Perspectives - Climbing Yosemite
The Planning Stage
Edge - As soon as USA Climbing announced in January that they would be holding the Junior Nationals in Sacramento, there began a rapid-fire chain of events at our house. A close family friend had moved there four years ago, and continually offered an open invitation for us to visit. My wife Karol was actually excited at the news, as she had only accompanied Meaghan and I to one of her 5 prior Nationals. This was good news, very good news…
Karol - Sacramento! Finally they are having Nationals someplace that I want to go. We can stay with our friend Steve for free, and with the money we save there we can bring Maxwell along and make a full two-week vacation around it.
Edge - Getting Karol excited for California was only the first step. Because this would be a family vacation, I would have to make several concessions. She talked excitedly about touring wine country as well as San Francisco, and when Steve called to say that he had secured tickets to a Giants game, suddenly our whole first week became booked with flatlander activities. But this was California, dammit, a place where I had spent 8 months over the course of 4 trips, all to Yosemite, and I desperately needed a mountain fix.
Karol - This must be killing Loran. In my and Steve’s excitement, we went a little crazy with pre-made plans. I know he had talked about Yosemite, but this is a family vacation and I’ll be damned if after spending three days in a climbing gym that I will be made a climbing widow in the Valley. Maybe if I give up a little peace offering…
Edge - I will have to work this out carefully. Steve had gone ahead, being the take charge kind of guy that he is, and also booked the last two nights of our stay at a campground in Tahoe, and one that was a bit removed from any of the climbing I wanted to do. That left me two nights and three days, parts of which would be spent driving to and from, to sneak in a Yosemite fix. It would be hot in July, and I had never climbed in Tuolumne, so I talked excitedly about it to Karol. I said how there was this beautiful peak there, Cathedral Peak, that Meg and I could do as her first truly alpine type climb to an actual summit, and this would be something that she would remember doing with me for the rest of her life, and…
Karol - I stopped him mid-ramble and said he could do it. I had played him like a fiddle.
Edge - It worked! I had hooked her like a fish. Here fishy fishy!
Meaghan - Um, hello, I know that I am the reason we are going to California in the first place, but don’t I have any input as to what else we will be doing? No? OK, well at least Dad did something to get in a day climbing at Yosemite. I get so tired of hearing his same old stories about the good old days; maybe I can begin to weave some Yosemite stories of my own. And a Giants game? Baseball, yuck!
Maxwell - We’re going to a Giants game? Cool!
Edge - I’m exhausted! The first week had been a whirlwind of sightseeing, bicycling, wine tasting, driving, cooking, eating, waiting in lines, and sleeping in tents. Steve’s house was too small for our whole family, so Karol and I had offered Meg the guest bed in order for her to be fresh for the big comp. This too was a good sign, as at the previous Nationals Karol had attended, she had not understood that this was a very big deal for Meg and I, that Meaghan needed to be 100% focused and well rested. This time Karol “got it”.
For the three days of Nationals I had arrived at the gym each morning by 7:30, and would be on my feet the whole time judging until mid to late afternoon. If I was lucky, I could sneak off to chow a hamburger sometime within 2-3 hours after noontime. I was allowed to pass off my judging duties to the head judge for each of the five-minute blocks that Meaghan was climbing; the other five climbers that I had coached all year I was only able to watch out of the corner of my eye, if at all.
Meaghan had waltzed through the Qualifying round, and in the nerve wracking
Semi-Final round had managed to make the cut as well, in itself a huge accomplishment.
Finals had not been so kind, and she finished in 11th place. I tried to remind her, as I do
every year, that there were a whole bunch of girls all across the country that had been
eliminated in Regionals, Divisionals, and each of the two previous rounds. “Hey, you got
|The 5.12a Qualifier|
Meaghan - 11th? Pffftt. Dad always tells me about the power of visualization. Well all year I had been visualizing pulling effortlessly through the routes, clipping the chains on the Final day, and standing on the podium. Ah, Dad? It didn’t work.
Karol - Well that had been exciting! Much better than in Michigan, when Meg had missed the cut to Finals. (Honestly, what had I been thinking anyway, voluntarily going to Michigan?)
Edge - Monday morning broke bright and hot, as they all do in Sacramento. I had been packed and ready to go five minutes after waking, but everyone else was taking entirely too much time loading up the rented SUV and getting ready. Karol’s niece Sandy had arrived from LA the previous day and would be accompanying us for the week; Steve would not due to work obligations. Sandy, in particular, seemed to be working on the laid back California pace that I had come to detest. Move it along people; we’re burning daylight here! When eventually I had herded the slowpokes into the car, I drove with a purpose. If I got us to Yosemite early enough, we could afford the time to drive through the Valley before backtracking to Tuolumne, showing my family the big stone and his neighbors. Sacramento is not too much above sea level, and we marveled at the change of scenery and terrain as we watched the elevation markers register higher and higher alongside the road. After climbing one particularly steep section of Route 120, we arrived at a rolling land of soaring peaks and towering trees. This was the California that I remembered!
