Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Leaning Tower

As soon as the government reopened the national parks Ollie, Duncan and I drove straight into Yosemite, packed up our very heavy Haul Bag and got on The Nose. We gambled three days worth of food and water and jugged back up to our previous highpoint at Sickle Ledge. I lead and fixed the next two pitches as the sun set. I felt unstoppable.

It wasn't to be. The next morning we bailed from the Stovelegs. Basically we were moving too slowly for the short autumn days. Our lack of prior practice was also showing through: we didn't have our three climber system sorted and every belay was a total cluster.

Back on the ground my body was sore from the attempt and I was angry with myself for giving in too easily, even though I knew it was the right desicion. I also desperately didn't want to leave the Valley empty handed. We didn't have time for another go at the Nose, besides I didn't want to get back on it as a three.

I tried to bully, bribe and guilt trip Ollie into doing the Regular Route on Half Dome to no avial. Like me he also didn't want to leave empty handed, but our failure had deflated him - Half Dome was beyond our abilities. Instead he suggested the Leaning Tower, which I'd arrogantly dismissed as too easy, dispute barely knowing anything about the climb.

An afternoon at Cookie Cliff did little booster our confidence. We backed off a 5.9 chimney (If that is the best 5.9 at Cookie I hate to think what the bad ones are like!) and I hitched back to Camp 4 in a huff.

The next day we were planning on leaving the Valley and heading to Santa Cruz to relax by the beach for the remaining few days of our trip. I didn't want to do this. Instead I opened up the guidebook and read the description for The Leaning West Face - it actually sounded pretty damn good and it's a Warren Harding route.

Mentally and physically tired from nine weeks of climbing Duncan decided to sit this one out. On the first day I lead the first two pitches, a strenuous bolt ladder, before fixing our ropes and returning to Camp 4.

The next morning we returned to the base of the climb and jumared our free hanging ropes. Ollie then lead two more pitches, which lead to the palacial Ahwahnee Ledge. We fixed two more pitches in the afternoon sun, before descending back to the ledge for very well earned beer, dinner and sleep.

After a leisurely start we jugged our fixed lines and continued for three more steep pitches to the top of the Leaning Tower and our first big wall. Big wall climbing is not much like climbing really. It involves a strange mix of terror combined with some very well earned downtime in some very cool places. It is also very rewarding and I'm looking forward to doing more of it.
Harry Potter tries the Nose - I snapped my glasses at the bivi.

Little man sad to be bailing from the Big Stone.

Vertigo for breakfast anyone - Ollie jugs our fixed lines on the second day.

It's amazing where stuff grows.

Ollie aiding on the Leaning Tower.

Ollie ready to eat on Ahwahnee Ledge.

Totem Cams - if you are going big walling get a set of these, they go in anywhere and are always bomber.

Why Gri-gris were invented - for taking selfies whilst belaying.

Ollie experiencing brain meltdown, whilst cleaning the final pitch.

El Cap - still the dream.

Ollie abseiling with the pig.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It might be back on...

We got expelled from the Valley and ended up in Las Vegas. After spending a night on the Strip we found ourselves a cheap hotel on the Red Rocks side of town. (All campsites were closed due to the government shutdown and the only free camping dangerously close to a methhead encampment.)

We spent an enjoyable week ticking our way though classics in Black Velvet Canyon. The climbing at Red Rocks is excellent: solid, multipitch sandstone with conviently bolted belays and protection bolts for when everything started to get scary! If you haven't been go there, it's ace.

After our week of extravagance it was back to a Spartan existence in Bishop. We stayed at the very pleasant free camping adjacent to the Buttermilks and visited the Happys, the Sads, the Buttermilks and the Pollengrains. As a mostly non boulderer (I'm just too weak and rubbish) I had a great time doing some of the very easy problems. They certainaly don't give the V grades out with sweeties - infact it is the only place I've climbed that makes the grades at the Indy Wall look soft!

Thankfully the US Government has sorted itself out and we are now on our way back into Yosemite. We've only got twelve days remaining in the states. If we pull our fingers out we should have enough time to climb the Nose and the Regular Route on Half Dome, but we are going to be cuting it fine.

