Regular Route 5.9
Trip ReportA lesson In perserverance
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.
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