"A Cookie In The Rain"
A trip report by Dave Daly
(Yosemite Valley – April 15th 2006)
Come on!.......8 weekends of consecutive low pressure systems and soggy Pacific weather?! Ideal conditions for pinheads and boarders but a proverbial raspberry gesture to the stone vertical adventurist. On the calendar, winter has already come and gone but Old Man Winter refuses to release his grasp on the denizens of the California landscape. Restless, I wondered when we’d get some stable weather so the climbing season could begin. Winter is normally not my season of choice, so when the first mention of getting in some aid practice was tossed around by a few select SPer’s, I leapt at the initial planning to make it happen. Having beefed up the traditional rack with more tools of the trade, I longed to put them to use and get back to the vertical world. Where better to start the season but “Mecca” (aka The Big Ditch). Or as it’s known to the outside world…..Yosemite Valley. The only thing barring the way: Old Man Winter with his hands defiantly poised on his hips.
“So what do you think we should kick the season off with…..something on the Big Stone, like Dihedral Wall?” I offered this suggestion to Randy Wenzel, whom I’d share the sharp end on this spring time outing. Others offered their ideas on what would be an enjoyable start to the season: a few pitches up on South Seas, Old A5 on Staircase Falls, and a date with rock fall on The Folly. It wasn’t until we arrived in Yosemite, did we really decide on finding something that was dry! We met up with Craig Peer (aka HandJamMasterC) and Carolyn (aka Dragger) in Curry Village to secure our remaining thoughts and exchange some gear. We would all meet up afterwards and take part in a traditional D.O.A. get-together (Decedent Outdoor Adventurists or Derelicts On Aid…..whichever you choose) at the Housekeeping Campgrounds, sharing in the days’ events and swilling wine to hearts content. Outside, the skies were gloomy and threatening. The clouds were dropping down into the Valley and posing an eminent soaking. Undeterred, we eventually decided that one of the few places that may yield some dry rock would be at The Cookie Cliff, home of ‘Stigma’ (aka The Renegade), a test piece for both aid and free climbers. We opted to do both pitches to ensure we both had a variety of aid styles to practice……clean and nailing. At the time, I had no idea of the real present condition of the second pitch. But seeing how the guidebook listed it still as A3, I felt compelled to still bring along a few pins for such an occasion. It had been mentioned that the second pitch was fixed with heads. Then again, it wasn’t mentioned at how often these placements were made. Being the one with the modest nailing experience, I was excited to take on the unknown upper pitch while Randy gladly stepped up to the batters box for pitch 1; a thin tricky crack now gone free at 5.13b but goes C2+ on mostly nuts and Aliens.
We arrive at the pullout just below the Cookie Cliff, delightful to find that we have the place to ourselves. The clouds are hugging the upper section of the cliff and we both wonder if we’ll get dowsed with a sudden burst of precip. We quickly turn to sorting gear. I grab some thin blades and a few baby angles. There’s a degree of apprehension within me from all the feedback I got from the Cookie Cliff being a “no hammer” zone. Who knows what’s really up on that second pitch of ‘Stigma’. We’ll see! Randy and I set off for the short approach and find the obvious trail just downhill from the pullout. The trail ends right at the base of ‘Stigma’….how convenient! Looking up at this climb has got me psyched and I step back to see the remaining part of it. I can only see the first 30 or 40 feet of the second pitch. Nonetheless, we are eager to get started. The rope is coiled for the lead and Randy gears up for the ride. With a last minute handful of cookies (Oreo’s)….ideal for such an occasion, Randy casts off onto Stigma. The going is a little slow at first but its steady and the gear looks solid. Randy is making all the placements count. As Randy gets up to the 30 foot mark, I see him swatting at his hands and neck. “Owww……what the…?!” “Hey, there’s ants swarming in this crack….and they’re coming out and biting me!” Upon closely looking at the first 10 feet, I can see a traffic jam of ants working their way up and down the crack. Randy resumes his work but can't seem to beat the ants off him as they continue to bite. It isn’t until 50 feet up that there’s some relief. I suppose the weather and the stir of activity and gear placements has them stirred up. Randy continues and his pace starts to pick up. Having not been on the wall for quite some time, his mechanical mind kicks into gear and puts it all to work. “Nice job, Randy!” Within a half an hour, Randy is already at the anchors, off belay and fixing the lead line for me to jug….or at least I think so “OK, your ready.” I put the jumars onto the line and start putting a little weight to it. Then Randy calls down, “Hey….what’s up?”. I respond with, “I’m getting ready to come up there. Why?” Like I said before, it’s been awhile since Randy went into aid mode. What he realizes is that he put me on belay, as if I we’re going to second by free climbing. Uhhh…..thanks for the vote of confidence but I’m no 5.13 climber by any means. Randy quickly gets the small mistake corrected and promptly fixes the line to the anchors. OK, that’s better. I too grab a handful of Oreo’s and begin the commute to the anchors, cleaning along the way.
Working skyward on the way to the first pitch anchors of 'Stigma' (Pitch #1: C2+, Pitch #2: C3+F)
I retrieve each piece, I begin to notice that almost every placement is done with aluminum nuts…and bomber ones at that! Even the crux section reveals a really solid #5 nut. Seems the need for brass nuts wasn’t completely warranted. I meet up with Randy and commend him for such a nice lead. The gear exchange begins and I get my mind ready to lead the second pitch. I’m really excited yet a little nervous. Especially after getting beta from Bryan that he fixed bashies and heads into the upper arch above. No word on how many but I felt armed and ready in the event things got stretchy. Hammer holstered on my homemade sling holster (custom made to fit on my Arbor Wear pants by JTree Outfitters…nifty!) and all racked up. Giddy up!
