Trip Report
CALIFORNIA TRIP 2013: A FAB TIME FOR THE PUNTERS FOUR.
Sunday November 17, 2013 6:16pm
Well, Summer is definitely passed and we are well into Autumn, indeed the hills have had their first snow. We should begin to experience optimum conditions for the local outcrops before the weather turns truly foul. This makes it the perfect time to reflect on the seasons adventures, and bask in the warm afterglow of a summer on the rock.

Our main adventure this year was a summer trip to Yosemite, Tuolumne and Tahoe. Myself, Bronwen, our fourteen year old son Tim, and my climbing buddy Laurence, headed out in the heat of August, an unfortunate requirement of Tim’s school holidays.

A lot of Brit's think it's not worth coming to the Valley unless you are some sort of prehensile stud. Is that true - of course not. As we punters four can attest!

Me, Bronwen, Loz and Tim.
Me, Bronwen, Loz and Tim.
Credit: Blakey

Somewhere above Northern Canada. The planes audio visual software pack...
Somewhere above Northern Canada. The planes audio visual software packed in, making for a long flight. But we got a £400 voucher and a bottle of Tatinger by way of compensation.
Credit: Blakey

If you live outside the US, and aren’t in a position to camp, then sorting out accommodation in the Valley is either a bind, very expensive, or both. Our attempts saw us booked into a cabin in the Yosemite Pines Resort at Big Oak Flat, a reasonable compromise between convenience and price. This meant that we would always have a daily commute – but it’s hardly a hardship and I travel as far each weekend to go and climb on sandstone pimples in the County.

The Cabin at Big Oak Flat. Did they survive the Fire?
The Cabin at Big Oak Flat. Did they survive the Fire?
Credit: Blakey

There were several theoretical objectives, some of which we realised, the most important of which was to do Snake Dike. Bronwen had long aspired to doing the route, but on several earlier visits we had neither got onto it, or hiked up the cables. Bronwen’s knees are in serious decline and her arthritis progressing, so if she was ever to do the route this was likely the last opportunity, so it was a must do adventure (See the separate Snake Dike TR). We wanted to do some stuff in Tuolumne, I had in mind Regular Route on Fairview for Laurence, and depending on how hot it was there were several objectives in the valley. We got into the cabin seriously late, having been travelling for 24 hrs the final stages were done on autopilot.

The following day we headed into the Valley, did the touristy stuff at the overlook. As beautiful as it was it, the temperature was scorching, too hot to really enjoy the view for very long. We got our first view of Half Dome and Bronwen was able to scope out the line on the brass model before we sprinted back to the car and the aircon.

Bronwen and Tim, you know where, with you know what in the background....
Bronwen and Tim, you know where, with you know what in the background. The fat arse in the middle distance was the smallest to walk into frame.
Credit: Blakey

We drove into the valley and looking for shade eventually ended up at the Chapel Walls. A combination of jet lag fuzz and confusion had resulted in us only bringing sport kit, so we hopped onto the ‘classic’ Drive By Shooting….Not something I’d recommend as an intro to granite sport climbing, all very technical, fingery and tenuous in the heat. Tim had a go and did well getting to the crux before he ran out of ideas. It suited Loz quite well (he’s quite bendy) and he got to the chains without too much of a struggle. But it was really too hot.

I assure you, that rope is nowhere near as tight as it could have been...
I assure you, that rope is nowhere near as tight as it could have been!
Credit: Blakey

That lesson learned we headed off up to Tuolumne the next day. I’ve been to the Valley and Tuolumne five times in all, but it all remains strikingly beautiful – as a result you inevitably spend a lot of time just gazing at the views. So, being tourists delayed our arrival at the base of the Great White Book, still we four were the only ones on the line. Tim climbed with me and Bronwen was tail end Charlie with Loz. Bronwen and I had done this some eighteen years earlier, so it was interesting to get back on in. I had vague memories of what the climbing was like and it didn't disappoint.

Bron and Tim at Olmstead Point, doing the tourist gig.
Bron and Tim at Olmstead Point, doing the tourist gig.
Credit: Blakey

Tim was a little unsettled on the first pitch, but at the second belay was really enjoying himself, He’d never been on anything like this before and was amazed by the depth of the dark cleft. Given the relative lack of protection I was squirming quite carefully. Not so Tim, he was romping up the corner. There’s always a balance to be struck in trying to impose some control on a youngsters climbing exuberance, in this instance I gave up! We were soon at the bolt belay before the final corner section. I could recall the pull over the little over lap but not much more. Below Bronwen and Loz were making good progress. So without any further ado I set off. I got to the overlap placed som gear and pulled over. I moved up aways and recalled that the last time I had taken a pretty poor belay at this point where there are a couple of crappy peg scars. I got one decent cam in and decided to step over the overlap and head diagonally left across slabs to some features where I could belay. It was easy but run out, and I guess quite a long way. (I think you’re supposed to go straight up here to a belay – but I couldn’t see anything!) I got to the cracks and set up the belay and began to bring Tim up just as Loz arrived at the lower stance.

