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A final week in Yosemite: Good climbing and bears!

Well, I may have just spent my last week in Yosemite Valley for the season, June 22 through 26.  The rain finally stopped, and the summer heat wave was just beginning.  A fine week it was.  I didn’t end up climbing everything I planned on, but I did climb about half of it!

East Buttress of El Capitan

First up was East Buttress of El Cap (5.10b).  This climb was quite a bit of fun!  It starts out with a fairly difficult chimney, then the crux on the second pitch with some face climbing to get off the belay.  After that, it’s pretty much a cruise for a while, before the “mental crux” of the knobby headwall near the top of the route.  I climbed with a friend Nile that I met in Camp 4.  Since I wanted the crux 5.10b pitch, he started us out, and it turned out that he also got the knobby headwall pitch.  So I got the physical crux and he got the mental crux.  We didn’t have much routefinding difficulty, except for the pitch with the “5.8 roof” — Niles got that pitch and wandered around for a while before figuring out which way to go.  To top it off, that pitch was intermittently rained on by droplets blowing over from Horsetail Falls.  Eventually he figured it out and cruised up, linking it with the next pitch.

Bailing on Mary’s Tears, Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral, and Braille Book

The next day I was planning to climb Mary’s Tears (5.11b) to Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral (5.9) with Colin.  Well, the long previous day took its toll on me, and we got a latish start.  Before hiking, I was pretty sure that Mary’s Tears was right out, so we switched the plan to just NEBoHC.  The hike was hot and sweaty, and we probably didn’t arrive at the base of the climb until around 9:30AM or so.  Phew, I was pretty tired from yesterday.  Being a Wednesday, I figured no problem, but unluckily enough it turned out that there was a party ahead of us.  Jorje from Argentina, and his friend Jan (from ?).  They had arrived shortly before we did, and were just getting ready to start the first pitch.  I climbed New Dimensions with Jorje a couple of weeks prior (on my Birthday!), so we had a nice little chat before they headed up.

Not wanting to be climbing behind them, Colin and I were somewhat demotivated, so we hiked over to Braille Book to give it a quick romp up.  Colin led the first pitch in the blazing heat, and by the time I got to the belay, it was clear that both of us were just not that into climbing anything that day… So I broached the “uh… so you wanna rap?” question, to which Colin replied “Yeah, but I didn’t want to be the one to say it!”.  Phew, all that hiking for 1 pitch of climbing.  So we rapped (one 70m rope gets you to the ground).  We chilled at the base for a while then hiked down to the car, with visions of icecream in our minds.

Oh yeah … and fun with bears!

A bear ate my passenger seat!

A bear ate my passenger seat!

Yes, that’s right.  When we got back to the car around 1pm, I opened the back to notice that my climbing gear had been rearranged… Hmm?  Then I noticed a bite mark in my guidebook!  Hmmmm!  Then, I noticed no windows were broken.  Hmmmmmmm?  So I walked around to the driver side and opened the door.  Ahhh!  the sunroof was open.  Weird.  No food or anything else smelly in the car (I have been very careful about that).  What’s this?  My wallet (with a bunch of cash in it!) is sitting on the passenger seat.  As is my Ipod!?  And that’s when I see it.  Big chunks of foam strewn all over the passenger seat.  Huh?  Damn bear ate the passenger seat!  MMmmmm. Yummy!  He didn’t take any of my money though, so I guess that’s good. Hrmph.

Not to be detoured though, we piled into the car and headed over to Curry Village for icecream.  Mmmm yummy.

Capstone to the trip: Freeblast (5.11b / 5.10c A0)!

So, it turned out ok that we had an easy day on Wednesday, because the Thursday plan was to climb Freeblast with Sunny.  If we had actually done NEBoHC, there is no way I would have been up for Freeblast on Thursday.  I was actually a bit sleep deprived as well, so getting a good nights sleep before trying Freeblast was definitely key.  The plan was to free and french-free everything, so we didn’t bring any aiders.  This turned out to be a good choice.

Sunny had previously climbed P1 (5.10c finger crack), so I booted us up starting around 9am.  I onsighted this pitch, which felt to be pretty much at or near my limit.  The climbing felt devious and tricky between decent (but not great) rests.  I felt like I climbed very slowly.  I was supposed to link it with the short 5.8 P2, but I was out of long slings by the time I got to the anchor, so I brought Sunny up before leading P2.  Sunny got the 5.11b traverse on P3, which he aided / french-free’d through, after quickly giving up on attempting to free it.  I didn’t hesitate to pull on gear to get through it while following.

