The Yosemite Point Buttress is a creature. If you climb into her ancient and forgotten domain, littered here and there with bleached nylon webs hanging mute in the blinding sun, you just might envy those that turned back as you find yourself face to face with a beast. This is the Sphinx of Boeotian Thebes, and she guards the path. Somewhere, up there at the top, is something. You don’t know exactly what it is, and likely every one before you sought something different. Whatever it is, you need it, and you have to go through her.
Fail her riddle, and she will devour you.
The Yosemite Point Buttress chewed me up, and spat me out at the top.
Okay, okay… “Overly dramatic.” I’ve gotten that one before.
Honestly, I’ve been very conflicted about how to approach this one. It just might be my most embarrassing to date. The truth is, the YPB was a little over my head, and it kinda hurts to admit that. Yet the more I look back on it, the memory becomes fond, and the more eternally grateful I am to Elliot for taking me on such a grand adventure, proud and true.
I will now promise two things.
First, I promise I will hold back on the over-dramatization (as much as I can). In all my short list of climbing stories that I tell to my friends, this is the one that gets the most dropped jaws, shaking heads, Jesus-Christ’s and Holy-Shit’s. It’s also the story in which I get most animated. Pantomiming hard off-route chimneys, wide cracks and full body contortion is my specialty. I can only hope the drama precipitates organically.
Second, I am going to try writing like a normal person, and that means past tense! I pray that tackling a new writing style doesn’t botch the story.
Let’s find out.
(Once again, thanks, Elliot)
We got the idea to try the YPB during another training session in Elliot’s backyard. Tucked away in a lush oak forest, his property always reminds me of Mariposa. “Training” usually constituted a few beers and half a pack of cigarettes with a little bluetooth speaker played something like Ali Farka Toure, or “Coffee, God, and Cigarettes.” Occasionally, training would be interrupted with climbing his homemade bouldering walls. He built two of them with cement and dye to look like real rock, very Tuolumne-esque. Among their many features, knobs, finger cracks, lieback cracks, hand and fist cracks… are two off-widths.
One of the offwidths, requires the art of the chickenwing, the heel-toe, and the knee lock.
The harder one requires Leavittation.
During my early attempts at the chickenwing, I once stood at the bottom, panting and hunched over with my hands on my knees. My body and I were in a fierce debate. You see, one of us thought that this off-width business was bullsh#t, and the other thought it was pretty neat! Suddenly, Elliot materialized with a cell phone at his ear. He was talking to a coworker about finances, and other humdrums in the world of Social Services. Quietly, he stuck his left elbow into the crack, wedged the phone between the shoulder and his ear, and started up.
“Yeah, tell Samantha I’ll call her back.”
“Let’s move that meeting to Tuesday.”
“We’ll have to rewrite the proposal for the homeless shelter.”
The Director of Social Services was managing Monterey’s welfare system while climbing an offwidth.
After shuffling his way back down and finishing his conversation, he smiled.
“It’s all about technique.”
After a few months, and routine doses of the off-width prescription, I started to get the hang of it, and my enthusiasm for wide cracks grew. By no means do I now call myself “good.’ I simply enjoy a good offwidth or squeeze when it’s within my ability.
So there we were, ashing our cigarettes onto the dry grass while one eye subconsciously watched to make sure we didn’t burn down Elliott's fine home. We were inflated by a recent and successful 17-hour linkup of Royal Arches and Crest Jewel Direct. That was in February, and while the cold Mono Winds blew hard that day, we were now watching the days grow long in June. Eighty degrees began to appear on the forecast again. We needed an adventure, and we needed it soon.
Elliot had planted the YPB seed before all else. He watered it best while we rummaged through ideas. Ho Chi Minh Trail? Tuolumne Triple? At one point, I even mentioned Selaginella and his head cocked back, and he looked at me with a scrunchy smile that read, “Zay, what the f*#k are you talking about?”
I guess that was pretty funny.
We made plans to soon move for the YPB, though the temperatures were forecasted to be a little high. At one point we considered changing plans for the Tuolumne Triple Linkup. In an attempt to fish for beta on supertopo, I asked about spring conditions around Tuolumne. I also mentioned that we were also considering Ho Chi Minh and YPB, hoping someone would be enthusiastic enough to share their experience or knowledge about either. A few users posted some comments about something called “prespray,” and after figuring out what that meant, I deleted my comment out of embarrassment.
