Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Triple Couloir Linkup Cleaned Up!

Jason and Charlie traversing Broadway

In 2008 I first did the Longs Peak Project in the month of May that year, I did what I call the Triple Couloir Linkup. Or, really, the Fraidy Cat version of that, which substitutes the complete Lamb Slide/Loft/Clark's Arrow for the Notch Couloir on Longs. The other couloirs are Martha's on Mount Lady Washington and Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker. I'd always wanted to clean this theory, anyway. In practice, I wasn't so sure. It's an incredible amount of work and involves some serious stress for me, as least solo. The solution to this problem is clear and one I turn to more and more these days: great partners. Each time this happens, I'm so grateful and thankful to have such great, positive friends. I never take this for granted and feel so very lucky.

Charlie and I are attempting the Longs Peak Project this year and he always wants to take the hard way when climbing Longs. He's so strong and does long, hard days like I walk around the block. It was his idea to try the Diamond in winter. When I mentioned this Triple Couloir idea, he jumped on it and my theoretical desire was going to be tested against reality.

Three days before we were to go, on the longest day of the year (and also Father's Day), I got an email from my friend Jason Antin:

"Bill, you have plans to go do a bunch of routes in the park soon? "

Curious timing. Our plans had been leaked! I knew Jason would be a huge asset on such a day, as he's indefatigable and perpetually positive. Charlie hadn't met him before, though, so I checked with him first and Charlie agreed. These two hits things off nicely, as they have similar endurance backgrounds and abilities. I would have been worried about being the odd man out, the weak link, but I wasn't. Not with these guys. Charlie always says, "No man left behind" and I know he means, "No Bill left behind." Jason's arms are as big as my legs and I have sort of big legs. Seriously. I call him the Balloon Man because he's so pumped up that he looks like he'd pop if got careless with one of his ice tool. I figured if I got too tired, he'd just strap me onto the top of his pack.

"Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much" - Helen Keller

Jason or Charlie mentioned something about a Helen Keller quote about starting with the dream of a great goal before realizing. I couldn't find that quote and it might well be true, but the dream isn't enough. In fact, it seems the crux is actually waking up. Setting the alarm for 2 a.m. the night before is when you realize how bad you want it. We met in north Boulder and when I arrived, three minutes early, both Charlie and Jason were standing around chatting. These two wanted it.
At Chasm Lake below Martha's

We were moving at 3:30 a.m. with me setting a nice slow pace up the trail. I wasn't worried about Charlie as he knows my pace, but I was a bit concerned that Jason was thinking, "Are we going to be going this slow all day?" Yes, we would, but these two are so upbeat about everything. When we got to Chasm Cut-off, Charlie remarked, "Awesome! This is our sixth fastest time of the year. We're smoking." Others might have called it our slowest time of the year, but Charlie doesn't do negative.

The forecast was for warm weather and I just wore running tights and a short-sleeve shirt with a long-sleeve over it. No hat, no shell, all day long, though I carried both. We had two 100-foot 8.7mm ropes, a light rack of five cams, five slings, and a collection of stoppers. We all had crampons, two tools, and helmets. Amazingly, we'd never use either the second tool or the crampons!

We caught a trio of skiers near the privy before we headed up towards Chasm Lake. They were headed up the Loft and around the backside to first ski the Notch and then ski the North Face. That is certainly ambitious, but I found it very curious that they would approach the Notch that way. I'd want to climb up anything I was going to ski down.

At the base of Martha's we could clearly see no ice in it and almost no snow. Though we were here to do the Triple, I quickly discarded the idea of climbing Martha's. It would now be a wet rock climb in mountain boots. The others could go either way, but Charlie was leaning towards doing it, as he hadn't ever climbed Martha's. Going up it in these conditions wouldn't really be climbing it either, but this dude was psyched to climb and we headed up.

We soloed the start, climbing carefully on exposed, wet rock, trying to avoid the small waterfall coming down the length of the couloir. Many times we were faced with climbing the central part of the gully right in the water flow, or steeper ground on the right. Each time we'd opt for the steeper ground. When things got a bit too hairy, we dug out the rope and gear. While I of course never want to die climbing (I don't want to die at all), I really don't want to fall off and die with a rope and a rack in my pack.
Jason led upwards, carefully, on loose, dangerous rock. I didn't know how nasty this was until I was climbing it. Jason handled it so casually, though remarking, "it's a bit loose." Even roped as we were, this was no-fall climbing. We simul-climbed upwards with the rope providing, hopefully, more than an illusion of security. Jason stopped on a sloping ramp for quite awhile and I was below, directly in the line of fire. If a big block came loose, I'd be in trouble. I asked, with a tone of suggestion, if he was setting up a belay. I didn't want him to do any more climbing above me. He struggled to find an anchor, but eventually did and Charlie and I joined him.
The crux choss pitch of Martha's
Above us was the usual crux of Martha's, where the couloir went vertical, briefly. This was a true waterfall and not the more climbing-friendly frozen version. I took the lead and recalled the line from the Eiger Sanction, "Surely you are not opposed to a morning shower, Dr. Hemlock." Actually, I was. I climbed up steep, loose, difficult to protect ground to the right. At one point I grabbed a flake and a three-foot section of it started sliding off. I pressed on it hard to stop the slide and it remained precariously perched on the edge. My companions below were understandably concerned. I moved further to the left to avoid the block and up to the crux bulge the top. I was able to place a solid piece here, but the thought of a fall would have been terrifying. Just pulling the rope tight under tension might knock blocks off the wall. I took my time to make sure I had the best solution before cutting my feet loose and swinging them to the right and then pulling over the bulge to a flat ledge. I belayed here from my smallest cam and a small stopper.
Heading down the Camel

Charlie and Jason followed safely and Jason led the last section over much lower-angled rock. As we were coiling our ropes, Charlie stopped an interesting creature: a pine martin. These guys are so cute. It was moving pretty fast and we didn't a chance to snap a photo, but I caught a bit of it on video.

