Posts Tagged ‘climbing’

5th Annual JTree Tweetup is Coming Up! (Thank Goodness the Parks Re-Opened)

Monday, October 28th, 2013

jtreetweetup5I can hardly believe it, it’s going to be the FIFTH Annual JTree Tweetup this year!

While the Government shutdown made me miss out on a 7 day trip in Yosemite, I’m so glad we didn’t have to have anyone cancel plane tickets for the JtreeTweetup!

The official dates are November 8-11, 2013 but we have folk arriving as early as November 5th and leaving as late as November 14th. The Jtree Tweetup is a fun event that sprung from an casual conversation on Twitter among #climb members and soon became an annual event with climbers who have come from across the US and even from Canada. You can still sign up on the wiki page here.


In honor of us reaching our 5th year, I can confirm a new sponsor, Goal Zero, makers of excellent solar equipment for the adventurer! They will be providing light and power for base camp via Light-a-Life lights, a solar panel and a battery from which we can charge cell phones, etc. and they have also provided a VIP kit (only 500 of these were made) to be given away at the event! The package contains a Nomad 7, a Switch 8, and a Limited Edition Rock Out 2 speaker!

So, aside from all the fun, climbing and meeting/making old/new friends, that’s another reason to come out to the desert in November, you just might be the lucky winner and win an awesome solar kit!

To keep up to date on more sponsors and trip details, create an account on the climbingtweetup wiki page and add your name to the 5th Annual JtreeTweetup page.

National Conservation Lands Also Afffected by Government Shutdown – Red Rocks, etc

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area and other areas like it are also affected by the Government shutdown.

Facing the threat of a shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management devised a contingency plan that helps to answer some of these questions.  Generally:

  • Visitor centers and recreational facilities are closed (including campgrounds and bathrooms).  All permitted activities are canceled and/or postponed.  You may recreate/visit a non-developed area with no controlled access, but keep in mind there are no non-emergency services available.
  • All Volunteer Activities will discontinue for the duration of the shutdown.
  • If you have a meeting with BLM staff during the shutdown it is cancelled.
  • There is no clear guidance on which roads will be closed.  In general, roads that provide access for communities and major transportation routes will remain open.
  • BLM will continue to operate law enforcement and emergency response functions.

The above is from

You can read the BLM contingency plan here:

Government Shutdown – What it Means for Our National Parks – Yosemite, etc

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

The Government shutdown in regards to our National Parks will take place in 2 phases. Part of phase one includes instructing all day use visitors to leave the park immediately.

Effective immediately upon a lapse in appropriations, the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to close and secure national park facilities and groundsin order to suspend all activities except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately as part of Phase 1 closures. Visitors utilizing overnight concession accommodations and campgrounds will be notified to make alternate arrangements and depart the park as part of Phase 2. Wherever possible, park roads will be closed and access will be denied. National and regional offices and support centers will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to support excepted personnel. These steps will be enacted as quickly as possible while still ensuring visitor and employee safety as well as the integrity of park resources.

The shutdown process will take place in two phases. Phase 1 includes all activities to notify the public of the closure, secure government records and property, and begin winding down operations to essential activities only. Phase 1 will take place over a day and a half. Phase 2 will be initiated by the Director and includes the complete shutdown of all concession facilities and commercial visitor services. Overnight visitors will be given two days to make alternate arrangements and depart the parks. At the end of Phase 2 operations are expected to be at the minimum levels defined below. The entire closure process – both phases – will be completed within four days.

Read the full National Park Contingency plan here.

Climbing Pants Review – Outdoor Research Women’s Voodoo Pants

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Outdoor Research Women's Voodoo Pants - Black version

If you’re a climber girl you’ve probably known the pain of finding great climbing pants. I know I have. Sometimes I’d think I’d found the perfect pair only to have them tear or lose their shape. Well, can I tell you how lucky I feel that Outdoor Research sent me the Women’s Voodoo Pants to review?

First off, I loved how they look on. They have a great cut and are flattering. Little details like stitching on the back pockets also help one get away from a look that says “only for outdoors use” to a look that says you can transition to the street too.

Secondly, I loved the feel of the fabric, sort of slick and stretchy in a good way. The articulated knees are a good mobility touch but don’t look too obvious or baggy.

One initial drawback to the pants was that I had requested the wrong size. I have a hard time with pants so went with what I thought was my “normal” size. I had to go one size smaller to get the pants to fit in the waist. I almost didn’t request a replacement though, because I liked the fit elsewhere and felt I could still wear the pants if I wore thick long underwear under them and/or a belt. In the end I did request the smaller size though and was happy to find it fit my waist better and still looked good elsewhere (though of course it was smaller all over).

Once I got to really using the pants is when I really started to love them.

I just got back from a trip to Idyllwild, home of Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks (old school granite climbing). I wore the pants in the varied weather conditions we found there and put them through a bit more than I had expected.

Some things I discovered I love about the pants after wearing them on the trip and out at local crags:

1. The color. The shade of grey was not too dark in the sun and not too light for getting dirty.

2. The water and wind repellancy. During the Tahquitz trip I got on multipitch climbs with a lot of shade. The winds blowing off of the snow at the base of some of the climbs was a bit chilly but the pants did very well in preventing them from blowing right through. I also accidentally splashed a little bit of water on them while trying to drink from a bottle while we were on a rough dirt road. I was able to brush the drops right off.

3. That the pants are somewhat wrinkle proof. I had these crumpled up in my pack on the day we hiked to Suicide Rocks. I wore shorts for the hike then changed into the pants for the multipitch climb. I almost felt overdressed when I put them on. I was also happy to have them in the end because it got chilly.

4. The abrasion resistance. I had a hard time on one of the classics in the area, Flower of High Rank, and fell unexpectedly. I thought for sure my shirt and pants had holes in them but they did not. I actually had an abrasion on my knee (broke the skin) but the pant leg was fine (see photos).

5. Packability. The pants offer nice protection without bulk. This is great for packing to a crag and just packing in general.

Me on the summit of the Larks

Me on the summit of the Larks

6. The pocket on the thigh. This is a zippered pocket in a handy place for accessing a topo map of the route.

Cons of the pants?