Karol - Holy crap, that was scary! The switchbacks up that mountainside, no guardrail, trucks barreling down in the opposite direction; I felt like I was in a roadrunner cartoon. Thank God he’s a good driver. Hey, this is beautiful up here…
Edge - We hit the Park entrance at 1 PM and I took the turn towards the Valley’s one-way loop. Each turn in the road brought us new delights; for me the familiar tug of memories long removed, for the others the miracle of experiencing Yosemite for the first time. At each new view, each discovery, we pulled over to stand among the parked masses, with the camera shutters snapping, the oohs, and the aahs. Without time to get out and explore, the trip through the Valley left me flat. I had hoped to get everyone out to stretch and take the short hike into the Lower Falls, miraculously still flowing, but the parking lot was being worked on and it was not obvious where to park. We collectively agreed to book it to Tuolumne, hopefully to set up the tents before nightfall. As I drove past Camp 4, or Sunnyside as it had been mis-knighted during my era, I glanced over at the collection of tents, the Midnight Lightning boulder a fitting guardian. I had loved that place.
Meaghan - OK, so until now they had all been just stories, but these walls are big.
For as long as I can remember I have grown up with an Ansel Adams print of Half Dome
hanging on our wall, but there was no sense of scale. Occasionally Dad will stand and
look at it, and he loves to have me ask him to point out the line that he had climbed. Now
that I am here myself I must say, I will certainly look differently at that picture.
El Cap? Which line? Whoa. I want to do these too. Someday, I know that I will.
Edge - We backtracked to the turn off for the Tioga Road. Three of my four Valley visits had been in the springtime when the road had been snowed in, and on the one time that I had taken the road westward, it was after dark on a cloudy, moonless night. I had seen nothing, and was looking forward to eying the goods. This time I was feeling the same experiences as the rest of our band of travelers as we climbed still higher into the Sierras. Granite domes began emerging above, or in place of, the conifer forests. Rounding a bend to find the view at Olmstead Point set the wheels to smoking as I jacked on the break in a barely successful attempt to not miss the pullout. We jumped out and played on the granite slabs, my first touch of Tuolumne’s stone. It was different from the Valley’s, and yet it felt oddly familiar.
Karol - I can tell we’re gaining elevation, my ears are popping again.
I haven’t seen Loran this excited in a long time. He better keep his eyes on the road; he
keeps rubbernecking in four different directions all at once. Look at that view! Careful,
you almost drove us all through the windshield! Well slow down next time…
What is that? The backside of Half Dome? We have climbed that much already? It’s
beautiful. This whole place is beautiful.
|Max, Sandy, and Meaghan|
Edge - We played at Olmstead for a good twenty minutes, stretching our legs and
soaking in the view. Heading eastward we also stopped at Tenaya Lake. At each of the
last 4 stops we had been asked by an Italian couple in a red convertible to take their
picture with the scenery as a backdrop. By now they were just handing me the camera
without asking, just with a chuckle. The scantily tank-topped Italian woman was
gorgeous; I hope my natural male instincts didn’t crop her boyfriend out of the
viewfinder. I think it would have been awkward for me to ask them to stay posed while I
took a pic with my camera.
We rounded yet another bend and I screamed out, “There it is!” Every neck in the car
craned to look out the right side windows, and Karol asked me, “There what is?”
“Cathedral Peak,” I said excitedly.
Karol - Oh my God, I knew that he and Meg were doing a peak, but I sure didn’t imagine anything looking like that! It’s huge! Well, after seeing some of the other cliffs that he has climbed down in the Valley, I know he is capable. But is Meg? Loran is very protective of her, sometimes too much so; I guess I will just have to trust his opinion on this one.
Meaghan - “That looks cool. How long will the hike in be?” “An hour and a half? I
know you Dad, that means it will take two at least.”
It doesn’t look very steep, and it’s only a 5.6. I’m sure it will be boring. Why can’t he just
find some sport routes for us to work, this place is covered in rock, there must be some
good sport routes.
