Trip Report
Into the Gaping Maw, a tale of Basket Case, the Astroman of Offwidth.
Saturday November 16, 2013 4:22am
I've learned over the years, that the best adventures you'll ever find yourself getting into, the ones that end up pushing you the furthest beyond your personal expectations, typically start as some random conversation with just the right person, over some route you think you might want to try, but really have no expectation of actually ever doing.

Over the July 4th weekend, I found myself, yet again in that very situation with Alexey, on the seldom visited Basket Case...

I don't remember when it was, or even the conversation itself. Perhaps it began as some random conversation across a flickering campfire, or a fleeting thought half way up some route on a belay ledge. Either way, I must have uttered the words "we should climb that sometime" somewhere along the line.
I do remember the bug placed in the back of my mind after reading Doninis tale of the first ascent of Basket Case. I've never been one of those people who climb for the movement or pure challenge. It's always been about the lure of the unknown, and Basket Case has been a big question mark in the back of my mind for more than a decade. So despite any fears and apprehention I may have, I always try to remember, the first rule in traditional climbing, is to always start by saying, YES!

So as it were, spring was freshly over and summer was just popping up. I hadn't heard from Alexey in months when I recieved an email out of the blue. Before I even opened it, I somehow already knew exactly what it contained. We're going to climb Basket Case, and my curiosity and anticipation was more than compelling me to say "hell yes"!

We decided to climb it over a two day weekend. One leisurly day in to camp, the next day climb and walk out. Simple right? Not really. You see, I'd spent all spring growing tits clawing my way up polished slab routes. I'd tapped in more bolts than I've placed hand jambs in the past several months, much less even looked at an offwidth. Now I'm supposed to drag my ass through some henious looking approach and up a route with a notoriously obscure reputation, sporting a 5.11??? offwidth and miles of other wide questionmarks???

Well, sounds good to me. It was actually just what I had been looking for. Something to wear them tits down and build the callouses back up on my knees and back. Besides, what could go wrong? It's only 7 or so pitches and I figured we could link at least a couple.

So I got two days to get this done. We decide to opt out of the alpine start and hit the trail just a little later (3:00PM). I'm late as usual and my gear is naturally in a giant knot in the back of my truck from the prevous weekends adventures.

We set off and make the leisurely 4 mile hike to the back side of North Dome. A nice hike if you've never done it. Certainly much easier than bushwacking your way down around that nightmare decent from North Dome and down the gully back to the Valley, FYI. Anyway, we find a nice flat camping spot, build a fire, sort and prep our gear then settle down for the night. Alexi's out like a light. Me, not so much. Too much redbull and a flat air mattress makes for a long night. Why the hell I didn't bring any booze is beyond me. Lesson learned.

We wake up in the morning at a leisurely pace giving plenty of time for breakfast and a much needed dose of coffee. We prep our gear, stash our bags and go in alpine style. Gear, topo and water, that's it. Oh, and Redbull.

Alexey, on point.
Alexey, on point.
Credit: Salamanizer

The approach trail seemed obvious, but it turned out to be neither. You rummage through bushes from clearing to clearing and head away from Basket Dome. After a while we finally found the right gully. It looks really bleak from the top but is rendered not too bad with a little help from a bush belay provided by the flora that chokes the start.

Maybe this is it? Perhaps??
Maybe this is it? Perhaps??
Credit: Salamanizer

Pretty soon it opened up to a nice damp all hands on downclimb on loose rock. No biggie, I accidently trundled the big block already, so ya'll are good to go.

Behold, the first sandbag of the day. Doesn't look like much eh'?
Behold, the first sandbag of the day. Doesn't look like much eh'?
Credit: Salamanizer

Approaches are always overlooked in the descriptions of hard routes. Someone mentioned the approach was only 3rd class. Does this look like third class to you?

Alexey, 3rd classing it ;)
Alexey, 3rd classing it ;)
Credit: Salamanizer

As we continued "3rd" classing it, I suddenly found myself on one of the most exposed and totally sandbagged approaches I'd encountered yet. We decided to rope up on this little bit of exposed 3rd class.

