yosemite moments

“click”, “click”, “click-hissssss”.  the buzz of the stove firing up was a welcome promise of coffee in the cold, dewy predawn.  we were bundled in down jackets and sleeping bags sitting in camp chairs in a long line of shivering climbers, hikers, and campers.  we had roused from our stealth bivy outside the park at four in the morning to drive into Yosemite National Park.  once there, we had begun a vigil of waiting in line for the Camp 4 walk in campground.  every morning, may thru november, a line of scrappy looking travelers forms outside of the ranger kiosk to queue up for the handful of available campsites for the day.  eighth in line on a monday morning, we were confident in our chances of scoring a site for the week.  a handful of hours of waiting, paperwork filing, and hauling, we were established in our home for the week.  together with a randomly selected ragtag international crew of climbers from all over the world, we would all settle into a beautiful routine of waking early, climbing hard all day, and returning in the evening to drink beers and recap the climbing action of the day.  

I’m looking up at this roof thinking how on earth can this climb be rated 5.6. The climb is called Munginella and is a classic moderate multi pitch in Yosemite Valley. People from all over the world climb this route everyday. Therefore I chose this route to lead Bran up the entire thing - no following on top rope but leading every pitch. Yet, here I sit frozen under a roof on the second pitch. Luckily there was a sturdy fixed piton right below the roof so if I fell I would have an awful pendulum swing into the rock but at least I wouldn’t hit the ledge below. I managed to find one tiny foothold on the face that allowed me to look at the roof a little closer. I started to place a piece in the roof but my leg started to shake violently from nerves. I managed to get the purple piece in the rock but had very little confidence in it as I couldn’t stop shaking. I kept eyeing Bran down below at the belay thinking, “You luckily bastard you get to be on top rope for this.” So with not alot of options left I took a deep breath and reached around the roof standing on this one tiny foot hold with a bad piece of protection at my waist. Thankfully I managed to find an excellent hand hold just in time for my feet to slip under me. I quickly managed to run my feet up the wall and stand proudly on top of the roof, while shakily placing gear on the ledge to bring Bran up for the third and final pitch. Once Bran made it to the ledge he gave me a very deserved high five and a “good job” kiss on the cheek.

“I don’t see any bolts up here, so I’m just going to keep going!” bnna shouted down from what she was expecting to be the first pitch belay on the 5 pitch classic 5.9 trad climb Super Slide. the topo (map of a climb) showed two bolts on the ledge 100 feet up where bnna was expecting to belay me up to join her, before continuing a few more hundred feet up the cliff to the top of the climb.  not seeing the bolts (which turned out to have been removed), bnna figured she would head up to the next ledge to see if the bolts where there.

after succeeding two days ago in her first ever trad (placing your own protection as you move upward, rather than relying on fixed protection installed permanently in the rock)  climbing lead, she succeeded leading a classic 5.6 called After Six the day previous.  this pitch on Super Slide, also rated 5.6 wasn’t supposed to push her limits too hard.

I waited on the ground, paying out rope slowly.  bnna continued steadily upwards.  the pile of rope at my feet dwindled down to just a few feet.  I called up to bnna, informing her of her rope situation.  “Off belay!!” she shouted down a few minutes later, letting me know that she had anchored herself into the rock, and that it was now my turn to climb.  I breathed easy, assuming that she had found the bolts at the end of the first pitch after all.  

pulling on my rock shoes and cinching up the knot tying me into the climbing rope, I started up the moderate pitch, with bnna belaying me from her perch up above, hidden beyond the ledges i would climb over.  I passed by the ledge where the bolts should have been, and saw what bnna had encountered.  she had climbed up into the start of the next pitch, a substantially more difficult and technical 5.8 pitch.  not only was the grade harder, with more strenuous climbing, but the crack narrowed down to a fingertip seam, which made placing protection much more difficult.  up above I could see bnna, hanging in her harness halfway up the crack.  

with no more rope to climb higher, she had placed a few pieces of protection in the crack halfway up the pitch, and belayed me up from there.  after doing the technical 5.8 moves up the thin crack, I climbed up to where bnna was hanging. a little shakey, but smiling, bnna happily handed over rack of climbing gear to continue the climb.  

We were about to enter pitch 9 of 15 pitches. I had just led a scary but exciting 5’6 off width pitch. It was Brans turn. However instead of powering up another pitch - we had to wait on a ledge because there was a party in front of us. While this climb is understandably a classic adventurous long trad climbing route - this was my favorite part. How often does one get to stand about 1200 feet off the ground and look out into the vast Yosemite Valley. It was perfect. You could see the winding roads and the loud green dragon giving numerous tourists long bus tours through the valley. You could see Glacier Point across the valley stand tall with plenty of tiny ant size climbing parties making their way up the formation. You could see the awe inspiring, powerful, colossal Yosemite falls to the right. I think too often as a climber you get so focused on climbing a particular route that you forget to turn around and take in the views. While most could have found it annoying that another party was slowing us down, Bran and I found this moment marvelous.

“its only 5.8”.  I said to myself.  “you’ve never fallen on 5.8”.  we were standing on a small ledge halfway up a 1000 foot corner on higher cathedral rock.  above, a wide crack arched into a curved roof.  It looked hard.  the climb had already taxed us with a few hundred feet of steep but manageable climbing.  the steep nature of the pitches previous were overcome by splaying feet out left and right, stemming and bridging in the corner.  this had the effect of making the wall feel less steep, at the consequence of feeling more tenuous and insecure smearing feet against the granite.  

this pitch however, seemed to not provide that opportunity.  the wall was more glassy and polished and the walls seemed to offer less features to provide a foothold.  “you’re on belay”, bnna said, double checking the anchor and her belay.  It was time to climb.  

heading up, wedging the left side of my body into the crack, my first mission was to find a place for my largest cam, a single bd03.  the crack was far too wide for this cam at first, but finally I reached a point where the crack narrowed enough to accept this protection.  I clipped the rope to the piece and breathed a sigh of relief.  now I felt safe enough to consider the next sequence: jamming and stemming the crack before moving out onto the glassy face to some fixed pitons.  I jammed and heaved my body up the crack, clipped the first of the two pins, and contemplated the face.  the rock was so smooth.  I found a place for my foot and contemplated the next move.  there was no way my foot was going to hold.  as soon as the doubt entered my mind, I was off.  hanging at the end of the rope.  “so much for never falling on 5.8”.  I tried again.  Again my foot popped.  “fuck!”, I shouted.  “breathe!”, bnna shouted back up.  

the third try went better.  two pitches more, and we were on top.  worked. frazzled. we took in the view of the valley spread out before us and started hiking down....