Friday, April 8, 2011

The Big Ditch

Shortly after our pilgrimage to South Lake Tahoe, we had an engine idiot light illuminate on the Lulu's dashboard. Not knowing anything about cars, or how to fix them, we are pretty much at the mercy of the Dodge dealers' prognosis. That led to a rental car and our first (and only) hotel night stay that year. The hotel's bed was not nearly as comfortable, but the long hot shower and hours of mindless TV were pretty nice.

Four days of doing nothing and we were ready to charge again. We picked the van up and headed for Touloume Meadows, on the west side of Yosemite NP. Fairview Dome was in our sites, but the sun was threatening to disappear. We packed quickly, threw in the headlamps, and jogged up the approach least while camera was recording.

This climb is extremely straightforward. Janelle and I were on a roll, so we were able to blast through the route in a very timely fashion. Getting to the top before we knew it, we were greeted with a spectacular sunset over the Sierras. Making it back to the van a good bit before dark was a real confidence booster. We had just completed a sizable climb in a few hours!

That evening we dropped into the Valley. The Yosemite Valley is where rock climbing in the States was born, has grown, and continues to thrive. The most dangerous part of the experience is standing at the El Capitan observation pull off. This 3000' vertical chunk of geology is mesmerizing. So mesmerizing that all of the drivers are looking at it, opposed the road, so its best to stand clear when taking photos.

There are seven classic climbs representing the Valley, which is not over doing it at all in my opinion. We had climbed two of them during past trips (Royal Arches and Middle Cathedral Rock). These are the easiest of the seven, so we had our work cut out for us this time. We did some warm up climbs and then jumped on the Steck-Salathe Route on Sentinal Rock. It is known for its chimneys. Anyone that has ever climbed a chimney knows very well how fun it isn't to wear a backpack during the experience. We opted to leave the 5 pound camera behind to keep the pack sizes as small as possible. It took an entire day to get up the route. That left the night to get down. At the summit the sun tucked behind the horizon, and we dug to the bottom of the pack to get out the headlamps. Turned out, I had left mine in the car.

Not to worry though, I had brought my cell phone (best piece of first-aid equipment we own). With the dim light of the screen, and Janelle's headlamp, we picked our way around the rocks and scrubs. This descent is pretty gnarly the lower you get. At times, I had to put the phone in my mouth so both hands could grab onto the plant life, which suspended me over the darkness that felt really really steep.

Then, I had a eureka moment...remembering that I had downloaded an app on my phone called, "Flashlight" AMAZING! This app turns on the LED bulbs, used for the camera's flash, there are even three brightness settings! By this new found bright light we made our way back down to the trail, and back to the van.

The 5 day forecast was calling for two days of nice weather and then turning to cold crappy weather. The route on Half Dome is on the North side of the Dome, so it receives very little sunlight. We had climbed plenty of cold rock already, and the thought of doing that for 2000 feet made us motivate to get on it asap.

Janelle had reservations about getting on a wall that size, since we had very little, okay zero, big wall experience. Her thought was to do some practice walls to get our systems dialed before attempting it. My mindset was to figure it out as we go. These two mindsets are similar to oil and water. Being the man in the relationship, I forced my way and the next morning we were heading up hill.

The approach is steep and gruelling, up the "death slabs" of granite. The haul bag was probably 1,000lbs (I didnt weigh it, just an educated guess), and that made it a little harder. Four people were at the base of the route when we arrived, prepping for the following day. We decided to fix ropes up the first two pitches that evening. This gave us something to do, and a jumpstart for the following morning.

The big question on this route is, one day or two? If you climb it in one day you dont have to haul a big pack, but you better be a fast climber. We decided to do it in two days, which meant we had to haul. Hauling sucks. "Figuring it out as you go" is very slow. Having a climbing partner that is not really into it, because she was forced into it, does not help either. After 4 pitches we had lost steam. Each pitch was taking forever. We did the math to see how long it would take to get to the top: Forever X 23 pitches = too long. So we bailed. I was pissed. Janelle was pissed. We did not talk the entire 3 hours it took to get back to the Valley floor. Turns out, I put on my grumpy pants when I fail at an objective.

Next post will be on the Lost Arrow Spire and Round II, 2011 plans.