Friday, September 24, 2010

Lessons from the Big Stone


My time in Yosemite was very educational. While I started four climbs and finished none of them I did some things well. I also learned some things.

  1. Jugging. I learned to ascend ropes better. I have ascended ropes many times both on simple steep snow and ice in Pakistan and on overhanging terrain in New England. However, I had never ascended rope with a backpack full of four days of big wall supplies. That was really hard. It took probably three hours to get up 400 feet. I learned to use a chest harness. By clipping a quickdraw to the shoulder straps of my backpack and clipping that to my highest ascender it kept me from flipping backwards with 50+ pounds of stuff on my back.
  2. Anchors. I've encountered two bolt anchors on multipitch climbs before. However, nearly every anchor on the standard routes in Yosemite are two bolt anchors. I finally had the chance to use a more simple system. Simply using two carabiners I would clove hitch the rope I was tied in with into one bolt and then clove hitch or tie a figure 8 on a bite and carabiner that to the second bolt. Then I would clip the backpack into one bolt. If either bolt failed the whole system would hang by the other bolt given that the rope doesn't break. It is generally accepted that the rope is the strongest element in the climbing system. Other single elements might break or fail but the rope is never supposed to fail. They have several times but it is very very rare.
  3. Partners. I did a lot of solo climbing. Which is fine, but it is harder. It takes more effort to haul everything alone. It is tiring to lead every pitch. The rope management is more difficult. It is mentally more difficult being motivated only by yourself. Simply put, I prefer to climb with people. 
  4. Camping. It is free to bivy, camp without a tent, below Halfdome, and other places. So the night before climbs on Halfdome or other remote locations you can camp for free. It is free to bivy on routes. So taking multiple days to climb a route is nice because you can sleep on ledges or on a portaledge if you have one. Camp 4 is great but the seven day limit during the summer is a little restrictive. Camp 4 also has a huge bear problem. You probably have a three out of four chance of seeing a bear any given night there. There is free camping just outside of the park boundaries in the national forests, but from "The Valley" it is at least a 30 minute drive and not really worth it.
  5. Food. The pizza place at Curry Village was my preferred restaurant in the afternoon. The Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria was my preferred breakfast place, although I never ate there in the afternoons so it could be good as well. I also ate lots of Ramen and tortillas that I brought into the park. In the park grocery stores I was a fan of the quart cartons of milk for 99 cents. Even the chocolate milk was only 99 cents. Finally, I was turned onto almond butter from Trader Joes by one of my climbing partners. It is good stuff.
  6. Showers. The most fun method of washing is jumping off of the El Capitan bridge into the Merced. It is about seven feet above the water so watch out for a nose bleed. (It didn't hurt I was fine.) The Merced is chilly but compared to the heat in August it is perfect. The dry air dries your body in minutes and you can stare at El Cap as you dry off. The more traditional alternative is to shower at Curry Village. If you wait until after 6 PM it is free, or at least it was free while I was there. However, there is often a line because people know it is free. During the day it is $5 to take a shower at Curry Village. 
  7. Tri-Cams must have been invented for angle piton scars. Yosemite is full of angle piton scars and Tri-Cams fit in them perfectly. Be sure to bring a black (.25 size) and pink (.5 size).
Those are the major lessons I learned at Yosemite. I also learned more about climbing but those were smaller lessons in the big picture. Yosemite feels like a crag. It feels like the rocks are all 80 feet tall. The approaches are usually pretty short and the cracks are mostly clean. Part of climbing well is feeling comfortable in your surroundings. Eventually I will return to Yosemite. Now that I know it better I am sure I will get higher up whatever I try next time. Perhaps I will even top out El Cap...

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