Gnarly Dude!
Gnarly Dude!
Credit: Salamanizer

We soon found ourselves at the base of the route, looking up at the gaping maw above. This thing is awe inspiring to say the least.

The Maw...
The Maw...
Credit: Salamanizer

The first pitch as the book describes it was trivial. Not really much harder than the approach, I don't consider it even part of the route proper, just the end of the approach.

The real first pitch started out as a perfect splitter fist crack. The kind of fist crack you dream about when climbing other fist cracks. Nuff said.

Get some!!!
Get some!!!
Credit: Salamanizer

I mean, wow. Take another look, just for posterity.

Credit: Salamanizer

We had brought two BD #3's and an old #3 1/2 friend. Unfortunately for me, one of the wires broke on a #3 and this picth is all 3's for about 50ft until it opens up and rounds out with a nice O.W. I got a piece or two in down low but was so afraid to leave my only #3 behind I actually ended up with it at the anchor. This pitch seemed quite burly and was but an omen of things to come.

Credit: Salamanizer

Remember that #3 I was afraid to leave behind as pro? Good thing, cuz this is a Donini route after all, and so naturally the only option for an anchor required a blue #3. Pay no attention to that green .75 over there. That thing was crap in crap rock. Big blue was all that was holding this belay afloat.

Credit: Salamanizer

Alexey got the next lead where he ended up linking pitches 2 & 3. I'm glad he did because it gave me time to tape up. Normally I never tape. In fact, I haven't worn tape since the first time I climbed outside a decade ago. But I got a sinking feeling of whats to come and I've learned my lesson the hard way before.

This pitch started out as a nice squeeze before going into a pleasurable lieback, but it's no gimmie. After an exposed traverse you'll find yourself on a near vertical 1 1/4 crack rated 5.9 in the book that ends at an uncomfortable stance. Vertical + 1 1/4 + 5.9 = ??? You do the math.

Alexey takin the sharp end.
Alexey takin the sharp end.
Credit: Salamanizer

Pitches 2 & 3
Pitches 2 & 3
Credit: Salamanizer

I started up the next pitch with a bit too much ambition. The start said 5.10 and I figured I could easily blow through it. Wrong!!! After a few false starts and some choice words I found myself in a perfectly vertical 4in crack. Solid .10d offwidth that seemed like it went on forever. Too small for my knee and too wide to get a fist to stick, I was burning more energy than I wanted with no features in sight for a rest. Working my way up in millimeters, and completely spent, there appeared a small meager edge where I could barely squeak out a rest. Not enough of a rest to recover, just enough to survive for a few moments and collect my thoughts. I remember thinking, "this is the hardest thing I've ever climbed" while looking up at another 15ft of offwidth. Completely spent I was ready to give up and hang on some gear. Being in this state is a physically painful event. It's like trying to hold your breath in a sea of air, when all you need to do to stop the madness is give up and breathe in.

By now I was bleeding all over. I could feel the raw spots on my ankles through my TC pros, and I could hardly stand the gobies I was getting through the tape on my hands. Just then, the crack steepened and I knew I was hosed. Luckily, it also widened up just enough to where I could get my knee in and squeak out a painful no hands rest. Knees = stacked hands to me. As long as I could get my knee in and stack, I can rest and move up with a manageable amount of effort. Stack, move, lock knee, stack, fight to unlock knee, move, lock knee, stack, fight to unlock knee, get stuck, arm bar, free knee then re-set it, stack, move, lock knee. This went on for the last 15ft until the crack abruptly widened. Exactly like the crux of Midterm except vertical to slightly overhanging. I was barely able to beach whale flop myself into this holdless void where I remained for quite some time choking back vomit and gasping for air.

Looking down just above the crux of Basket Case
Looking down just above the crux of Basket Case
Credit: Salamanizer

Credit: Salamanizer

I was barely able to snap these couple photos while recovering before looking up and seeing that there was still an unknown distance of squeeze chimney which was much too wide for any gear I had with me. Chimney as far as you can see.

