Friday, 7 November 2014

Yosemite Part 1

Back in the Valley! 

I arrived in Yosemite towards the end of September and was lucky to bump into Calum and Gabby and to grab a spot on camp 4 an hour later, without having to get up at 3am to queue! During my first couple of days, I joined C&G for some cragging at Swan Slabs and realised to my dismay, as my feet were skidding around uncontrollably, that I’d forgotten how to climb on granite. I also teamed up with Ausie Jack for a spot of bouldering around camp. Andy and Lindy arrived a few days later after crushing the Needles and we all managed to wangle a spot at camp 4, to which we later added John and Chris, and honorary Brit Karina from Alaska for some good camp scenes over the next few weeks. After talking big in the pub many months ago, me and Reeve felt an obligation to get on with things and kick off with Freerider at the first opportunity. So, after a few days and a rain storm later, we were getting geared up, hauling to Heart Ledges and suffering from a good dose of big-wall dread. 

Freerider – Round 1

We opted to climb the Freerider in what is now considered the old-fashioned way, which is to start from the ground and climb to the top, using mini-traxions only for hauling our bags. This was partly for ethical reasons and partly because we don’t posses 24,000 inches of static rope. We did, however, make use of fixed lines which lead to the Heart Ledges, that the route passes at about pitch 12, to haul our bags up a couple of days earlier. So, setting off at around 4am on day one, we could climb the Freeblast (first ten pitches of Freerider) fast and light until we met up with our big bags at Heart. Andy, having never been on these pitches, took the sharp end so that he could enjoy climbing these awesome slabs on-sight. Doing much of it by head-torch and linking pitches, he did a brilliant job and we arrived at Heart about 6 hours later.

I then took the lead for the next block which would lead us to the start of the infamous Monster Offwidth. These went well, but a lot slower now that we were hauling and the sun was on us and it was hot! So hot - temps were into the 90’s, which I gather is hot. After the scary Hollow Flake pitch we noticed another party above us and also a steady stream of climbing equipment whizzing past from time to time. 


A couple of days earlier, when we were on the wall pre-hauling our bags, we had nearly been taken out by a falling mini-traxion within minutes of arriving at the base. There was another party above us hauling their gear and setting off on the Salathe. We descended later that day leaving this team to their bivy on Heart Ledges assuming that we wouldn't be seeing them again because they were two days ahead. So it was a bit of a surprise when we saw them the next day in Curry Village, and even more so when they told us they'd accidentally dropped their entire rack (minus the number 6 cam) into the Hollow Flake! 

However, this team were determined to climb El Cap and, more importantly, had a spare rack. So it transpired that we'd be setting off on the same day and it was team Butterfingers who were dropping bits of rack on us as we approached the Monster.

The Monster

The legendary Monster Offwidth was definitely Reeve’s lead since it was his first time. He was psyched but also filled with a dread that I can easily sympathise with! It kicks off with a tough and super exposed 11d downclimb which Reeve busted out easily. It then continues with 50 meters of off-width crack climbing... One tricky section leads to a ledge and a rest, then another slightly easier section to a bolt and another rest followed by another harder section to an overlap and a final rest before the final stretch. Reeve had pushed through up to here and I thought he had the techniques dialled, he had a final rest and drank his remaining water before pressing on. The last section is slightly more sustained than previous bits and I could hear Reeve hyperventilating from 40 meters below. “NOO!!... “ followed by a endless stream of expletives, and Reeve had narrowly lost his battle with the Monster, after around 12 hours and 20 pitches of climbing.

Reeve following the Hollow Flake pitch
Getting psyched before the Monster
Getting amongst it!

The Rest

We continued to our planned bivy in the Alcove, arriving about 9pm. After dinner we realised that we had only 8 hours to lie down and rest before we had to get up and do it all again! The next day we woke feeling terrible, achy with sore hands and feet, mainly from the heat the day before. The next crux was the boulder problem/Teflon corner. We opted for the boulder problem because I’d done it before and figured I’d have a good chance at doing it again. When we arrived it had just come into the sun and proved unclimbable, by either me or Reeve. We didn’t persevere for long, in the heat it felt like my fingertips were on fire. Nor, for some reason, did we consider looking at the Teflon corner, which would have been good thinking in hindsight. We did get to spend quite a bit of time chatting with Butterfingers though, which included one conversation where I decided to tell them that tonight I'd be cooking up a Lamb Moussaka on the jetboil and also a baked Alaska. To which Butterfingers 1 replied: "Are you kidding me!?",  I didn't know what to say...

We arrived at the ledge and planned bivy at the Block a bit later, at about 2pm, with an afternoon to relax. Butterfingers, who we had overtaken that morning, now overtook us and the afternoon became a lot less relaxing.  Soon a cam came flying past, then a glass pipe and a lighter (explains a lot) and finally later, they pissed on me, twice. From what we’d seen, they must have been getting low on rack number 2 by this time, because of the amount of items we had seen falling past us on the wall, some of which we actually managed to return to them! We really liked these guys, but liked them a lot better while they were below us. I certainly admire their perseverance.

Reeve enjoying the Monster
The damage!
First enduro-corner

The next and final day went well enough. Although, now that we had both failed to free a pitch or two, we didn’t give it much fight and were mainly thinking about the summit. The endure-corners went fine and so did the 12a traverse, but I didn’t free the Scotty-Burke off-width higher up. Topping out felt good and although we were disappointed the route didn’t go free, it had been a good time on the wall and we’d done many superb pitches. Later, we both agreed we had been a bit overeager getting on the route in those temperatures and our time would have been much better spent trying routes in the shade, such as Father Time. The next week, I climbing with various partners on some great day routes while Reeve waited for his severely mauled arms/elbow to spot oozing. By which time the weather had cooled off significantly and we felt we had probably missed our window for Father Time, but things were looking a lot more promising for a potential re-match on the Freerider..

Where Butterfinger should be, below us
Summit shot!

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