I’d say I wouldn’t mind the pant leg bottoms being a tiny bit slimmer and/or there be a way to button the legs up to turn them into capris… though the pants were easy to roll up and seemed to stay up once I did that so that request is more about aesthetics than functionality.

I think an adjustable drawstring inside the pants might be handy. If I lost more weight I’d have to start using a belt or wearing more layers at the waist to keep the pants up, on long trips I notice that I do tend to lose weight so that would be a factor.

My general impression: these are my new favorite climbing pants, and especially shine in multipitch climbing, providing coverage without loss of flexibility (check out the pic of me leading a roof on Whodunit!).

By the way, my Tahquitz trip report is still to come 🙂

Joshua Tree Freedom – 9 Days Climbing in the Park

Monday, March 18th, 2013

I came back from Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday, March 6th. I didn’t know it was March 6th, in fact I didn’t even realize it was Wednesday until a few days later. This is the kind of freedom going camping and climbing to a place you know well (and having a flexible schedule) can give you. It was awesome and while luck is often the product of creating the circumstances that favor it, “lucky” is the word that came to mind that first day in Joshua Tree when I felt no pressure at all to jump on any “classics” or “must dos”. I only had one loose plan for the trip: to spend at least 5 days in Joshua Tree National Park and to not have to cook on my birthday.

Right from day one, which was Tuesday, February 26th, I knew the trip was going to be different. One reason was that K and I left early in the morning and arrived early enough to not only get a Hidden Valley Campground campsite, but to also hike around and just wander in nature.


Pinhead Boulder

K on Pinhead Boulder

Pretty close to the campground we found a woman bouldering on a rock we discovered was named Pinhead Boulder. We gave her a spot while she did the crack route on it, then we went back for our crash pad since she had moved on. Climbing around on this boulder was enough to get reacquainted with the rough, sharp rock that characterizes Joshua Tree, and the boulder even had a crack route in it, marked with pin scars, to help us get back into crack climbing as well.

I think the spirit of that day continued into the next. Seeking out climbs in the sun we decided to try Mike’s Books, a two pitch climb on Intersection Rock we had never done before. Once we got to the base of the climb I recognized its start as something I had seen done. I recall watching the a leader on it and thinking it probably qualified as one of those “the first 15 feet don’t count” kind of climbs where a bouldery start marks the beginning of the route. The rating I think is easy if you go around the bouldery start but either 5.7+ or 5.8 if you don’t.

It was our first trad climb in Jtree in a long time (first trip for the season) so it was fun to do this climb. The start was as described and I felt was the hardest part of the route, but that may be because I felt alright with the slightly wide cracks which comprised the next parts so the start seemed harder in comparison. Most of the 1st pitch, besides the start, is wide enough to be a bit strenuous, but as K mentioned, I did the top part completely different than he did. I did a bit of chimney technique to get over the hump, K thought I did it less strenuously than he had. But of course he was on lead and I wasn’t.

As we got down from Mike’s Books our friend Cliff joined us, from there it was on to Double Cross. It’s a bit of  a how-are-we-feeling-in-Jtree test piece for us. I’ll have to say it didn’t feel as good as it had in the past, but I guess that’s what taking a long time off of crack climbing will do for ya. It was still fun though, well deserving of its Classic status.

By now the sun was setting fast and Cliff’s girlfriend, Vina had joined us, so it was off to camp.

The following days we all kept up a fun flow of climbing and discovering.

On one of the early days we went to an area called Hot Tub. This was new to me. We did a climb there called Dharma Bums and we also got a rope up to the left and right of it. We had the spot to ourselves, though we could occasionally hear other climbers somewhere else in the Hidden Valley campground area.

During the trip we did two routes in which we just walked up and did them, no idea of the name of the route or formation. Unfortunately when I say “we” did one of the routes I only mean two of us did, because when Cliff got to the top, he discovered no anchors. That news, plus the fast setting sun meant only his belayer for the climb, K, went up after him. They ended up finding some webbing and leaving a nut to descend.

Me on Illusion Dweller

Me on Illusion Dweller

My birthday fell on the second Saturday of the trip.  We had a leisurely morning and then we climbed the awesome, five star, classic crack climb, Illusion Dweller (aka Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamlined Baby). Since my one birthday request was that I not have to cook for my birthday, for dinner I had proposed going into town to Pie for the People (a great New York style pizza place K and I had discovered the week it had opened) but was persuaded to try the new Crossroads instead. It turned out to be a good choice. I had a great Reuben sandwich with a small side  of spinach salad which was bigger than I had expected it would be. For dessert we all shared a piece of carrot cake (no candle on it, as I was afraid if they told the staff it was my birthday they might do the whole singing thing and I was feeling a bit shy in the as yet uncrowded restaurant).

Cliff and Vina had to leave on Sunday after that but K and I had committed to staying until Monday… which stretched up till Wednesday (which probably led to my confusion of not knowing what day it was when we actually got home).

Monday K and I had a bit of a rest day, both of us feeling a bit worked and I was feeling tired from little sleep due to a windy night. I took a nap in the car when K went searching for his hat which he thought he’d left in one of the two formations we’d gone to in Real Hidden Valley. By the time he came back (empty handed) we both felt up to having a go at Clean and Jerk, a hard climb on Sports Challenge Rock. K set up a top rope but I couldn’t make any progress with the boulder start (yes, another one of those!). K eventually got past that with a little help from cams and gear and then finished the rest of the route normally.

Owning Hemingway Due to a Car Commercial

On Tuesday I felt rejuvenated and wanted to get on multiple long routes so K and I headed out for Hemingway, which we knew would get morning sun (the weather was still cold enough that we wanted to climb in the sun when we could).

Right after the intersection for Real Hidden Valley a police car and cop blocked the way. Turns out there was some filming going on on the road after. We talked a bit to the cop, explaining that we were going to be busy climbing and wouldn’t be in the way of filming. He talked to some people on the radio and we were let through. At the parking lot for Hemingway we saw a lone guy with a walkie talkie. He asked us what we’d be doing. He had a German accent. We pointed at the middle section of Hemingway. “We’ll be up there” I said.

“You’re going to climb that?” he said, “Respect!”

