Friday, July 3 – After Six

We were woken up by thunderstorms around 5:00AM that caused us to roll over and sleep some more. When we eventually crawled out of the Rav, we questioned what we should do with the day. Would the rock be dry enough to climb? Should we just hike? 

The original plan was to climb After Six, a six pitch 5.7. Alex had her mind set on leading the first pitch; a hand crack in a corner that was the crux of the route, and the possibility of it being a wet route… and possible storms later in the day was making her VERY indecisive about whether or not to climb it that day.  The sky was completely clear, not a cloud in sight… so it shouldn’t be an issue based on the weather patterns they had seen in the park thus far. Finally, after driving into the park, having breakfast, and peering up at the granite that surrounded them, they moved to the parking area at Manure Pile Buttress. Dave was leaving the decision of whether or not to climb up to Alex, and she was having a hard time making a decision.  After much trepidation on Alex’s part, she decided to go for it, and they headed to the wall.

Alex lead up the pitch confident at first, and then with quickly waning confidence as the hand jams became more awkward and footholds slick, though the gear remained good. With many looks down to Dave, verbally expressing her fears and discontentment, she continued her way up the crack.  In retrospect, it really shouldn’t have freaked her out so much, her gear was good and there was plenty of it, but her confidence just wasn’t there.  After a short section of face climbing, all her stress dissolved as she finally felt comfortable once again. She headed to a tree belay ledge.

 As she began to set up the anchor, she realized it was covered in ants. The ants started to crawl up her legs and arms. There was a ridiculous amount of ants, and some of them started to bite. She freaked out… there may have even been some tears. She tried to move up a bit higher on the wall, but they followed. Mentally toasted, she just wanted to be off the climb and opted to lower off.  Practically sobbing, she said it was the most horrific thing ever.

Back to the safety of the ground, she continued to smash ants that remained on her. After sitting for a few minutes to regain a proper mental status and breathing rate, she put Dave on belay, and he followed her climb. Occasionally, she had to smash a stray ant on her arm.  He cleaned the gear, but instead of going anywhere near the tree, he climbed farther up the wall and set an anchor there. Dave had suggested doing the same to Alex, but once she ran into the ants, she was having none of it.

Dave belayed Alex up to his anchor, and she was still not calmed down, so Dave suggested they could just lower off the climb completely.  After some thought, she knew she wanted to continue the climb, and just needed to relax.  She put Dave on belay and he began to lead pitch 2. After pitch 2, Alex was finally feeling mentally competent and happy again, but any prior thoughts of leading any other pitches that day were gone from her mind. The remaining pitches of climbing went quickly, but mostly unremarkable, and they soon found themselves on the summit. 

After making a stop at the Curry Village store for some drinks, they headed to set up camp in the Crane Flat Campground. Kevin and Sam would be arriving later that evening. Soon after setting up camp and making dinner, their friends arrived… with LOTS of food!!!! After an hour or two of catching up, and mauling cheese, pretzels, salami and pepperoni, they all headed to their tents to sleep for the night.

Wednesday, July 1 – Thursday, July 2 – Rest and The Grack

Wednesday morning, the four of us woke, packed up camp, and drove down to The Valley to buy coffee and make breakfast. Gretchen and Jax would be heading out later that afternoon, heading to Oakdale, where they would fly out of the next day. We spent the morning sitting around on camp chairs and rocks relaxing and recounting the fun and adventures of the last week. 

As much as we do like each other, it is fun to have friends around as well. We enjoyed having our four friends around, and were sad to see them all leave. Maybe that is why we were so putzy on Wednesday. We did not do much other than lay around under the trees, look at climbing guidebooks, nap, eat, and update the blog. We did finally motivate ourselves to take a walk to the post office, something we had been wanting to do for days. On our way back to the car later that evening, we stopped to take some pictures on the edge of a meadow as the sun was setting on Half Dome. You just can’t get enough of that view! There were also several mule deer having an evening snack in the meadow, not far from us.