Alexey making his way through the squeeze.
Alexey making his way through the squeeze.
Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer

Shimmying my way up, I finally left my #6 about 30ft up totally tipped out at an angle so it would stick and so I no longer had to lug the worthless paperweight with me. The belay ledge couldn't have come soon enough. An hour plus of that sh#t and I was totally done. Problem was, it was basically a body belay backed up in some of the crunchiest rotten rock you ever saw. Not to mention, it was another Donini belay. Dammit!!!

The #4 was worthless.
The #4 was worthless.
Credit: Salamanizer

The View sure was nice though.

Credit: Salamanizer

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the overhanging hand/fist crack above me. Trust me, it's quite a spectacle to behold. It was either that or a rotten carpet covered flairing chimney to the left. I had some trouble getting established in the overhang but found some bomber hands in the rotten rock. Pulling the lip was full on 5.11? which lead into yet another 5.10 something offwidth. Luckily there was a double crack over the lip where the green chimney merged back with the crack I was in and I could get some gear in. This is the point where I was totally spent, running out of water with raw oozing arms and low on motivation.

I'll let the photos do the talking on that pitch.

Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer
Credit: Salamanizer

Alexey took the next and supposed last pitch. There are two options one could take. The guidebook suggests going left but the right variation looked like the more direct option to us so up we went through a tight squeeze chimney that seemed like it went on forever. By now the backs of my arms were a gooey mess, my ankles and knees were raw and I'd been out of water for over an hour.

Credit: Salamanizer

This thing looks easy I know, if it were on the ground it'd probably be a popular route for offwidth noobs to cut their teeth. But sitting on top of this route it's nothing less than a monumental effort to get through.

Credit: Salamanizer

Finally we were on top, or so we thought. A long easy pitch of low angle rock and bushes led to a nice level spot where we could finally unrope. Totally out of water with the light soon to begin fading it was time to get off this thing. As we made our way up, unfortunately we ran into a large drop off with nowhere else to go. It was a demotivating heart sinking feeling but there was no sense in whining about it. We downclimbed a few hundred feet through thick bushes until we could make a sketchy traverse across a slab to another gully on the left. This gully fortunately led to the miles of slab where we could finally hike up to the top of the dome and back down the other side to camp.

I don't even remember how long we were on route. Seemed like it took us forever. I was completely taken by surprise and caught off guard by the sheer unrelenting difficulty of this route. I've climbed RNWF of Half Dome in 12 hours car to car and I think these 5 pitches took longer from base to summit.
Humbling doesn't even begin to express the feelings this route provokes.
It's an incredibly beautiful route with every pitch having something to offer, some new challenge to overcome, testing every technique in wide you have to the max.
Basket Case is a quietly overlooked Yosemite mega classic lurking in the shadows in my opinion.

It is the "Astroman of Offwidth"!

Battered and bruised but not beaten.
Battered and bruised but not beaten.
Credit: Salamanizer

  Trip Report Views: 3,700
About the Author
Salamanizer is a trad climber from Vacaville Ca,.

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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 04:56am PT
Awesome - thanks for putting this together.
Great photos and great description of the climbing, too!

Links to the other Basket Case adventures:
Stephen McCabe

Trad climber
near Santa Cruz, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 04:58am PT
Stellar trip report. Congratulations!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Nov 16, 2013 - 05:10am PT
That was a fine write-up---all the way from 3rd Class to bad ass---and the pix speak volumes more.

Wide thanks!
Jebus H Bomz

Old West Crackramento
  Nov 16, 2013 - 05:57am PT
Thanks for taking the time to write it well. Sounds like an ass kicker!

  Nov 16, 2013 - 06:51am PT

Bill Mc Kirgan

Trad climber
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  Nov 16, 2013 - 07:46am PT
Great photography and story telling. Thanks!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Nov 16, 2013 - 10:44am PT
Great TR.....brings back memories! Only wish i'd had a 3 camalot, it was the pre cam era. TM brought the gear and included only a couple of larger hexes, made the crux pitch one of the more memorable leads of my life.

