've already established a rapport with. I asked her which route she was on, and she confirmed that her routes was, in fact, Bishop's Terrace. I was grateful for this knowledge, but because I was still guilty about not meeting up with her that morning, I couldn't bring myself to apologize right away. It was a characterless moment on my part where I asked how her day went and put off what we had climbed until she was forced to ask, knowing full well that that question would lead to, "why didn't you come to Church Bowl this morning like you said you would?" I was, however, glad to hear that she had done a few climbs already and had found a partner who was going to meet up with her the next day. Finally, upon the query that I was hoping to avoid, I told her that we didn't come to Church Bowl that morning because we weren't able to figure out the routes. I will say now that it was a cowardly thing we did. "Yorky", you probably would have been OK to climb with, but, oddly, we felt that you splitting us up into two groups would have slowed us down more than if we had stayed in our own group of three. We decided to not show up that morning at Church Bowl partially for this reason and partially because we couldn't read the guidebook well enough after you left that evening (and Munginella seemed to be an easy-to-find option that "Ratherbe" and I wanted to climb anyway). Looking back on this, I disagree wholeheartedly with our behavior on the first point. We would have been fine with you in our group, especially since we were to learn within a few moments after seeing you that we needed to split up for sanity's sake anyway. People are people regardless of ability, and honesty should have trumped impressions first and foremost. I felt this way from the outset of our decision to not meet you at Church Bowl, and yet I said nothing. I apologize for my behavior at the very least.

After "Yorky" started up, I took the first lead because I didn't want to climb the cracks on the second pitch, and also because I felt that "PBR" did want to climb them. The first pitch was also the easier of the two pitches, and because I was fairly apathetic about the day's activities and conversations (it's amazing how the mid-day sun can aggravate the nerves despite a well-deserved ice cream and enjoyable exhibit on the history of climbing in They Valley), I didn't feel like pushing myself anymore than I had to. Looking back, I really only wanted to get through with the climb. This was a mistake for two reasons: 1) I don't climb for the sake of it but for the pleasure of isolation instead and; 2) I have no business putting other people at risk, and that is what I did by not bringing my head along with me on this climb.

The first section was fun and easy, with one challenging move just above the first piece of gear. The second section, the gully with steps, was nothing to speak of, so I walked up mindlessly to the point where the route splits into the offdwidth to the right and the hand-crack on the left. The hand-crack, by the way, is noted in the SuperTopo as a lieback. Considering I was tired from all of my emotional fury, I didn't want to climb something that was going to require effort. From my curent vantage point, I could only see the offwidth. The move from my location to the hand-crack appeared to be an easy(ish) traverse, but one that would be difficult to return in the other direction if I deemed the hand-crack not within my existing energy bank. Because I could see the offwidth and didn't want to commit myself to an unnecessary lieback, I decided to climb up and check out the offwidth first. I guess that was my second mistake (climbing was the first). Before I climbed I was told, by the guide essentially, that I only needed gear up to three inches for the first pitch. Thinking that I had all the gear I needed, I started looking up and down the wide crack to confirm that I could place the gear that I had on me on this section. But as I looked up, and after I plugged a 3.5 Camalot at the bottom, I realized that this section was not taking only three-inch gear; it required much larger gear than that. I also looked up and noticed that there were no rests all the way up. It was either run it out and go for the top, and thus risking a nasty fall into overhanging tree branches and probably onto a low-angle section of the route (no different than a ledge at that point), or downclimb and traverse over to the hand-crack. I was tired and undecided until I heard "PBR" shout up to me, "Greg, the book says the offwidth requires five-inch pro." Well, I thought, I guess that means I'm doing to lieback.

Because the downclimb to the split was kind of sketchy, I left the 3.5 cam in the offwidth to protect against a potential fall. This meant that someone was going to have to climb the offwidth in order to retrieve the gear. But even though I made an easy transistion to the handcrack, I was so tired upon gaining the bottom of it that I pushed right past it to a pillar-like feature to the left of the crack where I knew that I could rest with good feet on a solid jug. Aha, but then that caused a problem of getting back into the crack. I searched around for a way to "fall" back into the crack, but each move felt too dynamic for me to control. A certain fall was bound to send me swinging off to the right toward the 3.5 cam and into no-man's land (for clarity: I couldn't reach into the crack to place more gear at this point, as I was too far left. That was part of the problem of getting back into the crack, too). I looked up and saw a beautiful face-like feature (a vertical crimp that was less a side-pull and more of a brake to keep me from falling if I decided to swing deliberately from it). I climbed up to the crimp and it felt fine in the direction I was pulling, but terrible in the direction I needed it to pull. Still, I tested it several times because I thought that maybe, if I just trusted it, that I would be able to make the move back to the hand-crack and still be high enough to avoid most of the lieback altogether. This sounded as if it were a good plan in my head, but it never physically felt confident enough to get me to actually commit.

