Yosemite to this point was a disappointment. The only highlight of my trip thus far was Camp Curry, and the evening of Day Two was our last overnight stay in such comfortable conditions. Because our trip had been fairly unsatisfactory, we decided that we needed one more day in the The Valley before heading to Lover's Leap, and we also easily determined that we should split up for the final day. We awoke at about 7am and were second or third in line for a spot in the famous Camp 4. I was surprised when I first saw it. Everything I had heard about the place suggested that it was a pit worthy only of those hard men and women who lived only with the occasional bath in the Merced River as the only method of maintaining personal hygiene. I was imagining Camp Slime in the 'Gunks where there were only porto-potties across the street, no running water, and tents that are so close to yours that you're afraid to roll over in the night out of the fear of snuggling up with the guy next to you. But all those descriptions were false and completely unfounded. Camp 4 is not abad place. There is running water, flush toilets, and potable water. The campground is fairly large with over 20 plots of sites that can hold up to six people each. Even each plot is large enough to comfortably hold several tents without feeling the pressure to keep a can of pepper spray handy just in case that nut in the next tent over isn't rolling over accidentally. True, you'll have to share sites with other campers, but there's no need to worry over claustrophobia. On top of all this, the sites are fairly flat with soft pine needles comfortably spread across the floor, and the pathways leading in and out of the campground are well-established with low-dug logs marking the path and each site. The bathroom is centrally located, and so is the famous Columbia Boulder with Midnight Lightening as its centerpiece.
We stayed in the far-most left-hand corner of the camp away from the parking lot. This was great for me as it was in the shade, far away from most campers, and very far away from many of the families that were also staying there. After our tent was set up, "Ratherbe" and I grabbed our climbing gear and headed toward Glacier Point Apron because we had read it's best climb, The Grack (5.6), is "very hot on summer mornings but bearable by the afternoon," according to the SuperTopo guide. Because it was already mid-morning, we assumed most climbs in The Valley would be in the sun anyway. After reading the above comment, and noting that in two other places in the SuperTopo about Glacier Point Apron it was said there was morning sun (i.e. - no mention of afternoon sun), we figured The Grack was going offer the best, cool climbing we could find. Besides, we wanted multi-pitch and something easy. We essentially wanted something where we didn't have to think beyond what was in front of us without worry or concern of baking our skin so that it was crispy enough to serve with sour cream and salt. So we hopped on a shuttle and headed to Glacier Point Apron. "PBR" stayed behind with the hopes of experiencing the true camaraderie of staying at Camp 4. His goal was to find a random climber with whom he could get some of the better climbs in that day. We hoped that we all had a good, solid day of climbing worth remembering.
Glacier Point Apron
The Grack Center (5.6) - Three pitches - Trad - Varied Anchors - Greg and "Ratherbe" led
Approach: Park in the Day Use Area parking lot that is past Curry Village and next to a road gate that prevents you from going any further. If you're taking the shuttle, get off at Stop 15 - Upper Pines Campground, and walk right if facing the shuttle (left would take you back whence you came and toward Curry Village). Once you turn into the parking lot, you should see bear boxes on the left. Follow the bear boxes to the other side of the lot where there is an obvious hiker's trail that is in the northeast corner. Hike in about 100 feet and find a smaller path heading up to right. That smaller path will take you to the base after only a few minutes' walk. At the base, head right for Monday Morning Slabs, and left toward the Goblet, The Grack, and The Cow. After turning left, and just as the SuperTopo says, walk along the base for several minutes until the rock slide beyond The Grack comes into view. This is key to note because the rock slide can't be seen for a while as you're walking along. In fact, we ran into several parties who couldn't believe they hadn't gone far enough. So remember, if you can't see the rock slide yet, you haven't gone far enough. The rock slide will be somewhat below you and to your left if facing the cliff, and it is a large rock slide (not the dirty-ish gully that you'll past over on your way there). The Grack starts at the medium-sized, lonely pine tree at the base, and this tree is on the upper-most section of the base before heading downhill toward the rock slide (and toward The Cow).
