The end of August had arrived and as the Summer heat gave way to Fall Yosemite Valley seemed close enough to touch. Then came the massive Rim Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, limiting park access. Three weeks of government shutdown followed, carving out the heart of the Valley climbing season. The shutdown ended just in time for weekend synchrotron shifts to consume my November. And just like that the Yosemite season was almost gone.
There was still time to climb The Rostrum.
Over the last several years, I’ve counted on Kris and his botomless craving for Yosemite granite to answer the call for all things Valley climbing. Having a close friend with so many shared experiences – scary runouts, route finding, big whips, insane descents, and inspiring successes – has made us a good team with the confidence to tackle big challenges. Having both completed only parts of the full North Face route, we’ve been plotting a return to the Rostrum and last weekend provided a window of weather worthy of a shot.
This time we weren’t denied though there were moments of doubt. Weakened from food poisoning, Kris wasn’t at full strength, making the physical and continuous climbing that much more grueling. He stuck it out in gritty style. I had no such bad luck and climbed in one of the best mental and physical spaces I can remember. Through 5 pitches I felt at home on the rock, pushing through the pump and attacking cruxes.
Pitch 6 is the notorious 5.10 offwidth many climbers consider the true crux of the route. Though the offwidth looms large, before even arriving at the first hand stack the most technical face climbing of the day greets you with a delicate progression of balance intensive, pin protected, spooky teetering traversing to gain the first relieving pro. After a hard, awkward sequence a valuable rest at the base of the intimidating void gives time to ponder the negotiation to come. To my pleasant surprise the offwidth gave me no battle and was actually incredibly fun. Handstacking, knee jams, bloody ankles and bumping a #5 cam deposited me at the base of pitch 7 no worse for wear but pumped and tired from the cumulative 600 feet of Yosemite 5.10 and 5.11 resting below.
The sun fell over the rim leaving our grey granite coal black and the Valley grew quiet as the darkness dulled noise of the day. My breath’s swirling cloud illuminated by headlamp spotlight focused me and I started off on the last 5.11 pitch with visions of a clean ascent.
Wind rushing into and out of lungs, feet sliding into endless jams, squeaking cams protesting scrape of metal on rock.
My headlamp cut a beam through the pitch as black night separated me from Kris below and from the summit above, only guarded by one last crux. This is why we climb. These moments. The uncertainty. The chance to rise to the challenge.
My arms raged as I worked every possible rest every possible way before slotting in one last piece and throwing myself into the powerful layback. Decisions came the only possible way – quickly. Rope below my feet swayed uninhibited by gear as I kept moving through the exhaustion, yelling a crescendo with each increasingly desperate lunge. Pumped like mad I cranked down on an impossible lock off, stabbing the good hold that reestablished real jams.
I was done. It was too much. Powered only by remnants of will my fingers relinquished and I streaked down the North Face of The Rostrum like lightning spilled out of the bottle.
Coming to a stop after the big whip I was sad. I was happy. I was disappointed. I was thrilled. There would be no onsight. The only tick would be another great day climbing with a great friend. I was happy.
Kris and I summited underneath the Milky Way painting a stripe across the crisp, clear, naked sky. A day we’ll never forget. We crashed.
The next day we were too tired and sore for our planned bouldering crushing and decided to knock out the classic Reed’s Pinnacle. The first two pitches are some of the best 5.9 climbing in the Valley. Pitch 3 is a 5.8 squeeze chimney traverse. I got stuck navigating the maze of constrictions. Left. Up. Left. Down. Stuck. Shit.
Kris tied me off and wandered back into the chimney to literally give me a shoulder to stand on. Using a tipped out #5 above my head I yarded my way free and slid down to the wider freedom at the bottom. If you’re fatter than my pudgy frame, don’t even try this pitch unless you want YOSAR greasing you up at midnight.
Synchrotron madness did yield one other November Valley trek and Charissa and I took advantage of a couple perfect days to climb yet more Yosemite classics. I had never been to the Five Open Books just south of Yosemite Falls. The area hosts several classic lines from 5.6 to 5.10 and after a fun trip up Commitment (5.9) we upped the ante with Werner’s Ant Tree to the Surprise (5.10c)
We linked the second and third pitches of The Surprise for an amazing 60 meter finger/thin hands crack. Doing the line this way creates one of the best single pitches I’ve done in the Valley and watching Charissa fight for a clean ascent was almost as fun as climbing it.
The view from the summit of Five Open Books should be on every Valley climber’s bucket list.
Between Valley trips, we stopped in snowy Boulder for some fun and friends. Andrew, Eli, Amy, Leo, Ron and I enjoyed a Flatirons hike that led us to the Flagstaff Boulders after our original plan was upended by a trail closure.
Though temperatures hovered in the 30s, the sun had warmed the boulders and we got our fix playing around on The Monkey Traverse.
It was great being back among long time friends who I just don’t get to see enough anymore. Despite my skepticism of the 37 degree high and paranoia of screaming barfies, Charissa convinced me to try our luck climbing in Eldo.
Thrones of ice fell down the Redgarden wall like clockwork, but the Wind Tower was dry and we had an absolute blast scaling Calypso to Reggae. I didn’t even scream or barf, though I probably had plenty of snot dripping down my frozen face. I’ve climbed more in Eldo than anywhere by far but never quite like that. Fun.