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