Crest Jewel 5.10a
Trip ReportEpic fun on Royal Arches Crest Jewel linkup
Yosemite, Oct 2008
I love cheese. Cave aged Tomme. Soppy Brie. Pungent Chaum. And especially that stinky blue Frenchy kind. Nothing helps motivate an early morn bike commute like the thought of a tuperware of cheese waiting in the breakroom fridge with a crusty baguette. Now my annual Fall Yosemite trip was canceled. And I had laid off my daily cheese selection breakfast plate for two months, fruit lunches, and trimmed my jiggle middle, all for what! Except for canceling in 2002 when my daughter Alexandra was born premature, Alan and I have made it together every year since 1998. Tradition dammit! Now, Alan had his own important to take care of. No luck calling in the calvery, Fast Eddy was laid up with broken ribs and hip injury, Dr. Dave Dick was booked solid fishing in Oregon etc, and Orlando was ferrying his kids back from Alaska. Hurrah, old buddy to the rescue. My 1st steady climbing partner, Mike Lund called to check on October possibilities to reconstitute a quickie Needles that had fallen through earlier that fall and was easily swayed to a longer trip to Yosmite. Soon we had gotten permission from our home bosses for a long weekend of excitement. This was great. Mike and I got our early climbing education together, religiously cutting early from grad school every Thursday to beat Chicago traffic to Gravity climbing gym, cutting teeth at Devil’s Rock, soon advancing to Red River Gorge, and dreaming of future big granite walls. Dreams do come true …
Some old injuries of Mike's had flared up the week previous, so he was understandably nervous on jumping into something committing and emailed suggesting we might start moderately to test the waters 1st before moving onto grander prospects. But when I suggested for doing the Royal Arches to Crest Jewel link-up our first day, he bit like a big starved catfish. Though 16 pitches, Royal Arches was a mix of 5.4-5.7 so would be a great warm up and test for our speed. If we were feeling good we'd add the 10 pitches of Crested Jewel, which had 2 pitches at 10b with rest of pitches all 5.8 and 5.9. Speed would be the key. Royal Arches was relatively easy grade-wise and Crest Jewel was bolted slab climbing. Still 26 pitches and a long involved descent however easy was nothing to blink. Little time margin for errors – and epics on just Royal Arches were not uncommon. A number of friends had shared stories of huddled shivering nights waiting for dawn above the Death Slabs.
Mike was a multi-pitch veteran of East US granite, but was less familiar with the Sierras, so we elected that I would lead and he would clean. I had adorned myself with brilliant orange and blue toenails as well, so was appropriately attired to act as the greeting party. Mike filled a 2L Camelback I would carry with a pot purée of bars, apples, headlamps, spare batteries, rainshells, and emergency foil blanket. I assembled a thin rack, and counted enough draws for Crest Jewel.
I was so excited I barely had slept when the alarm went off at 4am. By 5:45am I was working up the 1st 5.6 chimney by headlamp. Mike had trouble folding his 6’++ height into it but once he assumed the position he grunted quickly up like an angry boar. Simul-climbing pitches 2-4, Mike joined me at the belay at the top of the terraced section just as the sun started to rise. We employed a great technique Dr. Dave Dick had turned me onto. Mike would yell when I was nearing a rope length at which point I would attach some pro to the rope with a Tibloc. The intended purpose of a Tibloc is as a bare-bones light-weight alternative to an ascender. It will slide up a rope but not down, allowing a person to ascend steep terrain by "jugging" up the rope instead of climbing the rock. Used Dr. D's way, it adds some security simul-climbing so that if the second falls, the Tibloc will cinch the rope, and with a bit of luck catching the weight before the leader is yanked off. I haven't tested this theory yet, but it makes me feel better. Simul-climbing pitches 5-9 just plain rocked. What a joy to jaunt up 400' of crack face crack face crack without pause. One day I'll get the courage to solo this climb. Pitch 6 had perfect 5.6 hand-eating crack for nearly its full length. I did get a bit stymied by a thin move about 50 feet up with last pro 35' below. To stay light we only brought 5 cams and nothing smaller than 3/4". I put in a wobbly nut and went for it. Mike was grinning ear-to-ear at the good news that we were already at the pendulum and over half way up. His back felt great, no problemo. Tarzan yells accentuated the pendulum. I shoved in some ear-plugs and queued up my MP3 for the full experience. Black-Eyed Peas tasty 5.7 crack, Red Hot Chili Peppers spiced the 5.6 dihedral, Sgt. Pepper march up the face. Radio Head preached true I should jam to the end. Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum fairies joined me tip-toeing across the 5.8 slab variation into the crinkling chimes of the of the waterfall as I "Traversed into the Garden". Mike soon joined me, accompanied by a fast Norwegien and Brit that had overtaken us. It was 10:20am and Mike was glowing. I started to ask if we were rapping down, but he was already sprinting up the trail to North Dome.
North Dome sits perched ringed by a skirt of slabs like a majestic head shouldered on the rim of the Yosemite Canyon walls. Crest Jewel starts about a third up the dome, accessed by traversing a ledge system marked by a picket of trees. Scrambling the rough mile of steep 3rd class climbers trail, rock slabs, and Manzanita maze took a while.
