Life keeps changing, and we climb together less frequently now, but we still get together with some regularity for some great weekends on rock. This was one of them…
We drove up to the mountains on Friday night from the Bay Area and camped in a dispersed fashion outside Yosemite. Seven hours of sleep, and we were up. Fifteen minutes later, our sleeping bags and mats were crumpled up in the back seat, and we were in the car driving towards the valley. We parked for the approach to Middle Cathedral Rock, racked up at the car, and scurried up to the base of the climb. By a small margin, we were first on the route.
The views of El Cap and the valley were stunning in the morning light.
Once we got going, we were by ourselves the whole time. We did the climb in 6 pitches with a 70m rope.
At the top of the fourth pitch (per supertopo count), we went right for the 50 Crowded Variation. The climbing was interesting face climbing, with a few bolts and otherwise good protection. I enjoyed it much more than the bolt ladder and roof, which I had done before; it flowed better, and the movement was more fun. We continued to make good progress, and the climbing felt effortless. Before we knew it, we were finishing the last pitch, on the 5.9 variation out on the face to the left of the groove. There appeared at first to be a few options from the tree about 50 ft below the finish of the climb, but then it became clear only one of the cracks on the face is really doable at a moderate grade. Once I got in it, it was pretty short and very secure, and a nice alternative to the groove.
We continued up the Kat Walk, around the contour of the rock, and then down the gully between Middle and Higher Cathedral. There was one pad of snow remaining just after the first rappel. As we pulled our rope here, we were unable to avoid it ending up in a small stream of water flowing down the gully.
As we walked, I cooed loudly, listening to my echo and enjoying the feeling of dizziness I got when I looked up at the tall walls of granite on both sides of me. It was one of my favorite places in the valley.
We got back to the car at about 1 pm. Originally we had planned to climb Serenity Crack and Sons of Yesterday the next day, so we were going to check out the first pitch to see if it was wet. Then, the conversation shifted. Why didn’t we just climb it now? We couldn’t think of a reason not to, so we drove over and parked behind the Awahnee, eating some food constituting lunch along the way. We racked up again, adding two bigger pieces to our rack and switching out our wet single 70m rope for dry double 60m ropes.
We walked up to the pedestal where the climb starts; the rock was miraculously dry! It was hot, and I was glad Justin was leading the first pitch so I could sit in the shade for just a few minutes longer. Then, I followed, and my feet were tender as I put my toes into the pinscars. The second pitch was continuous thin hands for me, with that a balance-y traverse move about half-way up when the route switches cracks. Justin protected this move with pieces high in the left crack. I led the crux pitch, which Justin generously let me have, and it was a blast. I got up through the steep hands section and took a rest. Then, I put two small pieces in the thin crack about five feet apart before the crux, stood on the that big slick black spot out to the left for a second, and then went for it. The jams felt solid, but I had fleeting “I want to stop and place gear” thoughts. My mantra was “You’re fine, just keep going.” After the beautiful crack section, I pulled myself up onto the belay ledged and let out a whoop. The route, the weather, and the company added up to bliss!
We climbed the short approach pitch to Sons of Yesterday, and then I led the first two pitches, continuing to have a blast in the late afternoon sun. The first pitch was a fun but continuous finger crack with a few face moves out left near the top of the pitch, and the second pitch was a hand crack in a corner with a fun steep roof move at the end. The belay at the top of pitch one is pretty much right on top of a tree, but there is a permanent anchor there (bolts and webbing).
I tried to put my increasingly sore feet out of mind, but by the last two pitches I was begging for mercy. Justin linked those two pitches into a 200-foot jam-a-thon (and climbed it all with 5 pieces of pro!). “Walking the plank” came at just the right time—a diagonal section of splitter crack on which you can walk rather than jam. What a fun and unique section of the route and good alternative to sticking my sore toes right into the crack.
The sun dipped below the horizon just as we finished the last pitch; Justin had started to rig the rappel as I climbed up the belay station. Six raps (all double ropes except for one of them), and we were down. Our headlamps were on for the last two. Interestingly, the pin-scar crack on the first pitch was weeping by the time we got down! By morning, it would probably be running water. We had timed our climb just right!
We hoofed it back to the car and headed to Curry Village for pizza and beer. The deck there seemed like an extension of the Mission District of San Francisco. We filled up and headed back to our campsite for some sleep.
The next morning, we went to the base of El Cap and climbed the first two pitches of the Salathe Wall. Both pitches were new to me and more climbing joy. From the top of the first pitch, we looked down to see a bear roaming around and headed straight for our packs. Thanks to some other climbers, who shooed it away!
We rapped down and started back out to the car. It was already mid-afternoon and time to make our way home. We watched parties on the Nose with a pair of binoculars for a little while and then went to put our feet in the cold water at the beach across from Pat and Jack’s Cliff. Then it was down the Merced River Gorge and back to the Bay.
Being outside, in fantastic weather, in one of the most unique places in the country, getting into the groove on some classic routes, and hanging with my friend Justin--what a weekend. It was restorative and deeply satisfying, and it embodied all the things I love about climbing.