The Porcelain Wall - Yosemite


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Social climber
The Deli
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 26, 2008 - 04:57pm PT
We’ve kept pretty quiet about the Porcelain Wall for several years now and I have tried to not say anything here on ST or post any photos. I always figured that I’d save my photos for a magazine article or something like that. But ya know, I really don’t feel like dealing with editors and their power to change things… and what good does it do to keep something a secret? If there ever was a time when we “let the cat out of the bag” here on ST, then this is it. Here’s what I’ve got!

These photos don’t look quite the way I’d like, but I’m still figuring out the whole scanning and tweaking thing and have a hard time with the differences in the way an image looks from monitor to monitor – my old laptop is kinda dead so sometimes the images appear to be oversaturated on newer monitors… I may have to redo some if they look like crap. Time for a new computer soon… Sky is Falling pics to follow later.

FA of STRANGE WORLD, August, 1999

Monkeys at the base – Troy Johnson, Captain Kirk, and Eric George.

EG on the lower section of pitch 6.

Haulbags and BL cleaning pitch 6. Photo by Eric George.

BL cleaning pitch 6, “The Red and Black.” Photo by Eric George.

Looking up at EG at belay 6 in the afternoon.

EG at belay 6.

Looking down on EG at belay 6 in the morning.

EG cleaning the beginning of pitch 7, “Right or Flight.”

EG cleaning the traverse, pitch 7.

EG, almost to the belay, pitch 7.

EG starting out on hooks and a head, pitch 8.

EG nailing on pitch 8.

BL cleaning pitch 8. Photo by Eric George.

Hardware and BL cleaning pitch 8. Photo by Eric George.

EG cleaning pitch 9, “Agent Orange.”

EG chillin’ at belay 10 with lots of air below.

BL and hammer on pitch 11. Photo by Eric George.


Here are a few shots of us up on the wall that “Ansel” Evans took from the Valley floor. Thanks Tom!

EG at belay 6, above “The Red and Black.” Photo by Tom Evans.

EG at belay 6 and BL drilling the third bolt hole at belay 7, after the “Right or Flight.” Photo by Tom Evans.

EG at belay 8 and BL cleaning. Photo by Tom Evans.

Special thanks to Mark Miller for all of the computer time to get this thread started (and for spoiling me with his flat-screen mega-monitor) and to my dirt bike buddy Brock for letting me hang out in his house for the last few days to scan slides, tweak ‘em and post ‘em. Thanks, guys!

Feb 26, 2008 - 05:02pm PT

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Feb 26, 2008 - 05:33pm PT
i have nothing else to say. those are great.


Feb 26, 2008 - 05:45pm PT
Great shots - and cool to see Troy. The reason Bill and I did Luminescent is because Troy and I had done several new pitches on Half Dome on what became Shadows. Unfortuately we ran into several closed corners, and didn't feel like doing a drill-fest, so we bailed - we jokingly started calling the route the Big Drill.

So I had gear already stashed up at the base of HD that Bill and I just moved down to the Porcelan wall. Bridwell went up and finished the route on HD as Shadows the next year.....

It's great to see the Porcelan getting some coverage - I've always felt it was an under-appreciated, cool wall.


Social climber
The Deli
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 26, 2008 - 06:00pm PT
The following is a piece that I wrote for an English class at UNR in 2000. It is my account of a day on the Porcelain, August 20th, 1999, when Eric George and I were working on Strange World.

Porcelain Wall – Day 6, “Agent Orange”

Sensing light, an eye slowly opens. I awake from sleep. My body is stiff and tired though warm and comfortable. My hands resist opening. I want to sleep but morning has come and it is light out. Unzipping my sleeping bag, I begin to move, accepting the inevitable. The morning ritual begins as I take off my fuzzy hat to put on my glasses. I look up at Eric’s natural belay (no bolts) consisting of six cams of differing sizes, placed in a short section of a small corner. Although it is probably fine, the belay scares me and I am glad that we did not become part of a twisted and mangled mess of gear at the base, sometime during the night. I roll over and gaze down into space, enjoying the sensation. Thin flakes covered with bright orange lichen drop below my portaledge then disappear out of sight as the wall steepens. Far below, a massive slab rises from the base, mimicking the face of a large dam. The trees appear small but they are large. The August air is cool and still. Sunlight begins to warm the valley floor but we are in the shade and will be until two o’clock.