If you want to dial in your slab technique do Crest Jewel. Mike counted a total of 4 bonified holds over the 10 pitches – and he savored every one refusing to leave. I found he was too heavy to drag up. Offers lollipops apparently weren’t worth more than a good hold, not even root-beer and butterscotch. Finally I do what all good friends do. I lied. “Mike there is an even bigger jug right over the next bulge, and a ledge after that.” Actually it was more 5.10 slab! Foot placements were just rougher patches of stone. Thank god for sticky rubber. The bolts were real well placed though, no more than 10-15' apart during cruxes, but 50' run outs where the going was easy, kept things spicy.
At this point, two thirds up the climb, a front blew in, our stormshells rattled like jibs in a Lake Michigan squall and the temperature plummeted. Crazy cloud formations tortured the south. Luckily we only got a few drops, a little lubrication would make the slab climbing much harder. A large cloud appeared to floated through Half Dome giving it a halo about half-way up. I thought about who-ever might be on it, enveloped, likely thinking they were socked in, when it was actually clear a few hundred feet above and below their position.
The last three pitches diagonaled right up a rail-like feature formed by a dike of harder stone. Two more good holds appeared and Mike happily spewed gibberish in a gutteral English accent.
At 4:30pm we topped out of endless slab. Two options for down. Reverse back to Royal Arches and do the 12 pitch rapel. Or take the North Dome gully route which involved descending to near the top of Royal Arches, traverse the slabs and a manzanita thicket over the saddle between North Dome and top of Washinton Column, traversing the Death Slabs, and scrable down a gully and switchbacks down 3rd and some 4thclass to 5.0 terrain. I swore I would never do the the Gully again, but knew that dark would fall before we made it many raps down the Arches rapel line. There were several rope-eating trees on this route, plus danger of missing anchors in the dark. But we were tired and slowing down. Lost range-of-motion from a metal pin in Mike’s ankle from past climbing injury had brought on leg cramps. Worried about becoming trapped stuck on the wall half way down in the dark and potential rain, I elected for the longer but more bivy friendly gully. Bad decision. At least we made it past the Death Slabs, down a 4th class chimney, across a loose drainage and almost to the slabs before darkness hit. Now we faced an old fixed rapel with decrepit slings around a tree into a void. I wandered around in the dark for 20 minutes looking for any signs of a trail with no luck. We were out of water and had one organic energy bar Fast Eddy had procured from a like-minded dietist friend of his. Mike wolfed down half and his overtaxed stomach quickly rejected it back onto the ground. It started raining. Hard. We donned rainshell's and took a break to get our mental together. We were safely beyond the death slabs. Weren’t we? So why did it look like a chasm to the right? From my previous descent this way, I had hazy memories of switchbacks diagonaling down hidden 3rd and 4th class ramps cutting through broken cliffbands and a 5th class downclimb we had opted to rap. Off route in the dark, how many raps would we need? I looked over my gear and at the shattered rock around us and prayed each cliff band would be capped by a sturdy pine decorated with bright nylon slings and rap rings by others before us that had also resorted to a direct descent. I ventured down the 1st rap using double ropes. The void turned out to be a long low angle chimney system, perhaps 5.5-6. Mike followed. Meanwhile I got through on my cell to leave a message for my wife that we were fine just getting down late. This as Mike or the ropes bounced a brick size rock down the gully and onto my head, ouch! Brain blind, seeing stars, I cut the message short “<much swearing> no I’m ok honey don’t worry just a rock on my head, fine really, be down soon, love you bye-bye <more swearing>” then dodged out of the steady hail of pebbles that was now accompanying the rain drizzle. Mike was soon down but pulling the ropes they stuck - fortunately before I lost the end. I reclimbed the ropes hand over hand, tying in every 50 feet at nice ledges and soon found one of the lines nicely set in a narrow V of tree branches near the top of the rappel. A thicket of Manzanita clung in a notch mid-way down the rappel line as well. I did some serious pruning, to avoid future rope entrapment, and this time did the descent in two single rope raps. Well over an hour of work gave Mike a good nap. Well that was the worst. We did a few more raps and cautiously stumbled down 3rd class vegetated talus gullies soon making it to heavy forest. It was pouring rain but we were happy to be approaching the finish line and merrily made it back to camp at 12:30. Mmmmm chicken rice with wild mushrooms and beer beer beer!!!!
The rest of the trip was a great time even if less exciting. It continued to rain the next day – which was just fine as we needed time to lick our epic wounds and recover. Late morning reading magazines, toured the swollen waterfalls, early dinner. Mike wasn’t pissed at me for not have given better warning that I had anticipated a night descent from our RA-CJ linkup was not an unlikely possibility. In fact he was game for an attempt at East Butress of El Cap (EB-EC) for our final day. I think I will keep this guy. Next day we did the Surprise at 5 Open Books to check out how well routes were drying off. Took a fall on the 10a crux traverse on p3. EB-EC went remarkably smoothly. Since I was familiar with the pitches, having done EB-EC with Alan befor, we continued the system of me leading the pitches. Mike offered to carry the pack on some of the harder pitches, and I was happy for those breaks. Mostly clean, no falls, though I hung on the 5.9 traverse and did an occasional bit of tension traversing. Both of us made good time, I thought. Car to car in less than 11 hours. Whew!
Well I hope you found some enjoyable distraction my long-winded yarn. Till next time – happy climbing.
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