We slogged, slowly and painfully, to the summit of MLW. It was windy on top and we found a guy nestled just below the summit. He was there to photograph his friends skiing the Notch and then the North Face. He was in for a long, windy wait.

We didn't stay long on the summit before heading along the ridge towards what I thought was the Camel descent. Turns out I went too far along the ridge and finally Jason directed me back to the left and we headed directly for it, finding the cairns marking it. We descended about halfway down it on talus before hitting nice snow and then easily descended to a huge, flat boulder at the...toe of the Camel...where we took a short break to get out food and drink a bit.

We then headed for Lambs Slide and Jason led us up it, improving on the existing steps. From the top of MLW we could see a pair of climbers heading up Lambs Slide and another pair heading for the North Chimney. We didn't see the later two again, but we caught the other two as started across Broadway. I took the lead now and we roped up. I quickly was backed up by the party in front of me and chatted with the second as we moved along. He told me about another party that had passed them a bit earlier. They had climbed up Dreamweaver on Meeker and then descended Lambs Slide to Broadway and were now headed for Pervertical Sanctuary on the Diamond! That's the most outrageous approach to the Diamond I've ever heard of. If they got that route down, kudos to them. That's just incredible. Wonder who that was...
Jason heading to Broadway from Lambs Slide
The second offered to let me by and I moved on by. When I got to the leader, belaying, he didn't seem to happy about it. Maybe he just usually has a scowl and isn't very talkative, though... We simul-climbed clear to the Notch Couloir and I belayed Jason and Charlie over. Charlie immediately took the lead, excited to head up the Notch for the first time. All of these couloirs would be new to Charlie.

Jason and I were dismayed to see Charlie plunge into the soft now to mid-thigh level early on and figured we were in for quite a workout, with lots of leader rotation, but Charlie motored on. When my rope came tight I started up and after I got through the deep section, I found much more reasonable steps. Thankfully the snow was firmer the rest of the way. Still, I struggled to keep up with Charlie, who was presumably making these steps as he went. I pushed pretty hard so that I wouldn't slow him down. We had to negotiate a couple of small rocky sections and while Charlie placed gear at the first one, I yelled up, "You're killing it, Charlie!" He knew I thought he was making these steps and he almost responded, "Yes, well, it's a tremendous amount of work, but I'm wicked strong." Instead he said, "Yes, I'm following these perfect steps."
Jason high in the Notch Couloir
We simul-climbed the entire Notch as one pitch and after re-grouping, I led off towards the Skyladder pitch of the Skyline Traverse. As I climbed up rock to the right of the Notch couloir I could see a couple of the skiers preparing to descend. When Charlie came by, they asked if he was the last guy up the couloir. We had thought the party we'd past on Broadway was doing the Notch, but they also said something about the Window, so maybe they went up that.
Jason at the top of Notch Couloir
We simul-climbed for about three hundred feet before I got to the ridge and easier ground. I brought up Jason and Charlie and we coiled the ropes and scrambled directly along the ridge to the summit. I don't think I even sat down on the summit and after Charlie signed us into the register we descended the Homestretch and then cut over towards the Notch. As we got close to the Notch we could see the three skiers headed our way. We chatted with them. Turns out it was Austin Porzak of the First Flatiron skiing fame and his crew. He knew my name and mentioned that we should get out and ski something together.
Austin Porzak and friends

I led us down into the Keplinger's Couloir and across the Clark's Arrow Traverse and up to the Loft. I was really dragging here and having second thoughts about heading up the third couloir. I didn't want to hold back my partners, who seemed to be as strong as ever. I stumbled across the very windy Loft and led the team down to the bypass around the ice cliffs and onto the perfect snow slopes below it. Here we had the most glorious glissade down a previously defined groove that made it seem like I was descending a luge run. This groove was quite deep and even had some banked turns. The snow was the perfect consistency and I pushed off, leading the way. Soon I found that I wasn't sliding over the snow at all. I was perched atop a miniature slush avalanche that was descending my luge course on top of this snow. My body was not moving relative to the snow upon which I sat. Hence, there was no friction against my tights. It was really like riding on a luge, down a luge course. The mass of snow in front of me grew so large that I was concerned about the weight of all this snow and if I could be buried by it. I glanced behind me, figuring to see a similar volume of snow, but, no, it was all in front of me.
Heading down Keplinger's Couloir

