Making Another Yosemite Valley Obscurity


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 11, 2006 - 10:24pm PT
Trip Report - June 9&10, 2006
The making of another Yosemite Valley Obscurity

It wasn't clear what was going to happen this weekend, Gary was off on some trip and not available, Steve has been uncertain, Zander had lost then found his partner and Eric was in negotiations. I think that the hardest part of climbing regularly is finding a set of partners that are also available to go climbing, and with schedules that mesh together, it's logistics.

Tuesday Eric had a notion which by Wednesday was a pretty good idea and finally on Thursday had grown into a plan. Of course the objective of the plan was kept secret, but we were going to need all of Saturday, so going up to the Valley as soon as possible on Friday night was step one. I thought I could get off between 5:00 and 5:30 pm, a late last minute meeting was mercifully short, and as I pulled onto Arroyo Ave. heading home I spied Eric's van a car behind, what timing. Debbie was working out in the front yard and was not all that happy of Eric jokingly warning that we might not get off our climb in a day. I was in grabbing my stuff and basically loaded into Eric's van with all of 5 minutes at home. I'm willing to play along with Eric's ellusiveness but I should have known that it wasn't sitting well with D.

Off we go into the Friday afternoon Bay Area exodus, making remarkably good time. We get a pair of huge burritos in Oakdale and munch these down on the drive in. I get a better look at our objective from a photo Eric had snapped. This was a "Pohono Pinnacle" looking route, a natural passage to the Valley rim, up a face and buttress located between Fifi Buttress and the Wawona Tunnel. I am given the task of puzzling out whether or not the Faint-Borghoff route, Inspiration Buttress was related or even the Brower route, Stanford Point - North Face matched the picture. These are the only two climbs listed in Roper for a set of cliffs nearly 2 miles long.

Reid's has a few more, Local Motion, Windfall, Breezin', Windjammer, Castaways, Wind Chills in the Widow's Tears Area. All these are 5.10 and harder. Not much is heard of about development in this area, maybe when the new guide is published we'll have more information on new routes, rumors abound. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is sometimes astonishing just how much more climbing exists in the Valley than is ever done, some reported climbs await a second ascent. Roper's description of the 1942 Stanford Point - North Face route that a "1,300-foot talus approach has undoubtedly protected the reputation of a climb which has probably never been repeated." This written about 30 years after the FA, and we're reading about it 65 years later.

We motor to a remote secret spot, Eric assures me that just last weekend they camped and no cars drove by; five minutes later the first rig of the night drives by. Even at the early hour, 9:00 pm I am in my bivy bag and falling to sleep. I wake on my internal alarm clock at 4:00 am, about 10 minutes before Eric's alarm calls him from his snooze. Eric makes coffee, we drive off to the park to get an early look of our objective, to have a proper breakfast and then get our stuff together. Eric asks "when does getting up at 4 am in the morning ever feel good?" to which I reply "at 2 pm later that day when you are finishing up." Perhaps a bit of hubris, I hoped this expression of mountaineer's pride wasn't some sort of prologue.

Looking at a new route is never something I want to do for too long. There is a certain psyche which can turn from optimistic anticipation to gloomy foreboding. Eric wants to know "how's it look? waddya think?," he's fishing for a response to calibrate his own enthusiasm, the nagging question being about the sanity of the project. It comes down to the idea of putting up a route to the rim in a day, in an era where there should be no natural passages left unclimbed. Just what are we buying into anyway?

My response to Eric is "I don't want to think about it anymore, let's go up and find out. There is nothing left for us to do down here." We finish up our prep and shoulder the small packs chock full of unplanned bivy goodies. I'm thinking I didn't take enough.