Tim in the Great White Book.
Tim in the Great White Book.
Credit: Blakey

Tim shot up the corner, pulled the overlap and arrived at the last pro. We don’t do much climbing like this in the UK and while he was comfortable in the corner the prospect of this (easy) slab was giving him pause for thought. I gave him my best advice, which in the event of a slip was to do a running pendulum. That focussed his mind, and he got on with it without any drama.

Tim about to step onto the diagonal slab - the last proper pitch. I th...
Tim about to step onto the diagonal slab - the last proper pitch. I think the route normally goes straight up above him?
Credit: Blakey

By now Loz was leaving the belay and was soon at the first overlap, then the second, and was then four fifths of the way across when the rope went taught! (he was on twin 60s me on a single 80m). Expediency is the mother of invention, and I threw him a line and belayed him while he belayed Bronwen to a stance higher in the corner. He then finished off and set up his belay while Tim and I scampered off up the upper slabs.

Loz and Bronwen on the final pitch. <br/>
Loz and Bronwen on the final pitch.

Credit: Blakey

As I sat in a butthole bringing Tim up we were passed by a guide who had been bringing a client up West Crack, in his trail shoes. He was alarmingly confident, strolling up the slab, but clearly knew exactly what his feet were doing – very impressive.
We all gathered at the top and took the punters descent, following cairns to the gully over the back. We were still being amazed by the mundane; ‘check out that tree’, ‘Look at that moss’, ‘this lichen is amazing’……… Distracted it took a while to get down, but when we did we were greeted by a Marmot living in a lake/roadside pad with amazing views!

The next day Loz and I were up early to get onto Fairview’s Regular Route. Despite the early start there was one party several pitches up and another pair just starting to simul climb the first pitch. I have got to the stage in my climbing life where it is more important that no one is behind me, rather than in front, and thankfully we hadn't got there first, otherwise we would have had two parties climbing over us – as it was they pulled away and we were oblivious to other folks on the dome.

Loz on pitch one, dealing with the damp patch.
Loz on pitch one, dealing with the damp patch.
Credit: Blakey

The sky was a perfect blue and the temps great as Loz led the first pitch and dispatched the damp patch with only a little whimpering. I got there and found it both cold and slimy (I was glad not to be simuling the pitch) Loz had done well getting past it without any problems.

Loz looking casual at the pitch three belay.
Loz looking casual at the pitch three belay.
Credit: Blakey

The rest of the route is a true delight, clean corners with good cracks, straightforward gear and stances. I had forgotten how good the 7th pitch through the overhangs was. We wandered up the easy stuff to the top, and suddenly you’re there, the abrupt finish is somewhat at odds with the rest of the climb, but is a welcome surprise.

Somewhere near the bowl.
Somewhere near the bowl.
Credit: Blakey

Whooot - It's the top! <br/>
Whooot - It's the top!

Credit: Blakey

The panorama was a mix of blue, grey, black and rain, it was looking particularly dark over Cathedral Peak, so after a few photos we sorted the gear and head off down.

Threatening clouds....
Threatening clouds....
Credit: Blakey

The next day we drove back into the Valley and headed for Bishop's Terrace in the Church Bowl. Tim climbed with Loz, and Bronwen with me. This was Bronwen’s first use of crack gloves/tape, which was a bit of a pain revelation! The climb is justifiably a stunner, with super solid jams that give you the confidence to run it out – it even allowed me to look elegant! Bronwen thumped her way up it revelling in the ‘no pain all gain’ solid jams. We sat on the ledge and watched Tim and Loz sprint up. Once together we set up the ropes and abbed off.

Bron enjoying the top of Nutcracker.
Bron enjoying the top of Nutcracker.
Credit: Blakey

After a snack we moved down to, Church Bowl Tree. A youg lad had solo aided it and was trying to shunt it. It was clearly very (very) polished, and he was applying the Wylie Coyote footwork ‘stylee’ to the problem. Eventually through the smoke and smell of burning rubber, he made progress and reached the chains to proclaim that, ‘That ain’t no 5.10!’