At the bottom of the glissade, at the level we needed to start traversing over towards Dreamweaver I let the others know my thoughts about not continuing. Immediately my idea was rejected. "No way! You've been talking about this for too long," said Charlie. I explained that I was slowing things down and Jason said,  "No you weren't. We wouldn't have been going any faster." In short, my partners wouldn't let me wimp out on the linkup. Heck, at this point it was only 1500 additional vertical feet. How bad could that be? Actually, I was worried about that as well. I knew Dreamweaver would be melted out in sections and I didn't feel I had the mental and physical strength left for any dicey, dangerous climbing. Jason and Charlie said they'd be happy to lead and we continued upwards, as a team of three.
Summit #6 for Charlie and I this year
Jason led almost the entire way up Dreamweaver. First, we followed nice steps in the snow up to the first mixed crux section. I was a bit concerned about doing this unroped, but Jason pulled over the chockstone and Charlie and I followed suit. It wasn't as bad as it looked because the rock was very solid, albeit wet, and, for this first crux, there was some solid ice above in which we could swing our tools for purchase.
The best glissade in the Park!
When we got to the steepest part, a thirty foot, nearly vertical chimney, running with water, I called for the rope. It wasn't met with any resistance, though Jason did mention that he thought the climbing wasn't as bad as it looked. In truth there was blocky holds and small ledges on one side of the chimney and, besides a couple of moves at the start, these are what you really climb and the going is quite reasonable. Jason swarmed up it and Charlie followed with me taking up the rear. We simul-climbed upwards for hundreds of feet, past the bend in the couloir and way up the final couloir to a stance on the right. Jason had run out of gear and had to stop. Charlie took over for the final few hundred feet and I was at my limit keeping up with them.
Climbing up to Dreamweaver

It was with great relief that we hit the ridge and stopped to unrope and pack up the gear. We took off harnesses for the first time since five that morning. We headed back down to the great Loft glissade and this time took it as low as possible. Such fun! In the meadow below we stripped down further. Jason and Charlie were smart enough to bring in shorts. The weather had been nearly perfect all day long. At Chasm Cut-off we met the skiers again. They had skied the North Face, mostly, as they had to rappel the crux section.
Charlie pulling one of the crux sections in Dreamweaver
We all have similar attitudes toward the clock and when we noticed that it was going to be close to 14 hours roundtrip, we turned some attention to making sure we were under it. That's silly, I know, especially since we hadn't cared about the time all day long, but that's the way it is. We walked into the parking lot after 13h55m of effort. I was extremely satisfied to check this baby off my list. While this linkup seem obvious and natural to me, I have not heard of anyone doing it before, so we might have been the first.

Two serious badasses

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Day 8, Bagging Boundary

Suffer-fest #5: Bagging Boundary

I like lists. I get a great sense of accomplishment when I check something off the list, no matter how silly the items on the list. This predilection partially motivated me to climb all the Colorado 14ers and then all the California 14ers. One of the great benefits of pursuing such lists are you are forced to go new places and do new things. Sure, I could have made my own list to do the same thing, but there is something compelling about climbing the highest.

My next such list is the state high points, though I’ve currently restricted my desires to summits above 10,000 feet with exceptions for especially noteworthy peaks like Mt. Katahdin in Maine and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. It would still be cool to visit every state in the Union, but I don’t necessarily need to go stand in the highest cornfield.

As this is a relatively new list, I haven’t made too much progress as yet. Before this trip, in order of accomplishment, I’ve climbed the highest peaks in California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, South Dakota, and Arizona. Nevada’s highest peak is Boundary Peak and its trailhead is conveniently located just six miles from the highway we took to Yosemite. There were two barriers to getting this peak, though: having the motivation to climb it on the eighth day of our trip and having the clearance to get to the trailhead.

The first issue was satisfied by having a good partner. Before the trip I knew it was going to be hard to head up this peak instead of just drive home and I talked to Derek about keeping each other motivated. Here Derek carried the load and never once considered skipping it, despite the huge day we just had.

I got up at 5 a.m. and packed the car to give Derek a bit of extra sleep. I then drove us ninety minutes to the trailhead while he snoozed some more. From the highway the peak is 23 roundtrip miles and 6000+ vertical - too much for us - and I counted down the distance for each mile I was able to drive. Once I got under 15 miles I figured Derek was in. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was trivial to drive to the 9000-foot parking at the Queen Mine. I could have driven another mile and 700 vertical feet to the saddle, but I didn’t know it at the time and didn’t want any stress.

We packed for the climb and left the car in perfect weather at 8 a.m. Too perfect, as we had to stop and strip down to shorts and short-sleeves after only a half mile. At the saddle we found a tent and an SUV and I hoped they were up there putting a track through the snow that was so evident from the highway.

We climbed, steeply at times, up to the crest of a broad ridge at around 11,000 feet. Here we got our first look at Boundary Peak. It was impressive. While capped in snow, it looked doable in our running shoes and Microspikes. We had a 1.5-mile gradually descending traverse along our ridge to the base of the main massif. The first 1000 feet of this climb looked ridiculous from afar. It appeared to be entirely sand and pea gravel. It looked like it would make a fast scree-ski descent, but I feared that it was going to be a two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards type of ascent.

Hiking along the ridge we saw a solitary wild horse. It stood majestically looking at us, not moving to approach or to flee, perhaps an outlier from its herd - the only mountain climber. At the saddle at the base of the final 2300-foot climb we caught the SUV couple. They were from Arizona and also returning from a week in Yosemite. They started up right behind us but we quickly gapped them despite moving slowly.

