Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thwarted again

I'm back again at the beautiful Ahwanee hotel for some relaxation and free wi-fi. If only I had $500/night to burn, I could stay here. Oh well, I enjoy seeing the stars when I go to sleep.

My friend Brad had the day off today, so we made plans to go try "Beggar's Buttress" (11c) on Lower Cathedral rock. You might remember that I tried this climb last week with a kid named Rob, but we ended up bailing due to his dehydration/exhaustion/frustration. Having just sent Astroman with Brad, I knew he was up to the challenge. We were so confident, in fact, that we planned on finishing the 9 pitch route by midday and having plenty of time for more climbing in the evening.
The climbing starts well, Brad leads the first four pitches (linked into two longs leads) quickly. I enjoy the beautiful, clean corner on the first pitch just as much this time as I did last week leading it. As I arrive at the belay for our second pitch, though, we notice that the sky has darkened quite a bit. Oh well, it was cloudy yesterday and didn't rain, so we'll be fine. I take the next lead, and take us all the way up to a big ledge about halfway up the route. By this time, we can see rain falling further east towards Half Dome, and thunder is echoing all around. Maybe, though, we can make it, it's not too much further and we're really moving fast. I lead one more easy pitch, and as I do, it begins to rain on us.

We're nervous because the next few pitches are the hardest on the route, and they might now be wet. To make things worse, the last pitch is supposed to be really thin, the kind that would probably protect well with small stoppers, but we'd forgotten all the stoppers in the car. At this point, wisdom finally gets the better of our enthusiasm, and we pretty much resign ourselves to bailing. Not before we get a few cool pictures, though:

Brad surveying the coming rain

Bailing is still pretty complicated, though, since we only have one ATC and one Gri-gri, so we'll have to simul-rap (when both climbers rappel at the same time on the two sides of the same rope, which is folded through the anchor). The route was mostly equipped with bail slings from previous parties, but at one point we had to do a short down-lead to avoid leaving some slings of our own. I'm pretty experienced at bailing now.

Of course, as soon as we had backed off, the rain stopped and the skies cleared. We decided to hed over to Middle Cathedral to check out "Stoner's Highway" (10c). Wow, that thing is hard! Imagine a slab of granite so polished by glaciers that it resembles a marble counter top. The face isn't that steep, maybe 60-80 degrees, but you could combine every handhold on the whole route and still not have something worth grabbing. I feel like Brad and I are both pretty solid 5.11 climbers in most genres, but we combined for maybe 20-30 falls on this thing. Thankfully it had a bunch of bolts, because I felt like I might pop off at any time. So we just did the first pitch, and then it started raining again. This time we'd had our fill of climbing and were pretty hungry, so we gladly headed back for dryness and food.

Brad on the mega-slippery slab of Stoner's Highway

So that's what's going on here in the valley. Here's a pic from yesterday of climbing "Catchy Corner" (11a) at the Cookie cliff.

Also, totally feel free to hit the comment button and leave me some greetings, comments, harassment, or anything else. I'd love to hear from y'all!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rocking to the Classics

I feel really lucky in that I haven't been climbing for too long, and so there're are still a TON of mega-classic climbs out there for me to try. One of the most "classic" routes of all time is Astroman, here in Yosemite valley. When it was first free climbed, it sort of revolutionized the way climbers thought of "Big Wall" climbs, and the goal shifted from simply getting up the walls, to doing them in the best style possible.

On Saturday, my friend Brad and I got our chance to test our skills on this masterpiece of a climb, and it didn't dissapoint. The rock is the gorgeous white and orange granite that makes Yosemite what it is, and it's split by some of the cleanest cracks in the valley. Pitch after pitch deliver steep, exposed, physical climbing.

