Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Within these Walls (Part II)

Week Two: The 'Holiday'

With the first week over (our fun filled benightment being it's climax), i was pretty tired. Maybe take some rest days. It's the 24th of September anyway. This means i have a couple of days to meet up with my annual visitor. Dad. Since the beginning of my adventures in 2007, an opportunity to travel somewhere new, have some adventures of his own on 'holiday' (which never seem to be restful) and reconnect with his nomadic son has manifested itself into an awesome ritual. Previous trips include; That circus of a road trip across the south of New Zealand in a small car packed with two extra surfers (good friends of mine), four back packs and three surfboards strapped to the roof. Rafting, surfing and bungee jumping quickly ensued! The last few years have seen hiking in the Rockies, -30 Canadian winters and a couple pitches of rock climbing. Baby steps right? Well, this year it's the valley!

The day before im due to be at the airport, i luck out and find a ride from Camp 4 to the city (pronounced sh-itty). Frantic to arrive on time, i dash to arrivals and race around like a whirling dervish in the packed terminal. i woke up in a campground this morning. This is intense. Staring at the screen above the entrance like a vegetable,  i jam out to several awesome tunes before i spring out of the chair to meet him. Eager to 'get the hell outta dodge' we head straight for the rent-a-car and hit the freeway. Piles of printed maps for San Francisco are thrust into my lap and it's back like old times. "Look at the map and tell us where we're going". Flashbacks of many roadtrips in France with a huge mapped sprawled across the dashboard light up the memory banks. No problem.

Before long we are downtown and find a place for the car (a victory in itself) before checking into the hotel. Whoa, guess it's time for a shower. (I doubt i'll have to paint a picture of how cleansing that was). The next day we leave the urban noise and head to the valley, with a sigh of relief.

The week that followed was a time i'll remember fondly, even though we had our 'moments' as one with any family can expect! The most rewarding thing was being able to bring him into the family of climbers that i've had the pleasure of meeting and travelling with. No work, no politics, no bullshit. Just genuine people with the same passion for adventure. A nice way to for Dad to meet others like me!

The next step. Topping out on 'After Seven' on Manure Pile Buttress.

Enjoying the view from the top of Yosemite Falls

It makes me so happy for family to see and feel what i cherish so much. I must admit though, i was so absorbed in my journey, i didnt ready myself for a bit of compromise and a different pace. It took time to adjust as i'd been making my own decisions for the past 4 months but this is no excuse for stressing. I noticed that this life does come with alot of selfish actions. Only spending money that is essential, getting as much 'free stuff' as possible and planning everything around your passion is a topic for much hilarity but at the heart of it, you don't think much about compromise. For this i must apologise, i owe you everything for making this journey possible, without your help i would be light years away from now. I loved your company mate (and all the dinners, and showers and comfy beds...but seriously, you know it). What a trip!

Until next time...

Enjoying the concert during the 'Facelift'
Week three: Enough is Enough
With my tent set up again in camp 4, i say farewell to Dad as he drives back towards the air port. Having not climbed alot during that week, i feel as though im rested a little. Ok, let's get on it. My buddy Drew had mentioned 'the rostrum' the day before and i couldn't resist trying such a classic climb. Before long, we're looking up the impressive face of immaculate cracks from the base. I'm first to lead the warm up pitch. Brimming with nervous and excited energy i start the 5.8 layback. I go past a small ledge and the layback gets steeper. Oh the flash pump. The flake runs out and i traverse left to gain a sloping corner. Severely pumped, my foot slips and i fall down the face a few meters until im caught. My anxiety heightens as i've fallen on the easiest pitch! I belay Drew up who informs me of the 5.10c variation i'd climbed instead of traversing the small ledge to easier ground. AH.

Drew leads the second pitch via the '5.11a thin' section. He sticks in a tiny cam into the seam (a green C3) and take a few tries to unlock the sequence. Tricky. Im nervous about the third pitch from being tired so quick but i turns out to be fantastic. Perfect hands over a roof into a crack the same quality of the 'Split Pillar' back in Squamish. Beautiful! At top of the third pitch we bail and come back when we are more confident however. The right decision despite being disheartened. Strike one.

