In September 2016 Chris and I travelled to Yosemite to get a feel for rock in the valley and perhaps climb something. We landed in San Francisco and drove the four hours or so to the valley. Passing the ranger station (Welcome to Yosemite National Park) we weaved down the hill in our white minivan and apprehension and excitement tingled my senses until we rounded the corner and… WOOOOWWWW!!!!
El Cap was in front of us, poking through the trees. I have never in my life seen anything as awe inspiring as this monument of rock. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve wanted to climb it for years, or perhaps it is just the stories I’ve read of my heros who have. But the view of the cliff astounded me.
After settling in the Upper Pines campground and milling around – or rather driving around the loop road several times and then sitting in the meadow looking up at the climbers on the Cap – we headed to the post office where Chris was expecting a package. And it arrived. A portaledge by Runout Customs. They make great kit! And after opening up the ledge on the picnic table and trying it for size we were ready to go. Haul bags, gear, portaledge, ropes, psyche!
We spent the week acclimating, running up trad routes, walking the base of El Cap and doing some aid climbing. Our primary goal was to try to climb The Prow (5.8 C2) on Washington Column. Perhaps the highlight of our little foray around Yosemite was getting benighted on the 15 pitch Royal Arches (5.10b / 5.7 A0). We started this stunning route late in the morning and we were slow. The heat of the day and not enough acclimating to the height of the valley meant we got half way up the climb around about sundown.
The crux pitches were nailed just after sundown and we eventually topped out at 1am in the morning. Chris did an amazing job of climbing the traverse-solo at the end of the route and jumped into the bushes tummy first looking for the spring to fill our water bottles. I followed and we howled and laughed and hugged in the moonlight under the trees. How romantic! Climbing the upper pitches of Royal Arches by moonlight and headlamp was a wonderful experience.
We spent a chilly night on the summit, first sleeping underneath the trees, then moving under a rock when things got super cold at 3am. Lucky we didn’t try to descend! We topped out because we didn’t want to rappel the route in darkness (dangerous) and we decided not to try to head down the North Dome gully in pitch black. Good choice. It was difficult to find, difficult to navigate and had some dubious class 4 traverses and down climbs. It took us five hours the next day to get back to the campsite. You don’t want to do that descent at night!
We did get up pitch 1 of The Prow at least! After a minor bout of stomach sickness we were running out of time. Our schedule had got pushed and the return drive to San Francisco beckoned. Initially our goal was to get to pitch 3 and spend the night on the ledge. We had water and gear and at least getting as far up as we could would give us some exercise in big wall climbing. Five parties had gone ahead of us in the days before we tried. And five parties had bailed and come down.
September was hotter than usual and climbers drank more water than they should. Three soloist got high on the wall and gave up. It was interesting talking to them. Hearing about the work and the hallucinations that came because of the heat and water rationing. Conversation with your nut tool? Yup. Phone your buddy for advice? Yeah he told you to come down. Rapping from pitch 8 down overhanging rock on an angled route certainly took some shenanigans as one climber told us. Oh – and by the way, he said, there is a storm coming!
I led pitch 1 up pristine granite using my less than formidable aid climbing techniques and squirming in sneakers up the 5.5 free climbing section. The thin cracks took offset cams nicely and the occasional nut went in. The headwall to pitch one followed a thin crack and then an off-width flake. I could just get a number 4 cam in at the top that helped me get to the belay station. It would have been a fine climb if it hadn’t been for the stink of urine. Mental note. Climbers pee down routes. Oh well, all part of the game.
Chris jugged and cleaned pitch one and I hauled. We stood at the belay, giddy with happiness and spent a few minutes seeing how pitch 2 could be climbed. Thin gear and a roof. Awkward I think. The heavens darkened and we decided to bail. The prediction of the storm was right. But we had climbed one pitch of a big wall in Yosemite! More than a lot of people achieve! We ticked a box and we know what we have to do next time we make an attempt. Result!