Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Category: Climbing (page 1 of 2)

Climbing the Nose Part Four: Chasing Legends

Continued from Part Three

Sometime before dawn I was roused by shouted voices from below:

“Off belay!”
“Off. Belay!”

…silence. I fell back asleep, barely aware of the pre-dawn light sneaking around the rounded aréte of the Nose. At this point in the route we were facing southwest with a spectacular view up-canyon: pitch 24 or something.

A few minutes later I was again awakened, this time by the jingling of climbing hardwear. Jim Donini’s face popped up over the ledge. No f’ing way, I thought. He used the bolted anchors about five feet above, trying not to step on me all curled up in my mummy bag in the fetal position.

“Off belay!”

Christ, I thought. Guess I might as well get up.

“Got any coffee? Man, that’d be a lifesaver!”
“Well, yeah, actually I think we might. Would have to get out the stove, though.” I was excited to help out a couple old climbing legends, so I grabbed my jumars, packed up my sleeping bag, and jugged back up to the upper ledge, about 20 feet above. We set up the stove and started boiling water. It was clear that we had packed way too much water at this point, so we elected to leave a gallon jug for some other unfortunate party.

“Coffee’s ready when you are.” We only had two of those Starbucks Via packets left, which only allowed for two small cups. I had a taste and offered some to Jim. He was stoked.

“Ahhhh…you have no idea how good this tastes.” They’d been on the move for 20+ hours. Soon George was leading up the next pitch and Eric and I were packing up the haul bag. We would end up having to wait, an ominous sign of the day to come.

The next 5-6 hours were spent hanging out with Jim at belays talking while he urged George on. Come on, George, climb faster. They were plodding on, drawing from a lifetime’s experience of huge pushes in the mountains. We talked about climbing in the good ol’ days, a few of the routes he had put up in the valley, even their experience on Latok I. It was probably the coolest possible way to endure waiting for hours at belays. By Camp VI, two pitches above, we had run into Zach and Lara again. They had stayed there the night before and had elected to let the two septuagenarians pass. I was feeling surprisingly good at this point, so I elected to take the next block of leads. It was noon. Six hours to climb two pitches. Eric was not in a good mental state, kind of freaking out about the forecasted weather but at least with a couple of friendly folk to help pass the time.

Free climbing the start of the famous Changing Corners pitch

Free climbing the start of the famous Changing Corners pitch

The next pitch was awesome, starting with a hand crack and continuing to really thin pin scars in a corner. This is the famous Changing Corners, or the crux free climbing pitch at 5.14a. As an aid pitch it seemed quite easy, but maybe there was a bunch of fixed gear or something. Zach had led the same pitch before me, but it became clear that I had climbed it significantly quicker, so they graciously offered for us to pass. I was a bit fed up with waiting at this point so this was great news. Eric and I started to get in the zone, and with efficient belay changeovers and mostly-free lead climbing, we made quick time up the next few pitches. These pitches are some of my fondest memories of the route — with a ton of classic, moderate free climbing, and due to a light haul bag, a minimum of suffering.

By late afternoon I was at the top of pitch 30 and had caught up to Jim and George. I asked if he would fix a line to the top for us, since the last pitch is just a bolt ladder and we were running short on time. He agreed, and we had pretty much done it. Eric elected to go first, Zach next, and Lara and I jugged two lines simultaneously to get over the final roof to the slabs on top. It was over! I honestly didn’t feel a whole lot of relief or satisfaction or anything, just business as usual breaking down the belay, shuttling gear, and so on. Eric was almost ecstatic with relief but it was all rather matter-of-fact for me. Yup, we had done it.

Massive exposure below the last pitch, #31

Massive exposure below the last pitch, #31

As it was about 8PM by this time, we elected to bivy once more on top before heading down the next morning. We had plenty of water and ample food so it wasn’t so bad. I borrowed an emergency bivy from Eric which ended up being key, as it rained pretty steadily that night for several hours. We awoke soaked and still exhausted and stumbled down the Yosemite Falls trail (don’t do this! Take the East Ledges) with our junkshow of a rack and haul bag. It was a gorgeous morning and we watched the clouds part from the top of El Cap to unveil a brilliant, sunny day. We gawked at the Falls with the tourists and meandered back down over the course of the day, exhausted but satisfied, with the promise of (yet another) pizza at Curry Village awaiting us.

