Monday, June 08, 2015

Yosemite Trip With Derek: Day 3, Royal Arches

High on Royal Arches

Suffer-fest #2: Royal Arches

This didn’t start off as a suffer-fest…

We awoke early, packed up camp and headed into the Yosemite National Park. Derek would have normally been sleeping for a lot of this drive and he did nap once we were into the woods, but the gorgeous alpine terrain that is Tuolumne Meadows had him alert. I pointed out the major structures: Mt. Dana, Lembert Dome, Cathedral Peak, Fairview Dome, Pywiak, Stately Pleasure Dome, Tenaya Peak, Cloud's Rest, and the monarch of the entire park: Half Dome.
Derek on one of the lower pitches

As we past Olmsted Point parking, I spotted bear on the road and cried out, "Bear, bear, bear!" to alert Derek. We watched it scamper straight up the steep slope above the road. It was the last bear we'd see on the trip, but at least we saw one.

I drove directly to the Ahwahnee Hotel parking lot and found a spot steps from the trailhead. Nothing seems to have changed in the Valley. I was back here in 2012, just for a day to zip up the Nose with some blonde dude, but before that it was...I don't even know how long. Maybe most of a decade since I last really visited the Valley. I was teeming with excitement to share this place with Derek.

We geared up, taking a 60-meter rope, a moderate rack, a 64-ounce bladder and two 20-ounce bottles in a light pack, along with some food. We planned to climb most of the route in our approach shoes and carried our climbing shoes just in case. We did the 5-minute approach to the start of the route and I insisted on starting with the classic, slick 5.6 chimney start and not the "easier" 5.7 start around the corner. Derek needed to experience a Yosemite wide crack.

I smeared and chimneyed my way up the pitch, mindful not to slip off with my son carefully watching my technique. At the top I dropped the end of the rope and hauled up the pack. Derek had no trouble at all on this chimney and I was a bit surprised by that. It is so slick that if you are sloppy with your footwork, you're going to slide down it. He joined me at the belay and I handed him the rack, telling him to lead on. Granted it was only 3rd class, but it was his first time taking the rope up the route.
Possibly not the tighest of belays, but our motto is Photos Phirst!
Derek stopped at the next steep section and I led up that to another third class pitch. Derek led his and placed his first ever piece, a #2 Camalot. I led another pitch and Derek led us around the corner to the base of one of the crux pitches: a 5.7 up pin scars. This proved challenging for a move or two in my approach shoes, but a little extra squeezing of the pin scars solved the problem. Derek did the same.

We followed great cracks and flakes upwards, past a neat offwidth that I chimneyed outside to the awesome Bear Hug pitch with duel hand cracks. Another pitch brought us to the huge ledge below the pendulum pitch. We took a short break here to eat and drink and I put on my climbing shoes to give the 10b slab a try. Here I also called my buddy Hans and asked the best option for sleeping. I figured it was still to drive out highway 140 and sleep at the "Secret Spot," but he said I could give his caretaker, Will, a call. Will handled the cleaning for Hans' Basecamp house in West Yosemite, which he rents out via VRBO. I had met Will once before, so I gave him a ring, also from this ledge. Will welcomed us to come crash on his floor! With the night's lodging arranged, I turned my attention to the crux slab.

I climbed up to the fixed rope and clipped into a loop of it for my high protection piece. I tried the traverse low, made a few moves and fell off. Derek caught me nicely and I tried again, this time a big higher. I fell again. Dang. This baby is thin. I've done this once before, but I don't remember anything about it. I just didn't have the footwork/balance for this section, at least not today, and I gave up and swung over using the fixed line. Derek did the same while following - his first pendulum!
This is alright place to climb... Derek finishing the Pendulum Pitch
Derek led the traverse pitch over to the tree (placing no gear, as it is basically a walk, but a walk with lots of exposure). I led up the 5.7 crux pitch, past the awkward jamming where you use the tree branches to the ledge. The next pitch goes around the blind corner via an awkward step and gains a nice crack. I knew I could traverse even further and make it easier, but the description on Mountain Project (by Josh Janes) says to head directly up the steep hand crack. I started up it, but had to back down and remove my watch (one-handed! and almost dropped it), so that I could jam with both hands. I was a little annoyed with Josh's MP description of the route where he doesn't understand why this is a classic route. To me that is just such ignorance. This is a brilliant route that makes it way up an incredible wall of rock via amazingly good, moderate climbing. If you can't see that, you are a gymnast and not a climber, certainly not an alpine climber that appreciates routes that top out.
Leading the traverse over to the 5.7 "tree" pitch
Derek followed nicely and after another cool crack pitch, he led an unprotected slab traverse to the left. I was above him for this and was able to provide a reasonable belay for the first half. We had changed back into our approach shoes and Derek wasn't super confident with his footwork, but he never hesitated and inched across the slab. After another super long pitch, I got to the rappel anchors at the start of the last pitch. We weren't doing the rappel (we brought only one rope). MP (Josh) says that it is safer to lead this last pitch than to follow it. Based on that recommendation I had Derek lead this last pitch and he did great, but was pretty stressed by the end of it. He didn't trust the friction and was palming and mantling so hard with his upper body that he was drained on the other side. Yet, he kept moving and never even said, "Watch me." Derek placed one cam and clipped the one bolt on this pitch, tripling the number of lead placements he's now done.

Following the pitch seemed way easier. The climbing near the bolt is the easiest and hence the difficult climbing is near the belay for the second and far away from the protection for the leader. I couldn't do the 10b friction below, but I practically ran across this pitch. My confidence is very high on angles this low. :-)

We packed up the gear a bit and hiked up steeply to the short scrambling section and then through the woods until I found a nice flat spot by a huge boulder. We stopped here to rest and eat lunch. And we called Sheri. It was hot and we had little water left, but all we had to do was descend, right?

Derek's experience with the infamous North Dome Gully descent was just as pleasant as most people's: it sucked. He'd have done a lot better later in the week, after he got his granite friction dialed. It was a hot slog over to the saddle behind Washington Column to begin with and then the long, exposed traverse over to the slabs. Once on the slabs, Derek had no confidence in his scramblers. We switched shoes a short ways down to help him out, but most of the problem was confidence. It didn't help that he was drained by the climb and dehydrated.

Back in the parking lot, we pulled out our chairs and each down four different drinks. First water, then a soda, then a chocolate milk, we kept the liquids coming. The roundtrip had taken us nine hours with about six of that on the climb itself. Derek spirits were lifted considerably with the fluids and some food, but what really got him going was the dip in the Merced River. This became his passion.

Derek relaxing in his new favorite river: the Merced

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