While still putting our things together, a car pulled up in the lot and another man came out of it, and we basically had the same conversation except that he asked us, “You won’t be going on the road right?”

We answered negatively.

“So, what’s this top secret car, you guys are filming?” K asked him.

“It’s not just top secret… it’s top speed!” He said (also in a German accent). “But we would appreciate it if you didn’t take any pictures.”

The guy went off in his car, leaving the other guy behind.

K and I hiked out to Hemingway, we had the whole area to ourselves. It felt rather novel since Hemingway is a very popular wall.

As we set up at the base, we heard a loud rumbling, two sports cars appeared on the road, with another car rigged with a camera following them. It looked like they were Porches, probably just next year’s models, but they were indeed going fast.

K and I ended up having a great time on the long routes on Hemingway. We did White Lightning and then K lead OverSeer for the first time. It’s an awesome route with fun variety to it. We had an audience for some of the time we were climbing because after our lunch break (and it seems the film crew’s too) we saw the police set up a road block right after the Hemingway parking lot, blocking traffic traveling towards Hidden Valley. This created a line of cars which had to wait long enough that I could see folks getting out of their cars. Eventually the road block was removed and the only other climbing party we saw all day arrived. It was a trio of guys from Washington. They started with White Lightning. K and I had decided to do Feltonian Physics, simply because neither of us had tried it before. We had a great time sharing Hemingway with the newcomers who had some interesting stories to tell. They had all been climbing since they were kids, and I didn’t get the ages of all of them but one of them said he was 62. They had no problem with White Lightning.

Last Hurrah

The last day K and I were there we decided to get on Bird on a Wire, we’d done it before with a party of three and K wanted to try it with just the two of us. Though we had not seen many climbers around since the weekend, we found one party in the parking area, and one party on the rock already in the Lost Horse area. The weather was sunny enough that as I belayed the first pitch, I was glad for a little bit of shade a boulder near me provided. But, once I was on the route, I could feel the chill in the breeze and was glad I had not left my Windstopper jacket at the base. While we were climbing, the party we had seen on the wall already, had moved onto our route so we had to wait a bit to do the second pitch. Turns out they had done a combination of Dappled Mare and Bird on a Wire, unknowingly of course, they were new to the wall.

Bird on a Wire was a great end to the trip. All in all I had gotten on a lot of new to me things and also done three classics. I also pink pointed a 3 star climb called Leap Year Flake and flashed the Pinscar problem on Pinhead Boulder. I don’t have a photo of me on it because given the choice of pics or another spotter, I chose a spotter… what can I say? I’m a scaredy cat boulderer who gets nervous topping out on anything even a little taller than me!. Finding some adventurous, no one around climbs was also great during the trip, even though one tree shaded route had the added bonus of also harboring a lot of ants. Seeing a lot of great wildlife: coyotes, road runners, quail, baby bunny rabbits, etc was also a highlight.

This trip was another great reminder that adventure and the feeling of being “out there” can always be found, even in places you have been to before and especially if you are open to it. You have to love a place that makes you feel lucky to be alive.

A slideshow of photos from the trip is embedded below. Click on any photo to see bigger size options (highly recommended). You can also see the set here).

Trip Report – 4th Annual Jtree Tweetup, Joshua Tree National Park

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The Fourth Annual Jtree Tweetup, which officially took place from November 9-11, 2012 (though many came early and some stayed later) was a lot of fun as usual. This year it was cold and windy, though thankfully not as windy as the forecasts had originally said it would be (one day had predicted gusts of 50 miles per hour, but I’d guess we only experienced 30 mph gusts at most). The hearty Twitter climbers braved it all to camp, meet and climb. One of the things I love about JTree Tweetups is seeing my Twitter friends in person and how a bunch of strangers can become friends. Sometimes a little adversity can bring folks together.

Luke climbing at the 4th Jtree Tweetup with a peanut gallery shadow crew watching

Luke climbing at the 4th Jtree Tweetup with a peanut gallery shadow crew watching

As usual, we had a great mix of #climb folks attending, including Tweetup veterans but also eight newcomers. Veteran Tweetup goers, Bill Urbanski, Patrick Gensel and two of their friends won the Traveled Furthest title since they came out from Pennsylvania (no Canadians this year). Another far traveling #climb Tweetup goer was first timer,  Kat coming from Oregon. A Tweetup First was having not one but 3 kids in attendance, with two of them under 2 years of age and the youngest being 9 months old! Start them young right?

Climbing was a quest for sun and wind protection so we ended up at Thin Wall (yeah not much sun there, but a good wall for folks to get acquainted with/ reacquainted with Joshua Tree National Park Rock), Headstone, Echo Cove, Hidden Tower, Little Rock Candy Mountain, Old Woman, and Brown Wall. Small groups also climbed on The Blob and on extra scrambles, and bouldering areas.

We were fortunate this year to have great sponsors, including ClifBarAction WipesClimbOn! (who was a Firewood Sponsor), and Mountain Mama (who was also a Firewood Sponsor and literally brought a bunch of firewood). Eastern Mountain Sports sent products for giveaway / review which we randomly distributed (watch for reviews on them). Chaco (who sponsors me as part of their Ambassador Team) also stepped up as a sponsor for the Jtree Tweetup this year by providing a $60 gift certificate to giveaway as part of the 10 Year Anniversary events.

Personally I had a great time, this year a number of folks showed up before the official weekend so I had help with campsite wrangling and an easier time of figuring out where to climb since we could hit popular routes on the weekday. Thanks go to Michael, Terri, and K for helping me with the early site wrangling and to Luke and Lizzy for suggesting some climbing areas and putting up ropes.

On this trip I also got to mix business and pleasure, squeezing in a photo shoot for Teresa of Mountain Mama and her family at Ryan Campground and at Gunsmoke before we joined more Tweetup goers at Hidden Tower.

Climbing wise I got to on sight a 5.7 trad climb in the Little Rock Candy Mountain area and to climb new to me routes there — including a strange face route I somehow turned into a “5.8, my a**” climb instead. It was also great seeing others challenge themselves, Terri on sighted an unusual route on Hidden Tower and Nina got her groove back after a break from climbing, leading Wild Wind (5.9).

