Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The Range of Lights
That's what John Muir called the Sierra Nevada mountains, and for good reason, The snowy peaks and towering granite cliffs cause light to shine brightly, reflecting off the crystals of the granite walls and changing from brilliant white to burnt oranges and heavy purples during sunset. Here at last, here at last, we are finally here at last.
Our initial posts on this blog came from Bishop, and we were still on the foothills of the Sierra's then. We've since been traveling and sleeping in their heart, and despite our best efforts we haven't been able to update this until now, from Lake Tahoe. But let me back up before I talk about Tahoe.
We left Bishop and drove through the snowy and steep Tioga Pass to Yosemite Valley, our plan was to stay in Camp 4. That of course did not work out immediately, as we arrived to late to secure a spot. Feeling discouraged we decided to shrug it off and get up on the granite walls. We set our sites on the "regular route" of the sunny-side wall which is near Yosemite Falls. A few ugly gully scrambles and a bit of funky 4th class climbing later we reached a point on the route where vegetation had taken over. The crack system we were following was filled with gunk, making it hard to protect, so we tried a variation that did not work out well either. So, we rapped off.
That mini-fiasco started was the beginning of a pretty bad day. We walked to Curry Village with intents of bouldering and getting an El Cap Burger. Turns out they don't make those any more and the area with the boulders is closed due to a rock fall that happened in 2008. Eventually we relented and passed out along the Merced for a nice nap. That night we drove out of the park and camped in a pull-out along the road with all the others that couldn't get a spot in Camp 4.
Things started looking better after that, we woke up at 4:30 and parked ourselves in the Camp 4 line by 5:30. We managed to get a spot and eventually set up our camp. We then wanted to boulder in Camp 4. Turns out the Camp 4 boulders are ridiculously hard, everything is polished from the huge amount of traffic they see, and it wound up not being very fun.
So we pulled out the ropes and harnesses again for the next few days. We climbed lots of single pitch stuff at the Swan Slabs for a day. We also met some new friends in our camp site named Justin and Karl. They are pretty cool dudes from California and we went up this sweet 2 pitch climb with them called Munginella, which offered a great view of the valley and half-dome from the top
The next day we got on route called Nutcracker. It is a 5 pitch climb that rises 600 feet up from the valley floor on a buttress between El Cap and the Three Brothers cliffs. It was first established by Royal Robbins who led it with only nuts to champion the cause of clean climbing in a time when pitons ruled. That is the thing about the valley, there is a tremendous weight of history around, everything you get on has some story behind it, and it was pretty cool to climb a route that was so important to the development of modern climbing. Also the views from Nutcracker were incredible, it was such a different way to see the valley, dangling from a belay, hundreds of feet up a wall. A cold wind howling around us and competing against the hot sun that was beating down from above (and reflecting off the granite into your face).
After Nutcracker we pulled out the crash pads again, on our last day in the valley, and went bouldering with Karl. We checked out two areas and there were loads more fun than the Camp 4 stuff. John and I both sent two very cool problems one was a v3 dihedral with sloping holds and stemming on tiny feet. The other was a huge v4 arete directly across from the Ahwahnee hotel. It went quickly for both of us, but the top out was pretty scary as you transition onto moss covered slab with bad crimps for hands, oh yeah, and your about 20 feet off the deck at this point (and I thought I got scared by Bishop's high-balls). But I pulled it together and forged my way through.
Now it sounds like we did a lot in Yosemite, but keep in mind we were there for a week, and in between climbs there was copious amounts of chilling, drinking beer around the fire with other climbers who were drawn to the valley, eating canned food, watching the raging water come off of Yosemite falls. One day we walked and scrambled to the base of the falls and got blasted by the water in a sort of wild baptism, huge smiles and laughter coming over us as we got drenched.
Oh yeah, bears, thankfully Vanna made it through unscathed, but a girl we met named Brook did not have as much luck, a blackbear broke her back window. The bears were ravaging Camp 4 for a few nights while we were there. Dozens of Camp 4 residents chasing them off with hollered calls of "Git outta here Bear!!!" sounding all through the night. The bears jogging off into the darkness of the woods and letting the squirrels and Steller's Jay's take over the hunt for food in the morning.
The valley is magical, I will miss it as always, but I was also ready to leave by the end of the week. It was time to move on, and now we are in Tahoe. We arrived last night and settled into a quiet camp ground. Today we sport climbed at Luther Spire's and it was easily the most beautiful place I've ever clipped bolts (it was also great to lead again after following on all the trad lines in the valley). The spires are towering chunks of granite rising out of the top of a ridge, how they formed I have no idea. The views from the spires was incredible, you look out over mile after mile of pine forest and snow capped peaks. The routes too were incredible, really interesting and heavily featured granite (a contrast to the smooth granite of Yosemite) that had resulted in excellent, flowing, movement up the climbs.
A couple weeks in and it is still hard to fathom how epic this trip is, Tahoe is really a tiny stop along the way and it was incredible. I'm settling in to the rhythm of the road, sleeping in the dirt, waking to bird call and warm sunshine, the smell of pine. Doing things cheaply and simply, and enjoying every second.
p.s. photo dump at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2224706&id=31107199&saved#!/album.php?aid=2224706&id=31107199