Friday, September 19, 2014

Tenaya Peak - Minion Style

Sheri and I stayed the night in Oakdale on our way back home from dropping Danny at Stanford. We were driving by 6:30 a.m. the next morning, intent on climbing Tenaya Peak in Touloumne Meadows - the high country of Yosemite National Park. As we pulled into the parking lot at Tenaya Lake a party of three were gearing up. I correctly assumed they were headed for the Northeast Buttress - the route I wanted to climb. I approached them for some…approach beta. Steve Arnold, a very friendly education entrepreneur, appeared to be the leader of the group, told me that we could just go with them. I said we wouldn't be ready to go for a bit and he generously offered to wait, so Sheri and I quickly threw some stuff (water bottle, snack) into a fanny pack and hiked out with them.
High on the route
The other two, Michelle and Kevin, seemed to be inexperienced climbers. They all carried substantial climbing packs befitting a 14-pitch route with 1400 feet of elevation gain. I carried my phone. Sheri was going to try to ascend the hiker's route - the route I'd try to find on my descent. She came with us for the first 30 minutes of the approach and then broke off to the right. I stayed with the other three, mainly to be polite. When Steve learned that I was from Boulder he asked, "Are you one of those guys that race of the Flatirons?" I said, "As a matter of fact, I am." And then he said, "I thought I recognized your name. I read an article in Climbing Magazine about you guys." So, that was cool. Once we hit some slabs on the approach I got into the front and ended up leading up to the base of the climb. As they geared up, I bid them adieu and started up the route.
Super fun climbing!
Tenaya Peak looms 2200 feet above Tenaya Lake and it has been on my To-Do list for decades. it just has never been a destination route due to its moderate difficulty and I'm usually looking at it after doing my main climbing and already heading back home. But after a decade of Minion training, I now view a 14-pitch 5.5 route as a fun lunch-time scramble. I wore LaSportiva Ganda shoes, the same ones I used for the Palisade 14er trip, though a softer scrambling shoe, like my resoled Crosslites would have been even better.
Selfie on the summit
The climbing started with a semi-steep, slick little corner, but that lasted less than a minute and then I was on easy, low-angle slabs. I probably climbed at least 300 vertical feet before using my hands. The climbing gradually steepened, but never got that steep. The climbing was reminiscent of a giant, granite Flatiron. The rock was generally smoother than the First Flatiron and at a more consistent angle, but it included similar hand and footholds occasionally so that the climbing wasn't pure friction. There were more cracks as well and I did probably at least a couple hundred feet of easy cracks. The views were outstanding, despite the haze that hung in the area due to the large forest fire that had shutdown our other plan: a hike to Cloud's Rest.

I climbed easily, in no rush, and stopped to take photos and sips of my bottle. I passed a couple of nice ledges and climbed through some short, cool steeper sections. All the while the steep summit cap loomed above me, worrying me only slightly because I knew there was an easy way to get through it and figured I'd find the way. I did and soon I was on top of the peak. The climbing can end directly on the summit if you exit there. The backside is gentle and I immediately spotted a worn trail heading down and west. I started to trot down this trail, yelling "Sheri" every minute or so.
Tenaya Lake
In just 15 minutes or so I had descended 900 vertical feet and arrived at a cairn at the top of a steep talus field made up of huge boulders. I descended here and picked my way around the biggest ones. I followed cairns further down a faint footpath. It led me across the wooded ledge in the middle of the north face. I continued down, at a trot when the terrain allowed it, and eventually lost my trail. I headed easily cross country toward the approach trail but it wasn't long before I thought that was silly and just headed down. Less than a minute after making this decision I hit the approach trail. I followed it back to the parking lot, arriving there 2h20m after leaving there. I spent 45 minutes on the approach with my three new friends, then 50 minutes climbing the route, and then 45 minutes descending.

But where was Sheri? I was hoping to see her on the descent, of course, and would have if she had been on the upper trail, but she wasn't there…yet. She traversed west when she left us and got to a steep slab that she didn't like. She sat at the base of it, waiting for me to come down. Eventually, though, the draw of the summit was too strong and the slab was starting to look doable. She cautiously smeared her way up in her vintage Exum Ridge shoes. Above she followed the route pointed out by Steve, which wasn't the one I took on the way down. I suspect when I was in my big boulder field, she was further west negotiating her way to the ridge. She continued to the summit while I waited at the lake, getting increasingly nervous about her. Last year I had worked myself into a near panic when I thought Sheri and Danny were lost and injured on the traverse between Harvard and Columbia (two Colorado 14ers). It was all in my mind then, so I tried not to get too worked up. I walked the road to the lake in case she had aborted the climb and was just enjoying the weather and views. No Sheri. I walked the beach of the lake. No Sheri. I returned to the car. No Sheri. I walked the approach trail until it split into the way we approached the climb and one of the possible descent routes. I waited here twenty minutes and then went back to the car. No Sheri. I thought of how I could find her without missing her again. I decided to wait longer.
Looking down the route from the summit
After nearly two hours I was now extremely concerned and had to go look for her. It was 1 p.m. I had no way to get into the car as she had the key, so I had no food or water to bring her, though I had a spare jacket. If I found her injured I'd probably have to descend for help. My biggest fear was missing her again as I ascended and she descended, because the possible descent routes and ascent routes obviously were myriad. I asked for a piece of paper and a pen from a lady in the parking lot and started writing a note to Sheri. I'd put down the time I left the car and my plan, which was go back to the summit via a possible descent route and then down by another if I hadn't found her yet. I was bent over the hood of our car, writing this, when I heard Sheri call out to me. What a relief! She was a bit distraught, having not found me. She was fine and had made the summit. She got a bit lost on the way down, trying to avoid the slab she ascended on the way up. After some decompression time, we were both fine. As before, the only stress we endured was fabricated and in our minds.

You might wonder why we keep splitting up. I do too. I tried to talk her into the climb with me, reading her all the descriptions about how easy it was. I'd have brought a rope if she had come along, but she was adamant that she wasn't interested in the climb. She ropes up these days only when it is necessary to make the summit. She tried to convince me to hike with her. Perhaps I should have, but I selfishly wanted this climb and convinced myself that everything would be okay. We were both very comfortable with the situation at the start and everything worked out in the end, but it would have been so much nicer if we could have communicated with each other. Perhaps the solution is satellite phones. :-)

I loved this climb. I could easily see myself doing it every time I pass by it. It would be equally fun as a timed, all-out effort, or a casual, eat-a-snack-on-a-ledge trip. Going pretty slow the entire time, this route would go in three hours roundtrip. I should have little trouble doing it under two hours on my next ascent. I might be able to get the roundtrip down to near 90 minutes. Stefan might be able to break an hour. It would make the ideal stage of the Tour de Flatirons if we ever expanded to a nation-wide Tour de Minions. Or maybe just a Tour de Yosemite version. We could do Tenaya Peak, Royal Arches, Snake Dike on Half Dome, Munginella on Manure Pile Buttress, etc. We could invite Hans and Alex to join us, but they'd want to include the Nose as a stage and that would ruin everything…

1 comment:

Brad Schildt said...

Nice ascent Bill. I forgot how beautiful it is there, and need to go back. For $50/pair and a few ounces each, you guys should start carrying walkie-talkies. We always bring them on hut trips, after a couple of stressful evenings wondering and then searching for the rest of our party.