With so much time, I feel like it was no big deal, but supposedly only one of five people who start the Nose actually end up topping out, so maybe there’s something to it. It was a grand adventure and certainly one of the highlights of my climbing career. Perhaps the Salathé next spring?

Climbing the Nose Part Three: Ego Check

Continued from Part Two

We packed up camp fairly leisurely, again faced with the same dilemma: Do we pass or wait it out?  It was a tough decision — on one hand we were clearly moving substantially faster than either of the other parties, but we could also afford to take an extra day.  They also had a portaledge, so we could probably coexist on some of the bivy spots if need be.  It seemed that we might be fast enough to do the Jardine Traverse, a short (chipped) pitch to shortcut a few of the normal pitches before converging again after the King Swing. However, laziness ruled and we again opted to wait it out — we would have an easy day climbing to El Cap Tower (P15), fixing the next two pitches to the top of Boot Flake, and sleeping on the plush ledge.

The climbing went pretty quickly — It was still my block to lead and I ended up freeing about half of the terrain from Dolt to El Cap Tower, three pitches total.  The hauling had already gotten noticeably easier, which was a huge relief.  We were in great spirits, until I was astonished to find one of the parties still at El Cap Tower!  It was almost noon!!

I fixed the line for Eric and chatted with the lady stuck belaying on El Cap Tower — a nice, long, flat ledge, maybe twelve by five feet. (‘Tower’ is probably a misnomer, as the actual tower is a couple dozen feet below and not at all flat, hospitable, or even easily accessible.) She was quite friendly, despite their predicament of being so far behind to start off the day. They had shared the ledge the night before with the other party of three — five people total, cozy!

El Cap Tower

El Cap Tower

It seemed that the other party had undemocratically elected to go first, slow as ever, while they patiently waited. Her partner, Zach, had just proposed to her the day before — he had arranged a friend to line up a bunch of rocks in El Cap Meadow to read “Will you marry me?” We ended up spending quite a bit of time with them over the next few days on the wall, and they were great company.

I led the next pitch, Texas Flake, after Zach and Lara had finished it.  The route tunnels behind a huge detached flake roughly the shape of Texas, with one bolt for a 60-foot section of chimneying.  I started up it in earnest, taking my time so as not to get winded.  Near the top it started to get wider than the length of my leg, which is my least favorite type of chimneying, with a good 20 foot runout as a bonus.  I whimpered to Zach about ten feet below the top and he offered to drop a line as a top rope: I obliged.  After talking to a few people it turns out I climbed it facing the wrong way.  Go figure.

The next pitch was brilliant, a bolted rising traverse connecting to Boot Flake, a 5.10 hand crack behind a terrifying loose flake, seemingly just perched there defying gravity.  At the top we got word that the party of three were bailing — woohoo!  I guess you can’t expect to climb El Cap if you can only climb four pitches a day.  We were all excited to finally get some breathing room.

Saturday, May 25

Saturday was yet another perfect climbing day — clear and cool, almost too cool.  We rose early, jugged and hauled our lines, and did the King Swing.  It was Eric’s block of leads, so he got the big badass swing.  Imagine running sideways on a vertical granite face 1200 feet off the ground, swinging back and forth, back and forth, until getting enough momentum to latch a hold — then climbing a crack while back-cleaning all your gear and facing a huge pendulum fall the whole way!  Exhilarating.

