7 June 2006Time is crawling. I’m stuck in a prison called “work”. The days are perfect. The weather is blissful. The Yosemite forecast is calling for 80’s during the day, 50’s in the evening. No complaints. Everything has been organized into two categories: Wall stuff and Weekend stuff. Wall food is done and packed away into a white plastic bucket with a screw top that is secured to the bucket for the butter-fingerly. Weekend food is decidedly different from the wall food and includes fresh fruit, steak, chicken, and salad. Wall food consists of Pringles, Dinty Moore beef stew, beanie weenies, Chef-Boy-R-Dee pasta shells, beef jerkey, fruit leathers, fruit cups, parfaits, cheese and cracker packets, Jolly Ranchers, Thai iced teas, Mochas in a can, and beer.
This time around we’ve been blessed with three aspiring climber/wall rats that have volunteered to help with carrying gear and water in exchange for some rudimentary climbing lessons and a fine steak and chicken BBQ dinner. A big thank you to Buddy (b_betts) and Jake & Leslie (jakefrisbee)! After hauling three full loads to the bottom of the climb, jugging up one pitch, and cleaning one pitch in the dark, all in one day, the thanks deserved by our new friends cannot be overstated.
8 June 2006I look down at the middle finger on my right hand. Underneath the nail the skin is red and is marred by an angry, dark splinter down the middle of the nail. Why oh why did I decide, in a drunken wino moment, to spear myself under the nail while scooping up a glass on a wooden railing? Idiocy at its finest. Now I’m concerned about infection as we poise ourselves to ascend a Yosemite big wall…
Yesterday our friend Jeff (depclimb) dropped by to deliver a traditional symbol of wall decadence: a Cuban cigar. Of course, Jeff dropped by just after a work-out session and the hot tub looked awfully inviting to my sore muscles. A few minutes passed and somehow we all ended up in the hot tub, spoiling our bodies with hot, jetted water and Charles Mitchell Old Vine Zinfandel. Yum! What happened to packing up the rest of the camping gear for the weekend?!
9 June 2006Last day of work! Yea! Three meetings this morning – but I’ll call in from home. That’s not too bad. Do last minute packing, double check all the checklists… why do I feel like I’m forgetting something? Last night I went to work on the splinter under my fingernail again, but to no avail. I suppose I will just have to live with it on the Prow. Had trouble sleeping again… too excited I suppose. In some ways I think I’m more exciting about taking a week off of work to go climbing than I am about the climb itself.
10 June 2006(tiogap) and his three friends came by the campsite to say “hi”. What nice people… they were planning to do some easier climbing because a couple of them were new to climbing. Also saw Lisa, Celeste, and Quan – other “She-climbers” from the Bay Area. Got to meet Buddy for the first time, and Tuolumne*Rainbow also showed up. We ate cheese, crackers, and avocado with various types of wine until we just couldn’t stay awake any longer and went to sleep. Finally Leslie and Jake showed up and plopped down into the large bed in the Housekeeping site.
Saturday was to be dominated by climbing – aid climbing, free climbing… cleaning, and toproping. The six of us loaded up our packs with climbing gear, ropes, and enough food and water for the day and headed up the Column trail past the Ahwannee Hotel. Craig decided to go ahead and lead the first pitch (C1) while Buddy cleaned it and I jumared along side. Buddy did a great job and seemed awfully “at home” on the rock! Meanwhile, Leslie and Jake set up a toprope on “Jo Jo” (5.10b?) and managed to scramble up that route while we worked on fixing ropes as well. Once Buddy finished cleaning the first pitch, I geared up and headed up to lead the second pitch to the top of a ramp. This pitch starts with a little 5.6, switches back to aid, pops over a small roof, and heads up a thin crack. The 5.6 would have been easy but with a full aid rack and hiking boots it was interesting. I still have trouble switching from aid, to free, and back to aid again – I always seem to leave my etriers behind and then have to make some funky down-reaching move to retrieve them. I reached the belay and Leslie cleaned; we then put the rest of the rack in the haul bag and left it for Sunday.
