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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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…..