F*#k it, I wanted to do the YPB anyway.
A few days later, I woke up in Mariposa. Brett’s steep gravel driveway shook me awake. The clock read somewhere between ten and eleven at night, and a beautiful song was playing off Elliot’s phone. His eclectic mix of tunes includes such titles as “Billie The Mountain,” “Space Oddity,” and “Poison Oak Aint No Joke.”
What I awoke to was a haunting lullaby of a song, somewhere between bliss and remorse. It would be another few minutes until we reached the end of Brett’s long driveway, and I tried to savor every second of rest as the music swayed me back to sleep.
Elliot and I were back on the road, and he graciously offered to drive. I planned to milk another 45 minutes of sleep, and he asked what we should listen to.
“What was that song last night that was playing when we got to Brett’s? That was beautiful.”
The artist was Johnny Flynn.
By 6:30 AM we had soloed up the Sunnyside Bench Regular Route, roping up for the last pitch, and were passing the base of the Lost Arrow Spire. I gawked at the monolith and its neighbors. The valley wall is so massive here, and close. One feels like they are being watched. I imagined the ghosts of John Salathe, Warren Harding, and Axe Nelson, floating up the Lost Arrow Chimney route, and made a note to repeat it… some day.
And now we were approaching the base of the Yosemite Point Buttress. A quick glance at the photo of the approach route from the Reid topo showed us needing to go…
But we did not go “that way.”
We accidentally overshot the elevation gain before hitting the buttress. Instead of going up the fourth-class gulley, we found ourselves roping up almost instantly at the base of a sweeping system of steep corners. The difficulty of climbing screamed, “You’re off route, dude.”
Elliot has a saying. “If you don’t care where you are, you’re never lost.”
Still, I had an unnerving feeling as I found myself at the sharp end on the second pseudo pitch, standing on small ledge about the size of a pizza tray. My last piece of protection was a #3 Camalot, about twenty five feet below me. The climbing up to this point had been roughly 5.6, following an ever-steepening dihedral that quickly swept up to vertical above me. As I pondered how I was going surpass this section, I looked far out to the right and stared in envy at the gulley that we should obviously be inside. By now that gulley crept up the wall about two hundred feet to my right, and we were committed to the dihedral.
“Oh well,” I said to myself allowed, with unease. I still felt like I was being watched.
I entered a liebacking position about two feet above the small ledge…
And I slipped.
My hands slid off the dull corner, and I dropped those two feet back to the ledge. I stuck the landing, and as my hands windmilled for balance, my eyes went wide, staring down at the #3 Camelot.
I downclimbed to a larger ledge, turned to sit, and pulled the rope up and around my hips. I yelled to Elliot that he was now on belay.
When he arrived a few minutes later, I explained where I tried to go, and proposed finding an alternative.
Amazingly, he looked up the dihedral with intrigue.
What followed next was a pitch that, only very recently, Elliott admits as one of the scariest leads he had ever done.
He took the rack, and quickly surpassed the lieback. The corner evolved into a shallow chimney. By shallow, I say that the “chimney” was about 12 inches deep, and roughly 18 inches wide, more like a groove.
Of course, it flared slightly.
Elliot had placed a single piece of protection by this point, and now it was about twelve feet below him. Climbing the depression required him to bridge the sides with his right arm in a tenuous series of arm bars. His left hand pawed back and forth inanely, and his legs did the same.
Eventually the chimney deepened a bit, and a short fissure appeared allowing him to place a poor #2 Camelot.
“Watch me here.”
On and on he went. I wanted to scream, “For f*#k’s sake, can’t you place something!?”
I merely held my breath, and exhaled bluntly when I finally heard him shout, “Off belay!”
As the follower, it was my duty to shoulder the backpack. Inside were two liters of water, two puffies, two headlamps, two power bars, a bag of turmeric, an apple, and two pairs of shoes. Not too heavy, but certainly bulky.
By the end of the climb, I would have been glad to throw the cursed thing into the void.
