Sunday, May 17, 2009

El Cap Zodiac Wall

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I was offered a chance to climb El Cap with Ben from Oregon, a pretty good offer considering all the preparations were made and all the gear was already at the base. Zodiac is on the far right side of El Cap, a shorter route at 16 pitches but very vertical and technical at C3+ A2. I bivyed in Ben's campsite at the Pines and we left the next morning to get on the wall. Ben had the first pitch fixed so all I had to do was jummar up and I was hanging on El Cap. We made slow but steady progress up the Zodiac over the next 6 days moving at the rate of 2 to 3 pitches a day.

Above The Mark of Zorro - Photo: Tom Evans -
On a typical day we would awake about 6 and spend about two hours preparing to climb. This included storing the portaledge, eating breakfast (sweet rolls, nuts and dried fruit), taking a crap and getting the gear reracked.

Black Tower Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans -

Ben Leading the Nipple Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans -
Most days Ben would take the lead and I would spend two or three hours in a belay seat belaying and organizing ropes and gear, and just enjoying the magnificent surroundings, the wall in front of me, the Cathedral Rocks opposite and the busy valley.

Stuart at the Belay - Photo: Tom Evans -
Once at the anchors Bern would haul the bags and I would jummar up the ropes removing the gear and pitons. Usually around dusk we would finish up, deploy the portaledge, have our dinner (cashews, fish and dinner rolls and snickers for desert) and go to sleep about 10.
I lead the 4 C1 pitches on the route so I did all the leading and hauling as we moved through pitches 4-6 on Day 2. The leads included several bolt ladders, hooking through a traverse and an interesting inverted cam hook move. On day 6 I got to lead pitch 14 above Peanut Ledge which is an 80' 4.5" vertical crack followed by airy moves out over a roof to the belay. I walked three cams as I aided over a 50' section of the crack.

Stuart Leading the Pitch Above Peanut Ledge - Photo: Tom Evans -
On Day 3 as Ben was leading up an overhanging pitch in the gray circle a massive thunderstorm rolled through the valley. Sheets of rain and hail closed in from the direction of Half Dome. Amazing in this overhanging section we were completely protected by the wall and unaffected as climbers on the Nose dived for cover. Horsetail falls 100 yards to my right turned into a flash flood pouring off the top of El Cap. Pretty exciting. That night at dusk a massive rock came off the top of the Nose and plunged loudly through the air to shatter 3000 feet below.
On Day 6 we topped out in the afternoon, organized the gear, hung the portaledge from a tree and bivyed before the heinous descent to come the next day. Getting off El Cap is the worst part of climbing it. You have to scramble down steep class 3 and 4 terrain, bushwack and rappel all with huge. top heavy haul bags on your bag. The descent took us 5 hours and was the hardest day of the climb. When we reached the bottom Ben's mom was there waiting for us with pizza, beer and water. Thanks Becky!
Thanks Ben for taking me with you on this awesome journey. Thanks for your guidance, friendship and patience. This was an amazing opportunity for me to put it all together. And now I am ready to go again. Perhaps in the fall with Rudy McIntire.
Our climb was captured and documented by Tom Evans on the El Cap Report so if you want to see that just go to and check out the posts from May 16 to 21. Thanks Tom for letting me use your pics on my site.

Friday, May 15, 2009

NE Buttress of Higher Cathedral

A week ago Friday I climbed the NE Buttress on Higher Cathedral with Robert from Poland. We ascended the 11 pitch 5.9 route in 8 hours thanks to Robert's brilliant leads on sustained 5.9 cracks and chimneys.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The next day I climbed Kor-Beck 5.9, 6 pitches on Middle Cathedral with Brian from Hawaii. Only three stars and a bit manky but a Yosemite classic regardless.
On my way back to Camp 4 I saw some people setting up a slack line so I decided to go check them out and see if I could make some friends. Well it turned out to be the same group that had set up the slackline at the top of Yosemite Falls the other day but this time the slackline was only 15' off the ground but 800' long. The dude was going for the world record. I jumped right in helping to tension the line which involves using a pully system and 6 guys to tighten it to about 3000 pounds.