A walk up a Yosemite Valley talus slope embedded in an oak forest at sunrise has the feel of wandering about in a Maxfield Parish painting. The soft warm light filters off the oak leaves and angles obliquely through the trunks spotting the ground. The visual pleasure offsets the labor of moving up hill while the delightful spontaneity of the scenes chase off the fear of the unplanned and unknown. We nail the approach, coming out of the top of the forest just at the base of the climb. Eric hasn't done as much research on this attempted FA as he usually does, it is his first time to the base, uncharacteristic of his thorough preparation and research. It looks like it will go, at least go far enough to commit us high on the climb.

Once on the route, it all does go according to plan. The ledge systems connect with vertical sections, most of these are wide cracks and involve some moderate chimney climbing. The crux of this section is obtaining a high ledge just before the buttress on the right side of the ledge, which is accomplished with the help of a healthy shrub/tree, both obstructing the corner and providing holds for the climbing. We hit the ledge and traverse across it to the right. This is after almost 800' of climbing and the tree shadows down in the meadows indicate that it is still pre-noon, we're making pretty good time.

While it is agreed that route finding is an important skill for a climber, choosing routes with only good topos obviates the need to be able to find your own way. I always enjoy reading and thinking about the "front matter" in climbing guides. Roper addresses the topo issue in the '71 guide in the Introduction under a section titled: "Look What Happened To Climbing". He observes with classic Roper pith that "topos are controversial in that they tend to make climbing a bit easier on the brain." and continues: "Route finding problems are simplified..." Later he observes "...part of the adventure of climbing is removed." The climb we put up has a route up the cliff which I believe would be obvious for most skilled route finders. I doubt I could write a topo from memory, but I could re-climb the route without any problem. No comment about topos is made in Meyer's first guide ("Yosemite Climbs: Topographical Drawings of the Best Rockclimbing Routes in Yosemite Valley" for which I am indebted to Bob Harrington for sending me a xerox copy). In the Preface to the "yellow guide" Meyers explains the exclusion of some pre-1970 climbs because of "...lack of data, or are purposefully not described because of their generally unappealing nature. Long bushwacks to climb what today seems like dirty and unchallenging lines are not popular." He describes the "topo method" parenthetically: "This graphic representation of cliffs and their climbs is the most precise and convenient means of route description. The topo is widely understood because of its ability to cross language barriers."

Eric and I are not putting up a precise and appealing climb in Meyers' esthetic, rather, we are trying to find a way to the rim, a natural passage. And something like six pitches up we are thinking that we might just pull it off.

Running out to the edge of this last ledge on the face before we start climbing the buttress we are faced with a number of possibilities. For some reason or another, after a short discussion, Eric decides to push a line which doesn't quite pan out, but he finds a zig-zagging way to a belay on a big flake. The exit is a rather tough looking layback. Tough mostly because the feet are going to be pushing on lichen. The crack is dirty and bottoming and doesn't accept bomber pro, so a lot of pro gets put in. He fires the lead very impressively, though he and I both thought it was close. I fall on my attempt, feet skidding out as I make a long, long reach to a tiny ledge out left. I bounce down on the rope and have to re-climb the crux, sending it on the second attempt. Getting up to the belay I am informed that the rope took a "core shot, not fatal"... ah, the wonders of 9 mm lead ropes. I take a look and the rope's wound is initially nasty, but time heals, and this blemish actually looks better as the day proceeds. Nice that the rope wasn't cut... but I wasn't thinking that then, I didn't really think of the consequences.

Eric had spied a couple of cracks from an earlier scoping from the ground, and we find the dead pine he recalls as the landmark just above this belay. Up we go, the left side looks thin and hard. The right side is protected by a steep set of moves and a large detached block sitting about 10' up. This block bars the way, the only way into the hand crack above is to yard up on the block. But pulling that block off means certain death to us, no question. Eric goes up, pounds on the thing, comes down, goes up, comes down. "We're bailing around the corner..."