As I passed the lieback moves, I found a nice stance to admire the groove above me and pondered how I would surpass it. I pulled out my phone, and took a picture. I soon found myself repeating the tenuous arm bars and frantic foot kicks. The chimney deepened, but I did not know this until it was too late. The backpack was still on my shoulders, and I was not in a position to remove it and hang it below my harness. I was unwilling to hang on the rope to rectify the situation for two reasons. First was my naive desire to climb the pitch clean. Second was, judging by the quality of rock and protection I was seeing, I didn’t fully trust whatever was up there.
Deeper into the flaring chimney I went, but the pack stymied my progress. Getting higher meant stressing the walls in a way that my body just could not do, and soon I was screaming embarrassingly as I literally pushed with all my might to make progress.
Eventually, I was within reach of #2 Camelot. By now I was in pain, and exhausted. I grabbed the #2 with resentment, and used it to pull myself a little higher before cleaning it. So much for the “send.”
I still did not want to weight the rope, so I found the most restful stance I could before moving on. At this point the chimney was about four feet deep, four feet wide, and considerably flared. It took another ten minutes of shameful screams to reach Elliot and his actually-acceptable anchor.
Sitting on the ledge, panting, I confessed that I had to pull on the cam in the chimney.
His eyes lit with amazement, and he immediately blurted, “It held!”
We spent a few minutes gathering ourselves, and agreed to call the last pitch 5.10+. I am fairly confident that no one had ever climbed that chimney before, as it was so shallow and nonobvious, the protection practically non existent, and climbing so awkward and strenuous. It would boggle my mind to know that, statistically, there enough people as bold as Elliot, and as care-free in route finding, to have chanced upon that terrain.
As I was now exhausted from my ordeal with the pack, Elliot led another pitch up the corner that had turned into a steep gully. Thankfully, the climbing was not difficult. At the next belay, we were relatively stumped by impassable terrain above, and inspection revealed that we were to traverse directly right, towards the gulley that I believed we should have been in the whole time.
The traverse, though poorly protected, was moderate face climbing, and we gained a pedestal to discover two fixed nuts side by side. We were able to join them with a single carabiner, and rappelled into the next gulley to access what appeared to be third class terrain.
The gulley turned out to be a mix of third and fourth class, and a single 5.8 move was required to surpass a small chockstone until we reached the top of the gulley where, we believed, the first real pitch of the route was supposed to start.
We studied the topo like a treasure map, and discovered we were exactly on top of the first official pitch. This meant that the gully we just came up… the one I had envied all along was STILL too far left and too high. The true gully had been another few hundred feet to the right!
We were relieved to finally be on track, though this would not be the last time we got off route.
You will too.
Elliot scrambled down the ledge to move the belay to the base of the official second pitch. I followed on belay, and took the gear. I was excited to lead the 5.8 offwidth that shot above us for 70 feet. However, rack of gear included a single set of cams up to five inches, and I could tell right away that a six inch piece would have been nice. Oh well. The climbing was very secure, and I felt mostly comfortable despite the runout.
At the top of the pitch, I set up the belay and squirmed to dodge the swarm of red ants that did not appreciate my arrival. I was excited to abandon the belay when Elliot finally arrived; the smell of formic acid alone is one of my phobias
Now it was time for him to lead the crux offwidth.
To access the offwidth, one has to traverse downward(!) for forty feet, disappear around a corner, and enter a 5.7 chimney. Then you have to climb up the chimney for thirty for forty feet without placing any protection, else you suffer crippling rope drag. The chimney pinches into the offwidth crack, and you are forced to climb out of the chimney, stem the flared outer walls, and re-enter the widecrack with an arm-bar, then wiggle upwards for a nautical mile.
Elliot surpassed the pitch without incident.
I did not.
I greatly enjoyed the traverse and the chimney, and this time I was foresightful enough to transfer the pack to my harness. However, this created a different problem. Because the chimney pinches abruptly into an offwidth, the backpack wedged into the construction below as I tried to establish myself in the wide crack above. I desperately moved a bit lower, and struggled to kick the backpack out of its hold while simultaneously trying to move up again before it swung back into the constriction. This took many attempts and the repetitive up-and-down offwidth maneuvers rapidly sapped my energy.
Eventually I was ten feet up the offwidth, with another fifty-ish to go. Fatigue caused me to slip an inch with every move. Again, I shouted, cursed, and wailed.
I had to hang for a long time until I got my breathing in order. By now, the sun beat down hard and I was very thirsty.
