Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gettin Ready

Life is still wonderful here in the Valley, although it's certainly starting to feel more like summer. Last Sunday brought the longest day of the year, and we've been trying to put all these glorious hours of sunlight to good use. Sunday itself was mostly a rest day, Scott and I having just done the Nose on Saturday, but I did get some action in late in the day with my friend Brad. He called around 5 to say that he'd just gotten off work and wanted to climb!

I had never done the Royal Arches route, a super classic long moderate route that starts just behind the Ahwahnee hotel, so that's what we chose. Brad had done it, and was eager to try and best his old time of 45 minutes. That's right, a 15 pitch 5.7 in 45 minutes. Whatever, I'm game.
So we meet up at the hotel, wander up to the base of the route, and start the timer. Brad zooms up the route, and is quickly out of sight. It's more of a cardio challenge that anything, with most of the route consisting of running back and forth on ledges to access short little steep sections. The climbing is easy, and Brad stays 50-100' ahead and is able to yell down directions. The route really reminds me of the Flatirons, in Boulder, which are also big easy slabs routes and popular solos.

Up higher, the climbing gets a little steeper, which actually lets me catch my breath a bit as I have to slow down and think through the moves. There's a cool little bit in the middle where you have to negotiate a 15' blank section of rock with a rope swing (the rope is fixed in place) sideways to another ledge system. Yeah Tarzan!

Near the top comes the mental crux of the route, a series of blank, low-angle slabs that you have to traverse across. It's easy to just plant your feet and move slowly across, but there are no handholds, so it seems a little scary. Brad makes quick work of these, and he reaches the end of the climbing in just 35 minutes. I finish about 5 minutes behind, and we sit and chill for a while at the top. The real crux of the route come on the descent, the infamous North Dome Gully, which actually takes us nearly 2 hours. Maybe it would have been faster to down-climb the route!

Monday was a day of cragging out at "Pat and Jack" with Scott E, and Anna (of Lyons, CO, and currently Bakersfield, CA). We have a great chilled out day and get up two really good routes. "Knuckleheads", a bolted 5.10b with tricky, slippery, slopey climbing, and then "The Tube", a really fun 5.11 dihedral. The crux of "The Tube" involved some bizarre body-friction moves to try and keep yourself in the severely leaning corner, and it was interesting to try and figure out how to make progress using only your feet, butt, and shoulder.

Tuesday was another long day! I met up with Eric, a strong kid who is living and working here for the summer, at 5am, and we began the Slabs approach to Half Dome! We had never climbed to together other than some craggin in groups, so I was interested to see how he climbed and if our systems for climbing big routes fast would mesh well.

So we met up, gathered gear, and ate breakfast, and starting hiking around 6:30. That "hike" is pretty heinous, consisting of steep slabs with plenty of wet and loose terrain. It took us a little over 2 hours to do the hike, and then we chilled at the base and talked with two nice women who had hiked up to camp with their husbands, who were now on the route. They informed us that 4 parties had started up already this morning, so we might be in for a bottleneck. Anyways, we started climbing at 9:30, and the first 9 pitches went super quick with me leading and Eric simul-ing. One party passed there, no delay. I ended my lead at the base of the bolt ladder on the "Robbins Traverse". There was one party on that pitch, and we could see the others on the next 2 pitches.

Since I've been in the Valley, we've been focusing a lot on climbing big routes quickly, usually choosing the easier, well traveled "Trade routes". This means that almost every route is going ot involve passing other parties on the route, who might not be focusing as much on speed or might not be as experienced. It's kind of an art, making sure to be nice and make a good impression as you climb up to their belay, chatting about the weather and how great the climb is, generally avoiding the subject of passing right away. It does help, though, to put on a little burst of speed right as you're coming up, just to let them know that you won't get in their way later on. Finally, once you're at their belay and have established a bit of a connection, then ask where the best spot for you to pass might be. Often there are quick variations that might enable you to climb around them without ever slowing down. Sometimes, though, the route is a bottleneck, and there's no other option but to wait.

That's what we had to do there, chilling out while they led and cleaned the bolt ladder. The next pitch was equally bad for passing, so we cooled our heels as they led that as well. Finally we were at a big ledge, and they stopped for a second to let us by. There we still two parties ahead, and passing them was also time-consuming. I guess it's all part of the experience, though. Finally we were in the lead as we got to the Zig-Zag pitches, which went quickly, and I was still leading strong. Topping us out felt great, the hiker crowds on the top were in full force as Eric followed the last pitch and flopped on top. 3:45pm, for a time of 6:15, definitely a good time, I was stoked that climbing with Eric went pretty smoothly.

All of this was good prep work for the next BIG GOAL: the Half Dome-Nose Link-up, which I think Eric and I will by attempting on Saturday (and maybe on into Sunday). Check back soon to see how it goes!

ps- I do finally have some photos of the route (I know I've been slacking on bringing my camera on these big, fast climbs) so I'll update this post in a little while.

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