Early July. Alex Schmauss (of Hairline fame) gets a call on the
"In shape?? Interested in a little chimney climb two weeks from now?
Let's go CLIMBING!!"
Unable to synchronize our days off, ( I with Friday/Saturday, Alex with
Saturday/Sunday) I will hike in on Friday and fix ropes to the Notch.
Meet Alex at 7:30 pm. Fire the next day.
Rappelling into Lost Arrow Notch alone has to be one of the
Gawd-Awfullest spooky experiences a person can ever have. Memories of
the first Arrow fatality, Irving Smith, haunt me in this lonely place.
Smith had hoped to become the youngest person to climb Lost Arrow Tip.
Instead, before he ever set foot on the climb itself, he somehow lost it
at Lost Arrow Notch and set a record of another kind. Lost Arrow Chimney
was closed to climbing for a year as Smiths body lay on a chockstone
somewhere in its lonely depths. Such thoughts are close to the surface
as a loose rock bounces into the hazy nothingness surrounding me.
Rather than descend entirely to the notch, I lower a pack on the end of
the second rope. In it are our descent shoes, jumars, 1.5 gallons of
water, a bit of food, and headlamps. We want to climb the Chimney, in as
much as possible, unencumbered. Next, out come my prussiks, poor-man's
ascenders, and I slowly hoist myself back up to the rim. Behind
schedule, I fairly run down the Falls trail after a very busy afternoon.
I'm late meeting Alex by 15 minutes.
16 July: 4:30 am. We hurriedly stash our bivy gear, having slept
directly in the center of the trail. I try to choke down a few bites
while Alex cheerfully wolfs down a huge breakfast of cataloupe, sweet
I puke as we start the approach in excruciatingly tight climbing shoes.
The stench of fear saturates the air around me. Horrible Talus
scramble. Wild stream leaping, sketching across verglassed slabs below
Yosemite Falls, impassible bru, pursued by dark thoughts, racing toward
my nightmare, chased by the ghost of Irving Smith. The approach was
The first pitch is wet. WET! On a midsummer climb where we expect HEAT
to be our primary concern, the entry to the climb is a slimy mess. I
mean, the belay at the base of the pitch is in the middle of a BOG.
We fairly fly up the first six pitches of the route. Casual. Vacation
climb. But as we fly toward the Rim, almost imperceptibly, the rock
slowly steepens. By pitch 8 (5.10 chimney!?) the route is a gently
overhanging, rotten, flared groove. As I haul our tiny pack, it never
touches the rock.
Pitch 9: 150 feet, (count 'em... 150... count 'em 3 inches at a time,
'cause that's how much you move per series of squirms in this type
of...) yes, boys and girls, the grand prize goes to Off Body, flared,
5.9 SQUeeeeEZE Chimney!
Sounds drift down to Alex as I lead this
"Oh yes!!! MMMmmm Unnnhhhh! Make me cry! Hurt me! Hurt me like
that! I LOVE it when you mmmake mme cr... cr... CRY!!"
Rubble on a ledge. As I belay on this tiered pile of teetering
skull-splitters, one thought is the focus of my being - Don't knock
anything off. Don't kill Alex.
Suckered. Enigmatic, beckoning slot. Desperation in the darkness. Caving
1200 feet up. Harding Hole. I'm stuck.
I can't turn my head (The chimney is too narrow)
I don't have a harness on, the rope is tied around my ankle. (The
chimney is too narrow)
I just lost all the buttons off my shirt (The chimney is too narrow)
I can't take a full breath of air (The chimney is...)
I can't move forward (the CHIMney)
I can't move backwards (Chimn... Chimn... oh goh.. uh....uhhh...
10 feet. Straight-jacketed, mummified alive, horrendous power moves
unable to even thrash effectively; emptying the lungs scared IF I move I
WON'T BE ABLE TO BREATHE scraping my body through lubricated by my own
blood I suddenly slide forward a quarter inch of progress toward the
beckoning light 10 feet away... 10 feet and 45 minutes of hell.
Notch, 2:30 pm. Alex pops through like a carnival freak thin man. Jug
to the rim. Someone hid beer in the stream above the falls. Wonder who
that could be ?
Ahhhh... Sapporo. Long, foot-bruising down Falls Trail, horrible loads
from camp to the Valley floor.