Finally, after several minutes of me thinking the move through, "Ratherbe" shouted up to me and said, "Hey, not to put you off or anything, but a bear just walked past us." Well, that wasn't going to make me climb any faster, but the thought of my main protection against a fall getting mauled by a bear didn't sit well with me. That, and, just as I was about to give up, "Yorky" rapped past me and said, "Hey, Greg, how's it going?" I don't think she meant to be snarky, but I felt as if I had been given a due slap across the face for failing to show up that morning and thus, ditching her. Even if she didn't mean it that way, I made myself take it that way because I deserved it. Plain a simple, at that point, I decided to set up an anchor and bring "PBR" and "Ratherbe" up to where I was.

So, to recap, it was now getting dark, and we still had one-and-a-half pitches to go with all three climbers needing to get to the top. My position on the rock was at about the same height as the 3.5 cam, but I was a good ten feet to the left of the cam. This meant that whoever climbed as the second would have to either retrieve the gear and continue climbing to a new belay station, head directly to the top, or downclimb to the traverse to the handcrack and up to me. My belay stance was not large enough for three people to stand comfortably, and the only anchor I could mentally find at that point was off two shallow cams between the pillar and face and off a sling that was around the very top of the pillar, which had a bit of a spire, if one could call it as such, that was about eight inches tall. The biggest concern about the spire was that the upper part of it felt loose. The base of the spire (i.e. - the top of the pillar but not the top of the spire itself) was not loose (also - the pillar was not free standing, but instead solidly connected to the face). I set my anchor and brought the two up.

"Ratherbe" was the second, and because I had most of the gear that she would need to build an anchor herself, she climbed up to the cam, cleaned it, and downclimbed to the traverse. Once she traversed, she positioned heself to my left and well out of the way of the hand-crack. "PBR" came up as the third and was immediately distraught by the anchor set up that I had built. I admit, it was only set up to handle the fall that a second or third would take. There was nothing preventing me from flying upward in the case of a lead fall. We also had a sharp and confusing discussion about what, in fact, was loose: the pillar or the tip of the pillar (the spire). When it was finally determined that only the spire was loose, "PBR" determined that he was not happy with the anchor I had built and decided that we either had to leave gear and retreat or build a new anchor. We all agreed that it was getting dark, and thusly decided it was best to retreat. "PBR" built a back-up anchor for rapping off just in case my anchor did not hold weight on rappel. Once I and "Ratherbe" had rapped, "PBR" cleaned the backup (because it was now understood that my original anchor was safe to hold weight on rappel) and came down, leaving my sling and his bail biner and another sling of his. It was dark now. I was angry and needed to be alone. "PBR" suggested that we forego cooking and eat at the pizza deck at Curry instead. We all walked off with a nervous quiet, with me staying behind a few extra minutes, and had a disingeniously happy conversation at dinner. It wasn't disingenious because we were all hated each other. It was false because we were trying to move on and yet it was obvious that it was going to be difficult to do so at that moment.

Pitch Two (5.8) - 80 feet - bolted anchors - Greg has not climbed this pitch, so use your guidebook to ensure accuracy

Climb the double cracks to the anchors on top.

Descent: 165 feet to the ground with presumed bolted rap anchors. Two 60m ropes will get you down in one go.

"Alas, put no faith in such a bond of union. Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation."

That night was our last at Curry. We got up early the next day to get in line for one night at Camp 4, just so we could get one more day in The Valley. Despite the fact that it wasn't really discussed until the next day, it was pretty well understood that we needed to split up the next day so that we could actually get some climbing in that we all wanted to do.

In the end, I feel as if I committed spiritual murder, which is a combination of Zossima's sins noted at the top. There was my carelessness that brought to boil our simmering thoughts and emotions, and there was my apathy where there should have strength within. I knew full well that I should have been grateful just to be on vacation during such difficult times, and yet I tore up my possessions in a foolish quest to gain more. This may have been a lesson learned, but it is so much more difficult to accept because it is a mistake that I should not have made. I feel very comfortable with who I am have become over the years, but I never relied on that confidence to get me through such a difficult day.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Lazy (my ASS) Saturday Climbing with Friends

Went back to the chosspile known as Farley yesterday with a few more people. Why would I bring more people to such a crappy climbing area after seeing what little it had to offer the first time? To make everyone feel my pain, that's why.

"KITT", "Ratherbe", "Gecko", "Gammie", "GGF", and I got up early and were essentially the first people there. The "Wall of Early Morning Sun" was as advertised, and we decided to play a bit on the sport climbs here before heading off in the afternoon to the shade where there are mostly trad climbs. None of the climbs here have names that I know (there is no guidebook), so the Farley posts will always be short summaries as opposed to detailed references.

We had a good time though. "Ratherbe" led a daring mixed route with some scary exposure at the top, and committing moves on difficult gear throughout, for her first climb. She thought it was a low 10, but "Gecko" and "KITT", who TR'd the route, thought it was closer to 5.8. I led it on "Ratherbe"'s gear and felt that it was a hard nine, which was confirmed later by a local, so there is definitely a grade difference between TR and lead.

