Day 3 &4 – 7/12, 7/13

“Whoa! Hey!”

It was around 4 in the morning but I knew what that yelling meant — a bear.

That’s how Sunday started. With a mighty shake of the truck and a bang of a box (the bear was scared off quickly and didn’t get anything luckily) at a crazy hour in the morning after a late night the night before. And since we were up we then drove into Tuloumne to get in line for a campsite (amazingly there was already one person in front of us). After procuring a campsite (you have to wait in two lines by the way, one to pay, one to get a site assigned) the day then turned into fruitless searches for a Wilderness permit (“You’ll have to come back, we can only give them out up to one day in advance”);  a non windy Ellery Lake climb; and Maria’s (aka @marialy on Twitter) climbing group. It did however yield emails sent to appropriate parties with our campsite number, one extra long nap for Peter in his truck, and a group of friendly climbers for me as I took photos around Puppy Dome while waiting for him to wake up. We each did a grand total of one unknown but fairly fun toprope climb on said dome once Peter felt awake enough and before we figured we should head back to camp in order to meet up with a friend and the first “stranger” due at camp.

I'm a rockgrrl cowgirl!
I'm a rockgrrl cowgirl!

Climbing with Strangers

Stranger? Yep, another Twitter friend! First it was Maria aka @marialy offering to share a site without ever having met me and then it was Katie aka @katiebeth saying she wanted to meet up. Katie’s plans coincided nicely, Sunday daytime she was climbing in Yosemite Valley with Rick aka @rikray for her first trad climb and was going to join our campsite for Sunday night & climb with us Monday. I’d never met her or Maria in person though I’d “chatted” with each of them via Twitter and seen their respective blogs and/or websites. Additionally Nina aka @nsmonkeygirl and Rick also said they’d be willing to climb with me.

Crazy people. I mean, who schedules a climb in Tuolumne with someone they’ve never met before? Oh yeah, me.

So it was back to camp for Peter and I and soon Peter’s friend Jamie showed up. All three of us were sitting around planning the next day when a car pulled up.

The guys looked at me, “Is that your friend?”

I couldn’t tell because there was glare on the windshield but I thought I saw brown hair. “I think so,” I said, “I’ve never actually seen her in person before”.

Sure enough it was Katie, she’s got just as effervescent a personality in person as she does online and gave me a hug once she got out of the car. She’s taller than she looks in her profile photo though, and she doesn’t carry a frog around either. I asked if Rick were on the way but wasn’t surprise to learn he wasn’t. It would’ve been a long way out of his way just to hang at camp. After an initial round of “Twitter” talk that I’m sure the guys were amused by, we ended up eating snacks, applying bug repellent (this trip had the worst mosquitoes I’ve ever seen in Tuolumne’s main campground), talking climbing & setting up a slack line which Jamie, Katie and I tried unsuccessfully to do in the dark.

I let Katie share my “2 person” backpacking tent with me after deciding she wasn’t an axe murderer (and vice versa). Monday morning we woke up and I said something about it having been noisy (I had had trouble sleeping in the night due to neighbor’s noises).

“Yeah, the birds are twittering really loudly,” Katie said.

I bust out laughing. I don’t know if she meant to make a Twitter reference but she started laughing too. We got out of the tent for breakfast and even did a little slack line while waiting for hot water. Katie even got all Cirque du Soleil on us and did the splits on the slackline.

The plan was to go out to Medlicott Dome. Jamie and Peter would climb a 3 pitch climb and I would lead a 5.7 trad

Katie
Katie

route called “D’oh” and set up some 5.10 top ropes from the top of the trad climb. We piled into Katie’s rental car and went off to start our adventure. About 30-40 minutes later we realized we had hiked to the wrong dome. We had gone to Lamb Dome. It only sunk in that it was the wrong dome when the final part of the approach turned out to be too short and easy to match the “steep” description in the book (and Peter’s and my memory of the approach).

So it was into the car again and off to another parking pull out. This time we got it right. It was a very steep approach, but at least it was an actual trail (unlike Candlelight Buttress’ approach had been). Unfortunately I realized I’d made a miscalculation on climbing plans. The guys wanted to do a route called “Excellent, Smithers”. I wanted to lead “D’oh”. The problem is that they share the first pitch. So Katie and I had to wait for the guys to start up before I could lead and she could clean it. Not the best use of time but Katie didn’t seem to mind so much (or she was good at hiding it). We met some other climbers in the area, including a guy with toes painted “Strawberry Delicious” [see photo in the thumbnail gallery at the end of this post].