We had a great experience on it. We decided to go light, which was pretty essential to making the climbing enjoyable, but led to a long, hungry, thirsty descent in my climbing shoes. The frist standout pitch was the Enduro corner, which Brad led. It's a perfect thin-hands corner that starts out overhanging, and once the angle eases back, the crack gets thinner and harder. The Harding Slot, my lead, was the definite crux of the day. You start up climbing this steep thin-hands corner, with a massive roof looming above you. The slot itself splits the roof, just waiting to devour you and then spit you back out. The moves to get to the bottom of the slot aren't too bad, but then the thrutching begins as you have to find a way to wedge your body into the flared fissure. Once you're in, though, it doesn't get any easier, as the slot greadually narrows down. About halfway through (its about 30' long) I go to the point where I could barely turn my head, and I couldn't fully catch my breath since my chest was so constricted. This pitch is the stuff of nightmares, and I left behing my mark in the form of blood, sweat, and skin. We unfortunately didn't take a camera, but here's a picture I found online to give you an idea of the horror.

After the awful slot, and vowing to myself that I'd never do that again, we had four more super fun pitches above, and I got to lead the "changing corners" (11b), which was awesome, and the last pitch (10d R), which was exciting!

Surveying the damage two days after Astroman and the burly Harding Slot

Like I said, the descent, the dreaded North Dome gully, was not too enjoyable, and Brad tried to get us killed by leading us down some steep, dirty, loose ledges. We got back on track, though, and the only problem the rest of the way was the million and a half tiny rocks stuck in my climbing slippers.

So, after a two easy days of rest and cragging, I decided to try out another Yosemite classic: the DNB (the Direct North Buttress) on Middle Cathedral. Middle Cathedral is a HUGE rock, close to 2000' tall, but it is dwarfed by it's neighbor across the valley, El Cap. The DNB is a notoriusly tricky route, often giving expereinced and strong parties a run for their money, and benighting more than a few. Here's an enticing description copied from

"The crux 5.10b pitch, which is quite difficult, is one of the easiest pitches on the route. It has a runout section, but it doesn't take long to lead and it is easy to get past the mantle on aid. As for the rest, You can count the fixed pro on one hand. The belays are marginal. Every pitch is runout, some grossly. Route finding is difficult on a number of pitches and especially the start of the descent. There are offwidths or squeeze chimneys on the 1st, 10th, 11th, and 14th thru 17th pitches. The 17th pitch is the crux, then either the devious 12th pitch or super sandbag 10th pitch."

Sounds like a great day! We tried to start early, but I love sleep, so we probably got on the rock around 9 or 10am. The first few pitches went well, including the 5.10 R crux, but then we found ourselves horribly and intractably off-route. Our topo wasn't much help, with only a few spare lines to describe each pitch, which is pretty hard to match up to the reality of a giant, heavily-featured granite face. We knew we were off the line when I was leading and had to start aiding up a desperatly thin seam, digging out dirt and lichen so that I could fit in RPs and TCUs. Still, the face was fairly low angle, so we carried on upwards, hoping to merge with something recognizable higher up. Somewhere around our tenth pitch (I stopped counting after 2) we spotted the actual route, and were able to do a pendulum over to it. Our luck in finding it, though, was cancelled out by the sudden turn in the weather, which turned from a typically gorgeous California day to a threatening mass of grey and black clouds. It rained lightly on and off for the next few hours, but thankfully the rock didn't become too wet to climb. We knew we were near the end, so I ran a few rope-stretching pitches up the long chimney system.

The problem is, though, that the route doesn't quite end on top, but rather at a complex ledge system called the "Kat walk". Since it was wet and very exposed, we stayed roped up on this section. Three or four traversing pitches finally led us to easy walking terrain, and the weather mirrored our good mood by clearing up and provided a spectacular sunset. A bit more walking took us to an unexpectedly steep gully (we didn't read the guide very well), but a quick call to my friend Scott (who had done this descent before) explained that there were a few bolted rappel stations. All told, we didn't get back to the car until 9:30, making it a 12+ hour trip, and I was fully exhausted.

The last four days have been great: two Yosemite classics, two gnarly descents, and tons of amazing climbing! As I mentioned, my friend Scott (from Canon City) just arrived in the Valley, so we'll be getting ready for our big goal: the Nose in a day!

Photo Backlog

Here's a bunch of pics that I've been neglecting to post:

Matt and I (Back in Eldo, it feels like so long ago),after the successful Hairstyles and Attitudes send. I'm in need of some California sun!

Just after Tioga Pass in Toulumne Meadows on the drive into the park. Lots o Snow...