I got my wind back, and continued up the crack to finish the pitch. Elliot had found himself into a comfortable position to belay, but the ledge was too crammed to grant me the same mercy. I coveted his seat while I crouched on a narrow ledge and begged for a minute to rest.
I think it took me fifteen minutes to get moving again. It was obvious now that our water supply was paltry, and I forced myself to sip as conservatively as I could. God, it was hot.
The next pitch was another chimney, and I relished being liberated from the wretched pack. The chimney went on and on, interrupted with a few ledges and face moves.
At some point, I was supposed to exit the chimney and take an obscure traverse along the face out right. At one point, I even looked straight at the traverse, and concluded that it couldn’t be the way.
Up and up I climbed, until Elliot shouted up that I was running out of rope, and that I must have missed the traverse. I managed to establish a hanging belay for myself on two large cams, and Elliot climbed up to where I thought I saw the traverse. From there, he cut out and down right for about fifty feet and built himself an anchor on a good ledge.
Climbing down towards protection below me was quite taxing on my psyche, but I thought, “Oh well, at least I didn’t have the backpack.”
I had read the “Pellucid Wombat’s” stellar trip report about the climb, and I remembered that he basically says to traverse straight right until hitting the greater, white wall of the valley rim -essentially the perimeter of the buttress.
The amount of vegetation I found on that lead created some very strenuous and awkward maneuvers, and I carefully played the chess game of placing adequate protection for Elliot to follow the traverse while also mitigating rope drag. Dust and leaves floated through air, and my teeth were coated in a healthy dose of grit.
Elliot soon arrived at the belay, took the rack and headed up the chimneys and corners above us. I surveyed our environment with wonder. By now, the sun had advanced to western side of the buttress, and we had found sanctuary in the eastern shade. Further to the east, the massive ridge of the Arrowhead Arete swept outwards. Its walls were a great series of columns and trees. I felt like I was in some giant aquarium. I was a fly on the walls of an ancient valley of gods.
Johnny Flynn's "The Water" was stuck in my head, and my thirsty mind was too looped out to put two and two together.
Elliot’s voice drifted down. I was now on belay. A vertical obstacle course of cracks, chimneys and knobs kept me occupied until I noticed that I had just passed a big ledge on my left, and on it was a large stump of a once great pine tree. The route was supposed to cut left, there, for a ways before sweeping up again, but Elliot had climbed up another hundred feet or so into enticing terrain.
Our aquarium was also a maze.
I had to climb up to Elliot to get more gear before I could climb back to the route. Elliot looked up to the enticing features above, and I could see in his eyes he was annoyed. Indeed, it looked like we could have just gone on and on from there, but I figured there was a damn good reason the route cut so dramatically left. Somewhere up there, was a beast we were better off leaving alone.
After acquiring the rack of gear from Elliot, I headed back down. I placed protection as often as I could; Elliot would essentially be on lead when he followed. Instead of climbing directly down the corner we had come up, I managed to forge a new path directly towards the tree. I also managed to avoid having to climb all the way to it, by way of another ledge above it. From there, I could move left to “cut ‘em off at the pass” where the normal route swept up again.
The last half of this down-and-left pitch, I was unable to protect. Easy climbing enough, but the rock was very loose. We had been noticing that the higher on the route we climbed, the more loose rock was becoming prevalent. I shouted up a warning to Elliot about this fact before setting up a belay on a tree with a comfortable ledge I could sit on.
Next, he joined me on the ledge, and took the lead up towards the famed Rotten Chimney. I sat with my back to the wall, with my feet hanging in space so I could lean against it.
Suddenly I heard a cracking noise, followed by a series of thuds as Elliot screamed, “Rock! Rock! Rock!”
In the flash of a second, I jumped up on the ledge and huddled against the wall, clutching the belay in case Elliot was coming down too. I could not see my attackers, as I my entire being was channeling a flatfish. Judging by the tones and pounds, there seemed to be three or four of them, and at least one of them was the size of a football.
As rocks flew by within arm’s reach, and as dust began tickling my shoulder, something strange happened. I noticed I wasn’t scared. My move was a knee jerk reaction, simply something done because it had to be done. I was too tired to be scared.
Reading these words now, I start to cry.