Burrows seconding the crux of Dream of Wild Turkeys.

Ollie on Sourmash.

Black Velvet Canyon - not a shit crag.

Thank God for that...

King 'Ledge.

Burrows crushing at the Happy's.

Maddie crimping for Warrington on Mister Witty - V6.

Howard bellyflopping for Warrington on Pope's Prow.

Maddie on the Northwest ArĂȘte of Grandma Peabody.

Melted marshmallows the pudding of heros.

There wasn't much space on the drive to Yosemite.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Frustration (and Loathing the US government) in Las Vegas

We were somewhere on Highway 120 on the way out of Yosemite when reality began to kick in: due to the US Federal Government shutting down we were being kicked out of the Valley. Our dreams of climbing El Capitan over, at least for the foreseeable future. We don't seem to have had much luck on this trip. When we we arrived in California it was on fire, which prevented us from spending as much time as we wanted in Tuolumne Meadows. Our original plan was to spend seven week in Yosemite but because of the fire we decided to hire another car and head to Colorado, which then flooded the day before we set off. So we headed to Smith Rock which was okay, but who flies across the Atlantic to go sport climbing, when I could do better climbing in France or Spain for a fraction of the cost.

We finally made it Yosemite with the aim of spending our remaining five weeks in the States there. Arriving in the Valley we drove down to El Cap meadow and saw the Captain for the first time. I don't think I have been so inspired, psyched and excited by a piece of rock. In the days leading up to our arrival Ollie and I had been had arguing about which wall we were going to climb first. As soon as we set our eyes on El Cap we knew it had to be the Nose.

That evening we climbed Nutcracker, a great but quite tricky 5.8 on Manure Pile Buttress. The next two days were spent driving back to SF to return our hire car. Back in the Valley we aided the first pitch of Cosmos at the base of El Cap and practised jugging a fixed rope to get in the swing of things. The next day we soloed a fun 5.6 called Mungenella and climbed the Central Pillar of Frenzy, which was totally brilliant and one of the best Hard VSs I've ever done.

The next day Duncan needed a rest so Ollie and I soloed Royal Arches as our active rest. I founded it to be a little more tiring than I'd anticipated - the pendulum is brilliant. That evening we sorted our rack for the Nose. The next morning we got up early and fixed our ropes to Sickle, which was uneventful apart from the short fall I took on the first pitch when an overtaking party's cam ripped out. (Rather embarrassingly I've taken more aid falls than trad falls this year.) We also saw Mayan Smith-Gobat and Stan Leary set off to break the mixed record. When we got down to El Cap Bridge after fixing they were already there having climbed the whole route (3:30) and descending the East Ledges. Very very impressive!

Our plan was to pack the next day, then jumar up the ropes the following evening and spend the night at Sickle, before climbing the Nose over three days. Originally we were going to do this regardless of the Shutdown. However although the Park Service said they weren't going to arrest climbers who were descending if they changed their minds and we did get arrested it would make re-entering the US very difficult to impossible. And as much as I dislike America and would never want to live here there is some very good climbing here and I don't want risk never being able to visit again for the sake of one route, which will always be there.

We managed to get a lift out of the Valley to Las Vegas, which is surreal. We had one bet on the roulette wheel and lost. I'm never doing that again.  Watching people sit in a darkened room, surrounded by flashing lights, gambling all their money away is depressing. We are staying in a cheap Hotel - it's nice to sleep in a bed for a change and we had no real choice as the official campsite is closed and the only free camping is frequented by Methheads. We climbed at Black Velvet Canyon yesterday, which although very good isn't Yosemite. Hopefully the Republicans and Democrats will sort themselves out before we leave for Patagonia on Nov 1 and we'll get to climb El Cap.

The team and the Captain - I don't think I've ever been this psyched before.
Nutcracker - Duncan seconding and Ollie leading.
Duncan enjoying Central Pillar of Frenzy. 
Ollie with his hand looped through the A0 pendulmn on Royal Arches. I was a big scardey cat and clipped in. 
Duncan leading pitch 4 of the Nose.

End of dream...
Vegas baby!
Paris baby!
Venice baby!
Red Rocks baby!