Looking down the third pitch of 'The Rostrum'.
Heading back to the valley we need to burn our energy. What better crack to climb than 'Generator Station'! This 5.10 offwidth that chewed me up during my first week was the offwidth trainer that you can learn some techniques on and how to 'want it really bad'. An offwidth is a term given to crack larger your hand if you make a fist but smaller than your side profile of your body. (Any crack you can fit your whole body into is termed a chimney). This slightly overhanging crack starts with a shoulder and widens into a tight chimney.

Thrutching up Generator.
Without massive gear, you top rope this fiend but the style of climb doesnt concern me, it's getting up this thing in general that does. I put some tape on my left shoulder as it bled last time and a start the shuffle. With my left arm flapping inside the gaping crack and my feet side ways across the crack, i grovel and slide my way up inches at a time, as the crack slowly widens. 20 minutes later and thoroughly knackered, i run into 'Noodles' back at camp and quickly talks me into doing the 'Arches - North Dome link'. "Something like 23 pitches". Cool!

A day or two after, we reach get off the shuttle and look for the base. Stumbling around some talus i drop our biggest water bottle the starts gushing. Damn. We chug the rapidly deleting water and start simul climbing the 'Arches' section. (13 pitches of 5.7).

Doing the 'tension' mid way up route.

4 hours later we finish the wandering lines of cracks. Not bad. We then start hiking up through the forest and reach the lower slabs. Traversing, traversing, we start to get hot as the yellow dot in the blue canvas shoots down on us like a laser beam. I take off my jeans and have flashbacks of the thirst. An hour later we still haven't found the trail. Finding some cairns we go up the left side of the dome. We have been hiking an hour now and things don't make sense. Especially when i inform Noodles that my jeans fell off my bag with my camera inside. Shit. Hiking back down the slabs we find them and start the hike back up. 30 minutes go by and we are done. The flame had officially died. Deciding to bail we walk towards the North dome descent. (urrgghhh) and discover too late that we had been hiking up the descent trail like a couple of noobs. The start of the route is now obvious to us. This is makes the sting even more painful.

On top of the North Dome descent gully. About to bail but trying to enjoy the view!
Finally, after another hour of slipping an sliding down that gully in my crap shoes i found in the free bin we are down and out. Strike two.

A few day previous to this episode, Drew and Lauren ask if i want a ride to Indian Creek. (The temple of crack climbing). Now, i almost sure i'll leave with them. Ok, one more try, one last hurrah and ill be happy. Another morning i wake at 6 am to do a fun classic, the east buttress of middle cathedral. After another hour a walking from camp 4 we reach the base of the route to find 3 parties clustered around the base! Strike three. I sink down onto a boulder and accept that's its over for me in the valley. Go back, get better at steep cracks, get fitter and come back when you think your ready again. I can help but be upset from the failures but i get out of my head and look towards El Cap as the sun rises and paints a veil of rose across the headwall. So beautiful.

The next day, we pack up and leave for the creek. I say goodbye to my friends that will stay and am filled with a new motivation. Time to crack it up!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Within these Walls (Part I)

The Valley, Yosemite National Park

Sunrise on the Captain from Middle Cathedral

Every self respecting climber knows this place. The birth of big wall climbing on these colossal hulks of granite and the scene of outstanding free climbing. Since the 50's the valley has become a place where the Masters of Stone constantly expand our perception of what is possible, deeper into the realms of insanity (meaning ridiculously amazing).

For me it's a chance to take a look into the mirror. To chisel away at my ego and get a real glimpse of 'where im at'. In other words, to get my arse kicked. It's been 3 weeks since we arrived and my plans of 'great sends' have taken a flogging and my body feels like it's been run over by a dump truck. But you know what? I'm more psyched than ever before.

Week One: Hopeful 
It starts with the south west face of El Capitan. The majestic titan was towering over us as we pulled over at my frantic request. You cannot help but feel microscopic as you picture yourself up that immense face. All 3,000ft of it. Soon, please can it be soon. These are my immediate thoughts as i gaze upward in a trance at 'The Nose', one of the most classic big walls in the world. In time i suppose, it's a long road. Anyway, time to focus on the present. It's getting dark. Damn, where we going to sleep tonight?