Pitch One (5.6) - 160 feet - Trad - Make your own anchor - Greg Led
Pitch One follows the left-facing corner up to the base of the right-fading crack that is the second pitch. I actually belayed below the recommended belay spot because I couldn't see from below where the top of the first pitch was. However, it is not that difficult to find if you just trust the route and SuperTopo guide. You should climb up to the base of the large crack where there is a sort of "Y" shape in the crack. I stopped about 10 feet short of that, and that was OK, too, as there was a decent-sized ledge to belay from, but the upper stance has a much better view of the second pitch and it offers better gear.
We arrived at the base of The Grack sometime around 10am. As noted in the guidebook, the sun was shining down on the Apron, but instead of causing us to believe it would be gone in a couple of hours, it was so hot that we felt the heat reflecting off the slabs. We had only hiked about 15 minutes or so, and we were already sapped of energy. But that was OK. We knew that the Apron saw morning sun, so we found some shade and simply relaxed. But as we waited, we noticed the sun had a long way to go before it moved beyond the cliff. It's funny because we tried measuring the distance the sun had moved in relation to the cliff every 10 minutes in order to guess how long it would take to get the route in the shade. It turns out the answer in early June starting at 10am is four hours.
Looking back on those few hours, I'm not sure I had a more enjoyable time than while we waited for the sun to pass. I think what I needed most at that point was to simply sit down and wait, to do absolutely nothing but sit down and talk, laugh, smile, and breathe. And that is exactly what I did. I had quiet vacations such as this in my previous life. I never went on climbing vacations, bar one I took to Switzerland while I was still living in Edinburgh, Scotland. All my vacations up to this point were to far away beaches where there was nothing to do but eat, sleep, and float. Seriously, other than a little swimming, how much energy is exerted while floating? Well, since that life has now passed me by, I've been doing nothing but climbing trips. In fact, I work all week and climb all weekend, rarely ever getting a chance to sit back and relax (well, my current trip, as I'm writing this, is at home in wonderful Acadia National Park and all I'm doing to sitting back and watching the Sox play the Yankees. The candy that I ate from this morning's parade isn't exactly sitting well in my stomach right now, but who cares?). And after such an intense day the day before, as I sat there in the shade, despite frustratingly waiting for the sun to disappear, all that negative energy began to fade away. I didn't realize it at that time, but I did later on, especially after we got on the climb, that I wasn't looking for climbing so much as I was just to get away.
Anyway, once the sun started to show signs of leaving our intended route free of Vitamin A, we got on the climb and had a blast. The first section was fairly easy and straightforward, with plenty of good gear where you need it most, although I did slip on an easier slab section when I was a bit run out near the top of the pitch, but it wouldn't have been a terrible fall. It would have been more of an annoying slide than anything else. This first pitch was OK, but just OK. We were happy that the shade was beginning to hide on the other side of the mountain, too, but the first pitch seemed a bit ho-hum for what we had expected from a long awaited five-star climb. But as soon as "Ratherbe" started up the second pitch, things turned around in a hurry.
Pitch Two (5.6) - 150 feet - Trad - Make your own anchors - "Ratherbe" led
This second pitch is a wonder of wonderful climbs. It is 150 feet of pure splitter climbing on low-angle slab. Every hold is there, whether you want to jam, lieback, or face climb. Because the crack really isn't vertical, it never feels awkward to the face climber. It is also visually pleasing, especially with double ropes, as they drape straight down nearly perpendicular to the right-fading crack. Climb the crack all the way to the large pod and belay from there. And oh yeah, don't forget to realize how much fun you're having while you're at it.
I think the funniest moment of the day was when "Ratherbe" was about half-way up and she stopped, looked around, paused, hesitated to move forward, looked around some more, and cringed before asking me:
- "Ratherbe": Uh, what do tarantulas look like?
- Me: Hairy
- "Ratherbe": Do they have yellow a streak on them?
- Me: Well, they're hairy.
- "Ratherbe": Yeah, so this one has yellow on it.
- Me: Is it hairy?
- "Ratherbe": It might be a bat now that I think about it.
- Me: Ayuh, bats are hairy, too.
- "Ratherbe": I don't need gear here, but I'm concerned about him crawling up the rope and I don't want that.
- Me: I don't believe tarantulas are that poisonous.
- "Ratherbe": I think it's just a yellow bat actually.
- Me: You haven't told me if it's hairy yet.
- "Ratherbe": I think I'm going to just climb past it.