But nothing hit me. I was untouched, both physically and emotionally. The rocks continued down the wall, singing their percussive songs for hundreds and hundreds of feet and I watched in curiosity. My estimation of size was correct. I did not even think to shout as Elliot had already done so, and because I thought, “There’s nobody f*#king down there.”
I leaned back from the wall, and Elliot shouted down. “Zay, you alright?”
“Yeah, what happened?”
“I tested a cam.”
When I found myself climbing the chimney, I admired it with grotesque fascination. Its walls were like a sponge, and its texture was a billion ball bearings seemingly held together by static electricity. I managed to climb it while shouldering the pack. Still, my resentment for the swine was unwavering. A tempest of ball bearings trickled down the chimney with every move.
At one point I found myself in yet another unappealing chimney, and directly above me was a massive boulder wedged in the crevasse, blocking my path. Elliot had surmounted it by climbing the outward side, requiring me to do the same. With the pack on, my legs extended fully to reach the opposite side. My butt was barely able to touch the wall, and I desperately levered against my spine to wedge my back against the opposite wall. Elliot helped talk me through the moves, and I was grateful his belay was so near.
It appeared we were now on top of The Pedestal: a great protrusion from the main body of the buttress, where likely a massive spire once jutted out from the Valley Wall like The Lost Arrow. Just four pitches to the top. That also meant no more chimneys or offwidths, and for this I was very pleased. While another squeeze chimney loomed above us, the topo demanded us to traverse left on the face, following fixed pitons.
The chimney above us was like a troll from The Hobbit, frozen stone cold from the sun, and I snickered at its hollow threats.
We peered up the wall to the left. Where were the pitons? They must be up there, somewhere. The sun was sinking, and a dull pink glow nudged us to keep moving.
Elliot agreed to lead the next two pitches as I was fairly tired. Lifting the rack, he began to move up and away from the ledge. Then he paused. Surveying for the promised pitons yielded nothing. He climbed a little further and paused again. I leaned in as I watched, praying he would find something… Anything.
“Please.” I thought.
“Something isn’t right, he said.
He climbed back to the ledge, and we both hunched over our treasure map, looking up, and then back.
Up, and then and back.
Though we were still on route, we were not yet on The Pedestal. As the sun sank lower and lower below the south rim, the troll above us had regained its original form in the twilight, and was laughing at my dismay. We needed to climb the squeeze chimney.
I sighed, and Elliot graciously led on. Following the chimney, though uneventful, was met with resentment. The pack was merciful enough to only weigh me down.
But while Elliot was leading, I heard a shout in the distance, somewhere to the East. Another team of climbers was just summiting the Arrowhead Arete route, and it took me a minute to spot their tiny figures. I watched them with curiosity, as if I hadn’t seen another human in years. Soon they would be rappelling into the dark, as dusk threatened to swallow both our teams. They would be going down. We would be going up.
Elliot called “off belay,” and I watched to see if it caught their attention. It did. The leader, who was belaying up his friend, looked over to us. No gesture was made from either party, and we both stared at each other from across the void with abject apathy. When I turned to follow Elliot, it would be the last time their existence crossed my mind.
Now we were on The Pedestal, and that was obvious. A massive and detached ledge welcomed us. Spacious and beautiful, it produced a feeling that we were done, and in some ways we were. Color faded from our environment, and a breeze was rising.
“I think we should bivy.”
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”
“At least we have this nice sandy ledge. Like a mattress!”
Elliot pointed down into the notch between The Pedestal and the Buttress.
“We need to be in there.”
I looked down and saw an uneven ledge, covered in rocks like a pile of baseballs.
“We need to stay out of the wind.”
“It was 85 degrees today, how cold could it get?”
We abandoned the planar sand and scrambled down into the notch. We extricated our puffy jackets, headlamps, and shoes. It felt good to disembowel the creature that had caused me so much strife. We sipped sparingly from our desperately low supply of water. I moved to urinate, and my head torch granted me the chance to admire its color.
“The winged sphinx of Boeotian Thebes, the most famous in legend, was said to have terrorized the people by demanding the answer to a riddle taught her by the Muses...and devouring a man each time the riddle was answered incorrectly.” -Encyclopedia Britannica.
Somewhere on a mountain, a winged sphinx found pitiful young man and asked him a riddle.