Climbing this slope wasn’t as bad as it had looked. It sucked, sure, but not nearly what I was expecting. It was steep, loose, and arduous and Derek in particularly was feeling the effects of the week. He toughed it out, though, like he’s been doing since he was six years old and climbed his first 14er. There is not a lot of quit in this kid. 

We stopped for a break with 1100 feet to go to swap our caps for pile hats and don wind shells. Above us was steeper terrain of soft snow and talus. We stuck to the rocks as much as possible on the ascent to the final ridge traverse. We figured this last bit would be a nice stroll to the summit, but it seemed to go on a long time. The postholing here was nearly up to my knee and the bright sun reflecting off the snow sapped my energy. A giant boulder blocked easy passage directly on the ridge and we had to skirt it via a slot that forced us out onto the north face for just a bit. Here I found some hard snow and kicked a few footholds. We never had to use the Microspikes and this was the only section where they’d have been an advantage, but it was too short to bother digging them out. After 3.5 hours, I plodded onto the 13,140-foot summit and a few minutes later Derek joined me. We had now climbed every peak over 13,000 feet in Nevada…all two of them.
On the summit with Montgomery Peak in the background
We spent fifteen minutes on top taking in the views, especially of the neighboring, impressive Mt. Montgomery, which was even higher, but just across the border into California. My watch gave us credit for over five miles, and with the drop along the ridge we’d do 4500 feet of climbing on this outing. We each only brought 40 ounces of water and were down to just 10 ounces on the summit. We did split a can of fruit juice on top and that helped a bit.

The descent went nicely. Joining forces with gravity does that. We got back to the saddle in just an hour, seeking out the skiable skri. And that included a five minute stop to talk to our Arizona friends. We stopped at the saddle to put on our caps and pull out our nearly empty water bottles. Derek took the lead along the ridge and hiked so fast that I had to trot every now and again to keep up. Despite being slightly shorter than me, Derek’s legs seem to be a foot longer. He seemed taller too, his posture so erect, while I felt like I was slumping over my meager load.
Derek just fifty feet from the summit.
At one point he ran ahead to get a photo of me with the peak in the background. He only ran for thirty seconds or less, but I saw the future here. He didn’t run like a deer, with their awkward hopping. He ran like a dog, like a Border Collie does, seeming to defy gravity by not weighing anything. He glided and flowed up the sinuous trail, seemingly effortlessly. I plod, shuffle, and scoot on trails, even when I’m “running” them. Derek’s potential is vast and the desire seems to be there. He's young, strong, tough, confident, yet humble, anxious to learn. He’s not nearly ready to be leading me up the big Yosemite faces, though. I still have a role to play there, but my days at the front are numbered. I look forward to following in his footsteps for as long as he’ll have me…

Boundary Peak (on the left) from highway 6 with Montgomery Peak on the right
We ran most of the last three miles. The terrain here is ideal for running - smooth, dirt, mostly gradual, mostly downhill. We mostly ran pretty close to each other, but in a moment Derek could turn up the speed and before I knew it he’d be a hundred feet ahead of me. We did the entire descent in an hour and forty-five minutes and finished together. What a great way to end our adventures - feeling strong and tightly bonded. We still had a 15-hour drive to arrive home, but that would just give me time to jot down my thoughts, as Derek would prove his worth once again by handling the bulk of the driving.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Day 7, My Favorite Things

Atop pitch 8 of My Favorite Things

Suffer-fest #4: My Favorite Things

Rain drops on roses? Nope. I want sunshine. Whiskers on kittens? I'm a dog lover. Warm woolen mittens? Yeah, I do like those..., but even more big granite faces, fun climbing, and long, hard days.

Pop quiz: what’s the biggest wall in Yosemite? El Cap? Bzzt! Wrong. The north face of Cloud’s Rest is 6000 feet high. Granted most of this is low-angle slab climbing, but it’s twice as tall as the Captain.

I’ve been on a quest to climb all the major structures in Yosemite. Starting at the northwest end of the Valley and going clockwise, I’ve climbed Golden Bough at Ribbon Falls, four routes on El Cap, Manure Pile Buttress, Lost Arrow Spire, Yosemite Point Buttress, Royal Arches, two routes on Washington Column, North Dome, Yasoo Dome, two routes on Half Dome, Mt. Broderick, Liberty Cap, Mt. Starr King, two routes on Sentinel Rock, both Cathedral Spires, multiple routes on all three Cathedral Rocks, two routes on the Leaning Tower, and the Rostrum, etc. But there were two glaring holes in my CV: Mt. Watkins and Cloud’s Rest. It was time to punch up the resumé.

I’d been interested in climbing Cloud’s Rest for decades, but before 2003 there wasn’t much documented information on routes there. I read in an old guidebook about a supposed runout 5.8 slab route, but this face is more than a mile wide. Then heard about My Favorite Things. This 15-pitch 10a route had bolted belays and started two thousand feet up by traversing in on slabs from Tenaya Lake. It has been on my list ever since. I’m just finally getting around to doing it. 