Church Bowl Tree
Church Bowl Tree
Credit: Blakey

He cleared the route for us and I set off, it was polished but no big deal and I had just cleared the worst of it, and was concentrating on the next bit when a voice that demanded attention boomed out behind me……. ‘Hey you folks don’t know where that 5.10 on the Apron is? Ah did it back in the day, an Ahm lookin fer it’. Wuz took up there by some stud from the climbers campsite – scared the bejeezus out of me – never been back since….Made a fortune cutting down trees for Disney, never been back’. This stream of consciousness dialogue rolled out without pause or hezitation. Looking over my shoulder I could see a large white set of teeth flashing like semaphores in a mesmerising synchronicity with the words – Hypnotizing! To my alarm Loz, who was belaying me started to have a conversation. This was a concern as Loz can talk for Britain, but isn’t necessarily the best multitasker! A bark (from me) grabbed Loz’s attention; after which the bloke was distracted by Bronwen and Tim – and then as if a tornado had passed, it was silent. I finished off the route, Loz led it in turn and Bron and Tim top roped it. (a particularly good effort by Bronwen as it was hard on the knees)

We then turned our attention to the 5.11 sport route up an arête to the right. Loz made a very tenacious lead, then it was my turn. I then discovered that my feet were still swollen from the day before – getting my feet into my techy Scarpas was hard, standing up difficult, and climbing excruciating. By the time I was supposed to be avoiding the tree, the only thing I wanted to do was take up residence and get some relief! It was only temporary and not long before I was inwardly crying on the upper arête. The chains couldn’t arrive quicker! I stripped it, got down and released my feet as quickly as possible.

Loz on the bottom rib of Energizer.
Loz on the bottom rib of Energizer.
Credit: Blakey

No more climbing for me…….Though Loz, Bronwen and Tim did Church Bowl Lieback , thinking it was 5.6, it’s 5.8 non?

The next day we went to the Mariposa Grove and met up with one of Tim’s school friend who was also doing the California thing. They were off to LA the following day, and the worst drive in the world! A day of looking at very (very) big trees set us up for our big adventure.

We however were set for Snake Dyke, Up at four we were on the walk up at six, eventually back at the car at midnight, going up was not a problem, but the descent with Bron’s (and my) dodgy knees was slooow. But it was as epic a day as I’ve had in the mountains; stunning scenery, weather that was dodgy (added spice), and we had the summit to ourselves. Big props here. to Loz who partnered Bronwen (tail end Charlie again!). A huge effort on her part.

on the way up....
on the way up....
Credit: Blakey

Bronwen approaching Loz at the top of the second pitch.
Bronwen approaching Loz at the top of the second pitch.
Credit: Blakey

Bronwen on the summit. All to ourselves - dreamy!
Bronwen on the summit. All to ourselves - dreamy!
Credit: Blakey

We found a use for the Tattinger......
We found a use for the Tattinger......
Credit: Blakey

We had a rest the next day… Did some sightseeing in the valley, gazing up at the bulk of Half Dome, it was hard to imagine we’d been up there last night. The following day we went gack into the Valley with our sights set on the Central Pillar of Frenzy. But as we arrived an Argentinean couple were just starting so we opted for some single pitch stuff. The first Pitch of the North Buttress, which confirmed my lack of any credentials in chimneys! PeePee pillar was by comparison an absolute romp… Loz did the left side of the pillar and we scooted out of the shade for a paddle in the river.

We were back the next day for the Pillar, no one else around, so on we go, Loz led the first pitch – it says polished in the guide. That doesn't do it justice, it’s a slippery as a Sperm Whale’s birth canal, and still 'only' 5.9. Seconding Loz’s fine lead, I expended enough energy to power the cafeteria for a day. The rest thankfully is a doddle. The only drama being on the last pitch when Loz’s ropes snagged in a constriction, while I was giving him loads of slack he wasn't getting any! This all became apparent when he tried to take in and the rope wouldn't budge. I swarmed up the chimney (this one was easy) to where the rope had jammed and freed it, he could then take in the big loop of 40’ or so that was dangling between my feet.

Credit: Blakey

Loz on the last Rap - 60s just make it to the deck from the second bel...
Loz on the last Rap - 60s just make it to the deck from the second belay.
Credit: Blakey

The decent was uneventful, and we opted to rap the route. The supposed descent lies off to the left, but I couldn’t spy anything so we shot off and were soon back at our packs, making a beeline for the river where Bron and Tim were catching Crayfish.