Eric is awake. “Hey, how’s it goin” I ask him.

“Oh, it’s goin. How ‘bout you” he replies.

“I’m alright”. I make my way out of my sleeping bag, kneel over the edge of my purple portaledge and pee into the void. I find the brown-paper bags, select one and roll the top edge over. I adjust my daisy length, drop my leg-loops and pants, then hang my ass in space and sh#t into the bag. The bag is tossed and sails through the air with a fluttering sound. It begins to spin and then disappears from sight. Joe Satriani is selected for the morning wake up hour. I reach over and insert the tape into our seven-pound tune box and push “play”. For some, music is a necessity on walls. I then remove a can of fruit juice from a stuff-sack and sit down in my portaledge with my back against the wall. I enjoy the juice and relax, contemplating our position. We are eight pitches up Yosemite’s Porcelain Wall, climbing a new route in uncharted territory.

A breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese and a small can of fruit is drawn from the food bucket and slowly consumed. I put on my wall boots and stuff my sleeping bag and then reluctantly, leave the comforts of my portaledge to hang in my harness and aiders. The ledge is disassembled and put into its haul bag. I gather the rest of my bivi (bivouac) gear and start the annoying process of making all of it fit into my haulbag while hanging sideways in my harness. Nothing can be dropped. Eric does the same.

A beautiful left-facing corner soars above us. It is covered with orange and yellow lichen that hides the white granite and makes the wall look surreal and artificial. The corner curves to the left, traverses under a short roof and then continues up a sweep of steeper white rock. I try to estimate the size of the crack system by sight as I sort through piles of hardware, searching for the proper pieces. A 16 oz. Olde English 800 sits in my booze muffler and I sip as I sort, preparing for my lead. Finally, the procrastination ends. Eric puts me on belay. I “dawn” the rack (of hardware), grab the trail line and make my way above the belay. Faced with two choices of where to start, I try to reach the bottom of the corner to my right by duct-taping a small cam to the end of a tent pole section and forcing it into the crack. It does not work. Instead, I climb straight above the belay on a pin, a beak, and a couple heads, being careful not to fall on Eric and the belay. The thin crack ends but I find a small edge far to my right that I am able to hook after several attempts and much sideways strain. Now on the hook, I have great difficulty reaching back to the last head to unclip my aiders and daisy. I finally succeed.

The bottom portion of the corner where I had previously tried to start is cut by a horizontal crack and is detached from the wall. If our tent pole trick had worked, the force of the cam when weighted might have popped the two-ton orange block loose from the wall. Not good. I do not like the thought and it does not calm me. I place a cam above the crack and continue upward. Small particles of lichen float in the air and stick in my eyes and mouth as I scrub the crack with my nut tool. Most of the placements are relatively solid but occasionally, the crack narrows, accepting only thin pins and beaks. Now sixty feet above the belay, I am separated from Eric. I can barely hear the music and I drift into my own little world, conscious only of my immediate surroundings. Except for the sound of my hammer striking metal, the wall is quiet and peaceful. Solve the puzzle. Move upward. I am fueled by exhilaration, caught in a magical dreamland. Time passes quickly and is unnoticed.

By early afternoon, I am over half way up the pitch. The corner arches to the left and again, the crack thins. My smallest cams no longer fit in the shallow groove and I resort to a ball-nut. I then reach to the left and begin pasting a #3 circlehead straight up into the horizontal crack. Suddenly, the ball-nut shifts, making popping noises. The circlehead is expanding the crack and the ball-nut wants to let go. I immediately clip in my next pair of aiders and daisy to the circlehead as a pulse of adrenaline shoots through me. My mind races. I finish placing the circlehead and quickly test it. It holds. It isn’t great but at least I’m off the ball-nut. Another reach to the left and up finds me a decent beak placement and I am able to relax. I yell to Eric. “That was exciting!” I place two more solid beaks and decide to take a break.

