Regular Route 5.9

  • Currently 5.0/5

Fairview Dome

Tuolumne Meadows, California USA

Trip Report
A lesson In perserverance
Wednesday July 13, 2011 12:09pm
I don't usually put my climbing stories into print, but this tale has to be told. My wife and I are heading to the the Bugaboos in a month and wanted to do a good training route. The Regular Route on Fairview dome is perfect for this kind of training. The route is long (12pitches), moderate in grade, and strait forward. We had climbed the route 5 years ago in the late season. We had moved fast doing the route in 5.5 hrs. including a 45min. break at the crescent ledge for lunch. We bonded closely on that climb and because of that experience we had a pretty good idea what we were getting into.

We left Sacramento on Friday evening and drove directly to the pull outs just East of the Park gates. Neither of us has been to altitude much this year so things were a little fuzzy when we woke at 6 am. Despite our slightly cloudy heads we were both psyched to finally be climbing in Tuolumne. After a quick breakfast and a cup of tea we made the quick drive to the parking area and then started the approach. This climb is popular and usually crowded. We were the first ones there but as we were leaving another party pulled into the lot.

We made the short approach with minimal difficulty although there was a lot of snow and water. I was glad to be wearing GTX boots. The snow went all the way up to the base of the route and at the normal belay stance the snow formed a small alcove about three feet wide and six feet deep. As we got close we noticed another climber traversing the approach slabs from the right. He was a little higher than us and reached the base of the route first.

The soloist didn't say much. I made a little small talk and then mentioned that the crux was wet. He said something about how the best part of climbing this route was that the first pitch was the crux and it only gets easier the higher you go. He seemed confident and capable so I didn't think much about it. He then put on his climbing shoes and started climbing. I watched him for a few moments and decided he looked solid enough and then sat down at the base just above the end to the snow patch. My wife was standing down and left from me about six feet away.

This being early morning I was thinking clearly. I was treating this climber like a roped in leader and not a soloist. My inability to recognize this potential threat nearly cost me my life. Luckily my wife was a little more astute than I. While I sat with my back to the route, (and the soloist,) my wife kept a watchful eye on the climber.

A few minutes later I had removed my boots and was about to put on my climbing shoes when my wife yelled "LOOK OUT!" I turned to see the soloist facing away from the wall and skidding down the slab at a terrifying rate of speed. He had fallen at the crux nearly 100' above my position. Bare foot and with few options I dove in the opposite direction from my wife into the alcove. The soloist miraculously landed on the lip of the snow patch between the two of us. This probably saved his life. After a few moments of shock and disbelief we tried to check him for injuries. Before I could do a head to toe evaluation, he hopped up and announce that it was, "time to go home." He then walked past my wife, took to steps onto the snow patch, lost his footing and fell again. This time he slid down the snow patch nearly 100 meters and narrowly missed two mid size boulders at the base.

My wife and I sat for long silent minutes staring at each other in disbelief. We were physically O.K. Joy had taken a kick to the chest from the falling soloist and I was bleeding from some small lacerations on my right foot but was otherwise unhurt. We had survived. After a few tense moments we talked about bailing. If ever there was a reason to bail this was it. When I looked into her eyes there was subtle look of displeasure at what we were about to do. It was the kind of quiet acceptance of what must be done, that only comes from a person who has literally be thrown from a horse and the gotten right back on. (My wife rode horses competitively as a child and teenager.)

There were two choices for us at this point. We chose to tie in and start climbing. I placed a lot of gear on that first pitch. I was a little shaky and had some trouble trusting my feet. I tried the wet crux moves a couple times but couldn't commit. I french freed the crux and then climbed on to the intermediate belay. While I was leading another man and woman team came up to the base. My wife tells me they made some crack about how I was placing an awful lot of gear. This is after my wife told them that we had just witnessed a soloist take deck fall. Some people are just non empathetic jerks.

The rest of the climb went pretty smoothly. Neither of us had too much fun. We were both a little on edge after the whole experience. The route was more like intense psycho therapy than the wicked fun climb that we had bonded on five years earlier. We ran out of water four pitches from the top and were too fried to trust ourselves to simul-climb. This meant 4 pitches of nasty rope drag and frustration. Normally this top section goes pretty fast and is wicked fun. For us it was just plain annoying.

Under normal circumstances this route is great. The route finding is strait forward, the pitches are stellar and the rock is solid. Just be aware of other climbers and be courteous to others.


  Trip Report Views: 5,752
About the Author
wessle is a trad climber from Rancho Cordova, CA.


Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
  Jul 13, 2011 - 12:14pm PT
Way to persevere! It is so hard to put away the images of an accident. Extra gear and caution are to be applauded. WHenever I get some snickering about "overprotecting", I remind people that there is a robust selection of more difficult and run-out climbs right around the corner.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jul 13, 2011 - 12:19pm PT
Nice report. That "look how much gear they're placing" is common and one of the lamest comments in climbing.

  Jul 13, 2011 - 12:20pm PT
Here's a thread about the soloist decking.

Gym climber
  Jul 13, 2011 - 01:21pm PT
Great write up of a very mixed experience.

Trad climber
Northern California
  Jul 13, 2011 - 01:35pm PT
Your story made me think of the time my team bailed from attempting a route because we saw the follower on the party ahead of us take a 30 footer involving 3 head over heel bounces where he pulled the gear left for him as directionals. None of us had the least desire to get on that route after that. I imagine if we had we'd have had a similar experience to your route. It took a lot of courage to get on the granite after that, especially that slick, oozing crux.