Loz cooling his feet in the Merced.
Loz cooling his feet in the Merced.
Credit: Blakey

The next day we were due to leave the valley, so we sorted out a room at June Lake. En route we stopped off at the Bunny Slopes and did several slabs, missing some bolts here and there. The last route - over to the right, seemed very run out, but when we were lowering off Bronwen found a couple of bolts I’d missed, hidden in the lichen. We arrived at June Lake (Should’ve shouted out for Plaid) for a couple of days R&R, did some fishing (one Trout caught) and watched the Fish Eagle’s hunt for their supper. All very relaxing and another opportunity to sort gear…

One solitary fish.....
One solitary fish.....
Credit: Blakey

A couple of days later we were on the road to Tahoe, we ended up staying at the Strawberry Inn which was great, (though the campground was superb – and cheap!). Good food and great company in the Bar. And a climbing shop and grocers' across the way! The first day we did It’s Better With Bacon on Hogswild, Lots of Fun, Bron climbed with me, and this time Tim was tail end Charlie. BWB is a great route with several contrasting pitches; the slender starting crack, the slab and overlap that follows, more slab and corner followed by a final pitch though the final overlaps, all good fun, not over bolted, (though they are just where you need them) it’s a memorable outing.

Loz on the Line.
Loz on the Line.
Credit: Blakey

Loz emerging from the shade into the bright light on the Line.
Loz emerging from the shade into the bright light on the Line.
Credit: Blakey

The next day we headed off to the Phantom Spires, Over Easy, Lean and Mean, Three Bolt Arete and some other sporty stuff on the little pinnacles were all overshadowed by Candyland, it looks justifiably spooky, and I set off with my tapes prepared, and managed to sling them without too much drama. The moves were unusual, with some interesting deviations to get trough some of the reaches. The final crack was intimidating, you’re conscious that a slip could see you clock your chin on the way down. But in reality all the holds appear, as does some really good pro. You just need to pull up to see and find them. Tim was next up, and he romped it. Loz like me found it a bit disconcerting… That's kids for you!

The Basoliths of Candyland
The Basoliths of Candyland
Credit: Blakey


That was our last day climbing. A fabulous spot that provided a fitting end to a great climbing trip. The following day we drove to the coast and headed up the pacific highway, heading for San Fransisco. After a days sightseeing and walking around the City it was back to the UK.

Go West from here to get to the Far East!
Go West from here to get to the Far East!
Credit: Blakey

Overall it was a great trip, everyone, particularly Loz did really well. As we expected the heat in the Valley was limiting, but you do what you can, and of course it leaves lots of stuff undone to come back for….but I definitely need to spend more time in granite chimneys and wide stuff before I return. I have fingers that could kill, and arms of steel, but put me in a chimney and I turn into a cream puff!

Finally it was really sad to witness the slow motion destruction of the Rim Fire. It would be good to know the fate of the campground and cabins?


I am such a wuss…..

  Trip Report Views: 1,539
Blakey
About the Author
Blakey is a trad climber from Newcastle UK.

Comments
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mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Nov 17, 2013 - 06:39pm PT
Very nice.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Nov 17, 2013 - 06:51pm PT
Great....delivered with the usual Brit wit and understament! Consider a trip to Utah/Co. unique country for a Brit and the hangs are so much nicer and easier than in Cali. My wife is British and she can attest to the charms of wingate sandstone.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 17, 2013 - 07:52pm PT
Cool, thanks for taking us along!!!!
Looks like a nice trip!!!!!
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Nov 17, 2013 - 08:40pm PT
Blakey, sounds like you had a great trip. Personally I think August is a fantastic time for a climbing trip to the Sierra Nevada, as long as you avoid the lower elevations , which means Yosemite Valley. I can't imagine doing Drive by Shooting or Energizer (the sport route to the right of Church Bowl Tree) in August heat!

Next time, consider making Mammoth Lakes or June Lakes your base camp. There are an abundance of condos, and having a full kitchen saves you so much money. It's really quite an easy commute from either town to the Meadows, but there is also a huge amount of other climbing over there - all grades, all lengths, all types, several kinds of rock. And that location gives you a lot of options if the Meadows is in a early afternoon thunderstorm pattern.

Come back soon!
ThomasKeefer

Trad climber
San Diego
  Nov 17, 2013 - 09:20pm PT
Awesome TR.. I am about 7 years behind you guys so it is awesome reading what is ahead! Perfect.
RyanD

climber
Squamish
  Nov 18, 2013 - 12:07pm PT
Bump for a great tr, this one deserves a little more time on the front page.

slippery as a sperm whales birth canal


Great stuff Blakey, lots of great humor & great climbing. Your kid is a lucky little dude to have parents like you guys who are happy to show him some of the best climbing & most beautiful scenery in the world. Thanks!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 18, 2013 - 02:14pm PT
Awesome pitches you climbed! Candyland is one of the most memorable pitches I have ever done!!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Nov 18, 2013 - 02:23pm PT
Great trip, wonderful pictures, and well told. Thank you very much.