My buddy Matt and i smashed out the drive all the way from Leavenworth, Washington (a bouldering spot) a few days ago to meet up with the rest of the tribe that had slowly disbanded back in Squamish around mid August, only to assemble back in Camp 4. Sure enough we gravitated together in minutes. It was good to see the guys again.

"Ahh" we all chime as we crack open a fresh beer for the reunion. We trade stories and catch up as night envelopes the camp. The topic of sleep comes up just as the rangers arrive. Anyone who has slept in Camp 4 knows the right of passage most of us have to endure to get a camping spot. It pretty much involves lying in the dirt, sleeping in front of the Kiosk from 5 a.m until they open up and assign available spots at 8:30 a.m. So.. what to do until then? They promptly give us the routine options of either paying for a night in the nearby hotel or leave the park. We nod and say 'Yessir' and melt into the nearby woods where we're aided in finding 'alternative accommodation' for the night. What else do they expect?

That night i wake up to feel some sniffing on the other side of the tent right next to my head. A Raccoon.  Damn, i left an apple in my backpack. My pillow.I slap the wall and run into the night in my boxers, delivering the apple to a nearby bear box. Lesson one, always have smelly stuff in the boxes or the critters will get you. They are relentless. I wake up again at 5:30 a.m to join the queue.

A typical line up for Camp 4
All settled in, the week commences with some bouldering. As expected, the camp 4 boulders are slick as butter from 3 decades of climbers rubber. Horrified at how 'spicy' we found the warm ups we move on in search of friction and luckily find some excellent problems down in curry village. The climbs go well and i match the grades of Squamish. This is encouraging.The next day, my buddy Drew and i go to climb an easy classic. The Central pillar of Frenzy. Enjoying the momentum i think im building up we get to the base of the crag in the mid afternoon hoping all the crowds are gone. Nope, all the belays are chocka block and we hear screams of "Taaake, f**king taake" and "Waatch me, arrgghh!". I recoil in disbelief at the amount of epics or about to be epics we're witnessing. We leave the battlefield a little disheartened but not deterred.
I'll climb the other 5.9 route up the hill tomorrow with Lauren, it should be less crowded.

The next morning we scramble to the base of the Kor Beck route. Not surpised we find a party landing at the base just before us. Ok lets wait a bit. A 'bit' it was indeed. They take pictures, enjoy the view...eat some food...hmm. My British politeness keeps us waiting a little longer..ok their climbing..wait whats happening? Why has the belayer got both hands off the ATC and making tape gloves whilst the leader's elvis leg is increasing in intensity?!!. We bolt down the hill and leave this potential catastrophe after a few tries at raising his awareness. It had been an hour and a half. Lesson number 2. Don't get up early in peak season to climb the easy classics from the Supertopo guide.

The following day was spent climbing the easiest classics with nobody else at all. It was then in that moment, feeling nothing but the wind, the sound of my own breath and move after move of synchronicity of body and mind that i started to love this place. The mighty walls of Half Dome and The Sentinel stood silently ahead beckoning those with courage but demanding the utmost respect too. I wanted to be on those faces. To give myself fully and be part of the landscape. To draw as much energy from the earth and conquer the villain that is my ego and give an honest effort to see what i've got.

But how much of that can you give in such a moment, when your up there and it's real? That's all i want to know, as the climbs get longer, harder and higher.

The Sentinel from the top of Sunnyside Bench
The NW Face of Half Dome
By the end of the week, Lauren and i are hiking up the approach gully for Higher Cathedral Peak. The route is 12 pitches of 5.8-5.9 and begins about 800ft above the valley floor. A good start to the longer routes in Yosemite. (I think to myself). The first 6 pitches flow by smoothly and it's great to already be so high in the valley. We have a bite to eat and enjoy the view of Cathedral Spire piercing the blue sky opposite.

Ok, time to begin the second half of the route. Flared chimneys. Looks like fun!