Peter leading the D'oh pitch of Excellent, Smithers
Peter leading the D'oh pitch of Excellent, Smithers

Eventually I got to lead the trad route, a nice crack that lets you cheat if you want to use edges or the face instead of

@katiebeth & @rockgrrl
@katiebeth & @rockgrrl

the crack. I rapped off and belayed Katie up to clean the route. She had no problem despite being new to cracks and I was left thinking I should’ve put her on something harder. I later learned that her gym had 3 different cracks in it so she had been practicing. After that Katie was at first reluctant to try the 5.10 face climb but I told her she’d do it no problem and I was right. Jamie did the routes too (there was a 5.10 and a 5.10c) but by then we had to leave in order to get Katie back at home in time. It was a fun day though I got really sunburned on my shoulders, having neglected to apply sunscreen. Katie dropped us off at our campsite and had some coffee before heading home. We both thought it was too bad she had to leave.

Back at camp the guys and I had dinner and waited for some friends of ours, Cliff and Vina. I wish I could’ve set up a camera on our campsite, we’d have had some funny comings and goings of people and cars through the week, like those stock video shots of Grand Central Station.

Day 5 – 7/14

Cliff and Vina had arrived late Monday night and Tuesday morning probably came a little too early for them. Morning however was when I expected my next Twitter friend, Nina aka @nsmonkeygirl. Nina had said she’d be waking up at 4 o’crazy in the morning to drive out and be at our camp around 9am. Now, Nina I had actually met once years before Twitter. For those who don’t know, I am a geek as well as a climber,  and I go as a vendor/guest to some video game conventions. She had come to my booth at one of these conventions but I hadn’t known that when I’d re-met her on Twitter so it was funny when we both realized it. She even has a picture of me apparently.

Well Nina was true to her word, she got to our camp pretty early in the morning and I did the introductions all around. By this time Jamie and Peter were used to this strange “Twitter friend” idea though I think Vina and Cliff may have been a little confused. We hatched a plan to all go to Daff Dome and climb in pairs. Jamie and Peter would do the West Crack / Blown Away route, 5.10a, 4 stars. I would lead Nina up West Crack 5.9, 3 stars (with her taking lead on some pitches if she felt comfortable). And Cliff and Vina would do West Crack last or find another climb.

In this situation it was fortunate that West Crack and Blown Away shared the first two pitches because on a 5.7 pitch

Eileen & Nina waiting our turn at West Crack
Eileen & Nina waiting our turn at West Crack

the guide book indicated that one would need a number 5 and number 6 cam. Which only Peter owned. Peter said he’d leave those pieces in for us. “You just want us to carry the weight right?” I joked. Of course having no rack of my own anymore, I was in a beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation and was already in debt to Nina and her climbing partner for using their combined rack for our climb.

We all set off for Daff and this time we found the dome without incident but when we got there we found a wait line of two parties ahead of the first of ours. After some discussion it was decided we’d all wait it out. The base of this climb had a nice mix of sun and shade at least so we were able to snack at the base in relative comfort.

West Crack

It was finally Nina’s and my turn at West Crack. The only problem was that even though I’d been watching three other climbers start it, when I got up to the slightly bulging start with a crack to it, I literally didn’t measure up to what I’d seen the others do. I suddenly felt rather short. There is one bolt on this climb and it’s at this start. I couldn’t get to it though I tried a flip-you-out-backwards sort of boulder start to get to it with Cliff and Nina spotting me. I saw a possible friction way around it but felt a little wigged on it too (the start isn’t on the ground by the way but on a little ledge). Finally Cliff offered to climb up and clip the first bolt for me. I took him up on the offer. It was my first stick clip of sorts I suppose. Once it was in I did the friction move to the right of the crack and was up… only to realize why Jamie had said that part felt a little heady. There wasn’t much there. I think the bolt was to protect this part, not the start really. I believe the guidebook even designated where I was at as the 5.9 move of the route. Well, I got up somehow and was more in a crack, I got to a certain point and announced, “I feel a bit better now”.

