Oct. 27, 2012
“//Courage is being scared to death but
saddling up anyway//.” – John Wayne
“//I have a huge, active imagination, [and] I
think I'm really scared of being alone;
because if I'm left to my own devices, I'll just
turn into a madwoman//.” – Clair Danes
“//If too weak and old for sport and bouldering,
go bold, big trad is rad//.” – Wall Gumby
A week ago I sat waiting in the Orthopedist office. In an hour I expected to be calling my bud to cancel our Yosemite plans. Stitches were being removed where a chip of bone had been extracted from a broken toe joint. It was still grotesque, swollen and hurt like hell. I explained my plans to spend several days climbing small edges and jamming my foot into crevices to the doc. My pony-tailed hippie M.D. said no problem man, fine to be active if the pain was tolerable dude. Really?! The nurse looked at us both like we had lost our marbles. Before she could offer advice that might get in the way of good climbing, I shot out the office petal-to-metal to do laps on the 800’ elevation gain scramble on Castle Peak and test out his advice. I drowned out the initial pain with Drops of loud Dub-Step on my MP3. My foot actually felt better afterward and more so the next morning. Hippies know their medicine. Yeah, I had stomped that swelling and pain right out baby! Yosemite was a go for WallGumby! Plans were for a big free climb then a small big-wall.
Two years prior Karl had rapped in and spent a day with screwdriver, brush, and trowel cleaning out cracks and replacing a bolt on the seldom climbed Cobra. Now all prepped for ascent he was excited to revisit. Fueled up on Runde’s hearty daily griddle (scramble of eggs, ground beef, squash, tobasco, and an avocado I contributed) we wobbled over to wait in line at the Royal Arches start. As part of my evil plan to ask to pass them shortly, I helped a German team in front of us by hauling their day-pack up the chimney for them. It had to be 30 lb. Ouch, they were going to suffer. RA was packed. Using route variations and distracting people with “helpful” comments about their anchors we passed 4 additional parties. Karl never had to unpack his Menace face. Now we were in Pole position! The ego boost would not last long. Sixty minutes from the base we had topped pitch 9 of RA, our highway turnoff to a road less traveled.
The Cobra starts from the top of the pedestal that marks the RA pendulum (FA Bob Kamps and Mark Powell, 1966). The initial 5 pitches diagonal rightward up a sea of slabs. Reid’s guide gives grades of 5.8 – 5.9R. Hmm.
Karl handed me the sharp end for the 1st pitch which had many new bolts. (Recommendation: the top of 1st pitch has two massive hangers. A higher belay is easily reachable with 50m, which I think may allow pitches 2 & 3 to be combined.) Now the pitches got spicier and I was quite agreeable to let Karl take over. Much of the pro looked like original 1st ascent hardware, Star-drive, ¼”er, handmade hangers, soft iron ring-angle piton. With a quick refresher glance at my 900.UDO.SLAB mail-order instruction guide, even I was ready for smooth granite paradise. Scan for next credit card edge, divot, or rough spot. Torque body to maintain pressure angle. Hold breath. Lift foot. Check sudden acceleration down slab has not occurred. Release breath. Place foot. Gently transition weight. Repeat. Following this 8-step process the pitches flew by, melding into one big glorious blur of movement uninhibited by pro. That’s when you know you are having fun! Or is it that thing where your brain blocks out tramatic experiences?
Pitch 5 is horizontal, the start/end belays are directly across from each other where the top of an expanse of slab intersects the headwall. It was certainly the crux slab pitch of the Cobra. There is a tricky sequence right off the belay, long (80’ ?) runout to 1st pro, and another crux at the end. Karl started out reversing left, then down, right, down, right, up, right, down, then up, (no I am not joking) then down, then up, found a spot for a micro stopper, scratched his head, went back down, looked around, went up, the stopper came out, started right, mumbled about the route seeming different from last time, stared at me for a bit … I offered some lies of reassurance but my deer-in-headlights look of fear was not fooling anyone. He had a big smile when he finally reached the belay.
Because of its traversing nature, following this pitch would also be quite committing. Flipping again through my 900.UDO.SLAB guide, the chapter on run-outs turned out to be just a bunch of toilet paper. What kind of sick joke?! Karl pointed out we had enough extra rope so I could re-rig the belay as a top-rope anchor and practice the initial crux. Fortunately I had mapped Karl’s now invisible maze of down-left-up-down-right antics on my pocket etch-a-sketch, and following it carefully I made two repeats without falls. Wired. After resting a bit for the pain in my healing toe to subside I went for it. Even without sudden acceleration it was exhilarating!
Now we were in the big dihedral that as viewed from Royal Arches looks like a Cobra hood and the nature of the climb had transitioned completely. There still weren’t any holds or edges, but there were steep cracks. I led a 10b hand crack in poor form to a belay in a Bay Laurel. There is some other kinda tree in Yosemite that that likes to occupy belay spots and harbors big nests of biting ants – but that is another story, and the Bay Laurel was ant-free with a fragrant soothing smell to boot. The wound from my surgery now wafted a festering smell so I wrapped it some of the Bay Leaves like a poultice. I saw that on TV once I think.
Karl took P6, an easy hand crack followed by a ramp with awkward gastons, sketchy smears, and committing run-out. It would have been truly serious if not for a wobbly #1 stopper placement in the middle. Har! Now it was early afternoon and we had only 2 real pitches to go. Time for a lunch break. I offered Karl the last of my mushy mango then stared hard at his bag of cheese and carrots. He did not take the hint so I drank the remaining water to teach him better manners.
The view from here was tremendous. Striped granite buttresses cascaded to the valley below. A gargantuan cave lie to the left. No weaknesses out the roof of the cave were visible, but there seems to be a seam that runs along the back. Someone (not me) should try a grand aid traverse of it with perfect shelter from weather and sun.
Pitch 8 was a flaring clean cut crack, toe to heel on the outside, sweet hand jams deep in, and a few short sections of arm-baring . Now we were at Karl’s goal pitch. His red point did not work out and here an apology is owed - I should have carried more of the water, food, shoes so you could have stayed fresh, sorry. When you need a partner for another try at the red-point, I’m your Huckleberry. I was so beat I didn’t even try climbing, and immediately resorted to laboring up on Tiblocs trailing the backpack. It was worth it just to see this crisp crack though. This pitch would be famous if not for the 16 below it.
Well, I wish this yarn continued with tales of solo fun up Wet Denim Day Dream. The walk past the Death Slabs and down North Dome Gulley was a teeth gritter. My surgery incision was oozing copious blood by the end. So much for power-poultices. Maybe I should have chosen a Doc who didn’t suffer from Woodstock flashbacks? Additional stomping no longer seemed to be helping the inflamation. A hardman would have continued on, but wimp that I am, I decided to take a break before my next dose of mountain style toe rehabilitation.
Now that the Cobra is all clean and purty, you good bold climbers should go get on it and traffic it up so it stays it scrubbed!
P.S. Karl, thanks for the great time and leading all those scary pitches, you rock!
P.P.S. There is a line of new bolts and anchors than runs horizontal below the original line for a few pitches?