I got up at 4:30 a.m. and made some coffee. I rousted Derek about 15 minutes later and he ate some breakfast before hopping in the car. We drove to the Sunrise Trailhead on the eastern end of Tenaya Lake and were hiking a little before 6 a.m. We didn’t have a map, which would have been handy, and the description just said to walk about a mile down "the trail” before breaking off into Tenaya canyon. Turns out there are two trails that leave from this parking area. One is the Snow Creek Trail that heads over Yasoo Dome and Mt. Watkins before descending into the Valley from the north. The other is the Cloud’s Rest trail and traverses on the south side of the Canyon. the latter is the trail we wanted, but it wasn’t the one we followed. When I saw the signs indicating that we were on the Snow Creek Trail, I thought we’d have to turn around, but we were headed in the right general direction and I found a way to leave the trail and head down a drainage towards our route, so I took it. It was probably 1.3 miles down the trail, so we figured we had something wrong, but we went onward nonetheless. We don't like backtracking much, so we resolved to correct our error when the opportunity arose.

We traversed slabs, did some minor bushwacking, clambered down boulders and followed the small stream in the bottom of the canyon, crossing it many times in search of the easiest passage. We found a few measly cairns along the way that appealed to our optimistic notion that we were on the right track. The approach was supposed to be six miles and the real slab walking was supposed to start, just past Pywiak Falls, where we were to climb up and left over a granite ridge to avoid the steep slabs that rolled over to form the falls. I was thinking that the wimpy creek that we were following wouldn’t make much of a fall but we climbed up slabs on the left. As we rounded the corner above the drop-off we spotted the falls to our left, coming out of another side canyon, the main canyon. We’d hiked down the wrong canyon, but we were now just separated by a ridge of granite. We traversed over the top of the ridge and wondered if we’d find an impassable, cliffed-out descent to Pywiak Creek.
Not the right approach, but it worked out fine
Luckily the descent was just steep slab walking and we made our way down and then through the worst bushwhacking of the day to get to the creek itself, which was a bit to wide to cross with dry feet. We scouted the banks a bit. I found a section that involved a big leap across the deepest and narrowest section. You’d plunge one foot maybe 5 or 6 inches into the water on the far ledge, but if you slipped backwards, you’d be in fast water over waist deep. Just before making the leap, I balked. I decided to scout further up stream and shortly found a very wide section that was never more than 7 or 8 inches deep across perfectly smooth granite. I took off my shoes and socks and walked across easily. Derek thought removing his shoes was too much of a nuisance and walked back to a leap near where I had scoped. He didn’t even pause here. In fact, he accelerated, picking up speed over the two approach rocks and then making the big leap. One foot went into the water and then he was cleanly across. He was wearing La Sportiva Gortex high-top Explorers and didn’t even get his foot wet.
The approach alone is super cool. Just hiking down to Pywiak Falls and back would be a great day in Yosemite.
On the correct route, we now started the massive slab traverse in earnest. This went very smoothly and after some confusion of where the route started (we ended up roping up one pitch before the start as the slab walking became thinner, steeper, and more exposed) we found the cairn at the start and I spotted the bolts at the top of the first pitch.

Having already geared up, we immediately started up the first pitch, which at 5.5, only took a few minutes. We were still in our approach shoes, but now transferred into our rock shoes as the next pitch was rated 5.8. This pitch was a bit heads up, since it involved climbing up rock running with water. I could mostly avoid it, but had to step into the running water for a few steps. Well above gear, this was a bit concerning, but, much like two days before, I was pleasantly surprised how well my shoes stuck to the rock.

Each pitch on this route ended at a two-bolt belay and while some pitches had a protection bolt or two on them, most did not. It is very much a gear route and not a clip-up. Also, nearly every pitch is 190+ feet. This came in handy more than once in identifying the next belay, as the bolts weren’t that visible to me. I climbed by some bolts on the early pitches, much like I did on Snake Dike.

The third pitch had a bolt nearly directly left of the belay in the middle of running water. Instead I climbed straight up, got in some gear and made a delicate traverse across the slab and the water. This pitch was rated 5.9, but like most pitches on this route, the rating seemed very soft. If you are comfortable on low-angle friction slabs (and what Minion isn’t?) this route will seem very easy, with one exception. After six or so pitches, I was envisioning soloing this route. It didn’t seem any harder than the First Flatiron. I don’t mean this as criticism in any way. I loved this route and would even repeat it. I’m thankful for the first ascensionists who put in such hard work establishing this route. It is a great contribution to Yosemite climbing. But you can't compare these ratings to the Valley ratings. Well, you can, by knocking two number grades off each pitch.

We continued up, enjoying each pitch and dispatching them quickly. My mentor Chris Weidner will be happy to know that my feet were hurting enough to remove my climbing shoes at the belays, but disappointed that the pain was coming from my same over-sized shoes and my enhanced wimpy-ness and not from down-sizing. Derek was experiencing some shoe pain as well, as he had a blister from Wheeler on his heel, but it was all manageable. Because of this I broke up the seventh pitch to enjoy the huge ledge in the middle of it. 

The eighth pitch is by far the crux of the route. It is rated 5.9 and probably there is no move this hard, but it was by far the steepest pitch on the route, nearly vertical, running with water, and so runout that I was looking at a ledge fall from forty feet up. It was very serious climbing, but not sustained and I took my time getting things right and staying 100% solid, as a mistake here would have been extremely serious. Stressed, I slowly worked out a solution, dumbfounded with the drastic change in character from the rest of the route. Eventually I got in some solid gear and then more gear and my stress level returned to normal. Derek wasn’t nearly as stressed following, as the climbing wasn’t particularly hard and he wasn’t risking injury.
One pitch from the top of the roped climbing
We moved the belay fifty feet to the left, per the topo, and I was quite confused where to go next. Many options are climbable here, but none protect very well. The top said to take the second break to the left but what constituted a break? At Derek’s suggestion, I headed up the easiest left-facing dihedral that was the second or third over. This turned out to be right, though it was still a stressful lead in that I wasn’t sure I was on the route until I found a rusted pin and then finally spotted the anchor. 