The upper 600' of the route wanders up the left side of the buttress, taking the easy line, above the large bowl separating this buttress from the next one over (probably Crocker Point). We can see that going directly up the buttress is possible, but the headwall presents a formidable barrier, and we are now in survival mode, our objective is to find any way to the top. The bowl is not an option, though it looks possible to climb its moderate angle from the ground, it is "stepped", with 100' smooth granite steps, no easy way there. We keep connecting ledges with the occasional difficult moves. At some point Eric has to launch a dead tree stump off a ledge to protect the second (me!) and we make a grand noise on the trundle which also leaves wood debris covering the way.

Eventually we top out. Our loud howls announce our pleasure to the party finishing up on Leaning Tower to the east. It is after 5:00 pm, we connected the route, we've been climbing for about 10 hours, it has all panned out. I am happy that Debbie won't be worried all night long over a bivouac, we have 4 hours of light left in the day and a full moon to get us down. We are both worked, but it was worth it.

We walk the trail down to the car and I'm phoning D at 8:00 pm from El Cap meadows, she is not pleased to have had to worry all day... my bad. But the beer was good and the body just starting to get used to the idea of moving without effort.

There is a great deal of pleasure coming to the cliffs without knowing if a route exists or not, and then finding it. A rare pleasure in Yosemite Valley. And to find a natural passage from the floor to the rim is a real treat. We come to the cliff with all the advantages of the modern era, including our knowledge of the character of climbs, our excellent equipment, and our preparation; it is not the same as the original pioneers discovering not only the routes but also the sport. But the uncertainty of what exists up in that vertical wilderness is the same, and the concerns about whether or not the challenges can be overcome are a part of the human condition. Why do we do it? who knows. But once you stand atop the day's work you think that you might have had a glimpse at the answer.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 11, 2006 - 10:25pm PT
A Walk In The Park, IV, 5.9, Stanford Point area
Eric Gable and Ed Hartouni, June 10, 2006

This climb follows a natural passage on ledges diagonaling up and left (to the east) of the cliff system between Stanford Point and Crocker Point until it reaches the buttress at the cliff's midpoint, then it follows the buttress to the rim. Approach from the turnout about 1/2 mile east of the Wawona Tunnel parking area. Ascend the talus slope through the mixed oak and pine forest. Once the cliff is spotted head for the low angle, vegetated ramp. The climb begins here. Follow the ledges up and left, staying on the higher ledges, for about 800' of climbing. Many possible routes follow the buttress, stay to the left, picking your way through the path of least resistance for another 800'. To descend, walk the buttress ridge back into the forest on the rim and pickup the Pohono Trail about 4 miles back to the Wawona Tunnel.

Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
Jun 12, 2006 - 02:13am PT
Nice Ed and Eric!
Well done.

I'm so over it
Jun 12, 2006 - 02:18am PT
I bump for TRs.

(Even those that violate the first rule of the Obscurity Club...)
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 12, 2006 - 02:23am PT
Eric's got all the pics... as soon as they're developed I'll see if I can get some to post.

Trad climber
Jun 12, 2006 - 12:36pm PT
Hey Ed, got the pictures back. Will drop them off on Tuesday. Good time. Still sore.-Eric

Social climber
The West
Jun 12, 2006 - 12:53pm PT
TR beat me to it.
"A walk up a Yosemite Valley talus slope embedded in an oak forest at sunrise has the feel of wandering about in a Maxfield Parish painting."

It's the ethereal women in wispy clothes playing croquet that do it for me.

Nice work team obscura.

Looking for a spike in'06 stats?
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jun 12, 2006 - 03:05pm PT
Hey Ed and Eric congratulations. Now one of the best parts of doing a first--you get to pick the name.

So, we got together and decided to offer up some possibilities. Others?

E and Es Maxfield Parrish Adventure
Personal Obscurity
Hopeless Topoless Buttress
Natural Rim Job
Hurrying Es, Worrying D
Uncertain principals
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 12, 2006 - 03:22pm PT
we offered: A Walk In The Park

which Eric thought would be mean, given we are gimping around today...
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jun 12, 2006 - 04:02pm PT
Great climb, even better writing!

