The first day in the Valley we headed over to Swan Slab for some toproping. I wanted him to learn how to belay me on lead and how to climb a chimney in preparation for the following goal....the Royal Arches. Cory was able to belay me on lead and lower me down while being anchored down. I would have liked to take a short whip for him, but I didn't have a partner to back him up nor did I want to bounce down a chimney. I set up a TR on the 5.9 finger crack to the right. Cory wasn't too enthusiastic about the route, but he finished it. He just sends big with no training needed. We were visited by Derek (ClimbSki2) who asked for a belay. No harness? No worries, just tie a rope around your waist!
The next day Cory and I roped up to tackle "After Six" (6 pitches, 600 feet). I didn't see any way to tie him down for the first pitch, so I scrambled up the 3rd class around the side and dropped a rope for him. I couldn't see him down low on the route as I was fighting the swarms of ants at the belay, but I did catch him liebacking the crux section! Liebacking is his strength.
As we progressed on, he climbed quicker and hung less. On the last pitch, he didn't have one hang and cruised it flawlessly. Half-way through the slabby section between the mantle and the topout, his feet began to slide. Without hesitation and in a blink of an eye, he latched onto a couple crimpers, regained his feet, and threw down a dyno-sprint to the top!!
That day I learned that Cory climbs better when he can be climbing in his own world without the "Big Brother Beta Audio Book" blabbing below him. Hahaha. There was no one there to help him through. He was on his own. However, we did have radios, but those were mainly just for communicating at the belays.
We then headed over to the Bridge where we met up with Mark Hudon, who had surprised Cory with a brand new pair of Mythos climbing shoes. As I was chatting with Mark and Alice, Cory was across the bridge schooling the tourists on climbing El Capitan. Later, Mark shared some of his climbing wisdom with Cory and we then called it a night as we needed to rest up for adventures the following day.
The next stop the following day was Cathedral Peak. We had bivied outside Tioga Pass and it was Cory's first semi-alpine start...0400. After hiking about a 1/4 mile, I realized I was feeling sore from the previous day and Cory was feeling the effects of altitude on his lungs. Plus, I forgot the camera. I realized that it would be a loooong day for the both of us excluding the inevitable circus show of newbie climbers on Cathedral Peak. I made the executive decision to turn back and do something else.
So we head south on the 3-9-5 for Mammoth. It was still early, so we chilled at the Stella Brew in Mammoth and waited for Mammoth Mountaineering to open, my favorite gear shop. As we approached the door, we could see racks of skis out on the deck. "Oh great...a sale. This is going to hurt my wallet." Hahaha. Then I saw the sign on the front door...."50% off ALL winter clothing." "I'm done for." Hahaha. After we browsed the store for an hour and Cory trying on packs, I walked out with a Patagonia Hooded Down Sweater and Cory a promise from me that I would scour the upcoming REI Used Gear Sale for a pack. Days later, Cory would be surprised with Ian Gill's pack and some 'biners graciously sent from Cosmic! (Nice looking pack by the way! I am jealous!).
I took Cory to the Minarets Vista and the open fault line just down the hill from Mammoth Mountain. After which, we headed back North on the 3-9-5 to June Lake for a stop at Casa de Cragman. For those that have not taken up Dean's offer to stay at his place, you're really missing out! And if Pete (PTPP) can stay there for 5 days without catching fire, you all have nothing to worry about! Hahaha. No offense Pete!! :) As we were departing, Dean surprised Cory with an entire rack of rigid-stem Friends and 2-3 sets of nuts!!! Cory got HOOKED up!! He was beyond ecstatic!! Dean is our hero, a exemplary man of kindness. THANK YOU Dean!!
We then headed back to Tuolumne to get on Stately Pleasure Dome. However, there were several parties on route and it was getting late and windy. I decided to head back to the Valley and do some laps on Jamcrack and Cory could practice placing his new rack of gear.
I showed Cory how to build a 3-point equalized trad anchor for an upward pull, which would be his anchor while belaying me. He belayed me well with an ATC and also lowered me off. Cory had a great burn while cleaning up my gear. His crack technique was looking like a seasoned veteran. Although the wider section proved to be the crux for him and he got his foot stuck pretty good. He did take a couple little two foot whips, which helped to gain a better sense of confidence in the gear and his trusty belayer. I got another burn in, cleaned the anchor, and finished in the dark. We headed home as Cory slept like a rock after a very eventful weekend.
Two weeks pass and it's time for more Valley sendage. This time I kept my route choice a secret until the morning of our climb as I wanted him to be able to get some sleep for what would be a HUGE day for him. I remember how excited I would be before a big trip. I would lay in bed with my eyes wide open and only get a few hours of sleep.
We bivied at the "sandlot" outside of El Portal on HWY 140. Cory gets the plush accommodations of the bed of my truck with a locking camper while I sleep on a tarp and pad outside on the ground with the stars above me. My alarm went off at 0400. I opened the camper..."rise and shine dude!!" As Cory sat up and rubbed his eyes I revealed our route for the day and he was stoked!