The tenth pitch is rated 5.7 and got us to the brushy knoll. When Derek topped this pitch he asked with some incredulity, “That was 5.7?” He walked up half of this pitch without his hands and felt the other half was 5.5, so inline with my earlier estimation on grades.
Derek apparently on the edge of the world - a world of granite
At the top of the knoll we took a short break to eat and rest our feet. Above us was the crux 10a pitch, which liebacked and underclung around a clean flake. The angle was steeper than most of the route, but still very gentle. If I hadn’t known the rating, I’d have called it 5.8+ and that was with the flake being wet and hanging out to place more gear because I was expecting 10a climbing. The climbing is really fun and the friction for the feet is great. The handholds are mostly good but occasionally seam up and I had to reach a ways to get a good lock. 

The next pitch was was 5.9 and more liebacking up a nice crack in a shallow, low-angle corner. Most of the time when I lieback, I have to keep at least one hand in the lieback, of course, walking one hand over the other, but here the angle was such that I could just palm my right hand on the wall, smear my feet, and shuffle up my left hand in the lieback. This is not what I expect for 5.9 climbing.
Final ridge walk to the summit of Cloud's Rest
The next two pitches of 5.7 and 5.8 were so low angle that I’d have done it unroped if it wasn’t for the drop below us and the climbing still to go. I did half of each pitch without using my hands and just walking up the slab. The final 5.9 pitch was circuitous as it wound up a serious of steep steps to the unroping spot. There are probably a few options here, but I turned the last steep section with an honest-to-goodness 5.9 rock-over to clear an overhang. I could get both hands on a big hold, but had to step my left foot just ten inches below this hold at the lip of the roof. 

We stripped off our harnesses, coiled the rope and packed our gear. We still had 1200 vertical feet of beautiful, steep slab walking to go and this would sap us a bit, but we did it in a continuous push. Near the top I got a signal on my phone and we chatted with Sheri as we scrambled the last hundred vertical feet to the summit of Cloud’s Rest.
On the summit!
We rested for twenty minutes or so, eating and drinking a bit. We both had just twenty ounces of water to last the 7.5-mile hike back to the car. We started down at 5 p.m. in high spirits from our successful ascent. Derek’s spirits sagged in inverse proportion to the angle of the trail and we were disappointed to be forced over two climbs on our descent. Derek’s joints started hurting him pretty badly and we sat down to take a couple of breaks. Each time I was being devoured by mosquitos (the only time they were a problem for us) and urged him onwards. 

The signage around the Sunrise Trailhead, either leaving there or arriving, is just awful. It hardly seems worth the bother to erect these. Nevertheless, we arrived back at the car a little past 7 p.m. taking about 13 hours and 15 minutes for the roundtrip. We immediately drove to the west side of Tenaya Lake where Derek performed his new post-climb ritual of standing in the freezing water to sooth his aching muscles and joints. I joined him, despite the pain to my very cold-sensitive toes.
Tenaya Lake
After ten minutes we drove back to our campsite for a final night. Derek was so tired he didn’t even get out of car. Or eat dinner. I cooked and ate some soup and had some cereal. Derek drank a Coke and ate a few chips, not moving from the car until he crawled into his sleeping bag. I went to bed wondering if he’d have the energy for Boundary Peak the next day. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Days 5 and 6, Rest, Rain, Dome Hiking, and Escape Velocity

Looking up at the finish to the Northwest Face of Lembert Dome


Rest, Rain, Dome Hiking, and Escape Velocity

We understandably slept in a bit the next morning. I wrote a bit and watched the end of the movie that I missed the night before. I organized the gear and packed the car, while chatting with Will and Trev. We hoped to return and stay with them again next year and they seemed very open to that. Great guys.
Hiking near Olmsted Point
We decided to head for the shorter, easier, cooler climbs of the high country and headed to the Meadows. We drove east and up into the high Sierra and found rain, plenty of it. We had hoped to climb On the Lamb, but that was clearly out. I pulled off at Olmsted Point and did a little hiking around on the slabs. I found a splitter hand crack that is apparently a known boulder problem. It looked great, though a bit of a high ball. I declined to attempt it in my approach shoes, in the wind, without a partner or a pad.