“What do you seek?”
He screamed, “I don’t know!”
And was swallowed in darkness.
I did not sleep that night.
Every few minutes, I would try again to shift the rocks beneath me, searching for a arrangement where I might actually get some rest, but I had a bigger problem. Despite our relatively protected position, the wind had found us. Relentless, it whipped and brushed us all through the night, invading my clothes and pressing my face. For all the clothes on my body, I still shivered on my pile of rocks. Elliot snored.
Any actual rest I got was in short bursts of seconds. I was like a fish held out of water, dunked in for two seconds and pulled out for ten. How apropos, given my thirst. I yielded to the rock that was stabbing my shoulder, and moved it under my spine.
Angelic stars watch in apathy.
During one of my fitful shufflings of rock, Elliot awoke and asked if I was okay.
He demanded I move over to where he was, and offered me his spot against the wall. Indeed, it was better than my previous one. I managed to lie flat on my back, and only had to shift slightly every few minutes to dodge the jabbing rocks. He used his body to help shield me from the wind. As he drifted back to sleep in his now-poorer position, I began to develop severe cramps in my inner thighs. Standing up or stretching my legs was out of the question. I merely lay there on my back and took the pain, and kept my legs together to stay warm. My arms crossed like a vampire. I spent the rest of the night shivering, watching the stars move across the sky, and listened to the sound of the wind… and Elliot’s snoring.
I was excited to have someone to talk to when he finally woke up. The sun was coming, but it was still quite cold. Even Elliot shivered as he got up to pee.
“Should we get moving?”
“No way, I want that sun to come up a bit.”
Elliot said that. I was surprised he elected such an option, but I could not disagree as I was still shivering myself.
We scrambled up to the side of the Pedestal and humorously cursed at the sun.
“Come on, you bastard!”
Be careful what you wish for.
As we waiting for the sun to warm us, Elliot offered me half of a power bar. I tried to wave it off. The thought of that sticky, dry wad of chalk rolling around in my mouth… Never, ever to dissolve… I couldn't bare it.
I’d rather climb another offwidth.
“Not without water. I don’t want to run out.”
“You need to eat,” he said as he handed me the bottle.
A few gulps left.
I took a bite of the bar, and a sip from the bottle. My jaw grew tired and my tongue kneaded the dough. When I was done, I nibbled on some turmeric, and welcomed the faint moisture it held.
With an optimistic hop, we moved to the western edge of The Pedestal, at the start of the traverse. From there, the column drops down a thousand feet or more. The exposure is sudden and surreal. Yosemite Falls, now our equal, raged on just a few hundred yards to the West. The Sun rising over the grandeur of Yosemite Valley washed away last night’s shivers.
And then it was time. Elliot moved off The Pedestal and over the void, and ancient pins of rust led the way. The first one was missing, but Elliot managed to put in a tiny camelot for protection.
He clipped the rope to it and climbed back down and climbed back to the Pedestal. Now standing on the ledge he grabbed both sides of the rope and transferred all his weight onto the system.
It held. With a few bounces, we declared it bomber, and he continued up the crack and made the traverse as the route then swept up towards vertical liebacking on an awkward series of flakes. Following the pitch was a bit spooky, as traverses can be from time to time. The route is rated 5.9 in difficulty, but one man’s 5.9 is another man’s… I dare not say.
At the next belay, I handed him the sling of gear so that he could lead the next pitch as well. The next was, by far, the most enjoyable pitch on the route. A long crack splits the face, allowing for perfect handjams for much of its length.
If only I wasn’t so tired.
And it was hot again, too. Almost instantly, the temperatures shot into the 80’s and far as I cared, it might as well have been 100.
Still, the crack offered pleasant climbing, though I did note how much more enthusiastic I would have been if I had actually slept.
The crux of that pitch comes just before the end, about six feet below the belay. The wall bulges outward like a beach ball, blocking your path. As I approached the bulge I could see Elliot crouched just above it. He was on both of his feet; there was no real place to sit comfortably.
He was clipped into an anchor, but belaying me directly from his harness.
“Hey Zay,” He said quietly.
I merely sighed.
“Just don’t fall.”