Next up was another beautiful 5.10c pitch, which Sunny wanted and did great on, onsighting it smoothly.  Lots of careful footwork was key to this pitch.  The next pitch, according to the topo: “5.10d tricky pro” followed by “5.11b face”… Hmmm.  So it started out easy enough, on the climbing up to the 5.10d section.  But tricky pro seemed like an understatement to me.  I got to the beginning of the hard(ish) section, and didn’t feel like the pro would hold.  To top it off it was extremely windy.  Not gusty, just solid strong steady wind, blowing from left to right across the face.  We couldn’t hear each other from 5 feet away!  I eventually gave up, and downclimbed back to the belay.  I didn’t see any way I could get through the next section, and I wasn’t even at the “mandatory free” slabby-face climbing between the bolts above.

Sunny manned up, and uncomplainingly took the lead from me, quickly climbing to my high point.  He continued up, resorting to aiding, and the next section, up to and through the 5.10d roof took quite a while.  Especially pulling over the roof, he had to commit to a long stretch of faceclimbing over a crappy #0.4 (grey) Camalot, to the first bolt.  After hanging on the crappy Camalot, and thereby realizing it might hold, he gunned for the bolt and made it!  Yeee-Haw!  The game wasn’t over yet through, there was still a long stretch of mandatory face climbing between widely spaced bolts to get to the anchor.  And the route loops around in a big “C”, so the rope drag was horrible.  He finally made it to the anchor, and even following it, pulling on gear and the draws on the bolts, I barely made it!

The next pitch was mine, supposedly: 5.11a or 5.8 A0, followed by some easy climbing to Triangle Ledge.  Let me tell you, it sure didn’t feel like the 5.8 on the mandatory free traverse-to-the-piton-before-the-pendulum-or-slippery-face-climbing was really 5.8!  I hung on the bolt, and attempted to make the moves time after time.  Downclimbing and hanging over-and-over again.  Either my lead head was completely blown (possible), or this face section was much harder than 5.8 (also possible).  I eventually found a way to free climb close enough to the piton that I could hook it with my nut tool, a technique I learned by watching Sunny on the previous pitch!  Phew.  After that, standing in a sling got me to the pendulum, and a quick romp up the corner (which finally blocked the wind!) took me to the belay.

Looking up, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do the “5.10b to 5.8 chimney” pitch (the Half Dollar), so I asked Sunny if I could take the 5.9 corner / lieback pitch to get us there.  He didn’t mind, and the moderate climbing on this pitch brought back a bit of my lead head.  (Yes, apparently I can climb cracks, just not 5.8 face!)  This pitch went by quickly, and I belayed just below the fixed gear in the Half Dollar roof traverse.  Sunny quickly dispatched the traverse, then had a bit of trouble getting around the lip and established into the 5.8 chimney.  This was definitely the crux of this pitch.  He resorted to pulling on gear and a few hangs getting into the chimney (as did I while following!)  The chimney itself was actually a lot of fun.  Right-side in, there were lots of face features and pretty good hand jams.  Yeah!

I was finally at the belay around 7pm.  The sun had already passed behind the ridge, so we were now racing darkness.  I linked the final two 5.7 pitches to Mammoth Terrace, with only one pause for Sunny to simul-climb about 30 feet onto a big ledge just above his belay.  He followed quickly enough and we were scoping out the rappels within a few more minutes.

Nicely enough, all of the rappels were fixed with decent to good ropes, including the first 30 foot mini-rappel from Mammoth to the rap anchor that takes you to Heart Ledges.  Of course, the rap rope from Mammoth was about 5 feet too short to actually reach the next rap anchor.  So we belayed each other over on our rope before coiling it up.

The rappel went fast.  So fast in fact, that I had to hang out at the rappel stations to let my belay device cool down!  I was afraid if I went too fast that it would start melting the rope!  We were on the ground by about 8:30pm, and made it back to our shoes at my pack before needing the headlamps!  Perfect ending to an awesome day.

Next up — a week of roadtripping with Danielle, followed by a week of backcountry climbing on and around Mt. Whitney!


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