I got "Gammie" on his first outdoor lead in over a year that was a bit above his current level. It was an adventurous day for both he and "GGF", as he took about six legitimate falls that all took "GGF" for a ride at the bottom (we told her that her rides were a good thing despite her hesitancy to embrace them). She learned how to use a Grigri for the first time, so she only had to worry about not hitting the wall when he fell instead of dropping him at the same time. All in all, though, they both climbed hard and got on a few different things. I think "Gammie" was pretty wiped by the end of the day. He certainly provided good entertainment (both climbing and, as always, with his voluminous sense of humor).

"Ratherbe" and "KITT" each got on routes that they both had and hadn't before with good results over all. "KITT" tried to reconquer the 5.9 that stumped him last time, but wasn't able to get up cleanly without apparently climbing the next route over, which was about 10 feet away ("enough to cause ground fall at the third bolt," he said!). Still, he also pushed himself on a super-crimpy 5.10a that I jumped on at the end of the day. Whereas "Ratherbe" also pushed herself on that early 5.9, my 5.10a (noteworthy because her finger has been sensitive to crimps), running up the main 5.8 twice to finish up one of "Gammie"'s falls, and a trad 5.6 where the crux felt considerably more awkward than 5.6.

My biggest accomplishments were falling repeatedly on a steep 5.10c and then pumping myself out on that crimpy 5.10a at the end of the day. The 5.10c kicked my ass so bad that I'll probably end up crapping myself inside out the next time I sit down. I fell about 10 tens on the first bolt. I was so tired that I ended up climbing 10 feet to the left on a 5.6 portion of a 5.9 just to get to the second bolt. "Ratherbe" then lowered me so that I could put it all together, but I fell again. One of the times I fell was due to bad beta ("Go for the far right of the right-hand pocket and it's bomber." Uh, nope. It's the far right of the left-hand pocket, and yes, there is a BIG difference between the two). I then took several times on the way up through the 5.9 portion because I was so damn pumped despite flashing this the last time (using the 5.6 start). I guess I now have two 5.10c climbs in this area that are projects (the other being the start right around the arrete from the main 5.8). The 5.10a was fun and right up my alley, but I took a couple of times on this, too, due to fatigue.

The biggest accomplishment of the day, however, was "Gecko"'s first outdoor lead ever. He led the main 5.8 as well as the 5.9 that keeps stumping "KITT" and the 5.9 finish with the 5.6 start. His one comment after the first lead (and after leading 5.11 inside this winter after only climbing on a rope on a regular basis for six months), "Outdoors is different." Yeah, welcome to the head games, fella, they'll love you as much as you love them.

We then headed to Orange to grab vittles. Dinner was good, the conversation was better. The ice cream a little further down the road was a bit more comical. All six of us squeezed on a four-person picnic table, and when an eight-person table opened up, being the good pal that I am, I jumped up and grabbed it. Did my gaggle of followers follow me? Noooo. Why didn't the follow me? Because I didn't verbalize my intentions. Should they have at least known or been able to figure it out? OF COURSE!!!!! So I sat at an eight-person table all alone to eat my lonely sundae until it was finished. I then got in my car and drove off... ...well, just around the corner of the building, but it was enough to send a message. Naturally, they all came to my side of the building when they finished their dessert. When "Ratherbe" went into the bathroom, we all jumped in the car and drove back to the other side of the building, but she knew what was up as soon as she came out.

One final note, before we took off, I asked "GGF" if I was driving too fast for her on the way out. Her answer was, "Yeah, you were flying." So, naturally, to be kind, I slowed up on the way back. And then I see that puny little CRV coming up along side of me. Pass ME? When she said I was going to SLOW? "Get the hell outathaway cause that ain't happenin' today."

For pics from Farley, click here. Newest photos are first.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yosemite Day One: Swan Slabs Prepares Us In More Ways Than One

We awoke on east-coast time, a good three hours before any sane person on west-coast time should have been slapping the alarm clock off. "PBR" and "Ratherbe" had slept well, as did I, but they had the advantage of brains that allowed them to sleep right up until the point when we all rolled out of bed. The chill in the air was surprising to me. I knew we were up in the mountains, but I didn't expect it to be this cold.

Camp Curry, if one ever decides to stay there, should be saved for the last few days of any trip to The Valley. While we didn't have the expensive tents, we certainly felt as if we were sleeping in camping luxury. Trust me, this place is pretty sweet and you won't want to go anywhere else after staying here (a quick tip - they don't call you on paying for showers if you aren't staying there. In fact, they won't even question you taking a towel. So if you're staying at Camp 4, the chances of getting a free shower at Curry are pretty good). Because we had hoped to add a fourth person, we were spread across the white-canvassed "cabin" in three of the four beds with our overnight gear plopped comfortably on the fourth. "PBR" and "Ratherbe", probably not being as well versed with the hospitality business as I am, chose to not trust the free sheets and blankets and instead snuggle into their down sleeping bags while I pirated the spare wool blankets and zonked after a long day of travelling. And then, for me anyway, the unexpected happened - it got cold.