Trad climber
Station Wagon, USA
  Jul 13, 2011 - 02:05pm PT
I'm glad to hear you and your wife were not casualties of anything more serious, and I'm sorry that you had a less than stellar experience on an otherwise, as you know, mind-blowingly fun route.

The Regular is notorious for having a deli line at 6am. If done courteously, parties will figure out who is the fastest and let those more capable go on ahead. I always joke that I should wear a t-shirt that says 'if you can read this, you may pass'. That said, I've had gear dropped on my head, small rocks get trundled and even a guide setup an anchor in front of me while I, mid-climb, waited half an hour for his client to arrive.

Some people don't comprehend the responsibilities that come along with being above another party, roped or unroped. It's one thing if you're on the route first and those that follow understand the inherent risks of climbing below you. Passing, while not a right, is proper etiquette, but those that are given the opportunity to take over now have an obligation to be damn sure they don't put the people below them in harm's way.

Thanks for sharing your experience and here's to looking forward to a fantastic trip report from the Bugs. Take lots of pictures. Many of us dream about that place all the time.

30 mins. from suicide USA
  Jul 13, 2011 - 02:29pm PT
I agree with above post...that placing too much gear comment is real lame, glad everyone was ok.

Trad climber
Costa Mesa, CA
  Jul 13, 2011 - 02:45pm PT
You guys did great all the way around! Sorry about the jerk comments about pro... people can be so lame. At one time or another we've all been the one adding extra pro or taking extra time. But, it's just like so many people I see (and even know) while driving; anyone that wants to go slower than them is going too slow, anyone that wants to go faster than them is going too fast. Humans are so arrogant, they actually believe the universe revolves around them. Reality is that they are tiny organic carbon based nothings in the middle of nowhere. That being said, all we know for sure is that we have each other... and we still can't be nice to one another.

Trad climber
  Jul 13, 2011 - 05:44pm PT
TFPU and as with others, lame comments. I'm not sure I would have kept going though I would hope I would. Way to pull it off and still make the best of potentially a bad day.

  Jul 13, 2011 - 05:48pm PT
Sometimes fortune favors the bold... but glad to hear fortune favored you & your wife. Nonempathetic jerks abound & one of the many lessons for me in reading your story is further cultivating my ability to ignore them.

Thank you so much for sharing & so glad both of you are alive & uninjured!!

Trad climber
Being held captive behind the Orange Curtain
  Jul 13, 2011 - 06:17pm PT
"look how much gear they're placing"

I generally answer that comment by extending a single finger to indicate I plan on placing one more piece.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
  Jul 13, 2011 - 06:31pm PT
Out in the field, we're more inclined to forget that the average climber IQ is only 100 if not less. Funny strange why that is.

Thanks for the heads-up.

Rudder wrote,
Humans are so arrogant, they actually believe the universe revolves around them. Reality is that they are tiny organic carbon based nothings in the middle of nowhere.

The religion vs science thread could use your input. Stop in once in awhile. ;)
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Jul 13, 2011 - 07:02pm PT
"time to go home."

LOL classic! Sounds like the man had an X on his forehead that day, anyone know who the lucky soul is?


Trad climber
Costa Mesa, CA
  Jul 13, 2011 - 10:42pm PT
OT... sorry:

The religion vs science thread could use your input. Stop in once in awhile. ;)

Those threads and the WOS threads could kill my nights if I was to let them... I have so much to say and there's no place to stop...

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." Sir Winston Churchill

And, I hate it when I become one. lol

  Jul 13, 2011 - 11:02pm PT
Sounds scary! Glad you both are OK.

Trad climber
Denver, CO
  Jul 14, 2011 - 11:45am PT
Great write-up, and kudos on continuing up the climb.

Donini - you are right. Consider taking your own advice eh Mr Blue Camalot. LOL!



  Jul 14, 2011 - 01:57pm PT
People are rude... The only time someone should comment on another's climbing is if they are going to hurt themselves. Beyond that, it's your own experience.
Glad you two finished. I myself would have been too shook up to do that.

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 20, 2011 - 07:24pm PT
Glad you all ended up ok!
I don't know If I could have continued, way to persevere!
adam d

  Jul 20, 2011 - 07:34pm PT
Watching someone blow it or almost blow it is terrifying (nasty falls I've seen flash back). Glad the soloist was able to walk away and hopefully he learned something from it.

Good luck in the Bugaboos!

  Jul 25, 2011 - 02:19pm PT
I have to comment in defense of my friend. I was one of the pair behind Wessle and his wife and am really surprised by all the nasty comments over what was obviously a misunderstanding. Upon reaching the belay spot behind Wessle's wife, my friend merely commented on how much gear *he*--not Wessle--had had to place to make it up the pitch. I can attest to the fact that he placed a lot, as I had to clean it all! My friend is a very humble and very kind person and would never be so arrogant to say something like what he's accused of. Just wanted y'all to know...
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
  Jul 25, 2011 - 02:28pm PT
was obviously a misunderstanding

-the endless timeless story of humanity.

tfpu (thanks for posting up)
Fairview Dome - Regular Route 5.9 - Tuolumne Meadows, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Fairview Dome is Tuolumne's largest steep face.
Photo: Greg Barnes
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