Having fun at Brown Wall

Narinda having fun at Brown Wall on Captain Chronos

At the end of the trip there was talk about how next year will be the 5th Annual Jtree Tweetup, we even tried to get the group campsite before I had left the park… but it was booked. That’s ok, we’ll still be doing it, so keep an eye out folks, we will be doing it again!

My Twitter list of Tweetup goers (minus friends who did not have accounts set up):

Slideshow of photos from the 4th Annual Joshua Tree Tweetup (you can see the photos in non slideshow format here):

ClimbTalk Radio – My Guest Appearance

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
Photo: Hytok

Photo: Hytok

This past Friday I was a guest on KVCU 1190 AM, CLIMBTALK rock climbing radio show which is broadcast from Boulder, CO and hosted by Michael Francis Brooks & Dave McAllister.

First off, isn’t it great there’s a climbing talk radio show!?!

Secondly, fellow guests included Peter Mortimer of Sender Films and the ReelRock tour, and Jay Peery of Evolv which led to great conversation. Topics included Alex Honnold and the present and future of climbing and the climbing community. You can listen to  and/or download an MP3 of the hour long show here:

Yosemite Valley Trip: 7 Days of Awesome – Part III – Rest Days and Half Dome

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Part III – Rest Days and Half Dome [See Part I here]

Yosemite National Park. Day 4. “Rest” Day

The concept of a rest day during a climbing trip is that you rest your body so that you can continue to climb and so that you don’t injure yourself.

Michael, Kelly and I were thinking we’d like to get one more more big climb in during our trip but we were a little tired from the climbing we had already done. Calculating our days, we decided to do a rest day before whichever multipitch climb we were going to tackle next (we hadn’t decided on what that was yet).

We weren’t too keen on driving around (since we’d had had to drive to a new campsite after winning the campsite lottery again) so we decided to hike up the Mist Trail since it would mean we could walk from our campsite and Michael had never done it. When we got to the first steep part I realized I had forgotten that this trail is labeled as “Strenuous” by most guides. It only got steeper of course. It was still beautiful to see Vernal Falls and the rainbow filled mist it creates. The guys got to the top of Vernal Falls before I did. When I got there I didn’t see them. A stranger approached me and said, “Are you looking for K?”

Vernal Falls tunnel“Yes,” I said wondering about the stranger’s mysterious air. I recognized this stranger as an athletic 50 something year old man I had leap frogged a bit on the trail up before he passed me as I took some photos.

Turns out the stranger had shown K and Michael a secret way to get closer to the falls. Quite a bit closer. I went to check it out with the guys.

After we got back to the trailhead we started walking further. I thought we were only going to the top of Vernal, when K continued I thought he just wanted to look at the river more, but we soon went beyond it and started going uphill again. I called out that I was going to head back to camp and turned around, mindful that I wanted to save my legs for whatever climb we were going to do as our last multipitch of the trip.

Then I ended up taking the wrong fork back. I was hiking along, watching my steps when I realized that I had been going up hill for awhile. I looked to my right and suddenly saw I was high above Vernal Falls. Oops. I was on the John Muir Trail! I had a great view though, so I took a moment to get a few shots before I headed back towards Vernal, worried that the guys might have gotten ahead of me, and would therefore be worried if I they got back to camp and I wasn’t there.

I kept a good pace going all the way down the Mist Trail because of this worry, but it turned out to be unfounded and instead the guys found me relaxing back at camp when they returned.

K brought news, apparently they had run into some climbers who had just done Snake Dike, a climb K had wanted to do forever and I had promised to climb with him since I had already done it before. The climbers had told K that though the cables were down, there wasn’t any snow on the route itself nor the approach hike so K was fired up to do it.

Michael wasn’t interested in doing it this trip so K and I set about strategizing for the climb. We definitely didn’t want to be doing any more strenuous hikes before the climb.

Day 5. Real Rest Day.

Collecting water from Fern SpringMichael and K were feeling the effects of their hike to the top of Nevada Falls (and to a lesser extent I was feeling the effects of my Vernal Falls with detour hike as well) so after we took care of getting a campsite which fortunately we were able to get for two nights in a row (crucial for our Snake Dike plans) we decided to have a real rest day and do a mellow hike to Bridal Veil Falls. We also stopped by an honest to goodness mountain spring and filled our water bottles after seeing a cyclist who looked like a regular there, do it. The water tasted great.

Day 6. May 9, 2012. Snake Dike

Since I’d climbed Snake Dike before several years ago, I was not that worried about the famous run outs on the climb itself, in fact I offered to lead them, since K doesn’t like run outs. What I was worried about was getting to the base of the climb. Doing a strenuous hike two days before  is not the best way to prepare for this famous climb which I’ve heard other climbers call “Snake Hike”. Climbing Snake Dike from the Valley floor involves a 6 mile approach hike to Snake Dike, 8 or so pitches of the climb itself before you hit the 3rd class “forever” part to the top of Half Dome and then an 8 mile descent hike out. You start at about 4000 feet elevation from the Valley floor, hit 8,842 at the summit of Half Dome and then have to come back down again on the Mist Trail.

The first time I had climbed Snake Dike I hadn’t led any pitches, was wearing a pack that was too big for me and remembered being scared enough on the approach (on a part with granite slabs) that I put on my climbing shoes to do it. I also remembered fighting my way through many manzanita bushes. Oh, and the climb itself was awesome and went too fast. And my friend (who had hiked up to the top of it with a group) gave me a sandwich at the top.

I told K that we had to get up at 3am. The last time I had done Snake Dike we had gotten up at 2am (partly because we had given up on sleeping after a night of interruptions and partly because we were doing it on a Friday). And even then… a party had beaten us to the start.

So I figured a 3am start, even though it was a Wednesday, was a good idea for K and I, especially since I had only a very foggy memory of the approach hike and was worried even with the maps and beta we had gotten from others, that we might get lost finding the route.

Though K and I had not spent the night drinking, we didn’t get much sleep. We did manage to leave camp and get on the road sometime just past 4am though.