Let's be clear, I'm living only slightly better than check-to-check these days, so when the weather starts warm up in New England, I turn the thermostat off and put more clothes on when it gets colder than normal. I do the same in autumn; I even went until late November this past winter before turning the heat on (OK, that was less toughness than it was stubbornness. I was trying to get the people on the second floor to get cold first so they'd heat me up instead of the other way around. It turns out that my landlord, who lives on the first floor, turned his heat on first and that heat didn't filter up to the third floor. Second Floor = 1, Greg = 0). Ordinarily, I watch the news and get an idea for how cool it is going to be overnight. If we're in a cold stretch, I wear pants and long-sleeves and maybe throw an extra blanket on. If it's warm, I go with shorts and kick off the unnecessary covers (and if it's hot...wink, wink). So imagine how I felt without having watched the weather report and walking around comfortably in the early evening with jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on. Now imagine how I felt at around 3am the next morning, and at 4am, and at 415am, and at 420am, and at "Jesus, are these guys ever going to get up?" am. I will rarely get out of bed until it's time to get up and start my day. That goes for being cold, being hot, having to use the bathroom, the phone, and whatever else that could get in the way of my personal time to rejuvenate, so I just stayed there suffering and shivering in the cold. Finally, at about 530am I opened my eyes and saw my two partners just crawling out of bed for the first time. I was relieved that I could finally put some clothes on, and I decided to ditch the blankets from then on out in favor of my trusty sleeping bag.

Before I get to the climbing, though, I want to make one more point about my noting of west-coaster's sanity this early in the morning. Upon getting dressed, I livened my spirits a bit by noting that we would be the only fools up this early in the morning, and that likely meant we'd be the first at the crag. So, after completely opening my eyes (a talent I don't often employ first thing in the morning at my own place because why does anyone need to actually open one's eyes to go to the bathroom? We all know it's four steps to the end of the bed, three to the door, four to the living room, and three past the junk table to the toilet don't we?) I took a casual stroll out into the crisp, morning air and across the pine-needle floor to the nearest crapper I could find. And upon entering, I discovered this:

- "Johnny, not that sink, this sink."
- "Dad, can you help me with my toothpaste."
- "Excuse me, but the line for the third urinal starts here. That's the line for the second urinal and / or the first sink, depending on which direction you're going in."
- "Water's only cold in that sink, and only warm in this one."
- "Both work on this one."
- FLUSH..."Uh, dad?"
- "Where y'all hiking to today?"
- "Shit, I forgot my floss."
- "Blue Light Special on aisle sixteen."
- "Dude, my pen doesn't write on these walls."
- "I'll only be a few more minutes, just have to shave this six-inch-growth beard before heading back to the wifey."

The place was an absolute zoo! I guess that was my first lesson about Yosemite Valley: where there should be tourists, there will be tourists.

Sunday - Swan Slabs

Approach: Swan Slabs are a great, small crag for introduction into Yosemite climbing. There are a handful of fun cracks to play on, and one can follow the shade once the sun starts to get warm about mid-morning. If you have a parking pass that is given to you when you stay inside the park, then park across the street in the Yosemite Lodge parking lot. If not, there is day-use parking on either side of the street near the Yosemite Falls Bus Stop. Parking is limited here, as it is not a real lot but more parallel parking along the side of the road, instead. The SuperTopo guidebook says to park at Camp 4, but Camp 4 has a separate parking pass for Camp 4 only, so don't do that unless you're staying there. However, for direction's sake, if you're heading from Camp 4, walk toward Yosemite Falls and you'll see the slabs in less than two minutes. The Yosemite Falls area on the other side of Swan Slabs from Camp 4 is on the same side of the street, and the Lodge's parking lot spans the distance for each location (Falls and Camp 4) but is across the street. If coming from Camp 4, one of the first climbs you'll see is:

Oak Tree Flake (5.6) - Trad - 65 feet - Webbing Anchors at the upper, small tree - Greg Led

This was my first ever Yosemite climb, and my suggestion is pretty much to skip the damn thing. I guess it has a couple of moves that technically make it a 5.6, but it's quite a bit easier than that. But, to be more objective, this climb protects well and requires larger cams through the middle and upper part of the flake. Lieback the right-facing flake to the ledge and then head up right to the next tree where the anchors are. The upper section requires smaller gear and is the more difficult section of the climb. Technically, this upper section is the finish of Grant's Crack (5.9 - see below) and the SuperTopo guide shows the anchors for Oak Tree Flake at the ledge (making the route only 50 feet by their calculation). However, unless I'm totally blind, those anchors are no longer there. The upper anchors will work just fine, even if you rap and clean the route yourself, which I did.

Because a few events happened out of sequence in how I write my reports, I will make two notes here for the sake of reference later on. The first is that if you climb at Swan Slabs and don't know where the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is, you will within the first 15 minutes after you've arrived. Apparently the trail starts at the Yosemite Falls area and heads past Swan Slabs, but there is no signage between the start of Swan Slabs and the end. Many, many, many people will stop and ask this question. Only half will ask how the rope got up there.

The second point is that we met a girl on a round-the-world trip for the summer who I will nickname "Yorkshire" (or maybe "Yorky" for short, because we shortened her real name in this fashion after getting to know her a bit). This is important because, as I noted above, we had tried to establish a fourth partner before flying west and were not succesful. To find her seemed to be a steal, even if we didn't have all of our ropes so that we could climb as two pairs.