Trad climber
Washington DC
  Nov 16, 2013 - 10:19am PT
Fantastic! I always wanted to go up there and your pics were so inspiring. Great job! This is why I love Supertopo so much.

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Nov 16, 2013 - 10:41am PT
I always try to remember, the first rule in traditional climbing, is to always start by saying, YES!


Right on you two, very adventurous!

You have a way with words and storytelling, always a fun read.

...there was no sense in whining about it. We downclimbed a few hundred feet through thick bushes until we could make a sketchy traverse across a slab to another gully on the left... Seemed like it took us forever. I was completely taken by surprise and caught off guard.

Yeah, been there done that, lol!

Babbnb! Like!!

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  Nov 16, 2013 - 11:05am PT
What a line. Thanks for the TR.

Social climber
San Francity, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 11:40am PT
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 12:23pm PT
thanks for the TR,
great to see the images
and to hear the amazing story
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 05:17pm PT
Thanks a lot Salamanizer!

I have to admit a bunch of your description doesn't seem familiar to me at all. Like the account of the all-gal ascent recently.

But hell, it has been 38 years after all since I climbed it so my recollection might be corrupted. It is a terrific route and underscoring its quality is its remoteness and altitude.

I love the excellent photo of you and Alexey on top! The leafless tree behind Alexey's head seems to make Alexey's hair really extreme (grin) and implies a tough climb! But above all, a wonderful and even grand image and thanks very much for sharing all of this.


Trad climber
  Nov 16, 2013 - 01:30pm PT
fantastico !!!!!!!!!!!!
wich gear did you take ,what do you suggest?

The Hot Kiss On the End of a Wet Fist
  Nov 16, 2013 - 01:48pm PT
Man, that thing looks BURLY!!! Great TR, thanks!

East Bay, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 02:05pm PT
Very nice TR. Sounds BRUTAL.
Dapper Dan

Trad climber
Menlo Park
  Nov 16, 2013 - 02:28pm PT
Holy $hit that looks brutal . Well done . I need a nap after reading ...

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 16, 2013 - 02:31pm PT

Between that approach and all that W-I-D-E it's no wonder I haven't been up there.

Good work!!
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
  Nov 16, 2013 - 02:33pm PT
Kick asssssssssssssssss! (Tm)


Trad climber
Marcus McCoy from somewhere over the rainbow...
  Nov 16, 2013 - 02:53pm PT
haha, good stuff. peter beat me to the tree/hair point, so i guess what im trying to say is .... CHEERS!
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
From Panorama City, CA
  Nov 16, 2013 - 02:59pm PT
Some of those waves and maws of rock made me think of surfing and I don't even surf. What a cool place to be.

  Nov 16, 2013 - 05:10pm PT
What a good TR!

Like Peter i love the summit shot, by the looks of it that's type 1 fun for Alexy.

Great job on all accounts, thanks!!


Trad climber
Sierra Vista
  Nov 16, 2013 - 05:16pm PT
That is a very compelling nightmare.



Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Nov 16, 2013 - 05:24pm PT
That is really something! Third class approach indeed! ????!!!!!
Your writing sounded so cool and composed in the face of a really battering climb. That you got such wonderful pics is astounding...
Alexy's smile....where'd that come from???

Trad climber
  Nov 16, 2013 - 07:22pm PT
In--Spiring-- one of those you might think about repeating,,o for just a moment,,,lack of crowds always a bonus,,

Gym climber
  Nov 16, 2013 - 08:47pm PT
Awesome TR. Congrats! The approach alone looks well above my pay grade (though I'm sure I'd survive it 9 out of 10 times).

Social climber
"close to everything = not at anything", ca
  Nov 17, 2013 - 02:35am PT

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
  Nov 17, 2013 - 05:26am PT
your's is a great write up chad.
congratulations to you both upon
completing a noteworthy climb.

