Just returned from my first weekend of trad climbing, I thought it only fair to share a trip report since I have enjoyed reading so many others. I am decidedly new to climbing, having just started in January (top roping indoors) and lead climbing indoors for about three months. My learning curve has definitely been aided by my previous life as a semi-professional ballet dancer (balance and core strength) and sometime circus aerialist (upper body strength) as well as my great good fortune to climb with very experienced partners. That said, I am still a neophyte climber, well aware of how little I know...especially when it comes to trad climbing!
My wife having company in town for the weekend (which rendered her unable to join us, much to her annoyance), I took the opportunity to join our friend Shaun for a weekend in Tuolumne. We knew Shaun from the climbing gym and have always gotten along well. He has been making the drive up to Tuolumne almost every weekend with a variety of partners, but this weekend it would be just the two of us. This was my first visit, having only been to the valley for the first time earlier this year despite having grown up in San Francisco. Better late than never!
We got a later start of it than originally planned, leaving San Francisco around 5:30 (and thus in the midst of rush hour traffic). Happily, we nevertheless made reasonable time and found ourselves near the west entrance to the park around 10:30. Too tired to make it all the way through the park, we pulled off on Hardin Flat Road and found a place to crash for the night. This worked beautifully and come 6AM we were on our way.
Passing a completely quiet Stately Pleasure Dome at 7AM, we realized there was no reason not to start climbing immediately. We enjoyed the ludicrously short approach (as Shaun put it, "we could have belayed from the truck") and Shaun was quickly away on the first pitch.
I found the climbing very easy, despite never having touched a real crack before. The easy nature of what was ostensibly 5.8 and 5.9 combined with the serene setting quickly quelled any fears I had about being able to transition to outdoor climbing.
Arriving at the first anchor, Shaun was excited for my first pitch of trad. I was too, though also slightly awed by how quickly it had flown by...and of course, the smile would not leave my face! Revisiting the basics of the anchor and how to follow well (where to clip the pieces I was cleaning, etc...), we then continued onward and upward.
Towards the top of the climb (P4 of the supertopo, though we had linked some of the earlier pitches with our 70m), I had my first taste of what Tuolumne runout can look like.
After the glorious topout, we headed down the slabs...
...only for Shaun to realize he had left the rack at the top of the dome while helping me learn to tie the rope for carrying. Oops!
Rack recovered, we headed off to the general store for breakfast and then tackled our next target, the direct northwest face of Lembert Dome!
Direct Northwest Face of Lembert Dome
After a slightly more involved yet still trivial approach, we arrived at the base of Lembert Dome only to find a party just beginning the Direct Northwest Face and another struggling on P1 of Cryin' time Again. We sat down to wait and were quickly joined by two other climbers, Phil and a female companion whose name escapes me. The time passed quickly as we talked about various topics, including Shaun's helping rescue someone in the Bugaboos a few years ago who may have been a friend of theirs.
We finally got on the Direct Face and made short work of the first few pitches.
The 5.10a layback forced me to take due to my inability to find the feet, but a second effort got me up it cleanly. The same cannot be said for the 510b fingers in pin scars which gave Shaun moment to pause and which I more or less fell up. The rest of the climb was fine and gave me my first real experience with airy belays.
We undertook the moderate hike down the back of the slabs (as opposed to the steeper descent route on the side of the dome) with me still marveling at the almost unearthly scenery.
After refueling with gatorade, we proceeded to Western Front to do some top roping of the 10a slab. This gave us both fresh respect for the climbers who had first ascended many of the routes in Tuolumne as well as teaching me just how good small edges can be as feet...a lesson that would stand me in good stead the next day.
The evening and morning
It is clear to me that no trip to Tuolumne would be complete without a trip to the Mobile Station on the East side. The views of both the mountains and Mono lake as we descended were surpassed only by the food found so improbably at the gas station. Fantastic, do not miss!
We then drove back up the hill and pulled out somewhere on Tioga Pass Road outside the east gate to sleep for the night. The spot was obviously popular with climbers, as we recognized a number of the vehicles bivvied about us. sleep came early, as did the sunrise and by 6:30AM we were headed back in to the park. We arrived too early for food at the lodge, so had a nice stroll before enjoying breakfast with a senior crew of hikers down from Portland. We then hopped in the truck and headed for Fairview Dome in search of Lucky Streaks.
It was still just above freezing when we arrived and another pair of climbers arrived more or less simultaneously to us. They hiked more quickly than we and we were happy to give them first go at the still cold wall...a decision we would later slightly regret.
The climb quickly devolved in to a game of hurry up and wait made only worse by the arrival of another pair below us. Soon we found ourselves waiting for the climbers above us to move on so we could make way for the mounting traffic following behind. Twice Shaun even led out only to have to stop short of the belay because the team wasn't done belaying the next pitch yet. To be fair, they were perfectly capable, just slower than we were (due purely to Shaun's confident leading and quick anchor building).
Shaun quickly dispatched of the crux 10c (now considered 10d?) move as well as the 10b lieback above it. Following, I fell twice on the crux move (once unsure of what to do, the second time getting my foot out in the indentation but not sticking the move) but had no problem with the rest of the pitch at all.
After more waits at uncomfortable semi-hanging belays, the sun peeked over the top of the dome and proceeded to sap our strength. The climb remained fun, but between the mounting heat, the pain of my toes (never had I worn my climbing shoes for such extended periods) and my desperately needing to go to the restroom (curse the lodge's delicious breakfast!), I was all too happy to finally top out after long pitches of truly delightful climbing. The 5.9 roof traverse was a blast (just thrilling enough) and none of the crack gave me any difficulty, which felt great. The 10a slab toprope practice the day before also made the crystals available for stemming seem positively luxurious and unquestionably made the climb more enjoyably for me.
After a quick lunch (and a merciful trip to the bathroom) at the general store, we hopped in the truck and made our way back to San Francisco. the trip was filled with discussion of life, love, work and of course lots of climbing...and plans to make it back to Tuolumne soon!
I felt great about my first trad climbing adventure. I got up what would be considered some fairly difficult pitches with relative ease and felt right at home with every aspect of the multipitch climbing process. The next step will be to learn to lead on the easy stuff and just keep climbing as much as I can. Improving my crack technique will definitely be important, too.
I also learned not to eat too much before getting on a long multipitch route. High-stepping when in desperate need of a toilet is not fun!
Total damage for the weekend: 2 nuts I couldn't clean and one dropped carabiner (I think the gate got caught in my jacket and then popped off when I went to stow a cam)
I hope everyone enjoyed reading this and special thanks to Shaun for his always able and endlessly patient leading.