Me in my sassy pose on the approach hike to Snake DikeAt the Mist Trail trailhead I found a stick someone had leaned against the sign. It was a good size for me and I took it as a good omen. It said to me, “Don’t worry about the hike, I’ll back you up!”

So I went on my merry way. We saw no one on the trail (not surprising since it was before sunrise on a weekday). We stopped a few times. We filled up water at the convenient drinking fountains at the base bridge for Vernal Falls, another time we pulled out our rain protection for the passing by Vernal Falls. The “mist” was heavy enough to drench one’s clothing and backpack which we had fortunately found out during our “rest” day hike. Soon we got to the portion of the Mist Trail above Vernal Falls and close to Little Yosemite campground where our beta and my Spidey Sense told us that we should cut off to get to the base of Half Dome. This is where another good omen occurred… we found a small climber’s trail through the manzanita bushes. I was amazed it was so easy to find, and ecstatic I didn’t have to push my way through yards of skin tearing bushes like my first time doing Half Dome.

After getting up on the ridge above the Mist Trail. We had to cast about for cairns and likely trails but soon found our way around the Hidden Lake with only one minor backtrack where a cairn led us astray. Soon it was time to go up to the rocky base of Half Dome. I could see the slabs I had been dreading. And right around then, K found some cairns which led us to the right of them… a steep but less frightening approach. I was so relieved to not have to re-experience that first approach that I barely noticed when we had to traverse left on exposed slabs and ledges.

Soon we were at the base of Snake Dike itself. The sun felt fairly hot but the good news was that there was no one else at the base. In fact, we didn’t even see anyone on the route itself. We had it all to ourselves!

K leading Snake Dike on Half DomeK took the first pitch, which all beta we had gathered had said was the hardest pitch. I had no memory of doing the pitch, which my friend Greg (who has climbed Snake Dike five times) led easily. K went up, to an outcropping above a crack to place a piece and then left and over it. I followed and soon we were off.

K led again, I wanted to do the 3rd pitch, one of the runout pitches. However once K had done the pitch before this we had serious doubts about our topo and the beta we had. Anchor bolts didn’t seem to be where they were supposed to be and there was another dike off to our right. One drawback to having Snake Dike all to ourselves was we didn’t have the reassurance of seeing others going on the route. The bolts on the right sure looked shiny. And the dike there looked vaguely familiar. I declined a lead again, not sure if we were on the right route. Also, a wind had picked up and reminded us that the reason we hadn’t planned on Snake Dike during this trip was that rain and high winds in the higher elevations was possible (in fact a climber in the mountain shop had warned us about it).

Me leading Snake Dike on Half Dome, Yosemite National ParkAfter the next pitch though, we found the big hole in the Dike which reassured us we were on route. I took the next pitch at this point, a run out one. I found a few chicken heads to girth hitch and improvised pro in a few other spots, but pretty much just ran it out. I felt short roped at one point and later learned that K had been dealing with a bumble bee that was pestering him, and in fact ended up stinging him! Fortunately he’s not hypersensitive to insect bites/stings like I am and he belayed on.

The climbing was as I had remembered, easy, with breathtaking views. I may have been on a giant run out, but I felt controlled, though cautious.

We did have one surprise though, K led a part that supposedly had a 5.7 face transition. It looked a bit harder than that when he did, and he admitted it felt a bit dicey. I chose to go low and left and thought my way was probably where the rating came from. The end of that pitch meant it was my lead again, I needed to downclimb a little and then move off to our left before going up again. As I finished the downclimb bit, K and I were surprised to see another climber coming up. He was the first stranger we had seen all day and was soloing the route. I paused and motioned for him to continue. “Thanks,” he said.

“Hey, I’m leading but you’re soloing!”
He got to a nice ledge and said a few more words about the solitude and weather. You know, as if we were meeting on city sidewalk. Then he moved on.

I finished my lead in a spot I remembered as the last belay Greg and I had used. There wasn’t much to make an anchor on but the top of my pitch was very easy, in spite of a description I had read about a steep finger crack.

When K came up, he saw some roofs ahead and thought we should do one more roped pitch. So I took off once again, (having remembered where to go from that long ago time following it) and then we really were done. K saw that after the rooves – which you could pretty much just go around, it was truly the 3rd class “forever” to the summit part of the climb.

Me approaching the summit of Half DomeAnd yes, we did go up “forever” to the top. I remembered the first time I had climbed Snake Dike, I kept wanting to ask Greg if we were there yet. But I would stop myself, remembering the “forever” part of the description. I stopped myself 3 times. This time, I didn’t ask it at all, I just concentrated on my footwork and feeling the nice breeze which had failed to turn into the feared high winds.

At the summit we paused in celebration. The soloer was nowhere in sight. We had Half Dome to ourselves. Just us, rocks and a large snow patch which we dug into and filled a water bottle with snow. The weather was still perfect and the view was spectacular.

I don’t remember what time we started our descent, but it wasn’t that late. I do remember being grateful for the snow patch on top. I was aware that my water was low. We had brought gloves with us to go down the cables, we also kept our harnesses on and clipped and unclipped as we descended. Holding up the cabled away from the rock was tiring to me, especially if I didn’t keep close enough to K to benefit from the cable going up to him first. However, it was reassuring to feel the force of the cable pushing my feet into the granite. At the base I felt a sense of relief. In my estimation the hardest parts of the day in terms of potential injury were over.

Me on snow patch on Half DomeAbout 100 yards or so away from Little Yosemite we ran into a hiker. He was surprised to see us and was apparently planning on bivvying just in the general area for fun. He was only the second stranger we’d seen all day.

We were going a bit slower once we passed Little Yosemite campground. But it wasn’t until dark came and we were faced with the steep steps near the side of Vernal Falls that I felt a certain amount of danger in hiking. The Mist Trail as I had mentioned, was wet enough that you could easily get drenched. Many portions of it were large puddles. K’s legs were doing the backwards buckle thing every now and then and mine had done it once as well. I was in zombie hiking mode. K asked how I was doing every now and then, but I think he may have been more wiped out than I was since he’d hiked all the way to the top of Nevada Falls the other day, and was carrying more weight than I was.

By the time we got to camp, our friend Michael had been getting ready to turn in. K marched into the K at a resting spot on the Half Dome cablestent and didn’t emerge again. I managed to hang on long enough to tell Michael we had a great time and eat some canned fish.