Thursday, we slept in until just after 7:00. We made our way down to The Valley, planning on climbing After Six, a 5-pitch 5.6 climb on Manure Pile Buttress. The sky was looking a bit dark and cloudy, and weather reports were calling for thunderstorms in the afternoon. So instead of committing to the climb, we decided to get coffee and re-evaluate our plans. Dave set his eyes on a 3-pitch, 5.6, The Grack , on the Glacier Point Apron. The approach would begin at the Trailhead Parking Lot, just down the road from where we sat in Curry Village. 

When Alex said “OK,” we moved car to the parking lot and geared up. The short 15-minute approach left us both hot and dripping with sweat. We quickly found the start of the climb, and Dave got started on lead. He thanked the Snake Dike for making him comfortable with the terrain he faced on pitch 1. Before long, he was at the belay and Alex was making her way up the pitch. Pitch 2 was everything we read it would be, and awesome 165 foot long splitter crack on a low angle. Gear was abundant, and countless times, Dave would stop, turn around and shout down to Alex how awesome the climbing was. Alex found the pitch equally enjoyable, and commented that she would have even been happy leading that pitch. Dave started up pitch 3, which felt short, being only about 80 feet, compared to pitch 2. Alex had been taking off her climbing shoes at belays, as she was breaking in a new pair, but Dave felt she could climb this pitch bare foot. It had some smooth and runout sections, but she was able to easily make it up the pitch even without the aid of the sticky rubber of her climbing shoes, thanks to her “toe-edging” skills and channeling of her “inner-Doug”. 

Standing at the anchors, we pulled out our second rope, and decided to simul-rap down, since the rappel terrain was easy and storm clouds were starting to move in. It was a fantastically fun rappel down the granite slabs next to each other. Almost perfectly timed, as our feet reached the dirt, a rumble of thunder was heard in the distance. We quickly put on our approach shoes, wrapped up the ropes, and made our way down the descent trail with gear clinging and clanging from the harnesses we still wore. It is always amazing how much faster Alex can move down a trail when thunder rumbles! 

Light drops of rain fell as we made our way through the trees; hopefully we could make it to the car and get the gear in before it really starts to pour! With a about a hundred yards to go on a flat hiking trail, the rain began to fall more heavily, and we made a mad dash for the car. We quickly threw the ropes in the back, pulled off our helmets, chalk bags, and harnesses, and through them in the side doors, and jumped in the front. We high-fived as we closed our doors, giddy and excited about how well the morning had gone, and how much fun we had both climbing and rappelling. After the rain slowed, we moved our car to a parking lot closer to the Village center. As I sit here typing, the rain has again begun to fall, thunder is booming, lighting is flashing in the distance, and we are glad we are not on the side of a rock face!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 – Swan Slabs

As we made breakfast in a Curry Village parking lot, Alex walked to the front of the car to find there was a female mule deer happily enjoying her breakfast on the other side the roped off area. The deer was very content and cared little that Alex was moving around a few feet away from her. Soon, a male with a velvety rack wandered up the road and joined the female in the grassy area. His breakfast choice was leaves from a nearby tree.

After Annette and Mark arrived, we grabbed coffees before heading over to the Swan Slab area where Gretchen and Jax were planning to meet up with us. 

We were very excited that Mark wanted to try out rock climbing, and Annette took us by surprise by trying it out as well, especially after she had previously said she did not want to climb.  It is exciting and fun to share climbing with people for the first time! Alex even put on her “big girl panties” and lead her first two (short) climbs in The Valley (Oak Tree Flake – 5.6  and  Unnamed Crack – 5.7). 

After wrapping up the morning of climbing, the six of us met at Manure Pile’s picnic area to eat lunch while watching climber’s on the rock face we had climbed the previous day. We enjoyed using Mark’s binoculars to get a closer look.

Annette suggested we head to a waterfall near the Wawona entrance that is supposed to be small, rarely visited, but very nice. Our car train made its way along the windy roads until we were at our parking area. We made the very short walk to the falls, finding an upper and lower pool area. We decided the lower pool looked nicer, so lost some layers of clothes and went for a dip in the refreshing water.

After returning to the cars, we all headed off to Annette and Mark’s hotel to enjoy the evening in the hot tub with cold drinks and massive amounts of Chinese food. Annette and Mark were nice enough to let all four of us dirty climbers shower before we headed to our camping area for the evening. Gretchen and Jax camped with us since there seven-day limit in Camp 4 had now expired.

