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  Rock climbing in Yosemite
  June 1999

I'm about to start my new job unexpectedly early next week (I was originally expecting to have time off until late August), so I decided early last week that I ought to do some climbing before having my nose pressed back to the grindstone. Stas, my sometime climbing partner at Mission Cliffs, was going to be available for a few days, so we set off on Wednesday afternoon for Yosemite Valley.

After arriving in the Valley on Wednesday evening, we decided we'd like to do a route before it got dark. We settled on Claude's Delight, a 5.7 route on Swan Slab (conveniently close to Camp 4). I wanted to lead the pitch, but didn't feel very secure at the bottom, so I let Stas have the lead. The route was pleasant enough, but far from memorable. The aspect of the route that stuck in my memory was the number of mosquitoes in the trees at the base of the route; I don't recommend going to the trouble of climbing there.

Thursday morning we set off for the Manure Pile Buttress, with the idea of doing After Six (5.6) and After Seven (5.8). When we arrived, After Six was busy, so we started up After Seven. Stas led After Seven, which runs up a flaring crack, across a few face moves, and then continues up another short crack to a ledge. The route was pretty straightforward, but my poor crack climbing skills made the first flaring section feel less than secure. My foot jams were fine (and sometimes painful - I must have been doing them right!), but I still haven't got the knack of making good hand jams. The result was that even though I followed the route, it felt quite sketchy in places, and definitely got my heart beating at times.

After Six was a similar experience. I led the first pitch, which goes up a right-facing corner. My left hand and foot were usually happy, while I had to rely on friction for my right. I never really felt relaxed on this pitch, and my concentration was thrown off to the extent that I missed the traverse over to the belay tree, and ended up setting a belay on a nearby ledge instead (which worked fine, but was less efficient). We rapped off at this point, because the rest of the route looked dull.

Once we were down, we made our way over to Church Bowl, where Stas led the Church Bowl Lieback (5.8). I had followed this route a year ago, just after I started climbing, and ended up being more or less hauled up it. Once again, Stas led; I should probably have pushed myself to lead more, but Yosemite friction routes just make me nervous. This route is sustained and pumpy, and its unrelenting nature makes placing gear quite a task. Stas did a fine job of leading it, and I'm glad to report that I did a far better job of following it this year than last. It's definitely a stiff 5.8 route, though! My pumped sensation was enhanced through cleaning one or two slightly jammed cams, and I ended up having to hang and gather my resources at the crux. This simply involved moving my left foot onto a flake and smearing with it, but I was in a state of advanced monomania by this time ("left hand up! left foot up! push out! right foot up! right hand up! push out!"), and didn't notice what to do immediately. Whew!

Next, Stas wanted us to try Bishop's Terrace (5.8), which is supposed to be a classic crack climb for its grade. I was worried about having enough wide gear to protect the top section, and by the time I stopped dithering, there was a queue waiting for the route. So much for seizing the moment! If we'd had a second #3 Camalot, and maybe a #4 for good measure, I'd have been more than happy, but I still think the pro would have been a bit thin at the top with just a single #3 and some hexes that might or might not have found secure placements.

With evening now upon us, we decided to head over to the base of El Capitan and give Pine Line (5.7) a try. I hadn't walked the climber's trail to the base of El Cap before, so I hadn't realised quite ho overhung it is. From the bottom, you can look straight up and see the top of the Nose hanging directly above you - it's very impressive from that angle. Pine Line was by far the most fun of Thursday's climbs. It runs right up a thin finger crack for 70 feet, with super-solid finger locks provided by old piton scars. Apparently, a bear spent the entire night wandering around Camp 4 on Thursday night, waking climbers and stealing food when it could, but it somehow failed to bother either Stas or myself.

Friday morning, we hiked back to the base of El Cap, to get going on a route called Little John Right (to the right of Little John Centre).It's a 5.8 route, so we didn't expect to have any trouble with it, but the first pitch turns into an offwidth after about 30 feet, and Stas couldn't get through the offwidth section. Since I didn't think I'd have any luck leading what would have been my first offwidth, we bailed and made our way over to Lower Yosemite Falls.

At the Falls, we scrambled through the woods for a while, to the base of a route called Munginella. Munginella sees a lot of traffic, because it's easy (5.6) and fairly accessible, so there were two parties ahead of us when we started. Stas led the first pitch, and I started up the second. After climbing about 15 feet past my pro (a tree, on the trunk of which I'd land if I fell), I began to feel less than totally secure, and climbed up a flake instead of back over to the corner we had been climbing in. The flake turned out to be a dead end from which it was difficult to either continue or retreat, so I set up a hanging belay and let Stas lead the last pitch.

Once we reached the top of Munginella, it had become clear why the route receivs so much traffic; it is not just easy, but also very enjoyable. Certainly one to repeat! Once we got finished on Munginella, I dropped Stas off at Yosemite Lodge to take the bus back to San Francisco, and started the drive up to Donner Summit. As far as I can tell, there is no convenient way to get from Yosemite to Truckee, so what I ended up doing was crossing Tuolumne Meadows, taking US-395 north, and then taking CA-89 the rest of the way to Truckee. What I didn't know was that that 89 winds and twists around for almost its entire length, and is packed with Sunday drivers pootling along at negligible speeds. The drive took almost five and a half hours, and if I was to do it again (unlikely), I'd take 395 all the way to I-80 and dogleg back, rather than take 89.

Saturday, Nancy and I spent the entire day toproping the slab routes at the Green Phantom Wall. I'd climbed there before, but managed to repeat only one route. The slabs at Donner Summit feel more secure to me than those at Yosemite, maybe because they have more edges and texture to them. Whereas I had felt sketchy on 5.7 friction routes in the Valley, I was more comfortable on 5.10 slabs at Donner.

And that's the tale. It was a most fine couple of days, and it was useful to discover that I don't have a very strong "lead head" yet. Must climb outdoors more often!


P.S From Stas - Bryan is much more technical climber then I'm. He always climbs better then me in Mission Cliffs Gym.
Story by Bryan O'Sullivan