I raised my left hand and palmed the top of the bulge, and my elbow prepared to shoot straight up so I could apply downward force. My right hand found a good edge to pull inwards. I raised my right foot and all at once, I tried to step up on the foot while pulling on my right hand while pushing down on my left elbow. I got my belly on the beach ball, and was stuck.
I couldn’t do it.
I reversed the move.
I took a second to breath, and then I saw a better place for my foot, just a little higher. I stepped, pushed and pulled, and then I was standing on the cramped ledge with Elliot. His anchor was two small and questionable cam placements. Taking some gear from the sling, he managed to improve it a bit, but it still did not inspire total confidence. The texture of the rock was simply uncooperative.
“Hey Zay, would you mind leading the next pitch with the pack? I’m pretty gassed.”
In a million years, I would have never imagined I’d hear Elliot Robinson say such a thing. He looked like how I felt. Breathing was deliberate, labored. Every movement was an exercise in conserving energy. Despite our heat, there was no sweat. We only had two easy pitches to the top, and from there it was only a short hike to the river.
“You bet,” I said, looking at the wall above, “but we gotta finish the water now. I don't think I can go on without it.”
The final bit of water granted one mouthful each. Elliot and I took turns letting the last drops fall from the bottle’s walls into our mouths. This was it.
Again, I remembered a passage from the Wombat’s trip report that described getting off route here. The terrain they encountered was difficult, and scary. I studied the map with determination, I could not afford to f*#k this up.
Instantly, I did, but it worked.
Looking up at the low-angle corner on my right seemed to be the way to go, but it looked too insecure. No obvious holds would afford the option of a foot slipping, and relying on mere friction did not sound appealing. Looking left, I saw I could bypass the gulley by climbing prominent face holds up to another distinct ledge, and step across a gap to regain what appeared to be the normal route.
“You sure about that?”
By the time I was on the next ledge above Elliot, I had climbed twenty feet of 5.8 terrain, and still had not placed any gear. I scooted along the ledge out right, to the gap that I would have to step across to regain the normal route. Looking down to Elliot and his questionable belay, with nothing between us, the hibernation of Fear had come to an end.
Just this one move…
Clutching a good edge with my left hand, I leaned out across the gap, and extended my right hand. The knuckles on my right hand were towards me as my fingertips pressed into a small chip in the wall. Pulling harder on my left hand allowed me to extend my right foot, which kissed the other side. All I had to do was trust the right hand enough to let go of my left hand’s hold. Physically, the move was fairly trivial. Psychologically, it was was devastating.
I swung over, and was on the other side. Riding a sudden wave of energy I headed up and right, then cut left at a ledge system indicated by the topo. At that moment, I could have drawn the thing from memory.
A few fixed pitons surprised me, but I still knew I was on route. I gained the final belay ledge, and stared with hunger and thirst at a giant pine tree, one hundred feet above me at the summit, and with only fourth class between us.
Pulling up the rope as Elliot climbed was exhausting, but it would be the last time I had to do it. Elliot didn’t even stop at the belay as he moved like an elephant up the steep gully above us.
No sweeter words have ever existed, at all.
The tree was fat and shady. We gathered our things and we gathered ourselves for a minute or two beneath it. We laughed between heavy breaths, and sat there in the shade watching the shadows dance beneath the wiggling pine needles. Our panoramic view from Half Dome to Glacier Point, to Sentinel Rock, and all the way to Cathedral Spires was unbeatable.
A cool breeze even brushed my face, and I welcomed it gently.
But water beckoned.
We hiked directly towards the river by Yosemite falls, trail-be-damned.
As I got closer and closer, I began to strip myself of gear and clothing. I threw down the rope, I wrestled of the harness, and tore off my clothes. By the time I was within ten feet of the water, I was only wearing my underwear. From the corner of my eye, I could see a tourist on the other side of the river. He had a large camera. I imagined that he must have looked at me like I was some sort of bear or coyote as I crouched down on all fours, near naked, and stuck my face into the water. I’ve always fancied myself a jackal.
When I pulled my face out, I caught him taking a picture of me but I didn’t care.
Hours later, as we charging down the Yosemite Falls trail with a bottle full of unfiltered river water, someone stopped us and demanded to know what we had just climbed. We pointed over the the Yosemite Point Buttress, and told them.
Brett and I did the Tuolumne Triple Linkup, exactly one week later.