Monday, June 29, 2015 – Nutcracker

We met Gretchen and Jax at Manure Pile at 7:00AM.  Before making the short approach to the base of the climb, we helped them make their first pair of crack climbing tape gloves, in preparation for the hand jamming on the route. 
The base of the climb was mosquito city, and Dave was eager to quickly get off the ground to escape them.  The first of five pitches was the crux of the route, with a sustained, tiring, layback crack.  The air also felt hot and more humid than normal, leaving Dave sweaty and with foggy sunglasses by the time he reached the belay. 

As Alex followed, she left a few much appreciated pieces of gear in the wall for Gretchen.  Gretchen set her belay anchor a few feet below ours and Jax began to climb.  As we waited for them to finish up the pitch, Alex spied something coming up the crack system in the wall 50 feet to the left of ours.  It was some sort of mountain cat crawling and pouncing up the cracks and ledges.  Soon it was out of sight and we heard the sounds of squawking birds.  All of us(except Dave), especially Jax who was still climbing, was glad it decided to go left instead of right.  We later decided what we saw was a bobcat.

There was a cam a few feet below Gretchen’s anchor that Jax was having a difficult time cleaning, so Dave offered to retrieve it.  Alex put Dave on belay, lowered him down to the piece, and to Jax’s dismay he plucked it right out. 
Soon Dave was making his way up an easy, ramp-like pitch 2.  Sadly for Alex, his weighting of the anchor left an offset nut and a regular nut tightly wedged in the wall.  Prior to even weighting the anchor, he had said “Sorry, Alex, these nuts are going to be a pain to get out.”  Alex worked at them with a nut tool and hammered at them with a large borrowed nut from Jax until her knuckles were scraped and the nuts were out of the wall.
Despite pitch two’s ease, pitch three began with an intimidating step out onto foothold over space.  As this was also Gretchen’s pitch to lead, she gladly accepted the offer for Alex to trail her line and clip it into the gear Dave placed above the move. 
As Jax cleaned this pitch, she yelled up that she had been trying to clean a cam and it would not come out.  Fortunately for her, Alex and Gretchen realized she must not have heard them discussing the fixed piece of gear that was in the wall.  After confirming the piece of gear she was working on, she was glad to know that piece was not ours… and it was STUCK in the wall. 

With two pitches to go, on terrain that was no longer sounding appetizing to Gretchen and Jax, they opted to pull out the extra rope they had carried along (Thanks, Tom!), and top rope the remainder of the climb.
After a loooong 4th pitch that involved a hand crack roof, Gretchen and Jax were glad they made the choice follow the remaining pitches.  Pitch 5 began with the infamous “mantle move” which Dave was happy went fairly easily, followed by sustained climbing on a fractured face to the summit.  All four reached the summit with tired hands, feet, and bodies overall.  Alex’s climbing shoes were starting to show the wear and tear caused by the granite as holes began to form.

After a few summit pictures, we made our way back to the cars via some down climbing to the descent trail.  We headed over to Curry Village for celebratory drinks and ice cream.  We happened to run into Annette and Mark, who had just finished a bike ride in The Valley.  The six of us sat together, recounting our day, and solidifying plans for the next morning.

Sunday, June 28, 2015 – Aid Practice

We headed to housekeeping camp in the morning to get coffee and decide what we would do for the day.   Gretchen and Jax were headed out of The Valley for the day to meet Gretchen’s future-in-laws for dinner and to resupply their food cache.  We considered climbing the 5 pitch After Six at Manure Pile Buttress, but the weather forecast was calling for some rain (and the skies were looking like the report might be true).  While perusing Mountain Project, Alex discovered that there was a large boulder directly across the street from them that had two 40 foot aid routes on it.  We headed over to the boulder, next to the LeConte Memorial Lodge. 

There was a group already there, so we sat and watched for a while before retreating to the car when it began to rain.  After the rain subsided, we grabbed our aid climbing gear and headed over.   The first route, The Hooker, was slightly overhanging, and had several bolts and one rivet.  Dave made a few laps aiding the route, and Alex also ran it twice, aiding it on top-rope. 

