“It’s a whole ‘nuther Yosemite Valley,” I thought as Laughlin and I came around the bend and caught sight of Tuolumne Meadows for the first time. A few hundred feet below, Tenaya Lake glistened grey in the early morning. But we had no time for gawking. Business was at hand.
Within the hour we were geared up at the base of one of Tuloumne’s most classic climbs, Oz to the Gram Traverse. An amazing and sustained six pitches awaited and we had the line to ourselves.
Laughlin knocked out the first pitch in no time and the sharp end swung my way for the second pitch. The delicate, wandering face climbing quickly got my head (and toes) in the game and deposited us at the base of the spectacular pitch 3 dihedral finger crack. Laughlin kept a cool head on the tricky line, managing pro like a pro and I was able to enjoy the comfort of a top rope on a truly fantastic pitch.
At this point, a party can either high five, crack a few brews and escape via easy climbing left, or embark upon 150 wild feet of rightward traverse under a massive roof. We would have had it no other way and I began the tough first pitch of the Gram Traverse.
Within a minute on the burly climb my arms were burning and I was throwing in desperate pieces of gear while trying to keep stable on calf-burning smears. I punched it through the committing second crux and breathed a sigh of relief to latch a good hold around a blind corner. I sunk a perfect #4 and negotiated my way downward through techy terrain to the anchor. The Gram Traverse ain’t no date climb and Laughlin had big swing potential following the pitch.
We rested and reorganized at the belay and then Laughlin kept us moving through the more cryptic traverse of the second pitch before we topped out via a sea of 5.5 knobs.
After a lazy lunch by Tenaya lake, we were ready for round two and trudged to Harlequin Dome for By Hook Or By Crook (5.11b). Both the first and second pitches are solid 5.11, with the second consisting of working up a difficult, rounded arete. The confounding line requires serious precision and then power to surmount a shallow roof via a thin seam. The slabby 5.10 seam continues for the rope-stretching third pitch before the climbing eases toward the summit.
Overall, it was a phenomenal day and we put away a gauntlet of 5.10a, 5.10d, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.10c, 5.11b, 5.11b and 5.10c pitches with a couple of easy runs to the summits providing some variety.
We entertained the notion of easing up on the second day, but after the long hike to the base of Phobos Demos Cliff, we simply couldn’t not climb the stunning Blues Riff. The two-pitch line begins with heady 5.10 on questionable rock before launching into a massive second pitch 5.11 splitter. A slightly overhanging finger crack crux gives way to 100 feet of never-ending hands and layback. I really felt the 10,000 feet of altitude as I fought through the make-you-want-to-puke, continuous perfect line. Good gear can be had, but if you’re planning on sewing it up, you should leave any ideas of sending on the ground. I found myself punching it through lengthy sections without gear in order to establish at the few stances the sideways splitter offered.
We finished the trip with yet another 5-star line, Phobos. The 3-pitch 5.9 still gave us a good challenge and the classy American lagers we enjoyed by the lake after the hike down were soul sustenance. Laughlin is a recent Mechanical Engineering graduate and an awesome dude. He is also a really strong climber with tons of additional potential. It was fun getting to know him and I’m hoping we can get out for some more great climbing soon.
Kris, Kim, Lizz, Steven, David and his 7-year-old crusher daughter Lydia and I kept the Tuolumne season churning the following weekend. Kim and I climbed yet another classic on yet another dome (Stately Pleasure) and we got a taste of the heinously run-out slabs characteristic of the area. Lydia got in on the action with ascents of a couple awesome top-ropes on Potholes Dome. With some improvement in footwork, confidence and experience rising to the challenge outdoors, she will be ready for the big time.
We rounded out both days with some merciful shade at The Gunks bouldering area. The destination is so named because of it’s horizontal seams and roofs similar to the East Coast namesake.
The highlight of the bouldering sessions was Cellulite Eliminator, a classic V7. Kris and I shared beta (i.e. Kris showed me what to do) and after an hour or so of work, we put the line to rest in classic send train style. Check out a video of Kris on the awesome line below.
Lizz got in on the game working a seriously tough traverse. Then, out of nowhere, she grabbed a jug and did her first ever unassisted pullup. Straight up. Nice work, Lizz. As promised, I bought her dinner.
More bouldering awaits at The Gunks as well as other areas of Tuolumne. Not to mention, a few 5-star routes are still on the list!
The season can be short depending on snowfall, but the summer is still young and with lines like Blues Riff sprinkled throughout the meadows, Tuolumne is a great escape from the Valley heat. We’ll be back.