Brad G onsighting Crack-a-go-go (11c) late in the day

Me flashing same, even later

A good zoomed-in shot (thanks Dustin)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Valley 101

Yosemite it truly a World-Class destination, for both climbers and everyone else. The park feels like Disney land with tourist wandering everywhere, speaking 8 different languages. The Valley is not that big, so the concentration of people is somewhat ridiculous. Even still, though, it's not that hard to find a place all to yourself to lay in the sun and read a book.

With it's perfect weather, soaring granite, and civilized amenities, Yosemite is the perfect place to hang out for a long vacation. The crux of the matter, though, is the camping. For those of us on (very) limited budgets, there's really no legit way to dirtbag it here. That's what makes my new friend Brian so special. I say new friend because I just met him two days ago, and he had already offered to let me stay at his place "as long as I want". Be careful what you say...
I met Brian on this awesome website, which is like facebook for dirtbags and travellers. You can log on and create a profile, and you list whether you have a couch (or spare bed/ extra floor space) that any random people can come and crash on. It also kinda works like Ebay, in that you can leave feedback on someone after you've hosted or stayed with them. So Brian, who works at the Ahwanee, a mega-swank hotel in the Valley, has a rad little apartment in Curry villiage and is letting me crash on his floor. You rock Brian!! Everyone should go sign up on couchsurfing and host some weary travellers.

So, having been here for just a few days now, I'm only starting to get the hang of valley life. The roads are pretty complex, many are one-way. On my first day I thought it'd be fun to ride my bike down to El Cap meadows, only to find myself stuck on a one-way road (they don't even let bikes go the other way). The only bridge back to the main part of the valley was closed for construction, so I had to ride 3 miles down to the next bridge before I could pick up the road going back the way I wanted. Oh well, it was a beautiful ride with killer views of some falls and El Cap, so I can't complain.

One of my other stops in the Valley on my first day was at the Camp 4 (the climber's campground) bulletin board to post a notice looking for partners. I called and left messages with a few other people who'd left their own notes. Just a few hours later, this kid Brad calls me back to see if I want to go climbing right then (it was about 5pm), and if so, to meet him in 5 minutes. So, I run back to my car, throw together my gear, and run off to meet Brad and his friend Dustin. Turns out I had met Brad last fall in Indian Creek, and I'm really psyched to climb with him again. We all pile in Dustin's truck and head out to Cookie Cliff, where Brad is amped to try and onsight Crack-a-go-go (11c). We hike up, and Brad ties in, and only then realized that we forgot to bring a set of nuts. He's game to go for the lead with just cams, but the crack looks pretty thin and funky (i.e. perfect for nuts). He gets about 30' up, spends a long time trying to fiddle in a cam, and starts getting nervous. After some quick conversation, he decides to downclimb. We back off, promising to come back another day with some nuts.
Next up was Red Zinger (11d), a perfect crack to lead with just cams. It's my lead, and I'm a bit nervous about an 11d being my first climb in the Valley (this year). It goes pretty well, and I get through the crux thin section before pumping out and falling higher up. I get right back on, though, and finish smoothly. Brad and Dustin both take tope-rope burns as the light fades, and then we drive back in the dark.

The next day, and I have a partner (Rob) lined up. We're supposed to meet at nine, but I'm late. He's late too, though, so it works out fine. We hang out in the camp 4 parking lot and talk about what we want to do. We have a couple of moderate classics in mind, but since we're getting a late-ish start, we're worried they'll be crowded. So we settle on a lesser traveled, slightly harder line: Beggar's Buttress (11c). We drive over, looking at the rock (Lower Cathedral) from the road and trying to spot the line. No luck at first, but we quickly hike to the base and, with some guidebook assistance, find our route. The first pitch is dirty 5.7, or a bolted and slightly wet 5.10. Rob ties in and starts of the 5.7, realizes it's too dirty, and then moves over to the 5.10. Two bolts up, he starts sketching. The last bolt is at his knees, but with a long sling on it, it hangs below his feet. He peels, and ends up coming down a ways and kinda ledging out. Ouch... He's ok, though, and lowers down to give me a try. I get up the pitch with minimal fussing, and we're soon at the base of a gorgeous corner (11a). I take this lead, too, and it feels great. Unfortunately the corner ends too soon and I'm on crappy loose terrain. This is sorta what we'd heard about this route: it has some really classic climbing, but it also has some pretty crappy climbing. Rob takes the next pitch and leads a cool chimney in good style, but then climbed up to a big roof/cave/alcove thing and is stymied. He builds a belay and brings me up. The roof is super cool: you work you're way all the way up into the cave/alcove section, and then stretch all the way out to a perfect hand-jam at the lip. Cut your feet, swing out on the jam, and instantly you go from the shelter of the cave to mega exposure. Really cool climbing. As before, though, the good rock disappears just above and more loose junk must be dealt with.

