CHOUNARD-HERBERT ROUTE 28 AUGUST 1993
V, 5.11c A0
Quiet dark canyon of Oak is spanned by a soaring
steel-and-concrete highway bridge. Illumined by a
moon nearly full, I trot beneath in the hish, while
overhead the lamps and rush of occasional cars grow
and fade against the soft background of breeze in
leaves, the starlit sky, and the distant voice of the
In this evening where the blazing stars are
washed away by the awakened moon, I seek the silence,
the stillness, a place of quiet beauty and deep
magic, where liquid crystal streams leap laughing
among the jumbled canyon boulders, while above, the
brown parched hillsides frown thoughtfully in the
I reach a place where a trail winds, corkscrew-
like, down to waters' edge.
Startled, like a jolt of energy through me, I
sudddenly recognize in the dark another moving shape,
small, skunk-like. Oh God. Please don't spray...
The half-grown kitten walks up, sniffs my air,
out of arm's reach, and joins up with me.
My naked legs part the waters of a deep, icy
pool just above a waterfall: A place of silence and
power; the seemingly placid water soon to explode
into the roar, the spray and the mist, the chaotic
turbulence of the falls, then to find another
reservoir of repose; the moonlight dancing on the
rippling waters below.
The kitty sits on the bank and watches me,
purring, her eyes dancing in the moonlight as I dip
Three AM. I stumble through the dark forest
after two hours' sleep, feeling wretched. I blunder
around another bandit camper, apologize. He sits up.
"Let's go climbing!"
At seven I start up the first lead, shivering
slightly in the frigid air.
Feast or Famine. After blasting up the first
five pitches,, I am confronted with a thin seam in a
steep corner, so steep the runners hang away from the
rock. After several cranking explorations into the
5.11 section, I stem and lieback over the top onto a
sloping belay slab and ancient bolts: Palming,
underclinging and swinging off thin flakes, ballet in
More 5.10... Solid face gives way to flake-loose
crack, kenn hunkering below on a tiny stance. We fly
up several pitches more. Feast or Famine.
Far above me now, Kenn stems wildly across a
vertigo-inducing dihedral, bridged between smooth
holdless wall and an invisible bump at the lip of a
roof, blue sky above as I in the shade fidget and
fear my coming lead.
Kenn's lead, 5.11, leaves me pumped and scared.
I shake despwerately while following the 5.10d finish
to his pitch. Definitely all Feast here.
The Big Roof cuts across the sky above us, a
grim traverse 5.8 through looseness, fist jams and
fingernail flakes, the climbing equivalent of
clearing yout throat before a song.
I have moved in here. What a place to live. Two
loose, lichened foot holds and a slot behind a flake.
I shoulder against rthe flake, and eye the 137 pieces
of protection I have placed just below the 5.11c
crux. Webbing festoons the lip of the roof. The
equipment courage is not working. Finally I commit to
sidepulling opposition between two worthless seams,
crank the crux, move the foot, slip, scream, reset,
and grab the pin at the end of the crux. Wasted, I
clip, clip, and contemplate the 5.10 above.
Pitch black night. We peer into the darkness and
listen to the sweet music of the stream as the
Sentinel Canyon Orchestra tunes up: Crickets,
whirr of moths' wings, the quiet river of air moving
down the tilted descent chute behind us, stirring
pines and ferns. We add our percussion as the crackle
of rockfall from our bivy preparations echoes off the
Gently the Yosemite sky lightens as the unseen
moon rises over an unseen horizon. The sparkling
lights of Yosemite Lodge twinkle in the thin slice of
valley floor visible from between the steep walls of
our canyon. Slowly the slice is bathed in milky
moonlight, while we, our canyon, our steep and
tentative descent slabs below, remain cloaked in
Lest we forget what these romantic, adventurous
bivies are really like: My back alternately lumps and
curls, as do my sides, on the tangle of ropes and
gear that is my mattress. Three feet away, Kenn
raises his voice with the Sentinel Orchestra,
wimpering as his legs convulse in body-wrenching
cramps. Next time, we'll maintain our electrolyte
balance with ERG or Gatorade or something.
Although we have no sleeping bags, we still have
"food" and water, and could actually build a fire if
we really, really needed to. Midnight snack time: We
divide four almond M&Ms amongst us, a feast. Mid-
morning (3 AM) we halve the peanut butter Kudo.
Shivering, we watch the morning twilite turn into a
Breakfast: we munch on the last remaining food,
1 1/2 lifesavers each, as we stuff gear into our
single day pack. Kenn takes one last look around at
our remarkable (remarkably sparse) jagged granite
bivy site. He reaches down, picks up an M&M wrapper,
"Thanks for doing the dishes," I say.
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