After casting off, I quickly realize I’m a bit rusty too and fumble with the first few placements. Alien….a #3 nut…..3/8” offset Alien hybrid…..uhhh,… #1 HB offset brassie. Things quickly get thin and the existing pin scars have no downward flair, leaving me thin and tricky placements. By the time I reach the traverse to the right, I’m trying to lodge in RP’s for all their worth. The route begins to make its way right and up, passing three bolts across a blank face. Aahhh…..the first bolt comes within reach and I clip it with assurance. I still had no idea what was ahead because the way the route continued up and out of view. I speed up as I clip into the third bolt and make my way up to the second to last rung on the aider. Just within view is the first fixed head under the subtle arching corner. Being a little over six feet tall and looking at clipping this thing with somewhat of an extended arm made me wonder about the next leader that came through that was shorter than me. To my right is a lone 3 foot knob/ledge. I use it to extend to make the clip. I can see past this one fixed head is a series of them waiting for me to follow. I couldn’t count what was ahead but I knew that there would be more than six. So, here goes…..committed to climb on what lie ahead. As I stretch, I hear a “Ca-PING~!!”….and off I go. Smiling and a little shocked, I realize that the bolt had just sheared on me. Undoubtedly, I knew that it was a ¼” button head, and a fairly new one at that. But for it to shear off like that bamboozled me. It wasn’t until I took a closer look that the bolt was rusted to almost half its diameter. Only one thing to do to carry on with the route……sling it with a nut and pray it doesn’t break off the remaining stud. Out comes a #2 nut and I promptly cinch it up on the stud. The stud only sticks out ¼”…not much to pull up on! I ease my way back up on it and get ready to stand for the clip above. “Watch me, Randy.” I can see he’s already on top of his duties and assures me he’s ready for anything. Whose to say the next bolt underneath me will shear to if I fall onto it. With a steady hand yet some slightly shaking legs, I finally clip into the fixed head. Even knowing what it is, I exhale with relief. I step up onto the head and press on. What lie ahead was a line of ticking time bombs. I count….1, 2, 3……7 in a row! Who knows the condition of each? Bryan seemed to have led that he placed them a little over a year ago. But that means nothing to me. And it appears each of them has been pasted into the old pin scars. Well, I’m certainly not stopping here but it does make me more aware of the present situation. Clip after clip, I breath a sigh of relief that each one holds. Most of them being #2 aluminum heads with a downward facing profile. I find a small crux between head #4 and #5 that requires a top step and extension off a sloping feature that makes up part of the arching corner. Good luck to the short guy who does this next. I just managed to extend enough off the daisy and tip toe to reach the clip. I see ahead that the route goes around a left corner. As I reach it, I discover a Yates double circle head protecting an ugly seam at the corner. I break out the aid webbing and extend it over the sharp corner. Again, hold breath, step up, take in a fragment of air, step up…continue process. Once level with the corner, I see it’s a series of free moves to access the continuing corner system above. This is where the original line would have finished just to the right. Bryan had mentioned he moved the bolt station about 20 or 30 feet higher, just below the base of a route called ‘The Enigma’ (an overhanging and flairing hand crack with wicked exposure!). He had also mentioned that he fixed a line of heads to the continuing subtle corner and stated that this line my have never been done before. The looming threat here was that the free moves were along a sloping ramp and the route above, along with the fixed heads, made it apparent that it would be bad juju for someone to zipper those heads and then decking onto the ramp. I could now see the anchors above and it was my motivation to get there and fixed the line for Randy. Up ahead were another 8 fixed head. Not a single pin had been used. Somewhere, Bryan had recommended a Lowe Ball but the placement never materialized. Onward and upward I went, continuing with clipping each head. After the 8th head, the route finishes up with some weird free moves up a left facing off-width and to a vertical ledge to the bolts. As I stepped to make the free move, I placed an Alien in the off-width and continued the remaining 10 feet to the anchor. Most of the features in and around the anchors were wet. In fact, the anchors were in line with water runoff. Not the best place to put the anchor. I get to the anchor, noticing a bit of rope drag, and come off belay. By now, the Merced River was roaring below and I had to scream at the top of my lungs to let Randy know my present condition. “Off belay!.......you’re fixed!!” It took a little bit before Randy finally weighted the lead line and was underway. He had the fun task of cleaning a right leaning corner. He finally reached me but not before the Alien in the off-width gave him a bit of a surprise as it blew from its placement. We didn’t hesitate at this point to double both ropes and prepare for the rap to the ground. I launched first and he soon followed after. On the ground, we rounded up gear and inhaled another handful of Oreo’s. Within 10 minutes, we were back at the car and heading back up to Housekeeping Camp. We both agree that ‘Stigma’ certainly is a quality route, which can be done on mainly nuts, Aliens, and courage!
Back at Housekeeping Camp, the DOA gang was already filling wine glasses and discussing the events of the day. Eager to settle in and enjoy a glass myself, Randy and I turn to unloading the gear. But not without being asked how our day went. I reached into my pocket and took out the bolt hanger that came off the sheared bolt and said, “How’s this for a day of climbing?”