I started climbing back in May 2007. I was 22, and had just moved to Utah to start a new, brighter, more outdoor-oriented life. I haven’t stopped since; in fact, the longest I went without climbing was the month in Nepal. I’ve probably consistently climbed 2-3 times a week for the past three years.
Thus, it was only a matter of time before I made The Pilgrimage. Yosemite Valley is the spiritual home of American climbing, where the first Stonemasters fashioned their own gear and made their way up the massive granite cliffs by whatever means necessary. I had heard and read so much about the Valley and surrounding climbing that a visit was inevitable.
Four of us packed into a Honda Element (a sweet ride!) to drive over the night of June 19. We diagonally bisected the utterly barren state of Nevada and were in California by dawn. Yosemite is split into two parts: the Valley, far and away the most touristy, populated, and spectacular area, and Tuolumne Meadows, a large expanse of alpine wilderness consisting of granite domes, peaks, lakes and streams. Both areas are beautiful in their own way, and we spent some time in each.
We drive on the Yosemite highway through the valley in awe. Massive granite cliffs are everywhere. A large river to our left reflects the massive Sequoias and Douglas Firs towering towards the sky. We are all rather groggy but excited, and split up to look at wilderness permits and get a campsite at historic Camp 4. After an hour of waiting we get a site for the four of us. Glenn and I are psyched to climb so we gear up while the other two catch up on sleep. We walk over to some cliffs near the campsite and tackle a nice 5.7 in the shade, then toprope an adjacent 5.9 and .10a. Right around then I realized I wouldn’t be doing many challenging routes that week, not because of the difficulty of the climbing but rather my partners’ inexperience on granite. Oh well.
We take a nap, then all regroup to go for a drive and take pictures. As the sun is setting, we reach Glacier Point, on the other side of the valley. We take in a stunning view of Half Dome, the Toulumne alpine, and Yosemite Valley, then make our way back to camp.
I must say, I was quite pleased with my partners’ willingnesss to get after it. We get up decently early, pack in the car, and make the hour plus drive up to Tuolomne. The objective is Cathedral Peak, a spiny mountain jutting out of the high alpine at 10,900 feet. There are several technical routes to the top, and we choose a 6-pitch 5.6 for the ascent. The approach is difficult — due to a series of late spring storms, the snow is still deep and all the suncups make for frustrating hiking. It takes us a couple hours to get to the base, where we promptly run into a party of four retreating from the route.
Huh? I think, then turn around and look at the sky. Storm clouds are brewing to the east. They don’t look too threatening, so we sack up, rack up and start climbing. The rock is impeccable, with fun cracks and low-angle friction climbing. We cruise up the first few pitches, including a fun, exposed, step-around 5.7 move four pitches up. The “crux” 5.7 crack is above, and proves fun and a bit spicy. (It’s funny how different partners can totally change your psych level. Sometimes I’m gung-ho about leading .10c trad yet at times scared of 5.7…)
There is discussion of retreat, and as the storm clouds billow higher and higher we realize we’re covered in metal trinkets attached to a granite lightning rod. Yet the storm still hasn’t moved any closer and we proceed. The last pitch is a relief, leading to an incredible view of Tuolumne from a pool-table sized summit. We don’t dally and expedite the rappels in hopes of descending before the weather starts getting hairy.
It never does. We get a sprinkle of hail on the hike out, but are delighted at the day’s accomplishment. I suggest a route with a shorter approach for the next day…