For the last few days we had been passed on a daily basis by parties doing the Nose in a Day (NiaD) — An impressive feat requiring 31 pitches of climbing in under 24 hours, with the bonus of not having to haul.  At around Camp 4 (pitch 20) an older guy came motoring up, no big deal, until his 14-year old daughter joined him!  What!?  They had started at dawn, and she didn’t even have jumars!  And to top it off, she was wearing Hand Jammies!!  Relieved of any remaining ego, we let her pop, Jim Herson, lead the Great Roof ahead of us.  We chatted with the kid while she belayed and regaled us with stories of climbing the classic Valley routes many climbers spend their lifetimes dreaming about.

Me leading Pancake Flake Photo by Tom Evans

Me leading Pancake Flake
Photo by Tom Evans

By this time it was getting late in the day, and got wind (ho ho!) that a quick storm was forecast for Sunday evening around 8PM.  This had pretty much set Eric off, and left me a little antsy as I had brought zero rain gear due to the original forecast.  Jim sensed our anxiety and offered to fix our rope for the time-consuming pitch.  We obliged and skipped to another ultra-classic hand crack, the famous Pancake Flake.  After one more pitch the sun had set and we had made it to the spot we had hoped to be a day earlier: Camp 5.

It was kind of a let-down: Two sloping ledges separated by exposed 5.7 climbing.  We had grown accustomed to nice, flat bivy ledges.  Eric was hell-bent on continuing to climb throughout the night, while I was keen on catching a quick night’s sleep at the last remaining good bivy site.  I told him he was welcome to lead the next pitch, a thin seam leading to the Glowering Spot.  He spent the next hour plus slotting tiny nuts and stepping on camhooks, and by the top of the pitch he was mentally and physically exhausted.  He fixed the lead line and rapped while I dug through the haul bag, cooked up some Tasty Bites, rapped down to the lower bivy ledges, and snuggled up against the cold granite, too tired to worry about slowly sliding down the ledge and off into the abyss.  I slept like a rock.

Continued in Part Four: Chasing Legends

Climbing the Nose Part Two: Cruising to Dolt

Continued from part one

(Edit April 2016: Follow along with Google’s “street view” of the Nose!)

Standing at the bottom of El Cap is pretty intimidating.  Hell, sitting in El Cap Meadow, half a mile away, and staring up at the wall is pretty intimidating.  It is an immense piece of stone.  In the Meadow, if you look straight above you, then slowly tilt your head forward until you are at the horizon line, El Cap takes up about 70% of that space.  It is the biggest piece of rock most anyone attempting to climb it has ever seen.

Lowering out in the Stovelegs

Lowering out in the Stovelegs.
Photo by Tom Evans

And there we were, on the morning of May 23rd, gazing up the wall.  We had 5 gallon jugs of water and 4 days of food in the bag (firmly secured 400′ above), along with sleeping gear, warm clothes and bare cooking supplies.  It was time to commit.  I was amped.

We quickly jugged up the multiple fixed lines, the last of which we had fixed ourselves (in case someone took it down while we were at the base), and were at a happily barren Sickle Ledge within an hour.  It was Eric’s block to lead, so I hunkered down with my GriGri and watched him take off free-climbing the gradually steepening corner above.   We linked the two pitches (5 and 6) and I started a combination of jugging and free-climbing, as the terrain was quite low-angle.   Eric hauled while I tended the pig, freeing it from the occasional constriction while he pulled from above (and to the right).  At some point I had to lower-out the bag with a 50′ thin line we had brought along for just this purpose.

Me on Dolt Tower

Me on Dolt Tower

The Nose is probably not the best wall for the aspiring Wall Climber.  It has quite a bit of traversing, which normally isn’t a big deal, but quickly becomes logistically difficult when you’re so dependent on vertically-oriented ropes.  Haul bags must be lowered out so that they don’t cut loose and swing violently, smashing your water jugs and other stuff in the pack.  When jugging (ascending the rope with mechanical devices), you have to lower yourself out for similar reasons.  I’ll leave the detailed instructions out of this post, but suffice it to say we had done substantial research and a bit of practice to figure out these techniques, and still learned the majority of it on-route.