Day 7

We grabbed showers, ate a junk breakfast since Curry Village’s breakfast buffet had closed, watched wildlife from the Curry patio, headed out to take photos in the meadow and at our last stop, at tunnel view lookout point before we finally headed towards home.

With the waterfalls all going off, Nutcracker, moonbows, Open Books, Church Bowl, hidden waterfall passages, real spring water, fun wildlife (both human and non), and the fulfillment of a long term goal to climb Half Dome together, it was, we all agreed, the best Yosemite Valley trip we had ever taken.

A slideshow of photographs from the trip:

Yosemite Valley Trip: 7 Days of Awesome – Part II – Bad Luck, Good Luck, and Commitment

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Part II – Bad Luck, Good Luck and “Commitment” [See Part 1 here].

Yosemite National Park. Day 2

“I have triple A,” I said.
“Do you have your card?” K asked me.
“It’s in the car,” I said, “But we don’t need it to call, they can look me up on their computer.”
Now we just needed a phone with reception.
Fortunately for us, the parking area for Manure Pile Buttress is also a picnic area and two large groups were picnicing there. I approached one of them based on the fact that two of its members were wearing shirts that referenced Google. I was hoping to find a geek kinship.
A man kindly let me try his phone, after several minutes of both of us trying to get and keep reception, it turned out if one faced a certain way and stood still, it would work. I talked to the AAA operator who had to look up Yosemite National Park on the internet and asked me, “Is Yosemite in Merced?”

“No…” I said and tried to explain that Merced was still far from Yosemite Valley. I told her that I knew there was a gas station in Yosemite and they might know what to do. I also told her maybe she could just call the place in Merced and they could direct her to the right place.

We lost connection more than once mid sentence. Finally, after yet another reconnection the operator said she got a hold of the garage in Yosemite. She said, “I don’t want to lose you so I have him on another line, where are you?”
I said, “Manure Pile Buttress parking lot.”
“What Pile?”
“Manure Pile… Manure like horse poop…fertilizer,” I then added embarrassedly,”they used to dump manure here but it’s all gone now, it’s a nice picnic area”.
“Oh,” the operator said and laughed. After a pause in which she was relaying the information to the Yosemite Garage, the operator came back on and said,”They know exactly where you are, they’ll be there in 30 minutes.”

I was so happy. The phone call had taken so long that while I was standing like an immobile statue with a mobile trying to listen to the broken up voice of the operator, a kid from the picnic had offered me a cookie thinking I was part of the group. I took it. I have no shame after a multipitch climb. Besides, it was chocolate chip.

With help on the way, I returned the phone to the guy who loaned it to me and found out that the group he was with was a group of photographers who knew each other through Google+. They had gathered in Yosemite because tonight was predicted to be an unusually good showing of the elusive Moonbow. I had heard about and seen photos of this event, it’s where the full moon shines on Yosemite Falls at such an angle that a rainbow appears in its mist, creating a beautiful night vision of the falls. This night it was going to appear in the mists of the lower falls and I was told a good viewing point would be the lower falls bridge.

This was great news that I wouldn’t have known about if the keys hadn’t been locked in the car.

About thirty minutes later I had a chat with the guy who came out to open our car. A guy in the shop, who had been there for years, hadn’t recognized where Manure Pile Buttress but they asked someone esle who was a climber and he told them it was the El Cap picnic area. Doh, I should’ve said that to the operator.

When we got to the campsite which our friend Miki had reserved, it was already pretty late in the day. After introductions amongst those meeting for the first time we all went to the Curry Village lounge to meet up with Benny and his climbing partner for the day, Mani, at 7pm. Once we were all together I told everyone about the moonbow and some of us took off to see it around 8:30pm. The trail to the falls was quite busy, but didn’t prepare us for the sight at the bridge. It was packed! There were tripods everywhere and a large group of folks sitting on the ground on the left side of the bridge as if they were at an outdoor concert (I later concluded they were a student group).

I luckily found an empty spot on the bridge to set up my tripod and did an experimental long exposure shot which was able to capture the moonbow pretty well. My friend Benny also grabbed a few shots with his camera before leaving to go back to camp. I stayed behind to get more. As I refined my shots and constructed a panorama shot, I talked shop with the photographer to my left. The youth group didn’t stay that long. I don’t blame them, it was very hard to see the moonbow with the naked eye and as the moon rose, it shifted further and further down the falls. The sight of Lower Yosemite Falls, which was going full force, was still beautiful in the moonlight though, even without the moonbow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so fast and running so powerfully.

The elusive moonbow, captured with luck and skill at Lower Yosemite Falls

The elusive moonbow, captured with luck and skill at Lower Yosemite Falls

Day 3

K, Michael and I were hiking up to the Open Books, another party was ahead of us but they thankfully turned off in a direction away from “Commitment”, a classic 3 pitch, 5.9 trad climb, which was our objective for the day. We were not so lucky when we arrived at its base. A second was just starting up the first pitch, while another party of two waited. Michael and I got in line while K went around to scout a bit for other climbs. As I waited I watched the second have a hard time with the start of the climb which was a crack in a protruding bulge in the rock face with a tree at the base. One of the waiting party members suggested that the second try it as jam instead of a lieback but that didn’t seem to help the climber. K came back from scouting and reported no suitable climbs were open so we snacked while waiting.

The second party was faster than the first but they still had trouble at the start, finally it seemed that the tree was declared “on” and they got their groove on.

K leading Commitment with the roof coming up

K leading Commitment with the roof coming up

“Commitment” earns its name from a move to get around the roof at the beginning of the third pitch. K, however got around it in short order and Michael and I soon followed. The climb in its entirety is mostly crack climbing, with a bit of lieback technique and a short section of friction and edges put you at the top of the climb with a lot of loose rock. This may be the most dangerous part of the climb – because if you dislodge any of that stuff it will likely hit those below. If you do this climb, I suggest being extra careful when walking around up there.
The second crux was the descent, since K and I had done “Munginella” before, we were familiar with the hike down, however when we came to the slab section, we saw it was now a series of rivulets and waterfalls. Fortunately there were also rap rings nearby so we decided to use them. One inconvenient thing that happened though is that Michael happens to own the same rope we do, how would we know which one to pull?

