With the success of the previous day behind us and leaving a good feeling in my head and chest, we got up early and headed out of The Valley toward Lover's Leap in Strawberry, California. But we didn't head off without a few stops along the way.
The first stop was near the base of El Cap. Sure, anyone can say they stopped and saw El Cap, but it was important to me because I'm a complete nut job when it comes to sitting in the front passenger's seat of a car. This isn't because I ride with lousy drivers. It's because I'm used to my own reactions and if someone doesn't break when I expect them to, my right foot forcefully slams down on the floor in front of me. The same goes for body language and the occasional, accidental swerve. "Ratherbe" has more than once declared that I'm a stressful person to drive with, moreso when I'm not driving.
Anyway, we had to stop to see El Cap on the way out because I couldn't see it on the way in due to my need / desire to ride in the backseat. I have to admit that while it certainly is impressive, it's not visually appealing. It's understandable why Half Dome gets the art awards and El Cap does not. But still, it's also understandable why El Cap gets all the climbing attention: it has an obvious edge over Half Dome with regards to the approach, it is taller from the base to the top, and it also gets the I'm-not-as-pretty-as-you-but-I'm-still-better award due to its glory route: The Nose. We only stopped for a few minutes, but I was glad to have had a chance to view what is widely considered the trophy wall in all of rock climbing.
Our second stop was actually several stops, all of which were in Tuolumne Meadows. This was was a bittersweet part of the trip for me. While I was interested in climbing in The Valley and at Lover's Leap, I was mostly interested in climbing in Tuolumne, particularly the Northwest Buttress, a 14-pitch 5.5 on Tenaya Peak and / or other long classics such as the Southeast Buttress on Cathedral Peak (five-pitch 5.6). However, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the climbing and accommodations in Tuolumne. For one, the Tioga Pass and the road to the Meadows from The Valley had opened up only a week before we arrived. This obviously led to a lack of campgrounds that were open up in the Meadows, and we weren't sure how far we'd have to drive from the campgrounds that were outside of Yosemite National Park. We were also somewhat concerned about the cost of camping in this area as well as the cost of travelling in and out of the park each day. Our final concern was that of snow on the routes. The SuperTopo guidebook had warned that if there was snow on some of the routes to avoid those routes. Since none of us knew what to expect without actually going there first, and because we didn't feel confident enough to just show up, we decided that it was best to simply drive through and enjoy the views on our way to Lover's Leap. And this is what we did, with a couple of stops here and there to view to The Valley from above and the famous California Flake not far from the Bunny Slopes. We also had a bit of fun being distracted by a marmot. But, despite not being able to climb, I was glad that we had driven through the Meadows, and now I know what to expect when I go back again in the future.
Our third stop was a huge disappointment. Apparently there is a Mobile Station in Lee Vining that has the best fish tacos money can buy. I had decided not to eat much that morning just so I could buy some of these notorious and expensive fish tacos. Unfortunately, as it was commented later on, the east coast met the west coast: it was only 10am and they hadn't turned the fryers on! I just don't get this. I mean, 10am isn't that early. It's not so early that lunch can't be ordered. Still, they didn't have any of the lunch items available for order and that kind of ticked me off. I mean, here I am, out in the middle of nowhere, and we've stopped at this place specifically for the famous fish tacos, and they don't even realize that their food is so good that people are willing to buy lunch at 10am. And I'm sure you're asking right now why this is an East Coast vs West Coast thing. Below is my attempt at clarifying this comment:
- Me: Got any fish tacos?
- West Coast: Whaaa? It's only ten o'clock. We don't even have the fryers on yet.
- Me: When will they be on? Can you turn them on now?
- West Coast: Are you kidding?
- Me: No, can you throw them on? I hear your tacos are famous. I'd love to try some and I'm hungry.
- West Coast: The fryers aren't on this early. Sorry.
- Me: Got any fish tacos?
- East Coast: It's 10am buddy, but OK. If you want fish tacos at 10am then you're gonna get fish tacos at 10am. Fish tacos coming right up.
See the difference?