We made pretty quick work through the Stovelegs — Eric performed the first pendulum of the climb, a fun one where you had to jump over a 2-3 foot corner in the middle of each swing.  After pitch 10 or so, he was utterly exhausted from all the hauling (the leader has to haul too) so I took over the lead.  He had just aided an amazing-looking 5.9 hand crack which seemed like a bit of a shame, so I freed about half of the next pitch before things got wide. Here I ended up bumping a #4 for probably 60 feet, then bumping a 170° tipped-out #3 the rest of the way.  (Two #4s are nice here!)  After a long pitch I emerged on top of Dolt Tower, our planned first bivy.  Hauling was extremely strenuous and I soon had much more compassion for Eric’s state — he had dragged that thing up five pitches!

Mattress pad

My “mattress pad”. Notice the orange fixed line in the foreground, for staying clipped into while sleeping

Most parties don’t bother with a portaledge on the Nose due to the quantity (and quality!) of good, natural bivy ledges on the route.  Our original plan was to sleep at El Cap Tower (p15) and Camp 5 (p25), climbing the route in three days.  It became clear pretty quickly that this was a bit ambitious.  Fortunately, we had supplies to last 4 days, and could probably stretch them to five if necessary.  

We had topped out right before dark, and were pretty psyched to have had such a great day of climbing covering so much stone.  We busted out the dried mashed potatoes, (pre-cooked) sausages and cheese and had ourselves a tasty feast while soaking in our surroundings.  We had also squeezed 4 King Cobras into the pack, one for each of us at each bivy, so we relaxed for a bit sipping suds (Worth the weight? Hell ya!)  It was pretty majestic to be hanging out in such a cool location, with great weather and relative comfort.  Our friend Joe, who we had shared a site at Camp 4 with for a couple days, was soloing Zodiac at the time, so we scanned the wall to the East to see if we could see him.  There seemed to a couple parties on the route so it was hard to pick him out, but sure enough, he ended up topping out a few days later!

I had neglected to bring a mattress pad, since I didn’t really own one that was small enough to jam into our haul bag.  So I made one from the tag line.  It wasn’t very comfortable.  Luckily, you are so exhausted it doesn’t really matter.  We slept soundly until being wakened by the sun peeking out over Half Dome in the morning.

Continued in Part Three

Climbing the Nose Part One: Casting Off on a Sea of Stone

I took a long-overdue extended trip to Yosemite Valley last summer. It was something I had been thinking about for awhile, and this time I had a partner in mind — someone who could also take the time off from work and would have ample psyche for similar (big) goals. Around early Spring I called up Eric and mentioned my plans — he was pretty excited from the get-go and we planned for four weeks in the Valley: mid-May through early June.

On May 14 we took off from Salt Lake in my car, filled to the brim, and squatted camping in Tuolumne, planning to arise early to wait in line to get into Camp 4. The plan was to stay in Camp 4 for our allotted week, then go big-walling, then find camping outside the Park. We were in line by 6am and got a spot quickly. Once we were moved in I said, hey, let’s go climb the Central Pillar of Frenzy! Eric was a bit surprised, but it was only five pitches, so we gave it a go. It was a stellar warm-up to Valley climbing — technical and a bit stout with excellent cracks the whole way up.

Eric leading the crux pitch on Middle Cathedral

Eric leading the crux pitch on Middle Cathedral

We spent the next week or so ticking off multi-pitch routes: E Buttress of Middle Cathedral, Glacier Point Apron, Reed’s Pinnacle. After a particularly strenuous day of cragging we decided to focus on what we had come here to do: El Cap!

The Nose and Half Dome’s Regular Northwest Face were the two big routes we had our eye on. At first we had planned to do Half Dome, the smaller of the two, but the weather was still quite cool, so we set off for El Cap instead. We spent a day or so packing the haul bag, shopping, and cleaning up camp on our last day at Camp 4. The next morning we packed the pig (haul bag) to the base of the route — a rather horrendous endeavor as it weighed well over 100 pounds, even though it’s only a quarter mile walk!