Grant's Crack (5.9) - Trad - 65 feet - webbing anchors at the upper, small tree - Greg and "PBR" led

Grant's Crack is the thin finger crack that runs above a split boulder that is leaning against the cliff. Climb the boulder to the bottom of the crack (not the top of the boulder) and climb the crack to the ledge. The anchors are above the ledge at the small tree about 15 feet up. The start is about 15 feet right from Oak Tree Flake.

As soon as we walked up to the slab, "PBR" immediately threw his finger at this crack and stated that would be his first climb. When the question was asked to me if Oak Tree Flake was worth climbing, and when I noted that it wasn't, "PBR" racked up and jumped on the first few face moves like a dog that's been awake for hours and is happy to see it's owner finally wake up, grab the collar, and walk outside for that oh-so-nice piss that's been settling all night long. And then he went and kicked the crap out of it. My understanding is that he rarely jumps on 5.9 first thing in the morning, and to do so on crack, a style that many New Englanders (such as myself) have little opportunity to perfect, and to do it cleanly, was a strong personal accomplishment on his part. He tried to downplay it by noting on his way down that he placed too much gear (which he also noted is normally the case upon cleaning and not upon climbing), but I couldn't disagree more. "Ratherbe" and I needed a bit of a warm up before jumping on this jumbo climb, so we each led Penelope's Problem (5.7 - see below) first and came back to Grant's Crack after that. To be short, "Ratherbe" toproped the route and ran up it as if she had set it. "Yorky" also TR'd it as well and managed to make it to the top with only a couple of falls. I led it and this is kind of how the climb went:

- "Ratherbe" upon racking up after climbing Penelope's Problem: "I think those guys are going to get on your route."
- Me: "Oh, hey guys, sorry, I was just about to jump on this. We were waiting for "Yorky" to come down and it just took a bit of time due to another party going up her descent line."
- Random Guy: "Hey, no problem man. It's kind of warm and I was going get a TR set up for a bunch of people anyway. Take your time. I'd rather stay out of the sun."
- Me: "Thanks, it'll only be a couple of minutes. I won't be quick, but not long, either."

And so began my climb: up the face to the small ledge. Plop first gear in. Check the rock out a bit. Plop second gear in a little higher than the first. Feel the crack, test the feet, come back down to the ledge. Pose for picture. Tug on second piece of gear and stand up in crack. Feel a bit stressed and down climb. Breathe a bit. Talk to "Ratherbe" and feel the sun getting warmer. Make a move past the first piece of gear, set a third, down climb. Get a pep talk from "PBR" about how to "just go for it." Climb up a bit and down climb. Talk to "Ratherbe" again and chalk up. Feel the heat getting warmer. Climb up and commit to moves past third piece of gear, slip, catch myself, warn "Ratherbe" of failure to recommit, fall. Rest. Chalk up. Listen to more pep talk. Receive beta from "Random Guy" (all beta and pep talks welcomed, of course). Place fourth piece of gear from sitting position, make moves past third gear again, get a little higher this time and immediately find the crux. Fall. Make move again. Fall. Make move again. Fall. Place fifth gear from hanging position. Make move again. Fall. Swear. Feel the sun getting progressively warmer. Move, fall, swear. Look for holds on the face. Try face holds, move, fall, swear. Hear "Random Guy" say, "He's working it, let's do Penelope's Problem." Swear under breath (at myself, of course). Try crack a few more times and face just as many times. Fall each time. Wipe swear off forehead, neck, arms, hands, legs. Get beta from "Random Guy" about how it is actually easier to climb the whole crack from the bottom of the crack rather than from the top of the boulder with a traverse into the crack. Down climb. Get in crack from the beginning and find it joyfully easier. Move freely and easily. Find crux. Fall. Swear. Finally, through pure brute stubbornness, dig iron claws into the face and crack each and move past the crux and onto the bulge above the crack. Get down. Drink water. Seriously begin to wonder about climbing in Yosemite. Apologise to "Random Guy" for making him wait.

Penelope's Problem (5.7) - Trad - 65 feet - make your own anchor - Greg and "Ratherbe" led

This is a left-facing flake on an arrete that starts to the left of a gully with a large tree above the gully. It is about 30 feet to the right of Grant's Crack and has another large tree near the base (as well as a log to sit on). There are a few small boulders on the ground to the left with some medium boulders leaning against the left side of the arrete. Climb the flake to the top, then fade right and up to the large tree. It is slightly run-out at the top, but very easy climbing at this point.

Because "Ratherbe" and I weren't at death-defying strength just yet, we chose to lead this before climbing Grant's Crack. This was "Ratherbe"'s first Yosemite climb, and she did rather well with it. The bottom provided some slick challenges before any gear could be placed, but once past that the route climbed nicely. Her initial slip did put her in a bit of a foul mood, but that was short-lived once we moved into the shade. Our biggest issue was when "Yorky" climbed it and subsequently found a party of five climbing the gully right below her descent. She had to wait for the first three to finish that pitch (they were doing a multi-pitch) before she could descend (probably a good 20 minutes). Considering the fact that we only had one set of ropes, this made the wait in the sun a bit discouraging. What also made this wait unfortunate was that we were just beginning to realize that climbing in the middle of the day was not going to be optimal. We had heard it was going to be hot, but we weren't prepared for what that was going to do to our climbing schedule. I think that "PBR" also climbed this route, but he may also have climbed the gully itself. If so, that route is Swan Slab Gully (5.6).