We got to the Ahwahnee Hotel, cooked up a quick breakfast, racked, and embarked on the looong and arduous 2 minute approach to the Royal Arches (15 pitches, 1,500 feet)! I've climbed the Arches almost a dozen times and this time was the best time I had on that chimney! I tied Cory in short at the halfway point and our packs and shoes at the end, which would prove to be a mistake later on. Cory has never climbed a chimney before using actual chimney technique. He climbed the one at Swan Slab by climbing up the inside holds. However, as he climbed his way above the tree to the flake, he was styling that chimney with PERFECT technique and I had thought that would have been a crux for him. A moment earlier, he tried hauling the packs to the tree, but they got caught under the chock stone neat the start. To Cory's dismay, I convinced him to let me lower him back down to the chock stone and hoist the packs to the top of the chock stone. He cruised back up and hauled again from the tree. The packs got stuck again higher up. So I fixed the slack end of the rope and rappelled down on a munter hitch (a first for me). I couldn't reach him, so Cory had to toss the rope up to me a few times before I was able to hook it with my foot. I quickly hauled the packs up, returned to my belay ledge, and watched Cory style the last part of the chimney.
The next would-be crux, so I thought, would be the arching hand crack. I always place gear in places that would make it easy for him to retrieve. Once again, Cory impresses me. He cruised the crack and was unable to get a cam out. We have done a "Cam Retrieval 101" clinic on "After Six," so I don't know what happened. Anyways...I once again, fix the line and rap down, get the cam, and self-belay back up.
Now the route goes up until the swing traverse. The next pitch has this awkward pin scared crack that you can barely get a few fingers in. Once again, I thought it would be a crux for Cory. As usual, it wasn't. A kid's strength is usually an adult's weakness. In this case, they can get their little fingers into cracks that we with sausage fingers can't.
The next pitch would prove to be the crux pitch for Cory. He would be pushed to his limits, forced to dig deep, and left to decide if he would want to bail. The pitch is one of my favorites: liebacking for 30+ feet with great finger locks to a short section of hands, then stem up a corner to a double splitter hand crack for 50+ feet. After working his way up for about 30 feet, Cory yells up that I need to lower him back down to the belay so he could retrieve his pack that he forgot. After having to climb an extra 30 feet, he would never forget it again. Meanwhile, I began hearing Cory talking a lot thinking a party was coming up below him. Then I began to make sense of his words and the emotions behind them. He was soooo exhausted.
"Paul!! I need a break!! I'm going to puke!!"
"Go for it!! You'll feel better!! Trust me!!"
I couldn't hear him vomit, but that's how I envisioned it. He slogged his way up to the belay and plopped himself down. He scarfed down some Shot Blocks and a bunch of water. I have never seen him so exhausted from climbing, but was so proud that he had persevered. I had been waiting for this moment...the days of "I can't" were officially over! He said we couldn't bail because we would have to leave gear as we only had one rope.
As I re-flaked the rope and re-racked, I negotiated a deal with Cory in which we would take a nice long rest under the tree after the big traverse. I assured him that the worst was now over. I raced up the next 2 pitches to the ledge under the rope swing. He cruised the off-width pitch and seemed to really enjoy it and the wandering cracks through the flakes.
I flew up the next pitch, made the swing, stitched up the traverse to protect him in case of a fall, and anchored in at the half-way point. Cory cruised up to the swing and after a quick "fixed rope swing" clinic and a few tries, he made the swing, unclipped, and made his way near me. The last few moves was a little mental crux for him: pull out the nut that provided a high point for him and down-climb easy moves to the belay. As usual, no problems.
We got to the tree and took a short break as another party came to pass us. After a few minutes at the tree....
"Ready to go Paul?"
"Whaaaat?? I thought you wanted a nice long break???"
"Yeah, but these people are going to pass us."
"Now that's the spirit!!" Hahaha
After some libacking, tree branch wrestling, and horrendous rope-drag, I got around to the big pine tree. Cory made his way up and I linked up the next 2 pitches to the next big pine tree. Cory was still steadily moving. I was impressed at his continued progress. After making the slab traverse and being runout for over a 100 feet, I made it to the next belay. As Cory started to climb, I saw a soloist coming up behind him. "Hmmmm.....long hair and 5.10 Blanco shoes...that's Cheyne," as he literally ran across the slab traverse and up to me. Cory had mentioned to Cheyne that we were low on water. So Cheyne pulled out his remaining 1/2 liter of water, took a quick swing, and said "make sure he drinks that whole thing!" Cheyne sprinted up, harnessed up, flaked his rope, and began his rappel. Thanks Cheyne!
After a long say of climbing, we finally made it to the rappel anchors, snapped some photos, and began the long descent with about 16 rappels back to terra firma. Per Dean's advice, I rigged Cory up on rappel, kept him anchored in with 2 daisies, and then rapp'd myself. That way, all he had to do was unclip his daisies and rappel as I was below ready with a fireman belay in case he couldn't control his descent. The method worked flawlessly and we made our last rappel in the dark to the ground.
We tossed the gear in the truck and made our way into the Ahwahnee looking all scraggly, washed up, and eagerly searched for the greasiest food we could find. The Ahwahnee bar was the only place open and the most expensive to boot! We settled for some seafood soup, tons of bread, and some coffee for myself. The soup was really good by the way.
We drove back down to the sandlot and crashed out. I woke up around 1:45am and was wide awake....strange. As I stared up at the stars, I could see the Milky Way. "Hmmm...." I pulled out my snazzy Sony RX-100 point-and-shoot camera, mounted it on the pocket tripod, set the 2 sec self-timer, snapped the photo, and couldn't believe my eyes.....
The next day we headed back into the Valley, grabbed some coffee from the Ahwahnee, some grub from the cafeteria, and hung out with Erik Sloan (Nanook) at the Bridge for a few hours. As usual, Cory schooled the tourists on climbing El Capitan and shared his dreams for getting up the Big Stone.
"One day buddy....we will."