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Unfortunately the dude wasn't able to walk the line very far because the wind made the center wag up and down about 10', but I made some nice connections with the guys and girl there including reconnecting with Phin whom I had met last winter in Ouray.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lost Arrow Spire

Next on our agenda - The Lost Arrow Spire, a 300 foot spire that sits at the top of the wall just below Yosemite Point and to the right of Yosemite Falls, 2500 feet above the valley floor. To climb the spire you hike up the tourist trail to the top of Yosemite Falls, rappel into the notch between the spire and the rim on two ropes fixed on the rim. Then you climb two pitches to the spire tip trailing the fixed ropes. To get back to the rim you have to fix the trailing ropes to the spire tip and do a Tyrolian traverse back to the rim.
Our plan was to do the 2800' hike/climb Friday evening, bivy at the top, and climb Sunday. We packed our gear and headed up the trail an hour before dusk.
The Spire is directly above Rudy's head in this pic.

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As we climbed past the upper falls the sun went down and a full moon rose over the southern horizon. There was enough light from the moon to climb without a headlamp. We met some guys who had been walking a slack line that day across the top of the falls. At the top we dropped our packs and detoured to the upper falls overlook to look straight down on the falls. The wind was howling at about 40mph, just a taste of what we might be in for the next day. We made camp a few hundred yards back from the rim and Rudy and Scott went to bed. I walked over to the rim in the moonlight to get a look at the spire. From Yosemite Point I caught a glimpse of the spire below. It was terrifying to look at, lower and further away from the rim than I had expected, glowing in the moonlight in the howling wind.
The next morning we fixed our rope and rapped into the notch. After stepping out left onto the exposed face Rudy performed a bold and powerful free lead on the first pitch up to the Salathe ledge which included a 10a fist jam into a 9 off width. I tried to free the pitch but grabbed for my aiders almost immediately. I took the clean aid lead on the second pitch stepping off the ledge left I traversed left on some tricky placements and then straight up on bolts 120' to the spire tip. What a rush. I got to sit alone on the tip for thirty minutes while the other guys jugged. I was thew first on tyrolian and to scoot off the spire tip onto a rope took everything I had - but once in md-air it felt just fine. Amazing climb.
Scott on Tyrolian in this pic.

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Rudy told me he wants to learn to aid climb after doing the spire and we have said we will train this summer and return in the fall to climb El Cap.
Scott left Sunday morning and Rudy and I went cragging at the base of El Cap. The highlight of the day was Sacherer Cracker, a five star 10.a crack.
Sunday night Rudy left so I set out to make new friends. One thin g that's great about the Yosemite climbing community is a real friendliness and many opportunities to meet new partners.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Central Pillar of Frenzy

Friday morning I headed out with Rudy to climb the Central Pillar of Frenzy 5.9 on Middle Cathedral Rock - an imposing crack climb directly up the NE face.

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I wasn't sure how I would do on the 5.9 finger crack on pitch 2 but I found that I can climb those better than the wider fist jams up higher. We completed the climb before noon and headed back to camp.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Climb ON

Yesterday we climbed Nutcracker which was my first ever Yosemite climb last year. It was really cool to lead with ease the 5.8 pitches that I struggled with as a second last year.

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Then we took a ride up to Glacier Point which is an overlook a few thousand feet above the valley floor -- stunning views of Half Dome and all the high peaks in the distance.
Today we got up early to climb Braille Book on the Higher Cathedral Rock -- 6 pitches of very vertical sustained 5.8 stemming in a book and climbing on jugs.
Tonight Rudy McIntire joined us in the Valley and we will climb even harder now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Alcove Swing

Yesterday was a rest day because of the rain during the night and because Scott wanted to hike to Nevada Falls - we went our separate ways in the morning.
I stopped by the mountaineering store and found out that the HB Offsets are supposed to arrive any day now - I left my number.
I headed back to Camp 4 to put on some shorts and witnessed an eviction ala Pinkie the Ranger. I trolled the boulder fields and met some cool Germans from the Munich area and a group of guys from Portland.