As we walked back to Housekeeping in the late afternoon sun, the mood was jovial and ebullient. Thoughts shifted from steep rock to gastronomy. What was for dinner and drink? The meal started off with a bleu cheese/candied pecan/spinach salad with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing and progressed to pasta with barbequed chicken and skirt steak. A myriad of wines and beers were opened and – quite frankly – they must have been good because I can’t remember a thing about them. *smirk* Finally, fine chocolate truffles came out and we ravaged the poor delicate morsels. I was amazed at how much everyone was eating a drinking – and more and more people just seemed to keep showing up.
11 June 2006
12 June 2006
13 June 2006
I call Craig on the radio and explain the situation in as calm a voice I can muster even though inside I’m panicking. I immediately explain that the system is backed up on another 3/8” bolt but that the main pressure is on the bolt that is pulling. I quickly take another sling and back up the haul system on yet another bolt (one of the ones I’m hanging on) but I can’t get it tight enough to actually take pressure off the pulling bolt. I can hear the alarm in Craig’s voice and I start praying that he gets up to the belay quickly. After cleaning the rest of the pitch, Craig volunteers to lead up a bit of the next pitch in order to get more gear in and back up our anchors even more. (THANK YOU!) He heads up and puts in more gear and clips a couple of fixed pins as well. We manage to get the weight of the haul bags off the pulling bolt and with that, we both breathe a sigh of relief. The day has flown by and we end up bivying here at the top of pitch 5, hanging in space from a substantially more-than-usual backed up anchor. Whew. We both collapse into the portaledge and summarily pass out.
14 June 2006
I should mention, at this point, that the two of us had struck up a friendship with a man known as “John from North Pines” on the ground. He overheard us speaking on the radio during our first day on the wall and asked us a few questions. Not a climber himself, he liked to talk with us from the ground while vacationing with his family. By the time we arrived at Tapir Terrace, we were in the habit of speaking with him virtually every evening and his familiar voice had become a comfort – even though we had never met him nor knew that we would.
15 June 2006
Meanwhile, down at the Tapir Terrace belay, the party behind us, moving fast and light, had caught up with us. Craig was worried about me and sent one of them up to check on me and also to let them pass. A friendly Englishman, Scott, clipped our gear and soon joined me on the ramp. The two of them passed us in fairly short order and then Craig met me at the top of pitch 9.
The next pitch started off at C1 and then turned into a 5.0 gully climb, going on and on for 170 feet. Craig started up. Though it was a long pitch, things went fairly well – until it was time to haul. We knew about a particular “haul bag eating flake” and, hence, ran a directional to keep the bags out of the flake but what we didn’t know is that the whole pitch was full of “haul bag munchers”. I ended up having to jumar up at least ½ the pitch to free the first haul bag, rappel back to the belay in the dark while reeling myself in, and then cleaning/freeing the haul bag for the rest of the pitch under headlamp. Exhausted, we climbed up onto another large ramp and called it a day without even setting up the portaledge. Even thought we were too tired to even speak, we sat with our heads back and watched the stars, brilliant and tantalizing, and dreamed of the horizontal world we’d return to the following day.
16 June 2006
Craig returned to the 5.0 gully, briefly, and then headed up pitch 11. Taking predominantly large gear, Craig called for “Big Red” and thus the large red Friend was affectionately known as “Big Red” from that point on. In fact, I believe that Big Red was placed and back-cleaned several times during that pitch, since there was only one “Big Red”. I cleaned the pitch and met Craig at the top of pitch 11 – another slabby ramp in the blazing sun. Because of the problematic hauling, Craig elected to lead the last pitch, pitch 12, as well.
