Thursday, August 20, 2009

The autumn moon lights my way

OK, so its not really Fall yet "(and it's a new moon), but I've been wanted to use some Led Zepplin lyrics for a while. It is getting to be time for me to Ramble On from Yosemite, though.

I can't really say it enough how fantastic the summer here has been. This week was typical: it started with a chilled-out weekend of hanging around Toulumne, bouldering, swimming, soloing Lembert dome every evening to watch the sunset.

Come Monday, I'm spurred into action. Many on the SAR crew have been interesting in a semi-remote mountain in the Cathedral Range here in the park. It is visible from several other popular mountain climbs in the area, and features a striking steep West face with several large rock towers. We get some beta from Jesse and Eric, two of the climbing rangers here, and apparently they have put one route up here (the mountain is called "Peak 11,357'"). So, late Sunday night, around some beers at the campfire, Ben (on of the SAR crew) and I decide that it's time to check this peak out.

The next morning, once the sun gets high enough to warm our camp (we're not that hardcore), we start to rally and pack some gear up. After various errand to procure wilderness permits, etc, we finally roll out of camp around 11. Ben's friend Tom, who is visiting Yosemite, decide to hike out with us and camp for the night. The hike goes well, and Ben knows pretty well which passes to cross and which ridges to walk. Theres no trail back to this peak, but we eventually find our way and sight the peak around 2pm. After some heady gully descents and meadow bushwacking, we arrive at the base.

We have a topo map of the route, drawn by the climbing rangers, but it still takes some intuition to figure out where on this 1/4 mile wide wall the route might go. We just try to imagine which line we would take for a first ascent, and it turns out to lead us to the right place.
Finally, around 4pm, we're on rope and leading; I'm in my element. The first pitch throws all sorts of wierdness at me, and it's fairly hard (5.11), so by the time I get to the first belay I'm hesitantly looking at the lower and lower angle of the sun behind us, and beginning to think about bailing.

Fortunately, Ben would have none of this, and when he arrives at the belay, simply asks for the gear and quickly leads out. The first pitch turns out to have been the crux, and the next five pitches go relatively smoothly. The evening sun is gorgeous on the west facing wall, if I relax enough to enjoy it. The route (the Rangers named it "Boss Man", 5.11) turns out to be stellar, and I onsight it for its second ascent. The highlight of the day comes as we're descending, and the sun properly goes down. In the darkened valley below, we spot the lake where we're supposed to meet Tom, and we can just make out a roaring campfire along the shore! Rallying to the fire, Ben and I find his camp and set about gorging on a dinner of freshly caught trout!

Anyways, I said this week was typical, and that was adventure enough for about 2 days. The next day, Tuesday, I hike back out to Toulumne, hitchhike down to the Valley, meet up with my friend Brad for dinner at the pizza deck, and then we hike up (again in that nerve-wrackingly beautiful late-evening light) to the base of Half Dome. Yes, I can't seem to get enough of that route, the Reg NW Face, and Brad is stoked on it. Brad, who's never done a bigwall, is going to try to onsight the route free, a rare accomplishment, and one of which I think he is capable. I volunteer, in exchange for some pizza and beer, to belay him and let him lead every pitch.

The hike up the "Death slabs" seems unusually brutal, probably because of my extending hikes the previous few days, and the fact that we do most of it by headlamp. We do make it up, though, and get a good night's rest. The position of the bivy spot, tucked right up against the base of the steep 2000' wall, is outrageous. Brad compares the wall, in the daylight, to a wave about to crest on top of us, and at night, to a giant black hole consuming half of the sky.

Bright and early the next morning (Wednesday, yesterday) we rope up. The first crux of the route comes early, and with it, Brad's onsight bid disappears. He unfortunately takes an unexpected fall on the "Higbee-Hedral", a short "boulder problem" section requiring extreme levitation properties. Oh well, he quickly hops back down to the belay ledge, and then fires through the tricky section, looking very smooth second try. The next 12 pitches go quickly, with nothing harder than 5.10, and tons easier. We simul-climb big chunks of it, and we make it up to Big Sandy ledge (pitch 17) by 1pm. Here the climbing gets hard again, and the wall steepens in it's last few hundred feet. The next 3 pitches are called the "Zig Zags", and they're all hard (12a, 11, 12a). Brad gives a valiant go on the first Zig Zag before falling at the crux. After lowering to a ledge, he fires back up it, discovering the intricate sequence and declaring that the moves are "easy". Linking through the 2nd pitch brings us to the base of the third Zag. The climbing here is straightforward, but very strenuous, and Brad onsights this pitch in great style. The final hard pitch is an 11d slab, which I found to be very tricky last time I tried it (with Graham back in July). Brad again puts on a good show, and onsights this pitch. We top out around 5pm, just as the last few tourists are taking their pictures, and begin the grueling descent. Many hours later, the Pizza deck delivers its delicious promise, and we are satisfied.

So today is Thursday, as soon as I publich this post, I'll head back up to Toulumne, meet up with some of the SAR crew, and hopefully roll south to Mt. Whitney for some great climbing tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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