2nd Free Ascent of Basketcase: a story


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The Warbler

the edge of America
Feb 23, 2009 - 06:24pm PT
My experience with Walt was that he was always concerned about the safety and well being of others, not always his own.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Feb 25, 2009 - 01:35pm PT
In June of 1975, Kevin gave an account of the first ascent of "Milestone" in Old Geezers! (Yes you!) Write up your FA Stories and tidbits

The first ascent of "Milestone" by Kevin Worrall

Karl really does have a good idea, even though most people aren't taking him seriously, I'll start with the last, and maybe the best Valley FA I've done.

Sometime in the mid seventies, after Bridwell did Straight Jacket on Basket Dome, he told me about a long straght in crack system on the wall right of that route and near the arete of a massive right facing arch that dominates the southeast face of Basket Dome. He was really excited about it at the time, and said he thought you might be able to faceclimb to it, or that I might be able to.

Went up the Snow Creek switchbacks 30 years later to scope it out. Schwacked almost all the way to the base and saw potential for a start. Couple days later walked up Tenaya Canyon and way up the talus past Half Dome with some glasses and my camera. Began to see a line from the lowest point of Basket Dome up through some disconnected features, to three giant ramps that switchbacked nicely toward the crack system Bridwell told me of. From the end of that three hundred foot crack a weakness appeared to lead for five or six lower angle pitches to the top of the dome. Careful inspection of the photos I took that day led me to believe a route was there, and that it might not even be that hard.

There is a route there now, but it's kinda hard.

It took my partner Sean Shannon and I three trips to the Valley and some twelve days of climbing, bolting and working the route, before it was ready for a ground up ascent,

Not a ground up "trad style" ascent but more of a redpoint. With a trad flavor. We did start at the ground and climbed up, for two days, on the final ascent.

We tried to do a true ground up ascent, but what I was hoping to be 5.9 or easy 5.10 pitches at the start turned out to be four good 5.11 pitches in a row. Thin face crux on the pitch off the ground. Pure crack in a bombay flare, tight hands to rattley fingers to offsize pod on pitch two. Arches style thin, relentless, 11.d edging on pitch three. A tricky routefinding problem with a vertical step on pitch four.Two days of climbing and the hard looking part was still way the f#ck up there.

Rapped to Valley, went to SAR cache, got six static ropes from Werner and a ride back to our car at Porcupine Flat, hiked back to the rim, bivied, and rapped 1000 ft down the top of the climb to check it out, and determine if it would be doable. Living in San Diego with a wife and kids kinda takes the adventure ability down a notch or two.

Looked good...real good, but hard. The "hand cracks" Bridwell told me about were arrow cracks, with a few fingerlocks here and there. The rock was excellent, the position the cracks took spectacular.

Returned a year later, rapped down and did the upper five pitches, starting at the last belay on the crack, perched on the lip of a forty foot roof at the end of the massive 600 ft arch. What was to be pitch fifteen was 5.11 face right off the belay followed by linking small corners and arches up a rolling slab to a splitter crack finish and a good ledge.

Pitch sixteen meanders after a steep lieback flake, to a mantle, that places you below an 11d slab with three bolts, some dime edges and not much else, that gets you to a flake system, the belay comes after 180 ft.

Pitch seventeen has two easy 5.11 sections and ends liebacking a four inch thick flake separated from the wall by three or four inches. Super clean. The belay is standing on the flake where it becomes a thin ledge with a deep clean crack behind it.

The flake system continues up and right toward the summit of Basket Dome, but pitch eighteen follows the plumb line of a Tuolumne style black streak. All bolts, one cam in an overlap near the top of the 10.a pitch. Sweet slab climbing, perfect rock, way up there.

The belay below the last pitch is positioned below the steepest bulge in that zone and the climber mantles a big ol diorite knob with a stopper behind it, clips a bolt and does some thin 11a moves in a stemmy bowl to immediately easing rock and a big belay tree nearly at the dome's summit.

On the drive home we decided to do whatever we had to do to link these upper five pitches with the lower four we did a year before.

Our third effort we allowed ten or twelve days in the Valley. The ramps I had hoped to follow in the center section of the route were ruled out due to a thirty foot long, eight foot high blade of vibrating stone sitting with its ass end on the ramp and its snout cantilevered out in space. We found a route around this obstacle, that led us up into the bottom of the huge arch, and happily to a perfect bivi ledge atop pitch eight.

From our previous high point of four pitches we did a short 5.8 pitch to the base of a vertical straight in, straight up thin crack -120 ft 11.d. A desperate flared barndoor lieback start to pumpy fingers and hands, then up a steep stem corner with tiplocks to an exposed flat belay ledge positioned in the center of a 200 foot long arete.