We were disappointed to see two parties on the first few pitches — not only that, but they were hauling and moving incredibly slow. We had heard that the fix-n-fire method was the way to go on the Nose: climb the first four pitches to Sickle Ledge, rap down some fixed lines, and haul the pig(s). The hauling was supposedly easier (hauling a heavy bag sucks no matter what, though) and cleaner directly to Sickle.

Our options seemed to be either wait a day and let them get ahead, or push forward anyway and hope to pass. The latter seemed unlikely, so we opted for the former, and hauled the bag up a pitch to avoid any bear encounters overnight. While Eric hauled, I ran into Jim Donini at the base of the route, who had just come down from a little practice session on the route with George Lowe and Hans Florine. Distinguished company! They (Jim and George) were practicing to set the record for the oldest team to climb the Nose in a day. We chatted a bit — he was pretty beat up after getting walloped by a haul bag from another party so they bailed mid-day. Soon after, we retreated back to Curry Village for pizza and beer, aiming for an early start the next day to beat any other potential parties to the route.

The Rack

The Rack

The next day dawned clear and cool, and by 8 or so we were on the first pitch. We had discussed leading in blocks for efficiency, and the first four were mine as they contained some of the more technical aiding on the route. I set off full-on aid-style, happy to have offset mastercams for the copious pin scars. The climbing was enjoyable on perfect rock, and I soaked in the sun and warm granite, very happy to finally be climbing again after so many rest days. We moved pretty quickly (well, relatively anyway) without needing to haul, and were at Sickle by 12 or 1PM. One of the parties we had seen from the day before was still on Sickle — I think they had spent the night there, and were in the midst of passing the party ahead. We talked to them for a little while before rapping straight down to our haul bag.  They were a team of three from LA, and, like us, were fairly inexperienced wall climbers. We took our time working out a haul system (1:1) and had the pig up at Sickle by 4PM or so. The two parties ahead hadn’t made much progress, and we were a bit worried about their pace. After getting (more) pizza and beer and driving back to El Cap Meadow at around dusk, they were both still around the Stovelegs! They had climbed about 3 pitches in 6 hours.  The Nose is a 31-pitch route.  At this point there was nothing we could do, so we headed back to the Sand Flats for a good night’s sleep before committing to the wall the next morning…

Part Two

Adios Barcelona

Well, it´s my last day here in Barcelona, and I wanted to write a quick post before leaving later this morning. I´m typing this up at a public computer of my hostel, which has been a lively place to stay four nights at. I feel a bit old for the daily-clubbing college scene here, but it´s a nice location with nice facilities. Katherine and I had a fantastic week in France and Spain, touring Nîmes and Carcassonne before making our way over the border to Barça. Today I´m meeting up with a friend (currently living in Spain) to go climbing in Margalef, one of the newer locations of Spain´s ridiculous hard-climbing scene. I´m really looking forward to it after not climbing for three weeks (an eternity for me!). And yes, there are apparently a host of moderates to entertain a non-sporto like myself.

Barcelona has been fantastic, it´s a big city with a rich history and a vitality I haven´t seen in any other city. I never really explored the nightlife since it´s not really my thing, but definitely did the beach thing (there are miles and miles of excellent beaches on either side of the city) as well as a ton of sightseeing, mostly with a focus on the Roman history in the area. More on this (hopefully) later.

But for now, I´m off to pull on pockets in Margalef. Venga!

Yosemite: Part Two

Continued from part one

Tuesday: Royal Arches

After the long day Monday, we decide to stay in the valley. Royal Arches is on the list of climbs and is selected. It has a ten-minute approach, fifteen pitches of climbing, and an excellent position looking over the valley. While waiting in the parking lot for Matt, we witness a tourist almost back over his duffel bag with his enormous SUV, roll forward again, turn a bit, then proceed to drive fully over the bag. Unpleasant crunching sounds emanate and we wince from the other end of parking lot. Rough start to the day.

