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.

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