The roof just above appears to be wide and I don’t have any big gear. “I need a #3 and #4 Camalot. Free biners. More beaks and small heads. Send me a beer too.” He prepares the gear and I grab the trail line and pull and pull. I am greeted by a new selection of hardware and a nice cold one. Life is good. Half of a Clif Bar (lunch) is washed down with Olde E and I clip the new gear to my rack. Rested and well buzzed, I am ready to finish the rest of the pitch. I hoot and holler into space, feeling like I could jump to the moon. One more beak placement brings me to the wide horizontal crack. Expecting to find a deep crack, my eyes pop with amazement as I see a shallow cavity filled with minerals. “Wow dude! There’s some really cool sh#t up here,” I yell. The cavity is lined with large clumps of epidote (green), biotite (black), potassium feldspar (pink), and quartz - a brilliant display of minerals hiding inside the wall. My psyche is further fueled by the discovery and I traverse the cavity with the large Camalots. Peering around the lip of the roof, I see a thin crack system that leans slightly to the left. The wall steepens and is now pure white, free of the lichen. I grunt and groan as I try to paste a #2 head into a small groove that is barely within reach. The move is awkward and I curse. “Cummon ya puss bucket. Get in there!” Eventually, I am satisfied with the placement and I get on it. I then place three Hybrids in a row where the crack flares; the placements are good.

Above me, I am faced with a workable groove that peters out to the left and a thin flake hanging above and right. “Mmm, it’s going to get fun” I think, and then smile. After placing four heads, I reach far to the right to touch the flake. It is barely within reach. I shape a #3 head into a wedge with my hammer and then, with much effort, place it into a tight slot at the bottom of the flake. Then a wedged #2 head, a chiseled #2 head, and a beak. The tip of a Rurp goes into a small horizontal crack to the left. I don’t like it but it is in the best spot within my reach. It flexes as I weight it. The beak seemed good and I think a head below might hold a fall; I try to calculate my position and look down at the string of pieces. “Wouldn’t want to blow it now,” I think to myself. “I guess it’s steep enough that I won’t hit anything,…but it would be a pretty good ripper… I don’t remember the rope going over any sharp edges.” I become more focussed as I think. “I want to get off of this damn Rurp.” The crack becomes crumbly and I have trouble getting a beak to stick. Thoughts of perishing enter my mind but I rule them out, based on the odds. I look at the base where I would hit and feel the exposure and ominous presence of vast space. I am alive as ever. Another beak sticks into the thin crack, bringing me within two placements of a set of tiered roofs. I have been on lead for eight hours but excitement pushes aside fear and exhaustion. The crack becomes more solid and I place two more beaks. Nearing the end of the rope, I decide to put the belay to my left, under the four roofs. I am happy to have finished the climbing but the pitch is not finished. The corners are blank and force me to drill bolts. “I’ll take the bolt kit now,” I tell Eric. “And make sure you put a beer in it. Gimmie some more biners and some water too.”

“OK. Ready to go,” he yells. The load is heavy and my arms become tired as I pull on the trail line. A second, heavier rope is also attached. I begin to wonder if the extra weight might pop the beak that I’m on. It seems good. I receive the gear and set to work, drilling a rivet. Fifteen minutes and a few sips later, I am on the rivet. Reset. Game over. Back to the safe zone. I am no longer in danger. I take off my rack and clip it to the rivet, glad to be rid of the weight. Another thirty minutes and I have drilled a bolt; my arms feel like they want to fall off. Briefly I rest. “One more bolt and I’m done. Just one more,” I tell myself. I continue to drill and swill in a laborious haze. Finally, after forty minutes, I have a second bolt placed. I clip the rope in. The belay is now complete. I quickly set up the wall hauler on the trail line. “Ready to haul,” I yell. A few moments later he replies.

“Ready to go.” I begin hauling the first load: the hardware bag, the tune box, and my portaledge. I sit down, the bags come up. Sit down. Stand up. Sit down. This slow process eventually brings the bags to me. I pause to rest, clip in the bags and then pull out the tune box. Iron Maiden now fills the air. “At least I can suffer and be happy,” I think. Eric’s haulbag and food bucket are hauled next and clipped in. The constant exertion drains my energy and my body hurts. I drink to numb the pain. Eric lowers out the last load containing my haulbag and food bucket. “Lead line is fixed,” I yell.