At this point, Rob is having a hard time. He later tells me that he neglected to eat any breakfast, or drink much water, so he's bonking from lack of energy. It kinda sucks, and we're a long way from the top, so we decide to bail. This way an adventure in itself, since I was determined not to leave any gear. It worked, but it involved me down-leading a good section in order to make it to the next bail station. Whatever, that's climbing, as long as we made it down safely we can come back and try again another time.

The day was not totally wasted, though, since I got down in time to meet up with Brad and Dustin when they got off work (they work in the Ahwanee too, but as room-cleaners). They're psyched on Crimson Cringe, so we drive out and do the hike in only to find a raging river running at the base of the wall. Hmm.. I don't think this'll work. Dustin tries to come up with some crazy plan for leading across the river and then setting up a rope traverse, but we're not buying it. It might have worked, and that would have been really cool, but we decide just to head back to Cookie cliff and get in one pitch before dark. Armed with some nuts, Brad gets back on Crack-a-go-go. All goes well, and he completes his semi-onsight. Dustin TRs and cleans, and then I'm up to lead. I spend plenty of time down low getting the gear just right, and then pull the crux (which doesn't feel very hard). Yeah for flashing 11c in the valley! It's pretty dark by then, so we're happy to head back home.

Anyways, today (Friday) I decide to rest, because tomorrow Brad and I are gonna try the mega-classic Astroman! Tune in soon to see how it goes.

The Big Drive

So, as I alluded to in my last post, I left beautiful Colorado on Monday afternoon, and began the long drive to Yosemite. I had hoped to find someone to ride along on this part of the trip, but it was not to be, so I'm going solo.

The drive to Yosemite crosses some of the most barren and desolate parts of the country. Leaving Denver, only the small ski resort towns are encountered, and then Glenwood Canyon, where I stopped and made some dinner at a reststop. Grand Junction is the biggest town on the whole drive, so I stopped there for one last big grocery stock-up.
Utah is a big empty desert, with only the small towns of Green River and Delta spread over its many hundred miles of driving. I stopped off the highway to camp.

A long straight road through Nevada

Once you get to Nevada, there are some big mountains, and I stopped briefly at Great Basin Nat'l Park. I talked for a minute with a super nice ranger who checked online for me and found out that Tioga Pass was scheduled to open at 9am the next day. YES! that fits perfectly for me! Next, I stopped in the nice old town of Ely and spent a little while using the wireless in the Public Library (that where I uploaded my last post). The last little town along the way was Tonopah, which I guess is famous for its casinos and having "the darkest, brightest night sky" (or so the banners claimed).

Finally I was getting close to Cali, and I was treated to a gorgeous sunset. I stopped in the national forest between Benton and Lee Vining to camp for the night, it was a super campsite. I think it was pretty high elevation (8000' ish), so it was cool and the trees were giant. I really felt like I was in the Sierra, and John Muir spent many nights bedded down in the same wilderness.

Sunset just before California

Up early the next day, I realized that my campsite was even better that I'd thought: it had a fantastic view of the big mountains. So I made breakfast and enjoyed the view before rolling out.

The pass was indeed open, I guess it had actually opened the previous night, and so my little car made a great effort and we surmounted Tioga and entered the park. Yosemite, my home for the next few weeks! There's still a ton of snow in the high country, so I guess Toulumne is gonna be a good summer hangout.

So I'm here now, but I'll save all the Yosemite stories for another post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Hairstyle, All Attitude


"I do my best work under pressure"

So, it is finally here: Sunday was my last day of work, and I am now officially unemployed and homeless. By choice. I am writing this in the middle of the night in the middle of the Great American Desert, on my way from Colorado, which was such a fantastic home for the past 15 months, to beautiful Yosemite California. For the foreseeable future, probably the next 4-6 months, my car will be my home and I’ll be checking out the best the West has to offer. I would not have been able to leave so blissfully, though, if I had not been able to complete one last goal in Colorado before I left.