Here the crack of pitch six becomes a ramp/hand traverse that turns the arete and leads back into a deep bowling corner that is the start of the huge arch above. This 5.10 pitch finishes on a handrail traverse with exciting distance between cams to a stance below roofs and a vertical corner.

Pitch eight (11b) liebacks a thin crack to hands through a roof, then up a steep leaning offsize with a bomber edge to more roofs, and finally the bivi ledge.

Two gnarled scrub oaks, each with a sleeping spot below, share an inspiring view of the Northwest Face of Half Dome, and a view straight up the unclimbed arch.

Pitch nine downclimbs a ramp to the left, down mantles a ledge, easy 5.11, to an easy ramp that rises to the arete of the arch and an airy three bolt belay.

Pitch ten is bouldery hard 5.11 moves sideways off the belay to a 1 inch thick flake that miraculously winds its way forty feet up the steep wall toward the three hundred foot crack system. The belay is atop the end of the flake.

Pitch eleven is the route's crux. Desperate face climbing left off the belay reaches the crack after twenty five feet. Good jams and fingerlocks disappear after twenty feet, and the angle steepens.

At this point we made a decision that will surely be controversial. The crack would take A1 arrows or A3 stoppers. At the time the 00 cams had not come out, and even those would have been hard or impossible to place in the leaning crack. We bolted it, rather than fix pins. Given the length of the route and the diffculty of the climbing on the pitch (12b) in comparison to the majority of the route's climbing, we decided it was the way to go.

After the pitch's 12b sequency, super thin crux, are forty feet of sustained 5.11 high body tension moves ending at a diorite knob that allows a shakeout. More thin crack leads to a band of giant holes that march across the face in a quartz band. Rather than follow the crack into the holes, the route exits left to the far left hole, a six foot high mini cave with a sandy floor.

At this point two parallel cracks are leaning at about a 30 degree angle, roughly paralleling the arete of the arch that was exited far below, and inching closer and closer to the edge as they rise. The cracks become unclimbable where they pass through the bulge above the holes, but some thirty feet higher again become climbable.

Fortunately, the far left hole belay positions the leader within a few steep moves of a dike that pops 3 inches out of the wall. A mantle places the boots on the lip of "The Crack Sniffin Dike". An exciting sixty foot 5.11 traverse brings the leader back to the coveted crack and a two bolt belay.

Pitch thirteen (The Hangnail Pitch) begins with good fingers for twenty feet to the end of that crack. At this point the crack system is double, so the leader moves down and right (5.11) to the neighboring splitter. Here his feet are about ten feet from the lip of what has become a forty foot roof below (the arch). Eighty feet of continuous, leaning 11d arrow crack with 00 cam pro brings the climber to the belay and even closer to the roof's lip. This amazing, laser straight splitter is the only flaw in the slab for nearly two hundred feet to the left. The leader should carry some prussiks on this lead as a fall and a pulled piece could mean a Touching the Void situation.

Pitch fourteen is easy 5.10 and becomes almost horizontal at it's end, with the leader's feet at crack level and protection placed by leaning over and peering into the crack at your feet. The belay is at a point where the four pitch crack system, "The Bridwell Cracks", finally disappears around the lip of the arch's roof.

The last 5 pitches I've already described.

Every belay on this route has two stainless bolts. All bolt protection is stainless, 90 bolts total. Six pitches have no protection bolts. Three pitches have all bolt protection. Most of the bolts on this route were placed on the lead, but not all. Some hero could have certainly done the route ground up, but we were happy to do it as we did. It's a good, hard, classic route, Great variety, quality rock, awesome positions and exposure, a line that starts at the very bottom of the dome and follows a mostly obvious route to the summit.

The final ascent we did with a bivi atop pitch eight. The days were getting longer and hotter, and we didn't want to be on the crux pitch in the midday heat. Because we had been working the route, we were able to stock water on the ledges, making hauling easier. We bivied on the Valley rim at a beautiful site behind Basket Dome near the stream that falls down it's East gully. An hour descent put us at the base, and we waited til 11:30 to allow the 11d third pitch to be in the shade. Arrived at the bivi just at dark. Summited the next day at sunset. No falls.

The way to do this route is in a day if possible. Bivi on the rim, leave your sleeping gear, crack it to the base, send the route and return to camp, a fifteen minute walk from the topout. Rapping off above the dike pitch would be tricky, so it's a committing challenge for a one day ascent. Spring has the advantage of water in camp and at the base. Car to camp is two hours. The topo should be in Reid's new guide. The cracks and the upper part of the route are easily seen from Mirror Lake near Basket Dome's skyline.