Are there three points west of the Leaning Tower? What are they in order, and which one did you climb? When I'm up on El Cap, I see campfires up there from time to time - it looks like a very cool hike, and even more exciting climb.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Jun 12, 2006 - 04:25pm PT
"we offered: A Walk In The Park

which Eric thought would be mean, given we are gimping around today..."

In that the only one of Eric's routes I've ever been on was called "Free and Easy", I can appreciate the likely irony.

Nice job!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 13, 2006 - 12:20am PT
Pete - not sure what you mean by "points", Fifi Buttress is just west of Leaning Tower. Dewey Point is next, but it sits back from the rim and may be visible as a high point above the wall west of Fifi. Of the next three buttresses, east-to-west, the first is Crocker Point and the third is Stanford Point... we climbed the second, unnamed buttress between, I believe... it is still a matter we have to pin down. Maybe a nice hike up there with a GPS unit will settle the issue.

The Pohono Trail which runs behind the rim seems to see a good deal of traffic. The windfall trees have been cut off the trails and there were lots of boot steps and horse prints around. We passed a couple backpacking in from Wawona Tunnel as we were descending.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 14, 2006 - 03:23am PT
A Walk In The Park IV, 5.9. Stanford Point
Eric Gable and Ed Hartouni

The route follows the vegetated line diagonaling up the cliff to the buttress which connects to the peak.

The scene of the whole day is Bridalvail Falls and El Capitan, here in the dawn light.

Eric leads the way as we emerge from the forest at the top of the talus slope. The climb starts on the blocks up above Eric's right shoulder.

Eric leads a chimney pitch. This can be seen in the previous pictures way up and left.

Again, leading off on the ledges finding the way to the high ledge before the buttress, which has the high pine on it.

Traversing in the light with Reed's Pinnacle area off my left shoulder. The Wawona Tunnel turn out is the blemish in the forest next to my left hand.

Following Eric up the zig-zagging pitch to the exit off the face and onto the buttress

Eric exiting off the flake via the layback

Following the layback pitch, notice the shark eating the rope, the source of the "core shot" on my fall.

Up on the buttress above the bowl, still going...

Eric on the summit! He looks tired...

Group shot... the summit.

Evening on the Pohono Trail, rim views of the Captain.

These pictures were taken with two Kodak disposable cameras...

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jun 14, 2006 - 11:47am PT
Looks like an excellent adventure.

Joe Metz

Trad climber
Bay Area
Jun 14, 2006 - 12:53pm PT
Ed, congratulations on the new route and the good writing.

Trad climber
Jun 14, 2006 - 07:21pm PT
Ed and Eric,
Good job guys. Thanks for the TR
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jun 14, 2006 - 07:27pm PT
Wow! Great photos from a throwaway, eh? I'm hoping to hike up there sometime and catch the Captain in the afternoon sun. About how long would it take, with no packs, to reach the Dewey-Crocker area from the tunnel parking spot?

Also - you might consider splicing the photos into the text above, so the photos go right in the trip report.

Hey! And the rest of you Supertopo readers???

When somebody does a really great job of writing and posts photos, and spends many hours making a really splendid trip report, y'all oughta reply to it, and give a guy some kudos for a job well done. There is precious little climbing stuff in this so-called climbing forum, and a little positive feedback will go a long way to motivate Ed and others to keep producing quality climbing stuff.

Cuz you know what the alternative is.....
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 14, 2006 - 09:03pm PT
Thanks all for the replies. I have seen the TR's on an upswing lately, and a lot of discussion about the "off the beaten path" routes in the Valley too, which is great.

The positive re-enforcement is actually getting to go out and do the climbs. I'm glad to share the experience too and I know a lot of people read this stuff and they may not feel like responding, that's fine by me... to those who responded, thanks again.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 28, 2007 - 04:44pm PT
I liked this FA...
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 19, 2008 - 07:35pm PT
here it a photo of the route...

But follow your climber's instincts if you go up there, the line is really a suggestion.
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