Our final stop was in Strawberry, California, but not without some excitement along the way, specifically gas excitement. I'm not sure what our gas situation was like as we pulled out of the Mobile station in Lee Vining, but I'm sure it was OK. We had a bit more time both in terms of what was in the tank and drive time before we had to think about filling up, so we left without tapping off the tank. Besides, the gas was over five dollars per gallon at this station and we figured it was likely the most expensive place around. Well, we drove for a while longer and noticed that our tank was getting low. There was another station along the way that was also more than five dollars per gallon, and so we pressed on with the belief that we'd come into a more populous area with cheaper gas. But of course, that was just wishful thinking. It turned out that the last place we passed by was, in fact, the last station for a while. Feeling a little apprehensive about what was ahead of us, we turned onto the pass that took us from the Mono Lake area toward the Lake Tahoe area. Up and up the hill we went. Around and around steep corners, slowly easing into them and slowly easing out so that we'd save gas we went some more. We realized that by the time we got about half-way up the hill the needle on the gas gauge was below empty, not at empty, but below it instead. The yellow light was on for a good 30 minutes while we spent extra gas on all the slow, steep uphills we encountered. It was a rather exciting time for us because we knew we were a long, long way from the closest station in the other direction and we had no clue what was ahead of us. "PBR" did a great job of ensuring that the speed of the car never changed despite the changes in the road (the turns and uphills), but his efforts never stopped worrying us. I don't think "Ratherbe"'s eyes ever left the dashboard on the way up. I know mine didn't, and I'm not too sure how often "PBR" was actually watching the road for the same reason. But as we peaked out on the hill, we breathed a tentative sigh of relief because we knew then that we could likely throw the thing in neutral and coast all the way the down into town, or whatever sign of civilisation there happened to be at the bottom. It's funny because as the angle of the car changed (we were going downhill now), the gas gauge tilted back such that it appeared as if we had about an eighth of a tank left. That didn't fool us, however, as we knew we were well within the confines of a potentially long walk. "PBR" later remarked that he had never been so happy to not be as excited as he was on the way up, and most people find the downhill part more exciting that the uphill part (think roller coaster, but for the emotionally distress instead).
Another twenty minutes or so passed by and we were at the bottom, but we still weren't out of our excitement zone. The needle was now just sitting on empty and we weren't sure how far away we were (though we felt we were within an hour or so from civilization). We turned on to the next main road and passed by several barren campgrounds that looked as if the people who were staying there were placed there on purpose just to make it look as if people were actually paying to stay there (think barrels of rocks topped off with grain in Communist Russia). The landscape was barren, too, with no signs of a presence of a larger community nearby. We finally drove by one particular campground and "Ratherbe" noted that this one had a gas pump out front. So we pulled in, and found one of those old mechanical pumps without a price on them. We were hesitant, but figured ten bucks would get us at least somewhere farther than no bucks would. All three of us needed to get up and stretch after a three-hour drive, so we slowly stood up and walked into the main store. I'm not sure who asked, but it was determined that the pump hadn't been working for years and that there was another pump down the road.
- One of us: Is it a real station or a pump like yours?
- Campground Guy: Oh, it's a real station. Might not be full, though.
- One of us: Might not be full?
- Campground Guy: Nope. It's not always full down there.
- One of us: How far down is it?
- Campground Guy: About twenty minutes, I'd say.
- One of us: Anything nearby after that if it's closed?
- Campground Guy: Nope. That's it for a while.
- All of us: GULP!
So we hopped back in the car and slowly drove down the road toward the next town. As he noted, it was a ways down the road, but we were on relatively flat ground at this point and so we felt as if we could make it twenty minutes despite being at or close to empty for about an hour already. When we finally did come into town, a very small town, to be clear, "PBR" brought the car to a near crawl as all three of us scoured the landscape around us in search of anything that looked like a pump. I even suggested looking closely at what appeared to be a town depot because there'd certainly be gas there for the local police cars and dumptrucks. Thankfully we didn't have to resort to begging or stealing from the government because we finally came across a small station that, while the sign said it was open, was closed but had the modern credit-card accepting pumps ready for use. Relieved that we were finally able to drive the rest of the way without the fear of burning too many calories while walking in the hot desert sun, we drove off to Strawberry with the hopes of getting on one climb before night set in.
As we neared Lover's Leap, we gave an old friend from New England a call to see if he could join us. "Elron" was one of the first people I had ever climbed outside with in Massachusetts. In fact, he and I met up at Crow Hill one day and were dutifully schooled by Steve Arsenault, an old-timer with many northeastern first ascents under his belt. "Elron" now lives near Lover's Leap, and we were happy that he was able to join us despite not having yet packed for a trip to Paris that he was taking with family...the next day. When we arrived, "Elron" and I paired up to do Haystack (5.8) while "PBR" and "Ratherbe" teamed up to do the ultra-classic route that everyone raves about at Lover's Leap: The Line (5.9) - a straight-as-an-arrow line from bottom to top. I didn't get on this despite being told that it was a must-do, but that's OK. I'm OK with leaving it for another day because the route that I got with "Elron" became one of my all-time favorites, so much so that I went back up it the next day with "Ratherbe".
Haystack (5.8) - Three pitches - Trad - Make your own anchors - Greg and "Elron" Led
Approach: Turn of Highway 50 onto Strawberry Drive next to the Strawberry Lodge. Drive up the road and turn left onto Strawberry Court. Follow the signs to the parking lot. If camping, park in the assigned spot and pay for camping. If not, park in the extra parking and pay for daily parking.
Head up the steps as if going to Campsites 19 or 20 and bear left. Follow the ankle-breaking, rocky path for several minutes. Lover's Leap will be on your right and the back side of Hogsback will be on your left. You'll go past a large boulder with a gurney leaning against it (there's also a sign describing the history of the boulder nearby). After a few minutes of walking past that, start looking for a large, low-angle, slabby boulder on your left. The path is directly across from that boulder, and it goes up toward the left side of Lover's Leap. Watch out for rattlesnakes in the bushes and on the path. We didn't see any, but they are apparently there. Once you're at the wall, and very near where the path meets the wall, there will be a series of ordinary right-facing corners that are very close to each other. There is another right-facing corner that is about 10 feet to the right of these corners. The start of the climb is at at the right-most corner of the series of corners. You will be in between the series and the one that is 10 feet away.