Of course then the crack ran out. The last 15-20 feet or so it became just a seam, you couldn’t place any pro into it and had to run it out. I went for it and was happy to get a decent hand hold right before the bolted belay. At this point though I was faced with a mysterious bulge in the rock and I thought ahead to a pitch the book had called 5.7 “thin fingers” which also included a 5.8 section with the same. What were the feet going to be like? Was there more run out ahead? I thought about bailing since the belay we were at was the last chance to do so without leaving gear behind. When Cliff got up near me (declaring he didn’t like the run out section too by the way) I asked him about bailing. We decided he’d bring Vina up and meanwhile perhaps we’d like to go up over the bulge to the alternate belay station just above it?

Nina on a West Crack belay
Nina on a West Crack belay

Right around here is where Nina saved the day in my opinion. She had been looking at the bulge —  it was a protrusion of rock that at first looked like a funny roof from below but was revealed to be sections of rock with different cracks in it once you were up there. She then announced that she’d like to give it a shot, “at least the first moves”. We were at the bolt anchors so quite secure so we got her on belay for it and she gave it a go. She smartly got her foot behind her on another rock, creating a nice wedge the length of her thigh and allowing her to place more gear in. After an exciting moment or two she got up and over and set up the alternate belay.

I followed and was surprised to see she hadn’t clipped a piton right in the rock (though she’d placed a really nice cam at the same level, just in the other crack). Once we were over, I had gotten my lead head screwed on correctly again and we were good to go. Nina finished off her pitch (since we had stopped at the alternate belay right after the bulge she wasn’t quite done yet). It was described as a 5.7 wide crack where you could use face features and I think I agree with that. I cleaned it and in the process picked up Peter’s number 5 cam (he hadn’t placed the 6 afterall). Then Nina stopped at a point before the thin crack pitch. There was some confusion over where the actual belay was supposed to be but after a bit we got that sorted out and then I was on lead again.

The pitch I’d worried about looked pretty steep from the belay and indeed it was. I started up wondering if I had enough pieces and moved up a bit. “Are you going to place anything?” Nina asked.

“I was going for that nicer stance,” I replied, “But point taken,” and I put a piece in. The pitch was long and got fairly steep in several sections. The hands were mostly beautiful though. I managed to get a few wrist jams in but it was

Cliff nearing the finish of the 3rd pitch
Cliff nearing the finish of the 3rd pitch

mainly finger crack as described. My feet hurt a bit but I was happy to have them jammed in. When it finally started getting less steep (the last roped pitch was to be a 5.2) I decided to build an anchor while I still had a crack and gear to make an anchor in it. It was a beautiful pitch if you like crack climbing, the rating on it was 5.8 to 5.7 but it was just plain 5.fun to me (especially after the no-so-nice run out section of that first pitch) and I was doubly glad we hadn’t turned back.

Nina led the last pitch and then we celebrated with bread and cheese while we waited for Cliff and Vina to come up. To my slight surprise, Vina came up first (she hasn’t climbed in awhile so I thought Cliff was going to do all the pitches) so briefly it was just girls on top of the dome which amused me since I usually climb with guys. I got Vina in on some gear and then took off to explore the 4th class ascent to the top as she belayed Cliff up.

There was one “move” on the 4th class section which did need a hand hold (and was thus technically not 4th class) but it was cake and we all got on top quickly. The view was awesome, we were just getting that wonderfully warm near-sunset light.

We snapped a few photos and then it was time to find the rappel. It wasn’t too hard to find — go towards a boulder, look

Panorama from the top of Daff Dome near sunset
Panorama from the top of Daff Dome near sunset. Click on this picture in the Gallery to see it bigger.

down a bit and see a huge cairn built next to a tree — and we all got down and Peter was kind enough to have brought Nina’s pack to the bottom which contained our approach shoes so we wouldn’t have to walk too far in our climbing shoes.

We all headed out and learned that Jamie and Peter had also done West Crack, having missed the turn off for Blown Away. I’m sure it was a disappointment for them but it was fun to compare notes since we’d all done the same multi-pitch climb.

Unfortunately Nina had to head home as she was already going to be back much later than her husband expected but it was great fun to have climbed with her at least for the day.

By the way, I got two holes through the leather in my Mythos, one I had noticed before the climb (it was near the ball of my foot and I noticed it after Candlelight Buttress) the other was at the toe. Ah well, like I said, that pair had been resoled twice already so I guess it served me well, and at least I brought my second pair with me on the trip.

All things told, I’d say it was a Good Day and a Good Climb.

Stay tuned for the final installment of the  “Less Rack but Extra Friends – High Sierras / Tuolumne Trip 2009″ saga where our intrepid heroes meet up with more friends, climb sport climbs, find their way into the backcountry and finally get a real rest day…