Enjoying the sustained chimney pitch! (Not yet realising how long i've got to go.)
The pitch is long and sustained. After the initial flare, i clip an assortment of pitons and pull over the overhang. Crikey, this is steep for 5.9. I continue up the next section of chimney as it tightens into a squeeze. Breathing in and using my chest to press against the constriction i coil my legs up again and repeat until i eventually writhe my way out of the top and am relived to be able to breath again. Wow another bulge. Time for more panting and pressing my way up this hold less flare. Thank goodness for the crack in the back. 

After 50 meters i make a belay and bring Lauren up who has to endure the ordeal of trailing the backpack. (The damned 'baby' that won't fit on your back in these formations). It's pretty brutal for her. I hear encouraging comments from a party behind us. After about 40 minutes of weight training she joins me at the belay. She is dripping. Hey lets drink! The leader from the next party joins us too in haste to reach the top. They are pleasant but it's cramped and 3 of us are shoulder to shoulder inside this gaping crack. I am keen to keep moving so i opt to lead the next pitch, with the bag. I think this is a good idea as the next 30 meters of the chimneys is 'only 5.8'. I hurriedly place a couple of pieces above the belay so i don't squash Lauren, but still manage to swat her around the head with my bag. Sorry love. In no time a torrent of salt water is spilling down my face. I thrutch my way up to the ledge, with the backpack defiantly snagging on every spike and cramming itself into every crack. I roll onto the ledge in a heap. A bit more challenging than i wanted. When i come back in touch with reality i make a belay and clip the bag to the anchor.

Cathedral Spires from the 8th bealy
With the crux section out of the way we let the party pass and rest with some food and water...The sun begins to set. Time to get a move on for our last push. The climbing is fun varied cracks, a relief from the previous couple of hours. At last we are near the summit. As i climb...just..one..more..flared chimney, we are now in full darkness. This is where part 2 of our adventure begins.

"Just traverse over the first death shoot and follow the cairns down and around" they had said. Ok we can do that. We scoff a surprise avocado and take a sip of aqua each. Only one more left and we are out. Those chimneys were thirsty work. We get going and hike up to towards the summit. To our left we see a steep yawning gully leading downward into the abyss of utter darkness. Ok, lets avoid that. Skirting around that, we spend the next hour making our way downwards following the cairns like check points. From time to time we go down too far into the brush and waist precious moisture by hiking back up the loose slope to the last point. Every deliberation on where we are going is affected by the need for water. My mouth is so dry. I start to breath through my nose to save on moisture.

At last we find some cairns traversing left. But to where? We go up and down and find nothing. We go further left but don't see a trail. We stop and each take a last sip. I swill the last of drops of water in my mouth and feel every pore soak it up, relishing its sweet taste. Better than anything. We've been up here a long time and i can feel my body wanting to panic. I think about all the heros i've read about and know that we can be without water for 3 days but my discomfort does not subside. We can hear the creek at the bottom of the valley. Even though we are supposed to the find the notch that takes us down the other side to 'Our Valley' we both say 'fuck it'.

Both of us charge downwards into the brush. Like moths to a flame we kamakazie down through the ever thickening brush to the mesmerizing sound of the creek. The slope begins to steepen and we are literally swimming down through the archaic brush. We get closer and find a few small cliffs. We are hesitant but we've come this far, hiking back up would be awful. So we skirt around and do some 4th class down climbing. Once we're down we turn around and see cascading water shimmering in our head lamps. Success! We fill our bottles and drain as much as possible. Ahh, much better...SHIT! The water bottles shoots down with the water like a fish. Running beside the creek i pounce on the runaway and capture it. With a sigh of relief, we give each other a tired smile and decided to build a fire for the night and wait for dawn.

Hours later after dozing and feeding the fire, light begins spill into the valley at last. We leave the warmth of the little circle and begin the hike back. After a slow hour we find the notch. Spitting distance away from our last checkpoint!

Another hour and we are dragging our feet back into camp 4 and cracking a beer before sleep.

Lauren and I at the 'Notch' the next day.

With the first week over in Yosemite, what was going to come next?