So, this morning (Monday morning, that is), Matt and I headed to Eldo. The proj: Hairstyles and Attitudes. The goal: a clean, boltless ascent. I had first checked out the line back in April, trying it TR solo. I loved the line and the exposure, even though I couldn’t quite do all the moves. Later that night, I saw my #6 Camalot in my gear tub, and the thought struck me: I bet that would go in to the knee lock before the crux. Once I had the idea in my head, it suddenly seemed doable, in fact, necessary. The route starts about 150’ off the deck, and it’s fairly steep, so I figured that it’d be possible to take big, clean whippers on it. So, after a few weeks off due to my injury, I went back up to the Bastille, this time with a rack. Again TR solo, I rapped down the line, finding piece after piece of bomber gear. The #6 did indeed go in below the crux, though it looked more than a little funky. It bounce tested OK, but I still wasn’t totally confident in it. The problem is that you pull the crux with your feet about 6’ above the big cam, and the next piece of gear below it is another 10’ down. So, I just decided to work on not falling.

Back to this morning. Record highs in the 90s are forecast, so we figure we’ll get an alpine start to beat the heat. We roll in around 11:30 (sleeping-in is addictive) and find some shade for our warm up. Matt onsights Jack the Ripper, pretty much soloing it. Then he spots a potential line on the arete to the right, and so we hang a TR on it and work out the moves. Good luck on that thing, Matt.

Finally, we head over the Bastille. With my fully written out gear beta list, I carefully assemble the rack (17 pieces, this route’s a sew-up!) while Matt solos up the first 2 pitches of the Bastille crack and builds our belay. I quickly join him, and with no extra time for nervousness, I start the pitch. Everything feels great, I barely notice that I’m on lead. I get up to the knee lock below the crux, spend some time getting the #6 Camalot to look good, place a totally laughable rp, and then chill-out and breathe. Once I start the crux sequence, the moves come quickly, and before I know it, my hand is on the finishing jug. Of course, the crux is over, but there’s no gear, and now I’m facing a giant whipper (even if the big cam stays in). The next few moves to gain the ledge are delicate and smear-y, but I take my time, mantel up, traverse a step to the right, and I’m at a no hands stance. (Matt later tells me that he was silently wishing I would fall, so that he could see if the gear would hold.)

While I’m doing all this, a climber is about 15’ away leading Outer Space, so we have a quick chat (nice weather, eh?, a bit hot…) while I catch my breath. Even though the hard climbing is over, there’s still one real move to pull before I get the next piece of gear, and now we’re definitely in the no fall zone. Re-compose, pull the move, and then get the piece: a bomber #9 stopper. From here, it’s more or less a romp to the top, with only one more semi hard move and decent pro.

So, I’m super psyched, as you can tell. This was not only my personal hardest ever send, but also a possible first. I don’t know of anyone who has led Hairstyles without the bolts, but who knows, Derek Hersey probably soloed it, mid-winter. Of course a route on natural gear is one thing, but to be a true trad line, it would have to see a ground-up ascent. So, all you hard-pullin, gear fiddlin, cool headed dude-bros (and bro-dettes): that’s the next challenge.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sun in Eldo, Whippers and FAs

So, I figured since this page is really all about climbing, and the crazy roadtrips it inspires, I should probably post something about climbing.

I've not been climbing very much for the past month or so, mostly on account of my injury a while back. My wrist has taken a while to heal, and it's still not quite 100%. Regardless, I've gotten in a few days of climbing this week.
Eldo is absolutely going off this time of year! Since February 08, when I moved to Colorado, I've maybe been climbing there 200+ times, all year round. This is definitely the most attractive climbing season, though. We spent many days chasing sun and shivering in puffy jackets all winter, and almost as many chasing shade and sweating in t-shirts all summer. Fall is super nice, but by then the days are shorter and the landscape browner. Right now the sun is high, it's not too hot, the canyon is beautifully green, and it seems like everyone is visiting Eldo.