We drove on and when I spied this cool mini dome, on a whim, I pulled over. I’d driven by this dome many times and each time thought how nice it would be to hike up to the top and take a nap. Or read a book. Or just look out over the beauty of the Meadows. Alas, I was always headed to do something else. Something more…meaningful? But now was the time. Derek joined me and we hiked to the top, finding the friction remarkable good despite being wet. We’d use this realization two days hence. On top, we could see countless other domes, though some had their tops obscured by clouds. The next small dome to the northwest looked fun and we headed over to climb that one as well. While hiking over to it, we derived the mass of the earth. Seriously. 
Hiking up the Mini Dome

This is the type of stuff we frequently discuss. I love math and science and have been trying to instill that in my boys since they were young. We started with an assumption that the Earth was just a giant ball of iron (turns out to be just 35% iron, 28% oxygen, 17% magnesium, 14% silicon, and some other stuff). I wanted to know the specific gravity of iron (relative weight to water), but Derek didn’t know that phrase. Instead he knew the molar mass of iron and thought it was three times heavier than water (turns out it is 7.2 times the weight of water. Molar mass is not the same as weight and density...), which we knew to weigh one kilogram per liter. I knew the earth was about 8000 miles in diameter, which is a radius of 6500 kilometers. Using the formula for the volume of a sphere (4/3*pi*r3), we made a rough estimate of the volume. The cube of 6 is 216, so we used 250 and then a thousand cubed is a billion. We approximated 4/3*pi to be 4 and got a trillion cubic kilometers for the volume of the Earth. A cubic kilometer is a billion cubic meters (1000 cubed again). A cubic meter contains a thousand liters, so a cubic meter of water weighs 1000 kilograms. Multiplying this all together we get a trillion times a billion times a thousand, which is a trillion trillion or 1023 kilograms. But that’s for water, so we need to triple that. I’ll look up the real value when I get home, but this is probably within an order of magnitude. (I looked this up and the weight of the Earth is 6 x 1024 kilograms, so we were off by a factor of 20). I guess rounding and the wrong assumption of the density of the Earth account for this difference, but it was a fun exercise.

Back at the car, we decided to hike up Lembert Dome as well. Another one of my goals for the year is to climb 52 unique summits. I wasn’t going to count the two small, nameless domes we climbed, but since Lembert has a name, it counts. Once again, we were able to friction up remarkably steep, wet granite. We hiked up along the Northwest face and gazed down at the steep routes there and then on up to the true summit, where I’d never been before. We had fun exploring the more eastern slopes on the descent and Derek did some high-ball bouldering up a lieback crack...
Derek doing some badass bouldering!

And then we hiked the road back to the car.

We ate a the TPR (Tioga Pass Resort) that night. This place has three tables - two 2-person tables and one 4-person table, and a counter with eight seats. It has a lot of character, but the food is mediocre and quite expensive. We crashed at the same campground we stayed at on Sunday night and would spend the next three nights there.
The summit of Lembert Dome
Each night we’d watch something on my computer while sitting in the car, to stay warm, before heading to bed. 

The next morning I got up pretty early, but the sky was socked in again. It wasn't’ raining and wouldn’t actually rain much the entire day, but the sky was covered by fast moving, threatening clouds and Derek wasn’t motivated to do much of anything that day. We spent the entire day in camp, reading, writing, marmot-gazing, computing, and doing Derek’s calculus summer packet (already!). Derek helped me remember my calculus and we did a number of problems together. I worked on a talk I want to give on calculating the escape velocity of the earth by using physics equations that model gravity. You know - your typical climber rest-day activities.
The marmots got really active when most people left the campground. This one ran under a boulder when we tried to get close.

Towards the end of the day, Derek announced, “We should climb My Favorite Things” tomorrow. I was more than a bit surprised, but I didn't question him! We packed out gear and hoped for better weather.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Day 4, Snake Dike on Half Dome

On top of Yosemite's Half Dome

Suffer-fest #3: Snake Dike

This did start as a suffer-fest...

The late, great Dean Potter recently posted a mind-blowing FKT on Half Dome that pioneered an outrageous direct approach to Snake Dike. Dean did the roundtrip in 2h17m. Derek and I did... not break the record...

We were up at 5 a.m. and after some breakfast hopped in the car and drove down to the Valley to the Curry Village area and parked in the Half Dome lot. After stowing our food in the bear lockers (why didn’t we leave this at Hans’ house?) we were hiking by 6:30 a.m. An easy mile led to the Half Dome Trail (aka John Muir Trail) proper. A short ways up this trail, we broke into the woods and talus on the left in search of the abandoned Sierra Point Trail that formed the start of the Potter HDAtm (Half Dome Approach).

Half Dome , as seen from the crest of Potter's HDA
We found some signs of previous passage here and even a cairn down very low, but it was mostly just faintly worn ground and maybe even that was imaginary.  Higher up we saw no clear indication of previous passage at all. We forged up steep ground to a rock step that was polished smooth by past running water. This was low 5th class and I was a bit worried about Derek soloing it, but he made it up okay. Above the going continued to be very steep and more exposed. We traversed loose dirt to the left to another steep rock section and this time I followed Derek up to sort of give him some security, though it was more for my peace of mind than any actual assistance. At least this way if he fell, we’d both go.
Not for the faint of heart
Above we did some hiking over talus up to another rock slab and climbed up this with more low 5th class moves and bush climbing. Above this, very steep, loose dirt took any remaining fight from Derek. I burst out of the woods to a small granite shelf with a nice view of the Valley, but with steep climbing remaining above us. We sat down and took a break -- for both physical and mental exhaustion. We listened to our book to de-stress a bit, but Derek was physically and emotionally spent. The stress of so much miserable, steep, loose, dangerous ground had worn him down to the point where he just wanted out of this horrible place. At this point, he told me he didn’t want to do the climb. I understood completely. I’d been there before myself. What climber hasn’t? Sport climbers or crag-only climbers, I guess. Anyone who’s done big routes has been where Derek was. Unfortunately, at that point, neither one of us wanted to descend what we’d come up. We had to push on up and over to the regular Snake Dike approach and descend that. I’m amazed at Dean Potter’s ability to move so quickly over this ground. Getting it wired would certainly help, but this is just plain tough going and he ascended this in well under an hour. We took four hours to do it.