John
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Nov 18, 2013 - 02:52pm PT
Congrats with great teamwork and Congrats to Bronwen with Snake Dike...
Blakey

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
Author's Reply  Nov 19, 2013 - 11:09am PT
Thanks for the comments everyone,

We are now considering where to go in 2014. The Dolomites is calling, with it's sport, trad, single and multi pitch, and via ferratta all in stunning scenery.

And of course it's high, and cool enough to exert yourself without heat exhaustion and accommodation is plentiful.

Before then we may squeeze in a trip to Spain for some winter sun cragging.

The US remains on the agenda but probably not for next year. The suggestions though are all welcome. I could easily spend more time around South Tahoe, (we have had a trip up around Truckee once before Donner etc)Lover Leap and the Spires were great - it would be good to get up to the Sugarloaf some time.

Regards

Steve
John Butler

Social climber
SLC, Utah
  Nov 19, 2013 - 12:18pm PT
nice :-)
Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Relic MilkEye and grandpoobah of HBRKRNH
  Nov 19, 2013 - 12:21pm PT
Great TR..Thanks for the share.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Nov 19, 2013 - 03:09pm PT
See what reading all those Mountain mags has done?
You're climbing hard and having fun!

And so have we, mate!

But it was really too hot,
so tone it down a brit next time.

And bring knee pads next visit.

To my knowledge, Big Oak Flat was spared, BTW.

Great comments, too, Phylyp, our Valley Hospitality Associate/High Sierra Concierge!

And let me remind you, Bronwen, bad knees have no conscience. They do what they do with no motivation, so just suffer like the rest of us who find our joints are "in declimb." :)

And Merry Crustchove, Punters All!
Dirka

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Nov 19, 2013 - 05:37pm PT
Bump!
Levy

Big Wall climber
So Cal
  Nov 19, 2013 - 06:06pm PT
It looks like you guys had a nice visit. Got a bunch of classics in, saw some cool scenery, ate well, stonker weather, what more could you ask for?

Thanks for sharing your trip with us.
crusher

climber
Santa Monica, CA
  Nov 19, 2013 - 07:15pm PT
Nice report and great pics!

"The fat arse"...LOL, I'm still laughing. Welcome to America! You'll never see a finer display than in our National Parks.
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
  Nov 24, 2013 - 11:26am PT
Steve,

Enduring midsummer in Yosemite is better than not going at all. Looks like you had a great trip despite the heat, accomplishing the key goals.

The sky was a perfect blue and the temps great as Loz led the first pitch and dispatched the damp patch with only a little whimpering. I got there and found it both cold and slimy (I was glad not to be simuling the pitch) Loz had done well getting past it without any problems.

I am glad to hear that even a climber from the damp isles found that section challenging. When I followed Ed Sampson up it a couple of years ago on a cold morning, I was contemplating how embarrassing it would be to skate right off it.

I get that you Brits are compulsively self-deprecating. While your family (and friend) may not be the British A team, you’re hardly punters!

Rick
Blakey

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
Author's Reply  Nov 24, 2013 - 05:43pm PT
Hi Rick,

it's nice to think we may not be punters, but a lot of the time that's what we felt like! ;-).

We were particularly taken by Tahoe, the leap and Spires, that said Bronwen could even see herself doing Snake Dyke again, though not in a day, basing out of the high campsite....... I'm amazed she would even contemplate it - but there you are.

We have had our first snow here now, so the winter routine of dressing well and looking for dry rock begins. (Thank the lord for climbing walls!) I have a trip to Spain in January so we'll see what emerges.

Take care,

Steve
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Nov 24, 2013 - 09:50pm PT
Glad you enjoyed your trip! Looks like a lot of great fun! You bagged some classics!

The true magnificence of Yosemite can only be appreciated in person. The sights of the huge walls... The smells of the pine forest and needles... The sounds of the river... The feel of rough granite in your hands... Those memories will be with you forever.
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Nov 24, 2013 - 10:29pm PT
Blakey! Thank you for taking the time to share your fun climbing & travel adventure in "the-states." It was much enjoyed & appreciated by me!
snowhazed

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
  Nov 25, 2013 - 12:37am PT
not bad for punters- Id say youre a little hard on yourself

"I sat in a butthole..." the kings english does not work here all the time
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