Heading to Yosemite tomorrow with a largish team. I’ve been there 3 times previously. The first was 11 years ago with my dad, after he’d retired from building footpaths for the National Trust. We’d planned to try the Nose as he’d loved the history with Harding and regarded Lynn Hills 1 day effort as the best ever. Unfortunately the journey took its toll on his already pummelled hip so walking was issue enough but it was great to see the place.
The second time was with Al and Joe Wilson, Chris Hope the ‘other Chris’ in 2002. 2 friends I was meant to be climbing with had bailed near the time of departure but it was still a pretty good trip doing lots of the smaller Valley classics like Astroman, Rostrum, West Face of El Cap etc. I climbed Astroman with a guy called Joe, I’d been warned not to climb with him for being too slow but we topped out at 14.00 and apart from getting his helmet stuck in the Slot for 5 mins he seemed quite fast. When we topped out he asked, “Do you think Warren was watching us?” I assured him that he certainly had. The 3rd trip was last October and was somewhat special in terms of shit luck. I had had high expectations of this trip for having a great team of people and being twice as fit as when I was last there.
Alison Osius emailed what I was hoping to do and I naively said Golden Gate, El Nino and Freerider. Myself, Neil Mawson, Adam Hocking and Hazel Findlay travelled out and Ryan Pasquil, Katy Whittaker, Paul Smitten, Pete and Vicky Hurley were already out there.
I’d booked a 4-door economy hire car through Dollar. On arriving they said we wouldn’t fit and would have to upgrade via lots more money. We said we’d try and going down to the garage I felt like Victor Meldrew when I saw the car they’d allotted us. It was a 2-door car with no boot.
After an angry interchange at their office it ended with my credit card getting brought out...
We manage to get a camping space in upper pines the first night where in the middle of the night we get flooded and spend the next day drying out everything. At some point that night I think I reversed the car slightly into one of the concrete bunkers in the parking spaces but thought nothing of it until Mawson points out a scratch on the back. Nobody had wanted to pay additional insurance and any damage to the car would be taken by the credit card used. This made me nervous during the whole trip and for pretty good reason as it was used like a wheelbarrow for much of the trip.
The weather was awful the first 2 days so we visited a steep sport cliff called Jailhouse. On arriving I couldn’t believe my luck, Alex Honnold and Niko Favresse were there, 2 of the modern time climbers I had most respect for. I’d spoken with my friend Pete Robbins about such a possibility. Being on higher than normal sport fitness and being a total idiot I try to impress them. After falling high on a climb in the middle of the cliff 3 times I was totally wasted.
Things were looking good at first. We made it to Hollow Flake which made a great bivvy for 2 wee Cumbrians. The next day things were still looking good. I’d led the Monster offwidth, had hauled and Adam was seconding, we’d managed not to fall so far although the 11b to leave heart ledges was definitely a sandbag. It was only 12.30 and an easy pitch led to El Cap Spire where the plan was to play cards and fix another pitch or 2 in the cool of the evening.
Adam shouts to take him there and I look down to see blood around him. He manages to jumar up to me and I see blood and goo in his hair. I knew he was a tough git as in primary school I’d chased him over a 2m drop he’d taken headfirst when his feet clipped a rail, he’d got up and walked away with a bump and bleeding but not crying. The decision to abseil off was quick and to get back across to Hollow Flake involved jumaring sideways on 3 little bits of core attached to one peg with a heavy haulbag attached to me. At the fixed lines we met Piton Pete who had been pissed to lose a partner 2 days previous but had found someone more willing and with a haulbag dedicated to beer they were resting and getting aled up.
I’d melted the top of my widebrimmer hat using it as a teatowel for a percolator minus its necessary water so with that and Adams face covered in blood we looked a pair of tools. Pete gave us some great advice as we passed “you wankers go get yourselves some helmets”. We touchdown, walk back to Camp4 and Hock gets his head looked at which thankfully only needs a few stitches.
Ryan starts off on the Black Dike pitch. I think I hear a helicopter and looking up to see it fly over a black shape starts to get bigger,’ maybe it’s a bird?’ but no it’s a rock fall which splits, some bits just missing Ryan, some hitting the ledge I’m belayed on. Ryan hardly noticed and with the heat starts to take some big falls. He comes down from the pitch saying that ‘you’ll piss it’. We go down. Impressed with Patch’s and Leos efforts as watching Ryan on the first pitch and having spoken with Hans about it makes me think it would be about E76c in the UK.
The day after was not a vast improvement when belaying Dan McManus on Cosmic Debris he slips whilst clipping a cam and lands on a rocky slab.
Deciding on how much damage was done took a few anxious minutes but luckily he’d only broken his heel and also that it was the last two days of his holiday.
Walking back to camp 4 I’d decided on two possible options for the afternoon. Option 1 was to read my kindle, option two, to write about how turd the trip had been. On arriving I find my kindle is broken probably from the flooding the first night. Hocking and myself were living in a ‘holy’ tent lent by the great Libby from SARS and it made for quite a dry dusty environment.
After a few days moaning about everything even Hocking had had enough and set off on Pete Hurley & Cos’s perilous journey up Half Dome which was going to involve 9 people bivvying on a small foot shelf.
This fellowship was broken after the first 2 pitches and a small elite team came back successfully a few days later.
Hazel, light and rested from success on Golden Gate did a great lead on a very tiring blank corner called Book of Hate. The last 5 meters have no holds (in fact many bits if it are lacking in holds) and she looked like Hitgirl running down the corridor at the end of Kickass, moving fast, missing out the last protection totally focused on the climbing. Sean and myself were silent, very impressed. Hock and I managed to devour huge quantities of coffee in the Lodge which made for jittery climbing performances and the other highlight of the trip was a the picture of Hock looking out from the back of Separate Reality, when you zoom in on the eyes it’s a masterpiece.
The dream topping of this trip was a £220 bill from Dollar hirecar 2 weeks after I got back from the UK. I swore I’d never go back to America and spent 3 months dealing with the ‘burnout’ thing you read about in sports science books.
In the New Year I changed my mind remembering that when I first got into climbing doing a big route on El Cap was a primary objective. Another team has been ‘assembled’ and I’m feeling a bit luckier this time although one member of the team Ben Bransby has just cancelled two days ago due to having a virus, Vertigo or Labrynthitus? Ben will be sorely missed on any pitch involving hard moves, especially the steep ones but hopefully will be recovered for Longhope next June.
Myself, Callum Muskett and Dan (broken heel) McManus are heading out. Others include; Hazel, Alex H? And Neil Dyer will be there as well. Callum and Dan are going for Golden Gate and everyone else is going for Muir Wall and if there is time I’d love to try Salathe.
Dan did Goliath 15 times the other night before doing some sort of speed solo on it so I’m sure he’ll find the Monster OW easy (ha). I’m looking forward to hanging out on El Cap as much as I can and I’m hoping to do less abseiling and moaning.