We have our own rough start as it takes us over a half hour to find the climb. (My bad!) Soon enough, though, we are squeezing up the first pitch’s 5.6 chimney. The route mostly consists of 30-70 foot sections of crack climbing followed by some 3rd/4th class scrambling. We spend several hours working our way up the wall, gaining height and an amazing view of the valley. By 7pm or so we’re out of water and at the top. Twelve rappels, one pulled rope with the knot still in it, and an impressive jimmy-rigged stick contraption get us back to the ground around 9:30. We’re all pretty wiped as we stumble back to Camp Four well after dark. (This would be a common theme…)

Wednesday: Go USA!

Both Matt J and I are huge soccer fans, so we agreed that we couldn’t miss the US-Algeria World Cup game. It is well worth seeing, as the US scores in dramatic fashion in the 92nd minute for the win and advancement out of the group stage. We spend the rest of the day sight-seeing and swimming in the Merced below the gaze of El Cap. It is an excellent rest day.

Stately Pleasure Dome

Glenn on South Crack, a stellar 5.8 on Stately Pleasure Dome

Thursday: Back to Tuolomne

We have a vague plan to go “dome-hopping” back in Tuolomne, and by 11am or so we’re at the base of Stately Pleasure Dome, racking up right off the road. We split into two parties again; Glenn and I choose the highly-rated South Crack while the Matts do West Country, a 5.7 on the main face.

The first two pitches contain some of the best crack climbing I have ever done, clean fingerlocks on impeccable rock. I place almost solely nuts on this section as it is perfectly suited for them. On the third pitch the route leaves the crack, sadly, to venture directly up with rather run-out 5.7 slab climbing. I lead each pitch, and enjoy every one (except maybe the last one, which is 5.2 or something). We meet the other lads at the top, take some pictures, and scramble back down to the car. Tenaya Lake reflects the sky and I take in my surroundings contentedly.

Next up is Lembert Dome, a couple miles’ drive away. This is another Dome practically right off the road, and we decide to do a two-pitch 5.6 called Northwest Books. The first pitch contains some interesting friction climbing, leading to a traverse below a roof and then a thought-provoking corner system. Unknowingly, I take the 5.9 variation (which is, realistically, the natural line) up the corner which is quite enjoyable. Glenn takes the next pitch of easy 5th class to the ridge. We scramble up to the summit and relish another phenomenal view of Tuolomne.

Friday: Half Dome

None of us were quite ready to spend a few days climbing El Cap, so we opt for the just-as-famous Half Dome. There is a 5.7 that sneaks up its South shoulder called Snake Dike. Half Dome is a difficult mountain to get to, and the approach involves a six mile hike, most of it on well-maintained hiking trails. Most of the time I don’t enjoy long approaches, but this is a very notable exception as we pass by two immense waterfalls. We take the aptly-named “Mist Trail,” and I scoff at the other hikers donning ponchos. After all, there’s hardly a cloud in the sky, right?

Stately Pleasure Dome

Looking North from the summit of Half Dome

Well, forty minutes later I’m at the top of Vernal Falls and drenched to the bone. The trail winds within a few hundred feet of the water, turning the surroundings into a permanent tropical rainforest. We snap some pics (one of an amusing sign) and continue on so we can warm up a bit. The trail continues up to the base of Liberty Cap (one of dozens of massive shields of Granite in the area), where we then leave it to get onto a climber’s trail which traverses below and around the Cap. Some bushwhacking and a heinous, loose scramble up slabs brings us to the base of the climb.

Snake Dike is renowned for being both really long and really run out. By this time, we had ample experience with both types of climbing, so the route itself is pretty much a cruise. Even 5.4 can be thought-provoking, however, when you’re 50 feet above your last bolt, but we try not to let it get to us and continue on and on over the 7-8 pitches. A final scramble leads us to the top, and the best panorama of the entire week (which is saying something!) It is a fitting final climb. The nine miles of hiking back to the Valley aren’t too brutal, and we again roll back into Camp Four after dusk.