"Milestone" V 5.12b 19 pitches FA Sean Shannon, Kevin Worrall May, 2004

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Mar 13, 2009 - 04:14am PT

this pic what I think it is?

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 13, 2009 - 07:58am PT
Mungie, did you check out posts 61-80? there is a massive bunch of hi-rez photography there of the route, Milestone. Your photo is of course "of the route" also but it seems you might not have seen those preceding images. You can't see the route Basketcase in your image, btw; it's on the left side of the prominent gray pillar, facing away from the camera.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 17, 2009 - 12:08am PT
actually it is my photo, and it's taken from the Snow Creek Trail... a couple of winters ago... of Basket Dome
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 17, 2009 - 12:12am PT

Just let me know when you start going into sepia. I will need some warning.

hugs buddy, ph.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 17, 2009 - 12:49am PT
ok Peter... step one is to develop my own B&W though...

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 17, 2009 - 06:37am PT
It's interesting you guys have this photo... certainly some more possibilities for routes there.
The Warbler

the edge of America
Mar 17, 2009 - 10:21am PT
There's a route to do to on the face of the pillar to the right of Basketcase, Peter, maybe you've seen the crack system. It's real steep. Probably mixed free and aid, but these days, could go all free. Giant flakes with hand and offsize cracks behind them, facing up Tenaya. Scary looking.

The giant right facing corner in the right side of the frame is unclimbed, as is the entire east face to its right. I see at least two obvious lines on that face, mostly free, the rock is excellent.


right here, right now
Mar 17, 2009 - 11:04am PT
Did you take any pictures while on the route "Milestone" Kevin?
(Pardon me if I missed any mention of that in the text of the thread)
The Warbler

the edge of America
Mar 17, 2009 - 11:18am PT
Hey Roy,

Somewhere I mentioned that I took some photos of Sean leading the first pitch from the ground, and then some shots at the bivi the next morning, but other than that the cameras never left the bag. Between the climbing, belaying and hauling we just didn't have time to fiddle around. I have hardly ever shot photos in the process of climbing a route, never owned a camera in my early days, just habit I guess. I seem to have a photographic memory of climbing routes - their moves, their features - maybe that's why.

The climbing photography I've done has all been of other climbers climbing independently of me, and some day I hope to rig Milestone to do that. As we climbed the route, I made mental note of the best angles to shoot each pitch, and the best lighting. It's got great potential for photos.

right here, right now
Mar 17, 2009 - 12:00pm PT
Great potential for photos...
and for climbing!!!

Amazing that we haven't seen a second ascent yet?
Or did I miss that too...

Trad climber
Nov 23, 2009 - 08:52pm PT
"Thatís right, there is nothing like hitting your head against a brick wall, so that stopping has to be nothing short of enormously beatific and enlightening."


Trad climber
Nov 23, 2009 - 09:09pm PT
"I make the first move, the one that ejected me an hour earlier, and can hardly stay attached. But with the knowledge that it is going to be more balance than usual and a micromanaging tradeoff between one counterforce lock and another while losing the knee bar, I progress, using unbelievable amounts of power seeking security in the flare in an orderly but granular transition that is nearly impossible at least for someone my size. And there are absolutely no edges of any sort in the crack, neither on the main wall nor on the dihedral face, my usual secret tactic to unlock some cruxes."

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jan 14, 2010 - 11:56am PT
Real Climbing Bump!

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Apr 27, 2010 - 12:11pm PT
Real climbing bump....again.

Wow, those phtos are amazing.

Kevin, sure wish you would get over your habit of not taking pictures!

Apr 27, 2010 - 01:38pm PT
Peter, I can't determine if the writing or the ascent is more impressive. World class both! I missed this great read earlier, nice bump Survival.

Thank you so much.

Oakland: what's not to love?
Apr 27, 2010 - 04:07pm PT
Holy shit! Looks phenomenal. I try to imagine plugging up that crux crack pitch as it pulls you closer and closer to the brink out right... phew!

There must be a cousin to Nutcracker on that lower angle dome to the right, or something better.

Apr 27, 2010 - 04:41pm PT
I've been up to the crux pitch of that crack. It is amazing. Lightening stopped us. SH#T!! We had gone 11 pitches up it and that was only where the business begins!
Baskecase looks oh so rough.
Bob J.

New Zealand
May 6, 2010 - 08:37pm PT
Another favourite to the front, and an appreciation of Peter Haan's outstanding writing. More please. Or a book. I'd buy it. Even using New Zealand dollars.
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