Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Road Trip 2011 Yosemite

Road Trip October 2011 – Yosemite
Enroute to Yosemite I spent the night at Bishop California, just on the eastern side of the Sierra’s.  Bishop is a very famous location to hang glider pilots as it is in the Owens Valley however I couldn’t find anyone who did anything but give me odd looks when I mentioned hang gliding.  The drive to Bishop went through the Utah/Nevada/Californian desert and was actually quite striking.  The back of beyond though as I didn’t have cell phone coverage for the vast majority of the drive and there wasn’t much in the way of “civilization”.  Funny enough the only FM radio stations I could get were country so there I was, driving through the desert listening to Willie Nelson.  The drive from Bishop to Yosemite was quite different and definitely stunning.  Highway 120 runs over Tioga Pass, probably the first time I’ve driven a car above 3000 metres.   The drive down through Tuolumne Meadows was fantastic, with rock formations starting to appear.  It was late in the season (end of October) so most services on this road were closed however there were climbers and hikers setting off along the way.
I arrived in Yosemite itself early afternoon and was staggered by both the rock formations and the level of tourism.  To find the tourist information I had to park some ways away and there was a shuttle bus to the village (and around the valley).  It ended up that there was only room for camping at Camp 4, which suited me well as it is known as the climbing centre.  I had to wait for the ranger for a bit however there were a number of vehicles with Alberta and BC license plates so I met a number of climbers most of who were just finishing up and had climbed some really neat stuff.  Everyone was talking up the big walls which were hard to ignore.  Camp 4 is a scene that isn’t to be missed, 6 people per campsite with a picnic table or two, four bear lockers and a shared fire pit.  Very social and a real scene, all for the price of $5 per night.  I ended up sharing a site with four guys; Kip a guide from Skagway Alaska, Matt a 20 year old from near LA, Keith a guy from Colorado and his friend Dave who had recently moved to Malibu as that is where his “guru” was located.  Quite a riot with everyone going there own way during the day and meeting up for supper, fire and the occasional cocktail.  Mid way through the evening Dave would retire to his tent to meditate and the purple haze gang would disappear briefly.  There is a great notice board for just about everything including climbing partners at camp 4 and I managed to hook up with an ex climbing guide from BC – Marc.  He hadn’t climbed in a bit so the next day we headed out early to check out the Glacier Point shoulder and climbed Glack Center which we eventually found with the help of a couple of locals.  It was a three pitch 5.6 with a great splitter crack, I won the rock, paper, scissors so took the middle pitch which was the highlight.  Great crack climbing and a little stiff for the grade (or given that this is Yosemite everything else is a bit soft which is likely closer to the truth).  Enjoyed the climb and then we moved over and Marc attempt a very run out 5.8 slab but bailed and I didn’t have the nuts to jump in.  We eventually moved over to the Goblet and ran a top rope over to practice slab climbing and get used to the rock.  It is great granite, very much like the Adirondacks in upper state New York.  Most routes are gear routes and there is great gear to be had.
Made my way back to the camp 4 party and was greeted by a great campfire and smores, life is good!  The daytime highs were just into the 20’s which was perfect however it was going down to just above freezing at night and because of the high cliffs surrounding the valley morning was downright cold, the sun doesn’t hit the tent until 10:30 am or so.  Next morning met Marc in the upper pines campground (which was much more civilized, but more expensive and full).  We headed off to the Church Bowl and jumped on Bishop Terrace, a classic 5.8 two pitch crack route.  I got the first pitch which is actually the easier of the two, but it was a great crack route.  After that we went to find Church Layback however someone was on it so moved over to Black is Brown, a 5.8 funky not so classic.  I lead it and it was fun although soiled my pants when I kicked out a nut, my only gear in 15 feet as I was topping out.  All’s well that ends well and we rapped off.  These climbs are all very close to the road and are a touch greasy given the easy access, nothing like bad limestone however just a little slick.  Marc had his eye on Church Crack, a cool 5.10a splitter and he lead and I followed.  I was happy not to thrash about (much) and rapped down as it was getting late.  Got back to camp 4 to a whole different world, crowd #1 had all departed (as I knew they would) and were replaced with a couple from Germany and another couple from Syracuse, New York.   Camp 4 was changing as more of the climbers departed for warmer terrain or home.   Site 23 was going upscale with lots of good food and real, purchased firewood.  We all agreed to do steaks on the fire the next evening, life is good!  Next day, Marc was having a rest day and I couldn’t find anyone to climb with so hiked Vernal Falls up through Nevada Falls to Little Yosemite Valley.  Felt more than a little weird taking a shuttle bus to the start of a hike. 