- "Ratherbe" (three moves later): Yup, it was a bat. It just flew away.
- Me (to myself): Phew, cause I hate hairy bats.
Pitch Three (5.6) - 140 feet - Trad - Bolted Anchors - Greg Led
Continue up the crack to the ledge above. Belay from the bolted rap anchors.
This, too, was a nice pitch, though not as fun the second pitch. The remainder of the crack was fun and challenging, especially when it came to finding good gear. I do have two recommendations regarding this pitch; one concerns the end of the climb and the other concerns the belay ledge.
My recommendation on the climb is to climb the run-out blank section at the top of the crack (the last 12 feet after the crack to the ledge). I say this because as I saw the crack stitch up near the top, and as my eyes widened and the increasingly blank face above me, I noticed that there was a crack just left of the one I was in. This left-hand crack seemed easier and protectable, and it also went to the same ledge I was shooting for. The only issue with this crack was that there were clumps of grass growing out of various sections of it. It looked easier and safer, but it also looked less enjoyable. Well, I figured since face climbs are my favorite, and since this was supposedly only 5.6, there wasn't any reason not to climb the face. Besides, if I fell, it was only going to be about 25 feet on low-angle slab. I could probably just sit down and arrest myself with my butt. So I went up into the void and pleasantly / surprisingly found lots of nice, solid crimps. Two or three moves later and I was at the belay ledge.
With regards to the belay ledge, well, I don't know why this is so, but it was probably my most favorite belay ledge of all time. It could have been the ledge itself, or maybe it was the atmosphere and my greatly improved spirits. But I was just plain giddy when I got up there. It doesn't look special, and probably isn't very special in relation to other ledges, but if one sets one's ropes properly, there is a fantastic seat about six feet below the chains. The seat is not only perfectly positioned such that it fits an entire butt perfectly, but it also has a well-slanted back for leaning back and relaxing. Not only that, but the slab below the seat is angled well enough so that it almost feels as if your legs are on a recliner. One also has a perfect view of the second coming up, so it is great for pictures and being ready for a potential fall. To top it off, there's no need to clump the rope anywhere. Because the seat is directly above the rap slab, all one has to do is let the rope droop down, and when the second comes up, voila!, you have your rap already set up. I loved this belay station so much that I repeatedly told "Ratherbe" that the only thing wrong with this climb is that it wasn't long enough. She agreed with the statement, but didn't really have time to enjoy the belay station as much as I had just enjoyed it. I could have sat there another 30 minutes belaying her up the next pitch, and I can't imagine the route getting any less enjoyable after the fact. Simply put, this route is definitely a must-do, even if for the belay ledge only.
Descent: With two 60m ropes, you can make this rap all the way down in two goes. It is advised to angle back left toward the start of the route if you're going to do this, as the route starts at higher terrain than what is directly below the rap anchors. However, if you don't have two ropes, then there are other rap anchors below. Essentially, this is my recommendation with two ropes: rap past the first rap anchors that you come across and fade left to a lower set that is about 25 feet down to the left, then rap all the way down to the left in one go after that. With one rope: rap down to the first rap anchors you come across, then rap straight down over a roof to a tree that has webbing on it.
What can I say? This day was the day of lifted spirits. "Ratherbe" and I headed back to Camp 4 with smiles on our faces and a great deal of stress was lifted off my chest. We found "PBR" when we got back to Camp 4 having a beer with his partner of the day, and he also had a huge smile. He managed to be the second person up Bishop's Terrace (5.8) that morning and was able to retrieve our abandoned gear from the day before. He also got up the ultra-classic Nutcracker (5.8) in three hours car-to-car. So in all, I think this was a great day for all three of us.
We hung around the picnic table for a while listening to stories about how a couple of the guys had done Zodiac in previous years. It turned out that "Colby", who joined us for a beer, was about to do Zodiac as his first big wall ever within the next couple of days as well. After that we went to Camp Curry to shower (if you want a free shower, just walk in. They don't check if you're a guest, and you can even grab one of the fresh towels for later, too) and eat. We were in bed at a reasonable time for our four-hour trek through Tuolumne Meadows on our way to Lover's Leap in Strawberry, CA. Lover's Leap will represent my next post regarding this trip.