“Thank you.” He disassembles the belay and begins to clean the pitch. I haul my bag at a leisurely pace and soon, I have it in reach. It is clipped in. My day’s work is finally over. Exhausted, I get into the belay seat and slump over. My mind can now let go. I feel warm and happy and I rest. I am proud of what I have done.

The sun lies low on the horizon, illuminating the wall with a golden glow. It is eight o’clock. I regain enough energy to pull out my camera and shoot Eric as he cleans the pitch. Shade covers the valley and slowly works its way up the wall, following him. In the last light of the day, the rock shimmers in an intense array of vibrant colors. Oranges, yellows, grays, and whites fade into charcoal black streaks. Random shapes and lines create texture on the surface. It is a truly incredible sight. Shade swallows us as the sun drops below the horizon. The air cools quickly and I put my shirt back on. Eric arrives in time to put on his headlamp before dark and we pull out our nightly accoutrements. Nothing can be dropped. He sets up his portaledge but in my usual lazy fashion, I remain in the belay seat, content with semi-comfort. A random grab into my bag of cans reveals a can of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli. It looks good. Wall spoon in hand, I quickly devour it. The nourishment makes me feel better and I drink water (it is very easy to become dehydrated on a wall). I nibble on cheese and candy bars and another beer is opened. My five-gallon food bucket is filled with remaining goodies of all sorts, each in its own zip-lock bag. Fruit bars and candy bars, jelly beans and beef jerky. String cheese and pistachios, peanuts and cookies. I offer a few treats to Eric and he accepts. He drinks a Guinness, his first of the day. I close my food bucket and lower it back down to dangle. Comfort entices me and I decide to set up my portaledge. I take off my wall boots, un-stuff my sleeping bag and settle in to relax with a new selection of music. We exchange words about the day and the climbing and laugh.

Eric insists on another fireworks display and produces the night’s rations. An M-80 explodes below us, thundering down the valley; a small brick of firecrackers follows. I am entertained by the disruption but feel paranoia because of the attention possibly drawn. “Just as long as the Rangers don’t see it, I don’t care,” I tell him. He lights off a Roman Candle, shooting colored balls of fire into the air which sparkle as they fall. “I hope they don’t think we need a rescue,” I say. He laughs. More firecrackers flash in darkness, snapping and popping, the subject of innocent fun. I stare into the black, knowing the base is far away. We are perched in a position where only bats, birds, and insects live, far removed from civilization below. We challenge nature, not to conquer it but to experience it and feel its mighty power. We feel our vulnerability, as we are tiny creatures on an immense landscape, subject to nature’s discretion.

I finish my beer, squeeze the can between my fingers and toss it. Several seconds pass as it floats through space. “Tink,…..clank,…clank,…tink,.tink. It reaches the base. Kneeling over the portaledge tubing, I lean out and pee. I become drowsy and sink deep into my sleeping bag. Eric has expired, drifting into a dreamland. The air is calm and cool and distant worlds sparkle in the night sky. I take off my glasses, zip them away safely, and put on my fuzzy hat, thinking of what may lie beyond. I can now go back to sleep.

-Bryan Law, 2/27/00
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Feb 26, 2008 - 06:20pm PT
thanks B.

Big Wall climber
injured reserve
Feb 26, 2008 - 06:22pm PT
awesome photos and write up brian. nice to see those sick colors again!

Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Feb 26, 2008 - 06:25pm PT

Trad climber
Reno, NV
Feb 26, 2008 - 08:04pm PT
Great story. It's amazing to read what goes into one day of a big wall first ascent with such great detail.

la la land
Feb 26, 2008 - 08:20pm PT
god, that is good looking!!!

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Feb 26, 2008 - 11:20pm PT
great seeing a pic of Troy Johnson whom I have not seen since, when was it? '89? summer of 90? what a fun guy to hang out with, we had a lot of laughs.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Feb 26, 2008 - 11:34pm PT
We just put the thread up on the 10 x 10 big screen in my classroom. Color looks good and the thread looks f*#king awesome. A couple of my students want to drop out and go to the Valley now. Nice work.