This would have been the route up Half Dome however Parks had taken out the cables a few weeks before so made do with a shorter trip.  Good fun, lot’s of elevation gain – 850m and absolutely no one past Nevada Falls.  Little Yosemite Valley has a back packers campground with outhouses, bear lockers for food and a notice board with lots of warnings about bears.  Someone had taken a lot of time placing stones as a bit of a staircase on a lot of the trail so it made for an interesting hike.  There were lots of turning leaves and great views of a number of faces, especially Liberty Cap and Half Dome.  Funny enough met both sets of camp mates on the hike at different times.  Back to the campsite with enough time to grab a shower at Curry Camp, splurged and bought a steak and a 6 pack of beer – had a great evening cooking on the campfire and swapping beers.  With more of the climbers leaving camp 4 it was a bunch quieter at night – good for sleeping.    The next day I was determined to climb and Marc wasn’t around so tracked down Scott, a guy from Portland, Oregon.  We set off in the morning for the Five Open Books and after a little futzing found Mungella, a two pitch misnamed 5.6.  Scott lead the first pitch and I was a little spooked when I got to the belay station and he had merely girth hitched a 1” branch of a tree about 3 feet from the roots for a belay.  Needless to say I plugged a bunch of gear in the first 20 feet of the next pitch and resolved to not push the grade that day.  After that we climbed the Big Oak Flake, a 2 pitch 5.7 that I snagged lead on the second pitch as Scott told me stories about breaking an ankle on Brown is Black a few years before, cutting off one of his toes in a lawn mower mishap and taking two 20 foot shippers the day before with scars to prove it.  Interesting times.  Later I lead Claudes Delight and interested 5.7 that was a bit greasy down low.  From there we could top rope Lena’s Lieback which was a great 5.9 lieback. 
Back to Camp 4 where there had been another rotation of camp mates.  The new group included 3 German’s who pretty much kept to themselves but also 3 folks from Belgium who were cycling from Seattle to Mexico.  The cool part was they were cycling with all of their sport climbing gear as well.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much sport climbing in Yosemite so the next day I went climbing with Marc and lent them my rack.  Marc had a brand new rack of double Metolius cams, nuts and even offset cams so I was more than happy climbing on his gear.  We started the day at Manure Pile, the name isn’t really indicative of the climbing.  We started on the first pitch of After 7, a great 5.8 crack.  It actually carries on for 4 more pitches but it was crowded up high and the climbing didn’t look stellar so we jumped on Just Do Do It, a 5.10a face climbing leading to a 5.9 crack.  Great fun, I struggled a bit on the initial 5.10 moves but the 5.9 crack was great fun.  We then headed to New Diversions, a neat area down the valley a bit with very little traffic.  Steep cracks with the biggest chicken heads I’ve ever seen up high.  Marc lead Chicken Pie, which was likely the hardest 5.9 I’ve ever struggled up.  It starts out as a finger crack at the back of a corner, then pinches off to a lieback.  The good news is that when you hit the roof the hard work is over and it is a bit balancy on these great big chicken heads.  Definitely got the pump going, I ended up seconding everything that day.  Didn’t get back to well after dark so had to put off the moving day stuff (shower, laundromat, groceries) until the next morning.  Yosemite was awesome however I was itching to get after some of the longer climbs like Royal Arches, a 16 pitch 5.7, or even one of the walls however it was the end of October and partners were getting scarce and the days short.  The next morning got all of the moving day stuff done, packed the bike up and managed to get out of town about noon.  It was great to take highway 41 south as it passed a great view of the Yosemite Valley itself and the first 50 km were curvy mountain roads with absolutely no shoulder and often large drop offs just the other side of the white line. Great fun but I didn’t push it hard given all of my worldly belongings were heaving themselves back and forth in the rear of the car.  Driving into Fresno was a bit of a culture shock though, true southern Californian with major traffic on concrete freeways.  Bakersfield was a blessing, a great grocery store right next to a car wash and a motel with Monday night football.