Descent: We were rather surprised to find that the the large tree at the top did not have the anchors that the SuperTopo said were there. As we were climbing in that area, a guide with a group of clients noted to us that when he sees webbing left up there he takes it down out of the fear of it being unsafe (what would this guy do at the 'Gunks, have a seizure?). We mooched off his anchor to lower, but if you're the only party there then you'll need to either leave gear or rap off the tree itself.

And then it was time to find shade. Seriously, it was only about 10am or so (maybe a bit later), but "PBR" was already drained and pushing for an afternoon swim in the Merced River (even though it was only morning and we had only two / three climbs under our belts). I don't blame him, though, as the sun was hot. The good thing about the weather in New England is that we never get extreme weather. Sure, we get our fair share of 90-degree days with 80% and above humidity and enough snow to make us miserable. But we don't get cold weather (not like Minnesota), hot-humid weather (not like Georgia), hot-dry weather (not like Arizona - and apparently Northern California, too), rain (not like Seattle), snow (not like Buffalo), hurricanes (they're always too weak by the time they get to us), tornadoes (the weathermen think there was one in Worcester last year), floods (not like the Mississippi), or any thing else. We have Nor'easters, where the weather comes out of the northeast instead of the southwest, which are our trade winds, and those do wreak havoc. But those are just storms, not extreme weather. I've certainly felt a 30-degree difference in temperature in a 24-hour period before, but I've never felt the temps go from me-being-cold to me-being-hot in less than six hours. Even when I lived in Hawaii when I was a kid the temps were pretty consistent (boringly so, in fact). Scotland? The same as Hawaii with cooler temps. Greece? The only temp changes there occur at different elevations (try hiking Mt. Olympus when it's 100 degrees at the base and 70 two hours uphill, it's FANTASTIC!). Yosemite Valley went from me freezing my nuts off to me wishing I was naked and floating in the sea, and all that between breakfast and lunch. No, I'm not sure I could handle that dramatic of a change on a regular basis.

Claude's Delight (5.7) - Trad - 80 feet - bolted anchors - Greg and "Ratherbe" led

Walk all the way to the far right of Swan Slabs to a left-facing corner that splits in two / three directions about 30 / 40 feet up. Climb to the right at the split for Claude's Delight, the left for Lena's Lieback (5.9), and up a bit to the left and then traverse right onto the face in between Claude's and Lena's to Goat For It (5.10a). The base of this route gets all-day shade while the climb gets some afternoon shade. Either way, because of the shade at the bottom, this climb is bearable when it is in the sun. It also offers a great view of Half Dome at the top. Climb to the top of the corner and find the anchors up left of the large undercling / lieback at the very top. It is possible to climb this route and not use the tree that is mid-way up the route, though everyone else may stick their tongue out at me for being a lonely braggart. (HAHA!)

"Ratherbe" had the first shot on this and it turned her earlier poor spirits completely around. This was probably her favorite climb of the day, as we heard her "woo-hoo" several times on the way up.

Lena's Lieback (5.9) - Trad - 80 feet - bolted anchors - all four toproped

Climb the left-facing corner at the far right of the crag and head left at the split. Follow the lieback all the way to the top, and exit right to the anchors.

This was a fun clim to finish the day on. In fact, "PBR" did laps on it. Because it has the same anchors as Claude's Delight, and because the anchors are directly above Lena's Lieback, this makes for a good toprope. There is also good gear on this route for leading, too.

Goat For It (5.10a) - Mixed - 80 feet - bolted anchors - Greg regrets not climbing this

Climb the left-facing corner at the far right of the crag and head left at the split. Once through the initial lieback section (about 15 past the split), traverse right onto the face. There is a bolt to protect the traverse if leading. If toproping, the SuperTopo guide says to set a directional in the large undercling at the top that is to the right of the anchors and directly above Claude's Delight. A fall at the top without the directional would most definitely result in a swing onto Lena's Lieback where the lieback corner is large enough to prevent one from getting back onto the 5.10 face.

I really wanted to climb this, but I fell to the pressure of climbing Lena's instead. I did enjoy Lena's, even though my three geatest climbing dislikes from worse to best are: Cracks, Liebacks, Roofs. I'm slowly becoming accostomed to roofs, but only just. Someday I'd like to go back and do this route. I feel that it is in my homerun range.

At the end of the day the four of us headed to the Church Bowl area and had dinner. Well, the three of us had dinner while "Yorky" helped us snack on our guacamole chips and salsa. "Yorky" had to leave at some point to catch the shuttle back to her hostel, and we noted that we were going to try to come back to Church Bowl the next day. Unfortunately, after "Yorky" left, "Ratherbe" and I scouted the area and couldn't find for certain any of the climbs at Church Bowl. Frustrated by this, we decided to head to Five-Open-Books the next morning instead. That meant that we wouldn't see "Yorky" the next morning, which was had tentatively discussed. I do feel badly about that, but I also realize that she was travelling on around the world and picking up climbing partners as she went along. I'm sure we weren't the first or the last to do that.