Again, pitch 12 went well until it came to the hauling. Though I couldn’t see a thing from below, the bags were become increasingly obstinate in being pulled to the top. Up and down I jumared, trying to free up the bags, but to no avail. Finally, I squeezed myself into a little horizontal cave and managed to get both bags to the Class 4 muck. After much prodding and pushing, we got both bags to the top. I got the ropes straightened out and voila – we topped out at about 3:30 pm. Whoopee! We did it! It’s all downhill from here!!! (Or so we thought…)
After packing and repacking our gear in the haul bags, we elected to leave a bottle of water at the top (for future thirsty climbers) and headed down the North Dome Gully trail. It quickly became apparent that our bags were far too heavy to make a safe descent so we ended up stashing a portion of our gear, to be retrieved later. The trail along the rim of North Dome Gully, with a heavy, wobbly, haul bag, is not one to be taken lightly. We actually roped up for some of the traverse and as darkness began to fall, we moved increasingly slower to avoid dangerous drop-offs. I started to become concerned about the encroaching darkness and voiced my worries to Craig. At the time the trail seemed to be easy to follow and he felt we’d be ok, so long as we took it slowly. We continued down, slowly but surely, even making several rappels into the night. The hours stretched on and in between rappels, I started falling asleep and felt that energy levels had sunk to a new low. Unfortunately, we’d stashed most of our bivy gear including sleeping bags and warm clothes. We ended up huddled and shivering with one jacket and two pairs of fleece between the two of us. Craig had his fleece pants on his head because he’d dropped his fleece hat down the 5.0 gully on pitch 10. We were down to one quart of water and a few jolly ranchers. The worst must be over! Right?
17 June 2006After a horrid night, we let the sun warm us up and again realized it would be a blazingly hot day. We savored the last of our food and water but we were basically out. I set up the next rappel and rapped down with relative ease. Once Craig got down, in order to save time, I scurried down a bit to set up the next rappel. I was trying to decide whether to set up a sling or just go around the tree when all of a sudden I experience a strange sensation on my ankles. I look down with horror and realize that my ankles and legs have become a blanket of red, stinging ants. I started belting out a chain of profanity as the little f*ckers bore themselves into my already red, scratched, and bloody legs. It’s like an inhumane type of torture! I can’t help but scream out every five seconds. I realize that I MUST get out of there as soon as possible but the rope is covered in the same blanket of red ants. As I try to feed the rope down and through my rappel device, the ants spread to my hands, arms, hair, neck, and back. It’s all I can do to concentrate on setting up the rappel. The rope has a middle marker – THERE IT IS! THERE IT IS! – let’s go let’s go let’s go let’s go – ohmygodthey’vegottostop – OUCH -- MOTHER F*UCKERS -- rapraprapraprap – but WAIT – why is the tail so short? My god, I’ve almost rapped off the end of the rope – GET ME THE F*CK OUT OF HERE!
I cry out to Craig for help. He manages to free up the rappel rope as I stand on a small ledge. Finally, I am able to rappel down the rest of the line to the safety of a flat, ant-free ground. I sit down in the sun, with virtually no water left, and pick clumps of ants out of my boots. Luckily, with all my flailing and yelling, Craig managed to comprehend the problem and stay far enough away from the ants that they weren’t as much of a problem for him. I, on the other hand, am left to lick my wounds in horror.
Our throats are now parched, our mouths dry, but we manage to reach the bottom of the North Dome Gully and hike out near the Indian Caves. A much quicker way to go, in hindsight, would have been to follow the base of Washington Column. This would have involved just one rappel and no stinging ant tree. However, in the darkness, it was impossible to see the easiest path. Luckily, Craig arranged via our new friend “John in North Pines” to take over the campsite he was abandoning so we stumbled directly into the Backpackers’ campground just north of North Pines and meet “John in North Pines” for the first time, face to face. His whole family knows of us and is thrilled to meet the people behind their father’s radio. John’s wife and friends offer up cold sodas and even watermelon. I’ve never tasted a watermelon so delicious.
So we spent the rest of the day relaxing, eating, and resting, to retrieve our gear the following day. As we walk back to the campsite after eating at Curry Village, I gaze up at the Column.
Who climbed that sheer face of rock? Who did it? It couldn’t have been me. Perhaps someone who looks like me, talks like me, acts like me… but it couldn’t have been me. It was another person up there. Who, exactly, was up there?