Sunday, June 03, 2018

Yosemite With Derek Again

Derek nearing the top of the first pitch of the Nose

This was my third trip to Yosemite with Derek. This year we lucked out. Our friend Greg had camping reservations for two weeks overlapping with our trip, and graciously allowed us to share his sites. That relieved us from a lot of hassle and stress. With Derek working at Vandenberg Air Force Base for SpaceX, I just had to fly out to Fresno and he picked me up.

Our main goal was to climb Mt. Watkins and to that goal the first thing we did after setting up camp was to head off towards the South Face and see if it was possible to cross Snow Creek. Greg pulled two road bikes out of the back of his custom van and we rode them up to Mirror Lake. We dismounted there and hiked up towards the Snow Creek Trail and then beyond and off-trail, heading up the north side of Tenaya Creek towards Mt. Watkins.
Crossing Snow Creek on the approach to Mt. Watkins
Sure enough, Snow Creek was running high and fast. We headed uphill only a couple hundred feet before finding a huge log bridging Snow Creek. We crossed over and proceeded only a tiny bit further before turning around. The going here is extremely tedious and difficult and we decided there wasn't much point in going a little bit further and we weren't prepared to go all the way into the climb. We turned around and headed back to camp.

Next, we decided to recon the other big route we wanted to do on this trip: the 39-pitch Galactic Hitchhiker. This route starts with an older route called the Goodrich Pinnacle, an 8-pitch slab route that I did decades ago with the Loobster. We hiked over to Glacier Point Apron from camp and searched around the base, trying to find the base of the route. This took some effort, but we found it.
Derek leading the second pitch of the Goodrich Pinnacle
Derek led the first pitch, a 5.5 pitch, but wasn't sure where it ended and belayed from a tree. Our topo for this route was really bad, so his confusion was understandable. I came up and continued above to the two bolts at the top of the first pitch. Derek took the lead again on the second pitch and cruised up to another two-bolt anchor on good ledge.

I led the 5.7 third pitch, which had some fun stemming and jamming up to a stance. From here we could look up at the runout friction on the 5.8 fourth pitch. The day was getting late, though, and we decided to descend and get some dinner. We rapped down to the top of the second pitch and then down to an easy ramp/ledge that we had to downclimb unroped to a final 2-bolt anchor. From there we could just barely reach the ground with our doubled 70-meter rope.
Following the third pitch of Goodrich Pinnacle
The next day we headed down to El Cap. Derek really wanted to get on the Nose so our plan was to climb up to Sickle Ledge and descend. We also wanted to try out climbing with our mini-haulbag on our backs, so see how feasible it would be on Watkins. We took our time getting our stuff together and eating a bit of breakfast before hiking in to the base of Pine Line (5.7) — the seemingly-now-standard start to the Nose, instead of the traditional 200+ feet of 4th class climbing further to the right.
Derek on the third pitch of the Goodrich Pinnacle (Galactic Hitchhiker)
At the base of Pine Line we saw another mini-haulbag with Tommy Caldwell’s name on it. He was up there with Alex Honnold breaking their own speed record on the Nose from 2h10m down to 2:01:50. Cool. A couple of French Canadians showed up a bit later. They were just out for the weekend and attempted the Nose-in-a-Day the day before. They weren’t moving fast enough and descended from the Great Roof back to the ground. They were energized though, and vowed to return.

Derek led up Pine Line, which is pretty tricky. The crack is classic, insecure, slick, Yosemite-pin-scar climbing. He wasn’t thrilled with some of the gear, but the placements looked pretty solid to me. He belayed me up and I climbed with the haulbag on my back. In it was our second rope, some food and water, and our shoes.

I led easy pitch, more of a scramble, up to the base of the Nose and set up a gear belay next to a Swedish climber belaying his English partner. The leader was aiding every inch of the first pitch (rated 11d all free, but probably 5.10 if you grab the gear). He was halfway up this pitch when we started hiking in from the road. I brought Derek up and we waited another twenty minutes or so for him to finish.

I started up after giving the Swede thirty feet. Since he was jugging, I didn’t think it would be a problem but for the first half of the pitch, I climbed as fast as he jugged. They were just fixing to Sickle and hoped to do the Nose over the next four days.
Derek and Karl at the top of the first pitch of the Nose
I climbed without aiders, but far from free. I didn’t have a very extensive rack and placed nearly everything I had in the 150-foot pitch. I was sweating profusely when I joined my Swedish friend on the ledge. The Englishman was leading the next pitch as well and had just started up it. He’d done the Dihedral Wall early in this trip, but didn’t look particularly skilled. He certainly wasn’t very fast. But he got up the Big Stone, which is huge. Better than I’ve done on many trips to the Valley.

Derek followed carrying the pack, which was a brutal chore. He climbed free about halfway up the pitch and then resorted to pulling on some gear. We hung out on the ledge for 45 minutes or so before we decided to just rap off. We didn’t want to wait an hour at each belay, the last two being semi-hanging. Also, we were planning a huge day on Galactic Hitchhiker the next day and wanted to rest and prepare. And the heat was pretty tremendous.

With no fixed anchor at the base of the Nose, I tried to rappel to the top of Pine Line first. I found a 2-bolt anchor just thirty feet down and decided to stop there in order to give us a better chance of reaching the top of Pine Line. I clipped in, but in trying to pull the ends of the rope over to me, they snagged way to skier’s left (skiing the Nose!?). I got back on rappel and descended to the snag and cleared it. Then I continued down and found a 2-bolt rappel anchor. Cool. Derek joined me and we did one more double-rope rappel to the ground. On my way down, I found a brand-new 0.3 Camalot with a sling and a couple of biners. I’m sure a Nose team must have dropped it.

We hiked back to the car and immediately headed for some drinks.

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