Who, What, WhereDate climbed: 22July 2006
Brian Spiewak, Shannon Scott
Harding Route, Southwest Face of Mt Conness.
Yosemite National Park, California, USA
The Impression That I GetMaybe it was the stories about Don Goodrich from Ropers book. Perhaps it had something to do w/ the Satan-esque visage of Warren Harding laughing at me from the topo page. Then seeing the enormous vertical white wall. The Goodrich Memorial. The unknown.
I'd felt great that morning on the hike up cruising the approach. A little
sketchiness on the snow sections went by quickly. Dropping down to the bench from the East Ridge of Conness gave me my first glimpse of the entire cirque - "Damn… its big." Third class down the gully to the base and the memorial plaque.
Brian was nervous; maybe it was rubbing off on me. By the time I started
following on the third pitch I was ready to puke. First pitch was gross – wet, crap gear. Ugly. Second pitch started into the business. P3 was a struggle, I made every move way harder than necessary. I hung on gear, I was a mess. P4 didn't look too bad but I'm glad Brian got it and not me. The chimney turned out to be relatively easy but when Brian exited and reached for a jug on the left side both of his feet and his right hand blew. Fortunately he stuck the move but his nerves did not stay around. This is getting serious.
Earlier, I had tossed a rock at a curious marmot down on the ground, just wanting to keep him away from the cord. The rock bounced off the wall and hit the critter - I felt awful. Was the marmot now vibing me from way down there, scuttling my confidence?
The bolt ladder: Peter Crofts topo assured us that "the chimney" was protected by a Harding bolt ladder. A BOLT LADDER. Well, I was previously under the impression that a bolt ladder was all about A0. This particular one was not my idea of a bolt ladder. Four 48-year old 1/4" Star Dryvin's spread over 60 feet does not a bolt ladder make. Ancient hangers w/ welded rings. Pretty much no gear except the historic bolts. Brian said it was the scariest pitch he'd ever led. I'm glad he got that one too.
Next rope was mine, a reputed 10a; piece of cake. The last Harding bolt on
the route protects the traverse move into a great fingers to hand crack.
I really didn't want to fall on that bolt and was able to back it with an Alien just below it. Did I mention I really didn't want to fall? Fortunately the moves were easy, if not secure. As I was making the traverse, the preposterousness of Croft on-sight free-soloing this route just blew me away. Still does. I don't think I'll ever be able to comprehend it. Just too much. Onward and upward to a vertical hanging belay where the crack went from hands to off-hands. (Note to self – bring another 3.5 next time.) Hanging there in space while Brian came up and led off the next pitch I watched as thick grey clouds condensed on the southern horizon. Rain cells streaking the sky. Lightning. Getting scary.
One more moderate pitch, then easy ramps to the top. We simul’ed the last 300 feet. For the last two hours we’d watched enormous, scary, (dare I say Monstrous?) thunderclouds building and coming towards us. It was dumping over Tenaya Canyon with amazing lightning bolts making things just a little too exciting. It was only a matter of time before we got clobbered. We figured we’d be lucky if getting wet was all we got. I made mental notes of the little nooks we might be able to squeeze into in the event of a forced bivy. Not necessary - we got to the top, crammed gear and cord, made a few brief comments about Brians hair standing on end and started running down the pavement-like Southeast Ridge.
In 10 minutes we were down to the snow on the lower east ridge and out of harms way. The sun had set just as we summitted but it was now quite dark with the cloud cover; we didn’t care. I had the only headlight. Brian has night vision and an uncanny ability to navigate in the dark. We followed the trough south until reaching the uppermost portion of the drainage leading down to Alpine Lake and Sawmill Campground where we had left my truck early that morning. Out of water, tired, hungry, delirium, third class downclimbing, boot-skiing the snow slopes down to the lake, stumbling forward, more stumbling, always stumbling forward. We no longer looked for rock or log bridges to walk over stream crossings (there were many); we just blitzed (or did we stumble?) through. Between the approach, the climbing and my soaked trail runners, my feet were raw horsemeat but I didn’t care. I just wanted to lay down and close my eyes for a while. Continue stumbling forward…
We finally got back to the truck around midnight-thirty. Brian was stretching on the pavement as I peeled off my wet, stenchified layers. I crawled into the back of my truck and listened to mosquitoes buzzing me all night. Too wired to sleep (God bless whoever invented caffeinated Gu) I just stared out the back window at the stars. It had been quite a day.
Perhaps I’ll mosey back sometime and check that West Ridge route. Looks like a nice solo for a fun day out. As for the vision of Warren Harding – What a route! What a line! What a place!
Will I ever go back and repeat it?