“Tie a fancy knot on the end of the pull rope,” I volunteered. The guys thought that was a great idea. We rapped down (and unfortunately got a bit of rope in the water below… we hadn’t needed to do a two rope rap at all, it just looked farther than it was).

Ah well, we committed and that’s what we got. You get the good with the bad I guess, overall it was well worth it.

Campsite Juggling

Benny showing off an alternate use for a Chaco cloth frisbee - s

Benny showing off an alternate use for a Chaco cloth frisbee

The other nights we stayed in Yosemite we played the 3 o’clock Lottery. It works like this, you go to the campground reservations office (located near Curry Village) to get in line before they open at 8:30am. If you are really really lucky, you are towards the front of the line and at 8:30 am the rangers have campsite cancellations and they give them to you that morning. If you aren’t that lucky then they take your name down and you have to come back to the office at 3pm. At 3pm a ranger steps outside the office and they call names from the list and give you a plastic square with a number. You then wait, in number order, to go inside the office to get an actual campsite.

We were really really lucky once during this trip, but the other times we had to come back at 3pm, which, as you can imagine, made picking climbs for 3 people to finish in time to get back at 3pm more selective. But, since it allows one to camp in the usually reserved-months-in-advance Yosemite Valley, it’s still a decent option if you’d rather have your own site rather than do the campsite sharing at Camp 4 (or if Camp 4 is full). I know I didn’t mind the wait because it meant more time in Yosemite with less worrying about wear to stash the food.

Day 4 – Church Bowl

Me climbing at Church Bowl

Me climbing at Church Bowl

After taking care of campsite stuff in the morning we joined up with our friends again at Church Bowl, a very convenient crag between the Ahwhanee Hotel and Yosemite Village areas. This has single pitch and a few multipitch climbs with short approaches and is great for a mixed group and/or for quick climbing. When we arrived we weren’t sure where our friends were but I spotted some familiar looking stuff at the base of a chimney climb and then heard their voices somewhere above. We tried yelling at them but they couldn’t hear us. After that K led a climb described as being good off width practice, called “Uncle Fanny” which was rated 5.7. It was good practice indeed, involving some hand jams, a chicken wing and some t-bar feet placements on my part. Meanwhile our other friends had made it back down and Miki led one of the few sport climbs on the wall, a 5.10 face climb called “Pole Position”. When I got on it on top rope (you need two ropes to set it up as a top rope, by the way) I realized that it was pretty easy to get into harder territory towards the top of the route where holds were sparser. I felt like I could fall on one such section, but fortunately didn’t. Other climbs we did here included the “Churchbowl Lieback” and the climb that our friends were on when we arrived was the “Churchbowl Chimney”. Another group was on “Bishop’s Terrace” which is a two pitch climb but we weren’t able to get on it (it’s popular). Ater a bit, Mani, who was relatively new to outdoor climbing (but had already done a multi-pitch on this trip!) decided to take a break and brought out a chair, crackers, grapes, and a beer! Now she knows how to chill at a crag!

Stay tuned for Part III – When a Rest Day isn’t a Rest Day

Yosemite Valley Trip: 7 Days of Awesome – Part I Day 1. – The Nutcrackers

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

A Trip Report: Yosemite National Park. May 2012 with Flashbacks to April 2011

This was the best Yosemite Valley trip ever. K, Michael and I all agreed when we finally said our goodbyes back home. Seven days in Yosemite are bound to have wonderful moments but even the little mistakes made turned out well, and sometimes made the trip better. I’m going to present the trip to you as a Drama in Three Parts (or roughly around that length, I’ll be covering seven days of Yosemite awesomeness but plan to condense a few of the days).

Part I. Day 1. – The Nutcrackers.

I’ve been on some part of “Nutcracker” five times now, the first four times happened back in April of 2011. This day I couldn’t keep thinking about all of them.

K, Michael and I arrived at the nearly empty Manure Pile Buttress parking area early in the morning of May 4th. Our plan was to do the popular classic, 5 pitch trad route, “Nutcracker” which had a few variations for its first pitch. As a party of three we couldn’t be picky on which one we started, we just needed to start as fast as we could and try to stay out of the way of other parties. Since K and I had done every start of “Nutcracker” in our guide book [Note: we have since discovered more], we figured we could handle whichever start had no one on it. Since there were only a few cars in the parking lot, we hoped that meant at least one of the starts was free.

The first time I got on “Nutcracker” was in April of 2011 during the Yosemite Tweetup and the 5.9 start variation had water dripping down on it. Fortunately the ribbon of wet was mostly not on the route and our friends had already gone up on this grey day without incident. K led it and I followed with a little bit of difficulty around the wet part, then I proceeded to lead the second pitch. The second pitch is much wider so it was easier to avoid wet spots and I had no problem with it.

We got as far as me cleaning the middle of the 3rd pitch before hail started bouncing off of my helmet. We ended up at the belay for the 4th pitch when we decided to single rope rappel down to the party a pitch below us who we had asked to wait for us. We all bailed down from there in the rain.

Michael asked if we were going to rack up at the car. We were, we still hadn’t seen any other climbers. Luck seemed to be with us so far. K and I had expected to find Manure Pile Buttress busy. Hopefully not as busy though as the third time we had tried Nutcracker…

“Which way did you go?” I asked K, eyeing the expanse between the 5.6 dihedral we had climbed up as the first pitch of “Nutcracker” and the ledge where the various second pitches of “Nutcracker” all met. It looked pretty thin. “I went higher,” K said. I examined that way. “If I fall from there it’d be a nasty pendulum swing into that rock.”

“Yeah it’s more dangerous for the follower.” I decided to stay low, it would still be a pendulum, but I liked the look of the end of the traverse better. After a few moves I managed to get my right hand on my goal, the crack which led to the top of the lieback start variation. K was just above that.

I took the second pitch, it was short and easy, it angled up the ramp that the 2nd pitch after the 5.9 variation eventually led to. What I found on the top of the 2nd pitch though was a crowded ledge. I built my anchor on the ramp a few feet above the large ledge, where 4 people were waiting. We hadn’t seen them from the base of the cliff.

