The GrudgeAlthough it is not possible to say exactly where obsession began, I am sure that an early attempt of Arrowhead Arete piqued my interest in Yosemite Point Buttress. On that trip, completely blowing the approach, my partner and I ended up above Sunnyside Bench on poorly protected 5.10 grunge somewhere near the base of the Buttress. In the space of a single trip, two climbs somehow managed to establish themselves on my Grudge List.”
Second TryApril of 1995 found me again wandering about the “YPB” neighborhood, this time approaching the route via the slum-muddy climb of the lower cliffs of Sunnyside Bench. After thirteen roped pitches, Inez "Gnar-Gnar" Drixelius and I came to a halt after shivering a cold night in a manzanita tree on the fifth belay of the climb. We then spent a full day desperately battling rockfall and snarled ropes on our way down the cliffs as a foot of new snow drifted down out of a late winter storm.
Third TrySeptember 1998 was my second or third try (depending on whether the initial Arrowhead Arete fiasco counts as an attempt.) On that trip, Em Holland and I never made it to the base of the route, beating a hasty retreat from the Yosemite Falls Amphitheater across a swelling Yosemite Falls after a rain-drenched bivouac.
Show Time!4:00 am, Saturday 24 April 1999.
I snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag, heavy.
Just 5 more minutes. Then I'll get up. Promise.
I start awake once more at Tom's "Hey man, We'd better get moving." It's 4:17 am.
Time to go.
Standing up, the sleeping and bivy bags drop away.
Tom McMillan and I shiver in the chill wind sweeping across El Capitan Meadow. At the truck, I put on an extra layer.
Maintenance Yard. The sickly yellow glow of the mercury-vapor lights illumines the parking area with a jaundiced, multishadowed eeriness. Silent as ghosts gliding through a graveyard, we slip between the tombstone cars and into the dark jumble of the talus hillside. With a twist of our lenses, the white light of the headlamps dispels the morbid associations with a black-and-white geometric charcoal sketch of the angular blocks through which we struggle.
Sunnyside Bench: In the first twilight heralding a new day, (Night retreating to beneath the overhanging cliffs, and cowering beneath the oak trees) we follow the braided trails up to the base of the route. Each picking our own way, Tom wanders too high. I switch to Kaukulators and adjust my harness as he picks his way down-gully to the start of the route.
Up. The initial 500 feet of third class flows behind as we 5.6 simul-climb to the top of the lower pedestal. Short changeover. I romp the 5.8 first pitch, belay Tom over to the base of the next, offwidth up, bring Tom up, and hand traverse around into the crux third pitch chimney, where I over-cam a #4 Camalot. Tom arrives, the camalot and 15 minutes of time abandoned below, and we continue the race. I hand over the lead, and he flies up the fourth and fifth pitches, pausing briefly to inspect various route options before settling into a belay at the base of yet another chimney. Pitches six and seven, new territory, are linked in a 200-foot scramble; eight and nine pass in yet another 200-foot lead with a bit of simul-climbing; and as I pull over the final roof of the rotten chimney of pitch ten, onto the top of the Pedestal, it begins to rain.
Memories of the desperate retreats float up and over the top of the Pedestal with the windswept mist, shredding around the crumbling, jagged granite tower. Soon the wall above, the five-hundred-foot barrier to freedom, is slick with streaming storm-water a quarter-inch thick.
We drink most of our canteen, chomp apples and cheese, and crawl into Mylar emergency bags, to await the opportunity to either retreat, climb out of our predicament, or shout for rescue. It is 1:30 p.m.
Eventually the rain tapers off. Tom tentatively free climbs across polished vertical slabs still slick with water, fires in several pieces of protection, clips a few ancient ring-angle pegs, and bails back to the belay as a new, more violent deluge sweeps across the top of our tower.
Back in the now-tearing plastic, we pool the rainwater and occasionally drain it into the water bottle to supplement our dwindling supply.
6 p.m.: Tom, faced with a choice between a hellish retreat and a freezing, wet bivouac, decides not to decide. As tattered holes of blue appear in the fabric of the clouds, he heads up the still-wet rock, slipping cams and stoppers into the mushy, mossy, crack, standing in improvised aiders, weeding, groveling, and pruning his way up the muddy seam, forcing an ever-so-slight opening in the situational obstruction barring our way to the top.
Eventually, as a few stars peek out from the mist, I switch on my headlamp, and follow as best I can, plucking the rack from the rock as I go.
Still on a roll, Tom pushes yet another half-pitch in the darkness before his impetus is spent. Guns empty, he dangles from anchors at a hanging belay, shivering. His effort is the monumental kind about which chapters in adventure books are written.
My turn. In the dark, I chalk my shoes, my fingers, the holds, the gear, trying to whiten and powder-dry the dark, still-soaked vertical world through which I move. A two-inch crack swallows my white hands, small burrowing animals, as I swing through the vertical. Occasionally stop to dangle from one of the creatures, or perhaps a piece, to shake out the other, then back to burrowing up the wall.
One-hundred-ninety feet later, I stop on a broken ledge. Tom flies up on his small white-chalked wings, delivers the gear, and I wander away into the darkness, up cracks, across wet gravelly slabs, through leering lichenous grooves to the moonlit summit, thence the railing at Yosemite Point.
4:20 a.m.: Back at the sleeping bags, we again shake hands, swill beer, and fold our hammered selves into the nylon nests, willing away the aches and hoping for slumber to bring sweet relief before daybreak.
A full-credit day.