Saturday: Bouldering

Matt and I rescheduled things so we could catch the next US game on Saturday, which turned out to be a bit of a bummer. Ghana beat us handily to eliminate us from the World Cup. The silver lining was that I was still in Yosemite! The rest of the lads were still beat from the day before, but I managed to sneak out for an hour to do some bouldering with our two very friendly British campmates. The sheer quantity and quality of boulder problems just above Camp Four was, again, staggering, and we only did a few before sputtering out. It had been a long week, and we were all hurting a bit. By 8pm the four of us were back in the car and headed back to Utah.

My photos

Matt J’s Photo Trip Report (excellent photos!)

Yosemite at Last

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.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley. The granite cliff on the left is El Capitan, over 3,000 feet tall.


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…


Six signs that you should probably be spending less time in the office and more climbing

  1. You often find yourself at your desk making clove hitches and slipknots in your headphone cable
  2. You keep getting comments about white marks on your work clothes, especially on casual Fridays
  3. You’ve brought climbing shoes to work
  4. You’ve traversed, stemmed or laybacked the office I-Beams
  5. You’ve gone up or down office floors without use of the stairs OR elevator
  6. You constantly find rolled-up, discarded medical tape in your desk, car, etc.

Exercise and Injury

Any of my climbing and/or skiing partners over the past two years will attest that I’ve fairly injury-prone. I’ve suffered from one ailment or another for the past 12 months with a broken bone a couple years ago.

However, it should be said that my lifestyle has changed completely since moving to Utah 2.5 years ago. Whereas in New York I’d be lucky to get outside to hike or something once every two months, some weeks I’m outside 3-4 times, with workouts every day in between. I’ve become somewhat of an exercise junkie: Pull-ups, push-ups, fingerboard workouts, front lever progressions, and most recently weighted ice tool dead-hangs. Pretty much every day I’m not actually climbing, I’m doing some other type of workout. Not to mention 20 miles of running a week back when I was training for the Steeplechase and The Other Half Marathon in Moab.

While the broken collarbone was due to general jackassery, the latest injuries have been from overuse. Not wanting to plateau in my performance, I’m constantly mixing things up and pushing myself. I’ve had three finger injuries in the past year (putting me out of commission for maybe 3-4 months total), all from crimpy gym boulder problems. A couple of years ago I had tendonitis in my ankle and leg from running too far, too fast. In early October I injured my Iliotibial Band three weeks into an 18-mile-a-week training schedule off the couch (ugh…stupid).

Thus, my main goal currently is recovery (well, second to climbing as much ice as possible). I’ve learned how to cope and am back to climbing in the gym twice a week with a much-improved finger. Gym bouldering is probably out of the picture for a long time, at least crimpy problems, as finger injuries are awful for a climber. I’m probably going to be suffering through the IT band injury for as long as there’s ice to climb this winter, but that’s ok. It’s all about priorities. Running is out of the picture for as long as necessary.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s a learning process. I’ve never really trained before. High school sports didn’t count — nor did the sporadic weightlifting in college. It’s a new era, and the dreams haven’t gone anywhere…

Goings On

Well, it’s been exactly two months. I can’t say I’ve been too busy to post, but this is what’s been going on in the life of Alec…

Sept 26: Adopt-A-Crag Day: Ferguson Canyon

After two years of climbing all over the Wasatch, I decided to put in a Saturday to contribute back to the community.

Steve and I were in a group of 10-12 climbers tasked to do some trail work in the Cathedral area — mostly moving big boulders around and raking dirt and scree. Hopefully our work will prove fruitful in the Spring when the runoff is diverted away from the cliffs and the newly constructed trail. It was a fun if not exhausting day. Honestly, though, I was just itching to climb, so I returned the next day:

Oct. 09: Craggin’ Classic

The second annual American Alpine Club’s Craggin’ Classic event was held in Salt Lake this year, featuring slideshows by local badass Brian Smoot and renowned alpinist Steve House. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at routes on Mountain Project, and have come across (and climbed) dozens of Brian’s, so I was excited to match a face to the name. The slideshow was superb, looking back at 60 years of climbing in the Wasatch, in every area, in every medium. Seems like the dude has done it all, and is still incredibly humble.