I feel that the next post may be an essay. I hope that I get it out in a reasonable amount of time.

For All Yosemite Pics, Click Here

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stark Yosemite: My Initial Thoughts

Note: "Orangekayak" is now named "PBR"

An early morning flight from Boston touched "Ratherbe" and I down in Oakland an hour ahead of "PBR"'s flight from Dallas. We were stuffed in the car and on our way by early afternoon with the hopes of getting at least a toprope in before the sun set that evening. But the road to Yosemite is slower than expected, and we were too tired to do much of anything except walk around Camp Curry to get our bearings. But that was OK, because that's not what was running through my mind when we entered The Valley.

I'm not easily impressed. In fact, I would say that I'm least likely to rah-rah anything without first giving a critical eye toward any enthusiasm I may exhibit. I've both been around acclaimed people who deserved not an ounce of respect, and dirty alleys steeped with so much character that it would be a shame if they were ever cleaned up for the masses to enjoy. False excitement is rampant in our society. We're told what we should be happy about, for, and with; it is so much so that we rarely have time to decide for ourselves what is really impressive and what is not. The view of Half Dome from the plane as we coast across the Sierras is fun to see, but it draws merely a smirk and smart-alec response from me about how, "that climber's harness isn't double-backed." I guess at this point I wasn't looking to be overwhelmed. Getting away was enough for me, and I'm not sure if I look back on that moment with sadness or not.

When we finally drive into The Valley for the first time, however, I'm blown away. The narrow valley is claustrophobic, and that's a good thing. The towering walls on either side aren't imposing the way I thought they would be. Instead they tend to curve at the bottom as if they are lifting me up into the streak of blue sky above. They look so... so... ... climbable. They're talking to me, and inspiring me to reach high and pull myself over the top in one full move as if I'm ascending to heaven on my own terms. I feel as if I'm being hugged by the soft side of nature's imposing features. "God I love this place." I've already made up my mind that I'm not going home. "I wonder if there's work here."

And then we pull into the parking lot for Curry Village. "PBR" welcomes us to the ground floor of Yosemite Valley as a stream of yellow-scarved Boy Scouts march past the car. We check in and weave through the mobs of families, hikers, climbers, and everyone else. "There's no work here," I mutter to myself. "There's so much demand that they can pick the low wage beggars right out from the dumpsters." I've found paradise and suddenly lost it in less than 30 minutes.

It may be sad for some to note that my disappointment in society wills me to get away as often as I can. I'm satisfied with myself and who I've become, and I am happy to forge ahead to see who I'll become in the future. But I feel as if I'm living poorly. I don't mean that I'm broke (though it certainly feels that way), and I don't mean that I am inefficient in my life (because surely I am not). But I do mean that I feel lectured to and driven like a herded sheep to place myself within the pen that society has supposedly built to make my life safer from the coyotes, wolves and other known threats. "If I just accept this," I think, "then I'll have my house and spare change for travel -" things that I dearly desire. Of course, I understand that if I don't accept it then I'm likely destined to live a life of thinking and retreating, which may be a wonder of life if I do end up in a position where I am able to forge ahead until my very end, despite the pleasure of uncertainty that stepping out of line brings. Is it possible to advance without accepting? Am I a fool for believe it is?

What does this have to do with Yosemite? The starkness of nature's beauty against commercialization seems to be both a retreat and acceptance at the same time. While our public institutions may seem to be sending biased messages at times, propaganda is not their job. Society put this tiny section of the world aside to allow those who need to escape a place to runaway to, albeit within the confines of the pen. No one is here to place me. Everyone is here to watch the cliffs dominate over the dry, green valley. God's nature may be feeding a conforming, creativeless fury, but yet I'm here and enjoying it much the same as everyone else is. The escape is no more daring for me as it is the guy standing me, and it is clear that acceptance of what is handed to me is never far away, either, because that guy is still waiting in line for the only pizza that can be bought for miles. And I'm OK with that. It's far enough on the fringe to forget, and not so far to have to worry. It's this last point that worries me the most. "Have I accepted what I've been told already?"

The most odd of all feelings is that I prefer the tourists over the climbers. Yes, I'd prefer to relax within a vast, empty world where I can sit back and not worry about performing up to expectations, which, I initially believe, is born by the tourists and spread by them on behalf of the conforming world. But they're just normal like me, and I'll take the normalcy over fused convention any day of the week. Let's not argue over this: there is certainly more pressure to conform here in Yosemite as a climber than there ever will be as a retiree with a pair if binoculars in hand. I've come to run away, and yet I've found a section of the sheep's pen that feels both isolated and safe all at the same time. Is this OK? I hope to find out.

I'll be posting a day-by-day account of this trip over the coming weeks. Please be patient and check back often. As always, photos will be provided at the bottom of the posts. However, there will be multiple posts for Yosemite and Lover's Leap each, but only one photo stream for each. I hope you enjoy reading this...