Pitch One (5.6) - 140 feet - Trad - Make your own anchor - "Elron" Led
Climb the corner straight up until a ledge that is about thirty feet below the roof crux of the second pitch. If anything, fade right as you go up so as to stay out of the very large, obvious right-facing corner that is to your left. This pitch offers really nice climbing. The crack made for nice gear and the corners and horizontal dikes (the key physical feature that makes Lover's Leap memorable) allow for nice stemming. All the holds are there all the way up, too. There are variations of this route to the right that can push the grade into the 5.8 range (I climbed this version the next day mainly because "Elron" meant to but mistakenly did the direct route. He told me the harder variation was more fun, and it was, but more on that in the next post). "Elron" led a nice pitch and put me in a great position to take on the money pitch next.
Pitch Two (5.8) - 110 Feet - Trad - Make your own anchor - Greg Led
I've said many times before how much I hate roofs. In fact, I've said it more than once. But I have to admit that I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with them. The more I do them the more I'm less afraid of them and more willing to take them on. I still prefer the long slabby face climbs that are sustained from bottom to top, but if the holds are there, I'm feeling more confident in my roof pulling ability. At the very least I'm beginning to feel more confident in falling or hanging from them. However, I'm still not a fan of cracks.
The second pitch follows the corner up to the base of the roof. From underneath the roof, clip the pin and climb the crack to the roof and stem left while using the finger crack (it's a deep crack for a good undercling lieback) to place gear in the far left, outer part of the crack / roof. This is important due to rope drag. I wouldn't place any gear before that. To gain the roof, don't go over it but reach left instead to a jug that is just left of the crack / roof and on the face to the left. Step left on small foot holds on the outer face and climb straight up above the roof. Once up another six or seven feet or so, you'll come across two stacked right-facing corners. Climb the right-hand corner (or the smaller one) to a nice ledge about mid-way up.
The first thirty feet or so offered very nice climbing with good gear. But once I got up to the roof, I realized that it wasn't going to be the roof that was going to give me problems, but the crack below it instead. My strategy when faced with such imposing climbs is to go up little by little and to retreat each time. The goal is to learn a little bit more about what is in front of me before committing. So often times I'll go up and down, up and down, up and down several times before finally going forward. Thankfully there was a small ledge that I could stand on after each investigation. I really don't like doing this sort of thing if there isn't a place to retreat to comfortably. Now, I knew "Elron" had to get back so that he could pack for his trip, but I just couldn't bring myself to climb what appeared to be a stiff section with little pro without feeling confident. I guess I went up into the crack four times before I finally said, "Fuck it," and placed a large cam below the roof (thus, giving me rope drag up above). It wasn't a great placement (though it would have held fine) so much as it was a confidence booster. I finally got all the way up into the roof and placed a few pieces of gear before I had to take. Upon hanging on what is the outermost piece of gear that you'll want to leave here, I cleaned the other gear I had placed behind it and scouted the next few moves after that.
Upon looking back, I'm not disappointed about hanging here. I probably could have stuck it out and climbed it clean, but I couldn't see for the life of me where to put my feet. I was able to see the footholds as soon as I hung, and from there the climbing was a bit awkward but easier than the roof. Despite the hang, though, I was really happy to have climbed that section. It was a very nice gift that "Elron" gave to me, and I'm always going to recommend this route to anyone who climbs here.
Pitch Three (5.6) - 165 feet - Trad - Make your own anchor - "Elron" led
This is a long pitch with some fun climbing that looks more challenging than it really is. Essentially just head straight up to the top and fade left over two more roofs. The first roof is more easily gained by rocking left instead of going over the roof itself. The second roof has a nice high-step that isn't as hard as it initially looks.
Descent: There are many paths leading down to the main walk-off path. Basically head back away from the edge of the cliff to a clearing in the wooded area and follow the path down left, keeping the stream to your right (if it's flowing). Don't cross over the stream even if it looks as if the trail goes in that direction. "Elron" and I took the proper path down, but "Ratherbe" and "PBR" took a much longer path back because they crossed the stream.
After "Elron" and I finished, we headed down to retrieve our gear. I also grabbed "PBR"'s and "Ratherbe"'s because they were still on The Line and the approach from the path to the base is a little heavy on the breathing. After that, I wished "Elron" a safe and happy trip to France before, and then I relaxed against the slab that marks the approach trail and watched my other two partners top out on the last pitch. Thirty minutes later we were in the car and heading toward the Strawberry Lodge for five-dollar showers and off to bed soon after that. All in all, this marked two-consecutive days of fun climbing, with Lover's Leap beating out Yosemite by just a hair climbing-wise and The Grack beating out Haystack atmosphere-wise by a hair.
Go to Greg's Route Index for more information about Lover's Leap