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I went over to El Cap to retrieve my sunglasses that I had left at the base of Pacific Ocean Wall and ran into three guys swinging in the Alcove. One of the dudes loaned me his harness and I took a ride. I did a bout ten swings and i was super fun. Videos of the swing here.
I returned to Camp 4 and met the two new guys in our Campsite -- Andrew and Ben from Tasmania. Super friendly - hope I get to climb with them.
Slept well last night.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Day One

I am sitting in the cafeteria at Yosemite lodge Larry and Harry from Long Beach, Phillip from Heidleberg and Scott.
I am enjoying my second breakfast of V8 and Red Bull -- one can of each. I had green tea and frosted mini wheats in Camp 4 as it awoke this morning.
For dinner last night Scott ate canned baked beans with potted meat and mashed potatoes -- what is potted meat? -- he said that the potted meat sort of dissolved into the beans. I ate Velveta shells and cheese with canned tuna and canned peas -- yummy! For lunch I ate one peanut butter sandwich and one sandwich made with Pecorino Romano and Yard of Beef -- Yard of Beef is a giant summer sausage that I got at Sam's Club for five bucks -- I expect it to last the entire month.
Sunday and Monday nights we slept at Camp 4 in our Coleman tent mansion -- its 9 ft x 14 ft with plenty of room for guests. I am on a queen size Coleman inflatable bed with I blew up myself -- took about thirty minutes but I saved twenty bucks.
Monday we climbed M Bishops Terrace 5.8 200ft - awesome 5 star crack climb. We continued up a short pitch to the actual Bishop's Terrace, a giant sloping ledge, and lolled in the sunshine.

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Next we climbed Church Bowl Layback 5.8. Scott led with good style, but took a twenty foot whipper doing a finger layback on wet rock -- he fell on my yellow c3. He thanked me for saving his life -- I told him no problem. As Scott set the anchor a bear ran by and scared a group of school kids -- running and screaming.
In the afternoon we decided to practice some aid climbing. So I packed up a haul bag, drank some green tea, put on some house music and we drove to El Cap. We hiked in past the Nose and up the the south-east face to the start of the Pacific Ocean Wall.

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We saw a bear in woods so we detoured around. I geared up while Scott went on a booty hunt. I led the first pitch of Pacific Ocean Wall, C1 or 5.11c, a vertical crack, in a hour and a half -- not bad. Scott dozed in the camp chair he carried in -- me on a Cinch. So I have led my first pitch of aid on El Cap. Yeah!!

Land of Giants

Last night we bivyed at a KOA plopped in an industrial park at the edge of Fresno -- an acquired taste. We stopped at Walmart in Fresno to buy white t-shirts and return broken sunglasses. Scott bought me a pair of children's pink arm swimming floatys -- I thought it was a nice gesture but I'm not sure what he is implying by the pink color. Thanks Scott.
We arrived at Yosemite about noon time, with Pete Seeger on the radio, along with low clouds and some rain.

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We hiked a 2 mile loop through the Maripose Sequoia Grove and saw a 3000 year old tree called Grizzly and the then made for the valley. Entering the Valley is a spiritual experience -- as before I was overwhelmed with beauty and joy to be back -- the great stone giants shrouded and glistening welcomed me home.

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It rained here all last week and with the snow melt the Merced River is running high and the waterfalls are super fat. The valley is lush and green and wet, and Camp 4 is drenched. But the rain is ending and we expect the month of May to be nothing but sun and blue skies.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Red Rocks

We are driving in the Mohave desert of California on our way to Yosemite Valley.
Slept under the stars last night at Red Rocks, Nevada -- after a long day of driving and little sleep the night before. Rose at dawn to go climb and made our approach to Oak Creek Canyon, Solar Slab area.

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We arrived to the climb just behind another party -- city boys -- clearly a slow party. I said a few words to Scott about how his slowness this morning had cost us the route and then we had a good fight which brought us right back into balance and mutual respect.
Climbed Johnny Vegas 5.7, a five star classic (see twitter updates for comments from the climb and pics) -- I personally don't find anything rated 5.6 to be "classic" -- too easy. We don't recommend the climb Parchment to the left -- there is a hornet's nest in the crack at the base and they stung me twice. All good, but I broke another pair of Walmart sunglasses. Fashion tip: Go to Walmart and buy the big "ladies" sunglasses -- they are huge and 100%uv for ten bucks.
We rolled out of Vegas about 4pm headed for Cali -- ate a pint of Ben and Jerrys' "Everything but the", 1200 calories and 80 grams of fat and got a stomach ache -- the air conditioning in the car seems to be working fine now after some hic-cups earlier. Wolfed In and Out burgers at Bastow, CA which always makes Scott happy -- and made my stomach feel better.
We are in good spirits, getting fat and are wishing all our friends to sleep as well as we will tonight under the big skies of California, roadside, amongst the happy cows.