Social climber
The West
Feb 26, 2008 - 11:52pm PT
Nice stuff Minerals, thanks!

Once upon a time, as a youth, my partner and I found ourselves epicing down North dome gully in the dark and we saw lights at the base of what was to become the Porcelain wall. First ascent related, whether a recon or a bivy before fixing or blasting, I don't know.

Social climber
The Deli
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 27, 2008 - 12:08am PT
Yeah, this thread has been a lot of fun. Here are a few more.

FA of SKY IS FALLING, July, 1998

Klaus on the garden ledge, four pitches up, packing his precious cargo.

EK battling bushes. Not long after this photo was taken, while battling the upper bush in the photo, the cam that Klaus was hanging on popped and he went for a ride. He turned sideways in mid-whipper, hit the small ledge to his left in the photo, and finally stopped about ten feet above the main ledge. When the rope came tight, I was violently dragged several feet across the ledge. Klaus had smacked his head on the ledge part way through the ride; when he got back down to the ledge, I could see that he was bleeding. I was worried that he was hurt but he just wanted to sit down for a few minutes and take a couple of shots of vodka. Then, he got right back on lead. Later, he realized that he suffered a minor concussion in the fall. It amazed me that this didn’t slow him down much more than it did. Insert definition of “hardman” here.

EK cleaning pitch 6 in the evening.

EK nearing the belay on pitch 9.

Will it hold? EK and knifeblade, pitch 10.

More nailing, pitch 10.

EK checking out what lies above, pitch 10.

Beginning pitch 11; EK at belay 10.

Looking down on pitch 11 where we joined the Harding route. EK at belay 10. There were a few remnants on this part of the Harding route – a couple of z-mac rivets with plumber’s tape hangers… Yum, yum…

EK setting up his ledge at belay 10. When I yelled down to him that his traverse pitch was blank, he was bummed. By the time I had finished placing the belay bolts, it was getting late. He didn’t feel like cleaning the pitch in the dark and I didn’t want to have to jug back up and climb the pitch twice. So I hauled my bag and ledge and bivied above while Klaus bivied below.

Setting up his ledge.

The next morning: Going left where Harding went straight up.

Obligatory Klaus swilling pic, 24-ouncer, belay 12.

Portaledge chillin’ and rivet ladder on pitch 13.

The view from belay 13 – not bad.

Nice place to spend an afternoon…

Belay bolt and lichen, belay 13.

EK cleaning the final pin placements of the route. This was another great pitch – a couple of hook moves to beak seams that were connected by horizontal hook traverses, followed by a sweet bugaboo splitter to a cutter summit.

The summit anchor: two arrows and two bugaboos. The wall was still in the shade when I was finishing this pitch. I remember standing on the last pin and reaching up to grab the lip. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my fingers. A few more steps up in my aiders brought me to an incredible view of Half Dome and the high country of the Clark Range. Woohoo! What a summit!!! Later, while we were unpacking our haulbags, I encountered a stuff-sac that was buried in the bottom of my bag. “Ho, what’s this?”…I thought as I felt a couple of cold cylinders. Score two OEs that I had forgotten about, to contribute to our summit celebration!
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 27, 2008 - 12:14am PT
Thanks - an excellent thread, one that will fit well in the putative index of classic threads. And some pretty amazing adventures and stories.
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
Feb 27, 2008 - 12:14am PT
That was a good one, eh, Minerals? Actually, though, they all are ....Troy & I dug going up to the base with you & EG, the strange world team. T'was a serious pile of oe's at the base there. Good days, good friends....
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 27, 2008 - 12:40am PT
Wow, thanks for taking the time to create all that and share it. The colors are dazzling and the trip report gives a great perspective on what it was like on your day on Agent Orange! Pretty darn cool.

right here, right now
Feb 27, 2008 - 12:53am PT

Big Wall climber
Reno NV
Feb 27, 2008 - 02:07am PT
Awesome pics Bryan, great story too.

I can't wait to see more.
Thanks for sharing.

Trad climber
Feb 27, 2008 - 02:13am PT
kick ass thread!!

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