The main event though, of course, was the day of cragging in the canyons. I had signed up for a clinic with a friend, and we happened to fall under the guidance of Cedar Wright, a professional climber known for his crack-climbing expertise. Nancy Feagin, another local under-the-radar badass climber, tagged along. Both guides were exceptionally helpful and modest the whole time, leading by example. We went to the Dihedrals area of Little Cottonwood and played around on some 5.9s and .10s. There I met Erik, a correspondent for Alpinist magazine on his way to moving to Boulder, who later posted this article about the event. It was pretty fun — I even took my first lead fall on my own gear later in the afternoon, just to scamper back up and finish off the climb without further mishap.

Nov. 07: Castleton Tower

Ever since I started climbing, I had heard of the otherworldly sandstone towers of Southeast Utah: hundreds of feet tall, solid rock, and amazing scenery. At last, I made the trip down to Moab to climb to climb the most famous one, Castleton.

I must say I was quite intimidated at the parking lot. The tower looms in plain view, seemingly vertical and unclimbable. However, around the back side of the tower was a series of stepped dihedrals and chimneys that looked easier and less exposed. This is where the Kor-Ingalls (5.9+ III) route lies.

As expected, we ran into several parties on the route, as early November is peak season for desert sandstone. The climbing went pretty quickly, though, and Brian made sure to stick me with the crux third pitch. I needed a few minutes to compose myself before setting off on lead, shimmying up the first section before wedging myself in a chimney to get some gear in. A large section of the crux pitch is unprotected, and only a very low bolt and two small cams protected the upper part, which I chose to stem. The stemming was technical but not too strenuous and I ran it out to the top, heart pounding. Exhilarating! Soon afterwards we were on the summit, about as wide as my house.


Nov. 13-15: Red Rocks

After reading so many great things about Red Rock Conservation Area, near Las Vegas, NV, I decided I needed to see for myself. Luckily, Brian’s trip was postponed to a later weekend and I was able to tag along. Brenton unfortunately had to drop out so it was just the two of us. We took off early Friday morning and drove through a snowstorm for about four hours down to Cedar City. By the time we passed through Arizona it was sunny and warm again, and soon enough we were passing through the City of Sin. We secured a campground (barely) and made our way to Red Rocks.

I was (am) nursing an injury to my IT band so I was hoping to limit the uphill hiking to keep the pain to a minimum. Thus, we chose to climb in First Creek Canyon the first day. We started on Black Magic, an excellent 5.8 on the Lotta Balls buttress. Brian led the first and third pitches, by far the best of the climb, while I gladly followed. For some reason my lead head was not in shape for the whole weekend, a shame since I ended up on the sharp end for eight or nine pitches! I can only chalk it up to not being familiar with sandstone, especially the textured sandstone of Red Rock. Breaking off a pebble on my first lead of the trip probably didn’t help, either..

Cloud Tower

Mount Wilson and Cloud Tower. The rightmost tower in the center has a 1000′ crack system on the right containing Crimson Chrysalis

The second day we got up at five to beat the crowds to Crimson Chrysalis, a nine-pitch 5.8+ in Juniper Canyon. The approach was arduous, and I was feeling the pain in my knee about an hour into the hike. By 8:30 we were climbing, psyched to be the first party on the route. The climbing was steep, continuous, and surprisingly moderate. I again had to psych myself up for the lead, even though it was only 5.8, and terrifyingly made my up to the next anchors. About half of the belays were hanging, a rarity on a 5.8!

Brian and I swapped leads for the rest of the day, clipping bolts and face climbing. I didn’t need to do more than a dozen or so jams the entire route — gotta love Red Rock! Around 1-2 we topped out on a glorious summit with magnificent views of the valley and Rainbow Wall, towering over us to the west. I’d say it was the best route I’ve ever climbed, and we didn’t see a soul all day on it!

The rest of the trip was pretty anti-climatic, we returned to Lotta Balls buttress the next day for another classic four pitches before making the long drive back to Salt Lake. I’ll be back this Spring!


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