We scrambled up some steep, but solid rock before the angle finally rolled back some and we could finally hike pretty easily on slabs and semi-level ground, meaning just steep hiking. We had incredible views of Half Dome and Snake Dike and it was clear that we’d easily be able to get over to the regular trail. We stopped to take another break now that we could mentally relax. 

As we approached the climber’s trail, I decided to push Derek to do the route. I knew the route would go easily and fast for us and it would make all the misery worth it. He had been so excited to climb Half Dome. I pushed and he didn’t push back. He didn’t agree, but he kept following me up to the base of the route. He would tell me later that he knew we were going to do the climb as soon as we saw Half Dome with reasonable terrain in between us. From a distance we could see another party at the top of the first pitch and figured they wouldn’t be a problem for us. 

Gearing up at the base, the sky was threatening a bit, but I heard no thunder. I switched to climbing shoes and Derek put on my approach shoes, which were stickier than his scramblers. We’d brought micro harnesses, a 60-meter 7.8mm rope, a minimal rack and left the helmets behind. I scampered up the first pitch to the roof and found the traverse to the left very dicey. I’d find out later that it’s much easier to just climb directly to the left side of the roof.
This is more like it!
After climbing left on the roof and getting some gear in above it, I came back down to pull the gear from the roof so that Derek would have a toprope for this traverse and not risk a pendulum fall. I needn’t have worried because Derek styled it in approach shoes. 

Just before Derek started up he said, “The weather is paying us back for that approach.” I didn’t respond immediately, not sure what he meant. Was he worried about the threatening skies and wanting to bail? He noticed my hesitation and clarified it for me: “It’s way cooler than yesterday.” Ah, good. He wanted up. Indeed with the length and effort the approach took, I don’t know if we’d have had the water to go up if it was as hot as the day before.
What a cool route!
I zipped up the second pitch, which supposedly has a 5.7 move on it, but low angle slab climbing comes easily to Minions and I didn’t break stride. I joined Ben, a Yosemite backcountry ranger, at the belay. He was quite friendly. Above Petra, a Czech chick, was doing all the leading. She took a variation on the third pitch that went up to the right of the regular pitch. I followed the regular pitch, which had one move on it that is called 5.7 and did take just a bit of concentration to rock onto my left foot, and belayed from two bolts below them. 

Petra and Ben let us pass them on the next pitch. They belayed from two bolts a hundred feet up while I ran out two hundred feet of rope to the next anchors and we were soon by and never saw them again. The skies continued to threaten and the wind came up. I was a little concerned, but not overly worried because there was no sight or sound of electrical activity. The climbing was now really easy, rated 5.3, and in the interest of speed and thinking Derek might enjoy it, I offered him the lead. He declined, though. This was wise. Hundred-foot slab runouts, even on easy ground, in threatening weather and high winds, on a route you’ve never climbed before, is not the place to do your first real leading.
At the top of the roped climbing
We dispatched the last couple of pitches quickly. When Derek joined me at the top of the last pitch, I started him up the final 1000 vertical feet of slab walking immediately, thinking he could take them at a nice relaxed pace. In the meantime, I coiled the rope and packed the gear. After switching into now Derek’s approach shoes (so nice that we can use shoes interchangeably, as in fact all these shoes were mine), I headed up after him. I expected to catch Derek, but he was strong and had fun switchbacking up these huge slabs.
One thousand vertical feet of the cleanest slab walking you'll ever do (unless you also climb Cloud's Rest)
We regrouped on the summit in an embrace. He thanked me for pushing him to do the climb. He was so happy and we took lots of photos. After eating and drinking some, and also making quick calls to my wife and mom, we headed for the cables. Derek was anxious to see these famous aids. I had found a pair of abandoned gloves on the summit and we each put one on to help us grip the cable. His mom first saw the cables after climbing Snake Dike as well and she was extremely intimidated - more so than Snake Dike. Derek was nonplussed, though impressed with the steepness of the route. The permit system nicely limits the crowds on the summit and the cables and we descended without catching anyone.
Derek on the edge of the Northwest Face - next year's objective!
Derek was feeling energized and wanted to run on the way out. His main motivation for this was to get to the river so that he could soak his legs once again. He loved that the day before and it drove him now. I shuffled along behind him, eventually getting so far behind I could no longer see him. I ran for a mile or so alone before catching him a little above Little Yosemite Valley. We walked this uphill section and the rest of the way. As we passed Nevada Falls, it started to sprinkle on us. By Vernal Falls it was raining pretty good, but it wouldn’t last long. The crowds got thicker and thicker the lower we got and it was frustrating to have a long line of people backed up behind one slow person who refused to just walk on the right. Instead, they loped right down the middle of a trail wide enough for three people.
The Cables descent route
Back at the car, we didn’t pause long before going to our river spot from yesterday. Today we shared it with a pair of very habituated ducks. We could get within a few feet of them and they hung out with us for our entire time there. Twenty minutes later, we headed up the hill to Hans’ Basecamp for a shower, dinner, and a movie on the laptop.