Me bouldering on Pickpocket (awesome juggy 5.8)

So, back to me. Matt and his friend Natalie graciously invited me out for a day of cranking today, and we had a blast. Some of the coolest days are the ones where you don't really have an agenda, and everything that you get done is just icing on the cake (the cake being a beautiful day spent outside) So we warmed up on "C'est What", a fun steep route on the Whale's Tale, and then made our way over to "Breakfast of Champions". This is a pretty cool line right off the trail that I've walked by tons of times, but never gotten around to doing. It's really short, maybe only 40', but it makes up for it with interesting steep climbing and tricky gear. Matt got on it first, cruised it, and came down saying it was easy 5.10 (the book gives it 11a). Natalie cleaned it, and then it was my turn to lead. It wasn't a true onsight, since I had just watched Matt on it, but it felt good to send an "11" in Eldo that easily. The gear is bomber; anyone that has any endurance should have no problem dropping in more than enough good pieces.

Flashing "Breakfast of Champions" 5.11a

First Ascents really inspire me in climbing, even though I have never actually gotten one! (I've come close though...). I think a big part of getting FAs, especially in heavily traveled place like Eldo, is having the vision to see potential lines. That, or climbing super hard, death defying hairfests. After lowering off Breakfast of Champions, Matt spotted a few holds on the steep face to the right. The line he saw connected BoC to Captain Crunch, a 5.13 sport route (avoiding the crux of that route). After a burn on TR, Matt manned up and led it, and the result is a pretty cool variation, with a totally new and independent crux. We thought it was about 11+, and the gear is pretty sparse, consisting of 2 pieces in the BoC corner before the traverse, and then two small pieces on CC after it. There's a bolt on CC, but Matt opted not to clip it, keeping the new variation all natural. We used double ropes to maximize the gear that was there, but it still seemed possible to take a dangerous fall from above the crux. Way to go Matt!

Matt crimping, and probably FAing, on "Real Men Eat Eggs" 11+R

So after all the excitement of the wild steep climbing, we headed over to the Bastille to get one more pitch in. I had never done "Interceptors", and was psyched to try for the onsight. The route starts up "XM", with very little gear in the first 30' (my only piece would later clean itself and hit my belayer). Luckily, once the climbing gets steeper, plenty of good gear appears, and you climb an awesome hand-ish type crack (finding a handjam in Eldo always gets me excited). When the crack gets steeper, XM breaks off right to keep the pitch at 5.10, but Interceptors goes straight up. Just when the wall is at its steepest, the awesome crack disappears and you have to pull the crux (11b) moves with your feet above you last cam. I was glad that my head was in it and I was willing to go for it, but unfortunately my hand's weren't willing and I got to take a big whipper. The crux turned out to be hard to decipher, and I ended up logging some more air time (thanks Natalie for the soft catches!). Eventually I figured out the cryptic moves to gain the slab above, but that just leaves you even further from the gear with more not-so-trivial slab above. I got creative with a cool sling around a handhold, and then ran it out the rest of the way to the chains. Sweet route, I will definitely miss those awesome sequences that make climbing in Eldo so enjoyable. Despite the choss and the birdshit and the crowds, Eldo is FUN!

Catching air off "Interceptors" 11b R (thanks Matt for the drunken photography)

Friday, May 8, 2009

My car is my house, the world is my living room

So yesterday, maybe the first actually hot day of the year, was the day that my roommate and I had to vacate our apartment. It was a great place, we loved it there for over a year. It's amazing how much stuff I had, I only really realized it when I had to move it all. I got a little storage unit and took two FULL carloads of stuff there (good luck to that stuff, it's gonna be a boring, hot summer in the storage closet).

I was definitely trying to limit the amount of stuff I bring on the roadtrip, but of course I ended up with a full car anyways. I guess I just like comfort too much to pass up on: 2 tents, 2 sleeping pads, crash pad, a full bin of kitchen stuff, a bin of books, 2 bins of clothes, and much other not so neccessary junk.

Also, a BIG thanks to my friend Matt for housing me for the next week or so. I'm staying in Denver and working for one last week before actually hitting the road. I'm definitely anxious to get out there, but 1 week of work now could mean an extra month on the road, and I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to climb pretty soon...