Next, we moved to the much more overhanging Kor Aid Ladder.  Dave’s first run on this was tiring and awkward until he got used to finding the proper balance to keep from spinning when weighting his aiders.  His second run looked exponentially better.   After his second run, he fixed the line for Alex to ascend and clean.  Just as it was challenging for Dave to aid, it was also challenging for Alex to ascend and clean.  It took us some time to figure out a method to allow Alex to be able to reach the pieces of gear, without weighting them or locking up her ascenders.  We eventually were able to achieve this, but need to investigate the BEST way to do so.  We headed back to the car, realizing that over 3 hours had quickly passed. 

We began to organize and pack gear for climbing Nutcracker (5.8) the following morning with Gretchen and Jax.  As we finished up, a text message came through from our friends Annette and Mark who had arrived in Yosemite the previous evening.  Since service is poor, the message they sent at 4:30PM did not get received by us until 5:45.  They were asking if we wanted to meet up for dinner at 6:00PM at South Gate Brewing in Oakhurst.  We were able to get a text saying we’d love to, but we were an hour away!  Fortunately, they were willing to wait for us!  We enjoyed catching up with them, as well as the yummy wings, burgers, and fries we ate for dinner.  We made plans to meet up with them on Tuesday to get Mark on some climbs… Annette insisted she was happy just to watch.  After leaving the restaurant, we headed off to our “Wawona Entrance camping area” for the night. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015 – Knob Hill

We met up with Gretchen and Jax near the trailhead to Knob Hill, located near the series of three bridges as you make your way along the Merced River down into The Valley.  The short but steep approach led us to the climbing area, and to some struggles as to where the climbs we wanted were.  

After starting to climb, the leaders both found themselves off route. Gretchen was actually on the climb we were intending to lead, and Dave was leading a dirty gully.  A few times, he yelled down for Alex to put her head down as he brushed away dirt and pine needles in order to make a gear placement.  Grethen found herself on a climb she would have said “no!” to climbing based on its description of liebacking, hand cracks to fist cracks.  She did a great job of persevering on uncomfortable terrain, and found herself sitting at a tree belay after crushing the route.  After a fall on an off-route finger crack, Dave lowered to the ledge he had climbed the dirty gully to reach.  Turns out this ledge was the start of the climb Gretchen was on, Chicken Pie (5.7), and was the climb we wanted to be on.  Alex climbed up the gully to join him on the ledge before he continued up the nice hand and fist jams to the belay tree with Gretchen and Jax.  Alex followed, cleaning the climb, before all four rappelled down to the ledge.   We each climbed it a few more times, lending Alex’s tape gloves to Gretchen and Jax in order to help them gain more comfort and confidence with the cracks.

Jax gained so much confidence on this one, that she decided to lead Pot Belly (5.8).  The climb started with an unprotected undercling traverse to a hand crack.  After, an initial fall getting into the crack, which Dave did a great job of catching, Jax immediately got right back on the route and crushed it.

After Gretchen followed and cleaned the route, Dave lead it, with Alex following and cleaning.   Off the same anchors, we were all able to top-rop an unnamed/5.9 variation.  The finger crack, split from Pot Belly a few feet above the undercling traverse.  As the three ladies climbed the route, we all verbal acknowledged that Dave was not going to like this route… his fingers were not going to be a good fit!  Grumbly Dave made his way up the route, trying to stay in the larger hand crack for as long (if not too long) as possible.

We all decided that we had enough of the hot sun that felt as if it were burning our feet through our shoes.   So, when Dave finished cleaning the route, we packed up and headed to the river for a refreshing swim.
We drove off in our cars towards the Valley to get cold beverages and make dinner.  Being a Saturday, it was VERY busy, so we temporarily lost each other while finding places to park.  Finally, we rejoined, made some purchases at the store and prepared to make dinner.  We had grilled cheese sandwiches as appetizers (thankfully we made the sandwiches before Gretchen could maul BOTH blocks of cheese as she claimed she wanted to do), followed by rice noodles with peas and red curry sauce.