South Face C2 5.8
Trip ReportTwo Hobbits Quest up Mt Watkins
Eli and I climbed the South Face of Mt. Watkins on June 10-12 last summer. After admiring the solemn face of Watkins from up high on the face of Half Dome, I decided it would be the next route I would attempt. I was attracted to its quiet and proud location and was thirsting for some exploration.
One of the biggest appeals of climbing walls for me is all of the unique perspectives they reveal. With each route I climb, the more ways of seeing are unlocked and the deeper I fall in love with Yosemite. It is a magical thing, to truly know a small stretch of Earth from under its tall trees and atop its granite mountains.
On June 10th we packed our gear and hiked up Tenaya canyon to the base of the route. We had a good amount of questing through the brush to find the right approach which only added to our sense of adventure. Whenever things start getting interesting with big walling, I like to think I am in J.R.R. Tolkien's world on an epic journey. In this case we are a pair of hobbits, in all likelihood the initially faint hearted Merry and Pippin, who end up finding courage they didn't know was in them along the way.
Nerdy references aside, the approach is long by Yosemite standards and the fixed ropes to the base were strenuous and not in excellent condition at places. Pro tip: fill your bottles up in the creek before heading up to the base of Watkins so you don't have to carry the weight in for the first bit of the approach. The river is very beautiful here.
At the base of the route, Watkins reared above us in its unique and intimidating form. It is quite a magnificent face, with the sweeping slabs and the steep rounded headwall. We were the only people - bliss. We laid out our bags and then simul climbed the first bit of the route to the pitch 2 anchors and fixed our rope. Things got spicy quickly. If you take anything away from this trip report, let it be this: USE 70M ROPES FOR THIS ROUTE!
We were using 60m ropes that weren't long enough for Eli to follow the pendulum down to the anchors. I can't quite remember the situation because it was so long ago, but we couldn't figure out another way to get us both to the anchors without having Eli gingerly solo across the slab to the anchors and then pull the rope through. I now understand the expression of having your heart in your throat on an entirely new dimension.
Letting our adrenaline subside, we rapped down our fixed line, ate dinner, and went to sleep staring up at the imposing sweep of granite, both of us silently conjuring every worst possible scenario imaginable. Our typical pre-wall type of positive thinking. We only had one sleeping pad and a thin tarp. Unsurprisingly, we slept poorly.
We started moving at first light. It took some time to get into the swing of things, as Eli has only ever set up a hauling system in practice, but he knew what he was doing and soon we were on our way up the corner system feeling good. We stayed in the shade of the corner system climbing efficiently and having a blast. All negative thoughts are instantly dispelled as soon as I stop thinking about what has to be done and just doing it. This is true of almost anything in my life. I am a master at overthinking things. Maybe this is why I enjoy the problem solving involved with big walls.
The corner actually has some really fun climbing and we were enjoying ourselves. Then the sun hit us on the ledge at pitch 8 and we instantly turned into lethargic wall rats. We agreed I would take all of the tricky aid pitches from having more experience, so I set off on pitch 9 leaving Eli to fry like a two dollar catfish on the ledge in the sun while I elvis-legged my way out on some micro-nuts and hooks. Despite being scared and doing some gardening, the thin crack was pretty fun. Then I got to a ledge and the climbing got bizarre.
I remember mantling and doing some scary free climbing with decking potential to some hook shenanigans. This was very slow going since I was confused about where the route went and quite gripped. The death rays coming off of the sun were not helping inspire confidence. We made it to our bivy ledge at pitch 11 around 6pm feeling pretty tired. It was a bit more snug than we had anticipated and we had a good laugh at our situation. The wall was dead quiet and we were pretty stoked to have covered so much ground in a day.
After sharing a joint and eating some pasta we got set up for a long and uncomfortable night. I took the outside of the small ledge. We put our shoulders on the one foam pad with a space blanket, tarp and the rope over our legs and torsos. We were basically spooning, and I remember waking up (being slightly more awake than the half awake state I counted as sleep) at least twice in the night to be at the end of my daisy chain staring straight down into the void while Eli rolled over. This was probably the spiciest bivy we have had. It says a lot that we willingly place ourselves in these kinds of positions and ENJOY them! Maybe I'm twisted, but I couldn't help but grin at the absurdity.
Getting moving in the morning was very easy with very little to shove in the haul bag and no comfy sleeping bag to dilly-dally in. We climbed 5.9R for breakfast, which I followed in approach shoes. It was easy climbing but the position was wildly exposed. The headwall was really fun and in a spectacular position.
The C2 hooks pitch was rather epic. There was a lot of camhooks and hooks, and one beak in a snug pocket. And then the 60m ropes hosed us again, thanks to the Big Walls guidebook. I was on the runout 5.7 above the bolt at the lip in approach shoes when I got to the end of the rope and couldn't move, just five feet from the anchor. I was paralyzed for a good ten minutes before gingerly downclimbing the awkward bulge to the last bolt and tying the rope off.
Then we did something I was extremely uncomfortable with and hopefully won't ever have to do again. Eli jugged up the rope with the bag on his harness to the intermediate belay and put me back on. For maybe fifteen minutes Eli was bouncing up and down on the rope to jug with the bag while I sat at the bolt and stared at it, imagining all kinds of movement. I finished the pitch and we diffused our nervous energy by joking around. Eli french freed the next pitch to the base of the chimney in good style. I was feeling thankful for our partnership at that belay, looking at Half Dome and watching him climb up.
The chimney flare pitch sucks, there is no way around it. After some thoroughly unglamorous grunting and fangling around in slings we were at the base of the final pitch. This was my lead, but I handed it to Eli in an act of gratitude for our teamwork. When we climbed the Nose together I led and hauled every pitch, and now that we were climbing our second wall and striving together symbiotically, I handed him the rack and he took us up the glorious final crack to the summit. At the very top of the South Face Mt. Watkins falls away and everything feels, well, f*#king epic.
The summit of Mt. Watkins is really special, and the setting sun washed the high country in unforgettable sherbet hues. To spare the reader the suffering we encountered hiking back to the Valley that same night, I will simply say that it sucked ass, and we couldn't have cared less.
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