Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 22

Another week and the end of another month that I survived. At the end of the day when things are not as rosy as had been planned my friends and I say something to the effect of, "we survived." Not entirely a week like that but it is always a good thing.

El Capitan, featuring The Nose in the center of the photograph
Halfdome Summit Picture
Sunday started with an off day. After spending two days and getting torn up on The Nose (the center ridge above) I needed a day of no climbing. So I turned to my other hobby, running. In 2000 when my family had vacationed in Yosemite I remember seeing Halfdome from Glacier Point and thinking how amazing it appeared. I wanted to come back and climb it someday. At the time that simply meant getting to the top. So I decided I would run Halfdome. From the Happy Isles bus stop to the top of the rock was two hours and 13 minutes. Thats 4800 feet of elevation rise over about 8.5 miles. All things considered it was an easy run. The maximum elevation was less than 9000 feet which allowed easier breathing. After a short break on the top I ran back down in about two hours.
The View from Halfdome of Halfdome and down Yosemite Valley
Bobcat with 30 feet of me that simply didn't care I was on the trail
Monday I decided to give the big walls another go. The South Face of Washington Column is known as the easiest big wall in Yosemite Valley, perhaps the world. It goes at 5.8 C1 and 11 pitches. That is to say well within my capabilities. However, after the approach hike, roping up, and starting up I was only 40 feet up the first pitch and I scared myself. I decided to get off the wall and that I just was not ready to climb big walls. It is so hard alone. The rope work is more complicated. There is no one there for conversation. There is no one to watch your back. There is no one to double check your work. There is no one to share the work load. So I headed down, had a pizza at Curry Village, and headed out via Camp 4...

I wanted to stop by and see my friend Andrew and let him know that unless he wanted to climb something I was leaving the valley. Strangely enough, he was there. He was also interested in climbing Halfdome, the steep way. I was very excited so we set plans to leave early Tuesday and do some climbing.

Tuesday we obtained the backcountry permit and bought the remaining supplies. Soon enough we were headed up the trail around the back of Halfdome to the base of the wall. At about 3 PM we arrived at the bottom of the very large wall. The spring of water was running, fortunately, so we purified water to supplement our supplies. About this time I had a funny experience. Andrew my climbing partner had long hair and wore a headband. He was wearing a dark shirt and light pants. I was looking at him and talking to him then I bent down to reach into my backpack. When I stood up I was facing the opposite direction and standing 200 feet away appeared to be Andrew. I quickly looked back at the real Andrew before returning my gaze to the new Andrew. He was just standing there staring at me. I was terrified that I was halucinating. The few times in the mountains I have seen things have been when I have been very tired and dehydrated. They have also never been clear things. For example, tree branches seem to be as strait as two by fours and part of a picnic area, versus simply tree branches. It is similar to seeing shadows in the dark and being afraid it is something more than shadows. However, this halucination was clear and real. Fortunately, about two seconds later I saw his climbing partner. He moved and then we started talking. They were planning to do the same route we were (The Regular Northwest Face) but they had a bit more experience.

We fixed the first two pitches and then they fixed the third pitch and then we went to sleep with half of our view of the stars obstructed by the immense piece of granite next to us. Both teams were attempting their first big wall and we agreed that working together would probably benefit the both of us.

Wednesday began at 3:00 AM or 3:25 AM by the time I actually woke up. We put together our gear and started ascending the ropes we fixed yesterday. Andrew was in the lead and I was behind. His headlamp died that morning and I proceeded to knock mine off of my helmet at the first belay ledge. He then clipped one of his ascenders to the other accidently. Add to all of this it was 5 AM and very dark and he had never used ascenders until the day before. Needless to say between the two of us we were not feeling the best about going a whole lot higher on the wall. So we rappelled down. We ate breakfast while we watched the more skilled team flail around on the fourth pitch and drop a #3 Camalot before calling it quits. It was a long dusty hike nine miles down to the valley. We marched in defeat, yet very satisfied to have tried such a climb.

That evening I headed to San Francisco to see a college friend. I arrived late, but with free parking. One comment on driving in the Bay Area is that it is really not a problem to find free parking and navigate. Compared to Boston driving was no trouble at all. The next day I woke up and as he headed to work I headed to Sausalito to spend my day reading, running, and having the best sushi I have ever had. That evening I hung out with my friend and his friends and had a small introduction to the social scene that makes San Fransisco famous...

Friday I went to my friend's house in Redwood City. We had been together in Pakistan and spent many hours together. I was interested in talking to him about how his transition back to normal life was. There was a long transition to normal life after the trauma of Pakistan. Since that was my first major trip it was especially difficult to return to normal life. Talking to others that through that experience allows me to process what happened.

Saturday I spent the day reading and sitting at the Apple store in Palo Alto (a close walk to Stanford). When I returned to my friend's house he called me on the phone. His wife had gone into labor and they wouldn't be home that night! I knew she was ready to give birth but it was supposed to be several weeks. I visit my friends and they have a baby. What is next?

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