  Nov 19, 2013 - 03:17pm PT
All right guys! Way to do it. Great pictures Chad. I had been thinking about going up there but it looks like I might need a pretty big aid rack. Or a new set of arms and legs.
Hope to see you guys soon,

San Jose, CA
  Nov 19, 2013 - 04:49pm PT
Chad, thanks for great report. Half year pass - I still remember this trip as hardest in my life.
After we climbed it , I kind of lost motivation to do anything for couple weeks ( probably recovering). The hole climb looks so Intimidating from the bottom. And the photos, yer this is how it was stored in my memory.
And thanks for taking second crux pitch 6. It was my turn to lead, and I remember it looks so improbable and hard so I asked " Chad - can you take it ? - and your "yes"
And this pitch for me was "Up rope I am not moving!" , not the previous as commonly known as crux 11b ow
With this pitch N 6 which shown on Reid topo as 5.10 and completely not matching the reality - something happen in last 30 years. I think big chank of rock gone from there.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the overhanging hand/fist crack above me. Trust me, it's quite a spectacle to behold. It was either that or a rotten carpet covered flairing chimney to the left.
I still can see it without your picture when my eyes are close.

I climbed many routes with Chad including Astroman, so I know how well he is climbing , but he still managed to impress me by his skills and determination on Basket Case.

Edit to add: And in term of time - we climbed Basket case one hour longer than Astroman
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Nov 19, 2013 - 05:01pm PT
" Chad - can you take it ? - and your "yes"
Having a solid partner can be so critical when things get a bit out of control.
You don't go up on this route with a noob....
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
  Nov 19, 2013 - 06:16pm PT
Great report, Salamanizer, worth the wait.
The climb seems to be getting more and more appealing.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 19, 2013 - 06:55pm PT
Great report. After reading your Silk Road to Karakorum Highway masterpiece I had a huge desire to climb it, and now after looking at your and Christina's TR the question mark next to Basketcase is bulging. Unless I get injured, 2014 will be an interesting year...and again, thanks for posting!

Social climber
Truckee, CA
  Nov 19, 2013 - 07:19pm PT
I was barely able to beach whale flop myself into this holdless void where I remained for quite some time choking back vomit and gasping for air.

Seems we are experiencing a glorious era of wyde TR surfeit lately, and I am loving it!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 19, 2013 - 09:40pm PT
Awesome, love the 3 camalot belays!!!
What exactly is a salamanizer?????

Trad climber
  Nov 20, 2013 - 07:48am PT
Sheesh, after reading that I'm totally worked!
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Nov 20, 2013 - 08:22am PT
Great report! Suffer-fests are the best recollections, thanks for posting.

  Nov 20, 2013 - 09:24am PT
Two Thumbs Up!

(and they're taped in sympathy)

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Nov 20, 2013 - 02:46pm PT
great report, looks great, nice job!
David Wilson

  Nov 23, 2013 - 03:16pm PT
Way to go guys ! Great TR. Thanks for posting.

Random Nobody
  Nov 23, 2013 - 06:20pm PT
Awesome TR. Much appreciated story, more appreciated pictures…


Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Nov 23, 2013 - 08:56pm PT
But where does it cross the waterfall?

  Nov 23, 2013 - 11:30pm PT
beautiful! thanks for sharing

Social climber
El Portal, CA
  Dec 1, 2013 - 03:28pm PT
What a great story and photos. I enjoyed that very much. Thanks!
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
  Dec 1, 2013 - 05:48pm PT
Thanks for your great trip report, Salamanizer. But I'm afraid it inspired me too much. I commented to someone at Planet Granite that BC didn't look too bad to me and since I've always loved OW, I think I've committed myself to doing it next July on my 67th B-day. This is exactly the way I've gotten into BIG trouble before shooting off my BIG mouth. I'm willing to bet that if I can do the approach without scaring myself to death, I can get up BC.

Your whole TR seems like a real invitation to mayhem. If I die, it was your fault, right? Better to have someone else to blame for your own rash statements.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Dec 1, 2013 - 05:53pm PT
Hmm, I have a summer birthday coming up too....

Trad climber
Mountain View
  Feb 4, 2014 - 05:47pm PT
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