Camp 4 sat motionless in the dark morning cold as Kris opened the creaky cooler. I sat up, straightened my hat and reached into the depths of my sleeping bag to find my socks. We stirred the warm coals in our neighbors’ fire pit and had a silent breakfast.
The 1100-foot East Buttress of Middle Cathedral is one of the Valley classics and we knew that an early start and a little luck would be necessary for a quick weekend ascent without getting stuck behind slower and larger parties. Head down, I lumbered behind Kris up the boulder field gully approach. As we neared the base of the route we could hear voices, “Yellow rope on belay!” We had the early start, but not the luck.
There was a group of three already on the rock. We would have to either ask to move through or take the “crowded variation” and engineer a pass on the fly. As we turned off to scramble to the pitch 1 base, Kris remarked that there was a patch of snow just up the gully. I didn’t see the snow or hear Kris’s observation as it was 6:30 in the morning and I was sore and crankypants.
We warmed up as we got going. My hands, downright arthritic and swollen from the previous two days, began to thaw by the end of the second pitch. The sun started to chase grey from the valley and a couple deep breaths reminded my lungs that I was no longer sleeping.
The East Buttress has an incredible amount of continuous 5.7 and 5.8 climbing with a delicate 5.10 crux. It is a great route for an aspiring 5.8 leader, as the 5.10 section can easily be aided and good pro can be had anywhere. For us, it provided a fun opportunity to decompress a bit after two days of harder climbing. The varied route consisted of many cracks, dihedrals and faces. We sped up to pass the group of three after the 4th pitch on the 5.10a crowded variation and kept up the pace to the top. We finished the route in a short 4.5 hours and took in an amazing view of El Cap.
The above picture is not cropped nor zoomed. My camera could just barely frame the granite monster from a peak a mile away. The adventure that followed is a story in its own right. Check back soon for that story.
Along with massive granite faces and towering pillars, Yosemite hosts some incredible bouldering, much of which is imminently accessible right behind Camp 4. After three days of plodding skyward, we decided to stay a little closer to Earth and beer for our last day of the trip and enjoy some of the classic problems.
Kris knows the area well and has sent many of the testpieces. He was kind enough to return to a few of his favorites and let me flail to my heart’s content. Kris (re)sent the above V4 slab. I was close, but called it quits after my nerves were sufficiently shot. The problem was fantastic practice for balance-intensive, desperate footwork. I would love to have that boulder in my back yard to hone my slab technique.
We moved on to a more powerful line on better holds, Battle of the Bulge. Again, I made progress on the problem, but had to pull the plug upon diminishing returns. Bouldering is largely about projects and checking out so many cool problems in an afternoon, even ones we didn’t lay hands on, was like visiting a Chuck E. Cheese’s. Though the fun never stops, at some point you have to leave. (Does anybody remember Showbiz Pizza?)
We grabbed lunch and hiked to the base of Yosemite falls. Kris said that of all the times he’s visited the Valley, the waterfalls are the strongest he’s seen. The three-tiered Yosemite falls is the tallest waterfall in the United States.
Hiking to Yosemite falls illustrated both the iconic and ironic nature of Yosemite. If you lost sight of the waterfall, you might mistake the journey for a stroll through downtown Denver. The path has been paved and made wheelchair accessible for miles. Candy bar wrappers and Pepsi bottles litter the walkway. Large, fully accommodated bathroom facilities border the trail. Scores of people walk to the base of one of the singular most breathtaking natural monuments in America without entering nature.
The path to Yosemite Falls is only a metaphor for The Valley. Restaurants, shops, bars and even a hotel with valet parking sit on The Valley floor. Parking lots are consistently filled to the brim. Traffic jams are common. We ate at the restaurants, sat in the traffic jams and drank at the bars.
But back at camp 4, a little known boulder problem known as Midnight Lightning sat undisturbed – a reminder that even in its growing popularity, climbing is still a rustic adventure that hasn’t been encroached by too many commodity comforts. The escape was just a stroll away.
After three days that included more than 2,500 feet of climbing, my fingerprints no longer existed and my body was sore. I couldn’t keep my hands dry and every move required a massive amount of effort. But even in that fried state, I had a blast working through the opening sequence of the notorious problem. Maybe the next time I find myself interacting with the imposing granite walls of Yosemite, I’ll start fresh with the miniature meccas.