Eventually there was a line of 9 climbers, with a party of two barely 8 feet above the ledge, stuck in the middle of the 3rd pitch. When a party of 3 wearing psychedelic colors came up but then bailed after the stuck party of 2 came down, they started a chain reaction of rappelling down. We must have been waiting for an hour or more on that ledge.

Michael, K and I hiked to the base of Nutcracker and found all of the starts free. K started up the 5.9, it wasn’t wet this time but quite dry though a pretty flower on the ledge below the crack stood as testimony that water had been there recently. I heard voices from the direction of the approach path. Ah, the anticipated line was going to start now, or maybe they’d take the other starts? But no, the party didn’t even look our way but seemed to be going straight to “After Six”. Which, coincidentally had been my very first trad lead ever in Yosemite Valley.

The start of the 5.9 variation for “Nutcracker” is a friction/small edges climb up to a small ledge before starting the meat of the pitch, a small diagonal finger/hand crack with slippery placements for the feet. K went up and Michael seconded, I was slated as third.

By the time I was starting the climb, a party of two had claimed their spot in line after us (after I overheard them discussing how the 5.8 start would be bad for a recovering shoulder). I was a little nervous since I was being watched, and was also cognizant that it’d be better for everyone if I climbed quickly. There is a trick to the crux of the crack start, you have to put your right foot out on a lighter colored ribbon on the rock of the right of the crack, it’s just a smear (and the rock is polished) but it gets you up. The rest of the moves must be done quickly (or at the very least as quick as you can when cleaning gear). By the time I was at the tree which marked the belay station for Pitch 2, I was breathing hard.

Pitch 2 was my pitch. I saw that the party behind us had already started up, so I took off with the rack. Since this was my third time leading it I knew what to expect. It’s a lovely slanting wide crack with parts of it turning into a dihedral interrupted by some rocks and trees. At times I was walking in the crack, other times I was stemming it or liebacking. I used the trees for pro. The crux is the top of the climb where the right side of the dihedral juts out, creating a small roof of sorts. I went up and over and proceeded to the wide ledge to make an anchor in an ideal spot for Pitch 3. There was no on on the ledge this time. However, I was belaying Michael up when the leader of the party behind us topped out instead. He had essentially soloed a lot of the route and said something about how our rope should be fine because his placements weren’t in the way. When his second came up, I think I heard him say something about how the leader had only placed 3 pieces.

We let that party pass us of course.

K leading the 3rd pitch of NutcrackerPitch 3 starts off with a step across to a crack. I once led this part and about 15 feet above it before I backed off, my lead head lost after having to wait while on the route for some climbers ahead of us. This time it was K on the sharp end and we had waited long enough for the party that passed us to be free from the belay station. K went up the zigzagging route, then Michael, then myself. As I cleaned the route I thought about how I had backed off before, the part I had backed away from (one which required liebacking) was not very hard, but it did require a moment of commitment, at least for me anyway, and back then it had been wet. I thought I could have handled it on this day, but it was good to be fast anyway in case of unexpected weather. K and I still had memories of our second attempt at “Nutcracker”…

“That was pretty tiring!” I said to K as I finished up cleaning the 5.8 lieback start. He agreed. We moved up the ramp to attain the large ledge which was the bottle neck of all the start variations. This was when we felt the first rain drops. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. The forecast called for rain every single day of our trip, but not today.

A party of two women joined us on the ledge, they had done the 5.6 start and had had trouble on the traverse. We conferred about the rain. “Well, we can wait a bit and see if it stops,” one of them said. We had a bite to eat while exchanging introductions. Then the rain started to dump harder. K and I were having flash backs to two days prior. We jointly decided to combine our two ropes and rappel down. When we all got to the ground we talked about trying again and said our goodbyes.

The rain didn’t stop all that day. All we heard in the Curry Village common room was, “It wasn’t supposed to rain!” Turns out folks had bailed off El Cap and many other routes that day. So much for the weather forecast.

The belay for the 4th pitch is a bit small for two people to stay at. K took this pitch, I was on belay, and Michael had to literally hang out. Pitch 4 has a lot of friction and the leader disappears from view very quickly since the first moves take you around and over a small overhung area. As K went out of view I could only watch the rope for clues to his progress. By now, we spotted a party of two, no three, no four? below us. It seemed to me to be a while before K stopped climbing, when I followed him up I figured out why. The pitch has some fairly run out sections and then leads to a fist sized crack which goes up a small roof. A cam was stuck in there. K had warned me about it but I gave it one shot trying to clean it anyway. But, mindful that there was a party behind us, I moved on. After the roof there was still a bit more climbing to be done, involving some small cracks, edges and friction. I was fighting tremendous drag, it must have been what slowed K down. We should have extended the piece below the roof. I had clipped my tailing rope to it, not thinking I needed to extend it either. Eventually I got to the belay with a small ledge. K said he could’ve stopped a few feet below where we were but wanted to leave it for the other party in case they needed it.

Michael soon came up and then K was off again to do the famous mantle pitch. I can’t quite figure out how I would lead this within my comfort zone. Now the party behind us (turns out they were two parties of two) was right on our heels. The leader ending up building an anchor in the area K had passed up. Fortunately this was the last pitch. K did the mantle with no problem. I followed, ending up using a small crimper on the left of the dihedral to the mantle to get me high enough to make the mantle move. When Michael went through this section he said he just reached the hold for the mantle itself, but he’s a bit taller than I am.

Our party at the top of the NutcrackerWe topped out to a beautiful sunlit view which included Half Dome in the distance and seasonal waterfalls on the walls opposite ours. After a break on top for a high five from Michael, photos, a few friendly words with the first party behind us who were topping out, and a bit of a walk around, we headed down. We were pretty excited because we had finished in good time and felt we could check on our friends’ campsite to figure out where they were climbing today and hopefully meet up with them.

At the car K asked me, “You got the car key?”

“No,” I said with a smile in my voice; he’s tried this joke before.

But it wasn’t a joke. He didn’t have the key and I didn’t have my clicker. We were locked out.

Stay tuned for Part 2