Pictures to come in the next post

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Work is always Work

So I've been guiding out here in Colorado for about two months. In some ways it's been really awesome. In other ways it is occasionally a drag. So here's what I've experienced/learned/done so far.

My climbing since coming to Colorado has been pretty much devoted to climbing in two places. The Garden of the Gods and Red Rocks. Climbing in the Garden is practically an art. First you must except that you are climbing on stone which is loosely conglomerated grains of sand. The ability to somehow defy gravity and not crush the holds supporting your weight is a learned skill. The incentive to learn this skill is so you don't die because the probability that there is a piece of gear or one of the numerous soft iron pitons that Harvey Carter pounded into drilled holes anywhere near you is highly unlikely. Since learning to climb in the Garden my mental abilities are astounding. An example follows.

The Fixer 5.10a two pitches:
The first pin is about thirty off the ground and climbing to the pin while averaging about 5.7 does have a few 5.9 moves right before you clip the pin. From here there are several stiff 5.10a moves on crumbly holds. After the last pin, at about sixty feet off the ground, it's at least another sixty feet to the anchors with a few fifth class moves. The second pitch follows a loose crack with a strenous overhanging start. I have yet to climb it but the first ascencionist told me it wasn't too difficult, just dirty.

Climbing in Red Rocks is a little different. The routes all suite my technical style but after climbing about 30 routes there I've found them to mostly be very similar and mostly boring.

The thing about guiding here is that it's different every day. Sometimes I climb with people who've climbed before and things go smooth, we climb some fun stuff. Then other days I'm soloing the same 5.7 for the twenty fifth time and trying to haul people up while, with no thought of style, they grab quickdraws and stand on bolt hangers.

Between the two places I must say that I really enjoy the Garden more. The climbing is just better. There are a few climbs that I don't think I will ever get tired of climbing:

Crescent Corner 5.9, a fantastic corner with lots of laybacking and underclings.
N. Ridge of Montezuma's Tower 5.7, a fantastically exposed two pitch ridge, just awesome.
New Era 5.7, a great three pitch dihedral on the most solid rock in the park, solid face and crack climbing with a fantastic last pitch.

I'm hoping that the future will bring more varied climbs in different areas. I'd really like to get to know the South Platte area better. There is a ton of first ascents to be had and it's nice to be on bomber granite every once and a while. I'd also like to explore some of the other classic climbs that Colorado has to offer. There is a ton of great rock here. Climbing almost every day has improved my climbing ten fold. Climbing eight pitches in a four hours is not something that I would find difficult. I feel like a badass.

I am impoverished but I enjoy my life. I walk the razor's edge in climbing shoes, it's awesome. Send money.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Just a little note to tell you that I won't be posting for a couple of weeks, and the reasons why. Firstly, as I noted in the post below, due to rain on Saturday, I didn't get any climbing in at Cathedral. Also, I had friends visiting from Australia (one of my two original climbing partners) from Sunday to this morning, so we did the "Boston" thing both days (actually, it was a relief. I got a lot of walking in, and had a great time with old friends).

Secondly, well, if you haven't guessed, I'm off to Yosemite next week! I'm flying out with "Ratherbe" and meeting "OrangeKayak" and maybe "Elron", too. There's another person we may be meeting, and I will initially dub him "Colby" until a story about him emerges such that a new nickname is warranted (you must wonder how I remember so many nicknames. I don't know how I do it, either. I just do).

Anyway, it's a week-long (encompassing two weekends) trip and I won't be bringing my computer along. But I will have my notebook and I will be taking notes. Just like my Red Rocks trip last year, I hope to have a different post for each day in Yosemite. However, because it takes a lot of time and effort to actually write a post, I imagine that the Yosemite posts will be spread out over a few weeks (probably mixed with other climbing weekends, too, as I'll try to keep up with every other trip that I take, even the small weekend ones). Still, I have some time over the 4th when I'll be visiting home. I should be able to get them all written by the end of that week (yes, that is my goal). So stay tuned (maybe "Jello" will have a post of his own to fill the gap - HINT HINT)!

Sunday, June 01, 2008


"Ratherbe" and I tried to get "Gecko" his first time on non-TR rock this weekend only to get turned back by rain for the second time. The first time was supposed to be a one-day jaunt up to Rumney, but that also got rained out, too.

But the day wasn't a total waste. We took "Gecko" up to the face of Cathedral and showed him a couple of the climbs we had thought about doing. He later said that it was good for him to see the cliff like that because he had never been so close to a rock face that big before. Surely, he had hiked past things such as this, but never so close before.

After walking in the rain at the base for a bit, we headed up the road to Diana's Baths, which are a series of cool-looking waterfalls. The hike was a compromise between me (the non-hiker) and "Gecko" and "Ratherbe" (the hiking enthusiasts). We did a small hike, but not a long one, so that the day wasn't a total waste of gas, money, and time. The ride back was uneventful (at least that's what I think, as I was asleep for a chunk of it).

All in all, "Ratherbe" and I didn't get our final tune-up for Yosemite in. Too bad, but I think we'll be OK. Wish us luck!