Edge - I really, really wanted to get an early start on this, to beat the crowds that the guidebook promised. That would have meant that Meg and I would have to get up by 5, and Karol would have had to drive us to the trailhead for 6. She had explained to me that everyone was tired from all the driving, and that she, Max, and Sandy would be doing the Cathedral Lakes Trail from the same trailhead, couldn’t we just wait until 8? It was another argument that was not worth making; I resigned myself to the fact that we would be climbing under a boatload of others. In the dim light of a headlamp I loaded up a smallish rack, the rope, some munchies, helmets, water, and the guidebook, dividing the load so that Meg would only be responsible for the rope. We all ambled off to sleep with light heads from the altitude and big dreams from the surroundings.
Karol - Who’s making all of that racket? It can’t possibly be 7 am already. Damn him, what’s so important about this climb anyway?
Edge - Thank God I didn’t wake Karol. I am way too amped to fake sleep any longer and need to get some food into my partner. I slowly unzipped Meg’s tent door in a failed attempt to not wake it’s other occupants, and shook her shoulder. “Let’s go!”
Meaghan - So this is for real. “OK, I’m coming.”
Edge - Getting everyone else ready is like pulling teeth from an alligator. I had let them sleep as long as I could wait, but other than Meg and I, these people are not climbers and just don’t “get it”. Even Meg, a ten year climbing veteran at the age of 15, does not “get it”, but that is precisely the reason that I am showing her the proverbial trad ropes now. Time can be precious in the mountains, and although we are in one of the Nation’s busiest parks on one of it’s busiest climbs, there can be no lack of planning or underestimation allowed. This is a big route, and we will be “going for it’.
Karol - I just want to relax and take my time getting ready for this hike but Loran won’t let me; he’s like a man possessed. I know Sandy hates this pressure. Her time in LA has made her a walking barbituate.
Meaghan - Dad is really pissing off Mom with his anxiety. I can see her getting madder by the moment at his pressure to leave. I must say, I don’t know what the rush is; we’re only doing a five-pitch route and should have plenty of time.
Edge - Finally, everyone is locked and loaded in the gas hog. It is already 8 am, so we are already late and Meg and I will have to make up for lost time somewhere along the way. During the short drive to the trailhead I tell Karol our itinerary. “Well, it’s supposed to be a 1 ½ hour approach, but we won’t be getting started until 8:30 now, so that puts us at the base of the wall by 10. The climb is five pitches of 5.6 and under, so at ½ hour per pitch (a rate Meg and I had easily established on our home trad crags), that puts us at the summit by 12:30. Allow two hours for the descent and you should see us back here by 2:30.” I then tried to explain to Karol the nature of the trad climbing beast, that by virtue of our late start we might be held up by others on the route, or by unforeseen circumstances. “If we’re late, just go back to the campground and we will find a way back”. Karol refused to accept this as an option, and insisted that they would wait at the trailhead for us. “OK, whatever,” I said. It’s a submissive phrase that I learned early in married life as a way to diffuse a situation. The five of us start up the trail, Meg and I leading the way and trying to speed the others up by example. Eventually we locate the climbers trail, so we wait for Karol, Max, and Sandy to catch up. I kiss my wife, promise to be safe, and pose with Meg for a picture. Our trail proves thin and sandy as we part ways with the hikers.
Karol - Meg looks so small next to him, but she has grown into such a confident young woman because of her passion for climbing. It amazes me that they can share something so intense together; I envy that, but am glad that they have each other to share this excitement. I’ll see them at 2:30.
Edge - Meg and I walked for some time, gradually gaining elevation by following a small stream through the rugged granite terrain. Having left virtual sea level less than 24 hours ago presented a bit of a problem in that Meg has very little experience with rapid acclimatization, and I myself have not dealt with the beast in far too long. We both chowed down some ibuprofen after the first thirty minutes, and Meg asked to stop and rest occasionally after that; a request I was happy to grant. Still, we managed to bypass another team of four who took a wrong turn and arrived at the base of the climb after two hours of effort.
Meaghan - The climb has grown from a small peak in the distance into a large wall
of granite staring us down. The first pitch is only a 5.4, so I ask Dad if I can lead it. I have
not lead a trad pitch before, but this is well within my limit and I have cleaned enough
gear to know how it all works. I am excited when, after a few seconds of thought, he
answers, “Go for it”. We rack up as I take pictures of a fat marmot sniffing around our
Edge - Having a child is a lot like my job as a furniture maker. You can start with
something beautiful, but if you do nothing you have wasted a precious resource. If,
however, you mold it and shape it, you end up with a work of art. I beam with pride as
my work of art leads her first trad pitch, in the high Sierra, before even I have sampled
Meg ties off the cordelette around a tree and brings me up. Oddly, her passive gear
placements, while devious, were perfect while the cam placements need a little bit of
Meaghan - The wind has really started to pick up as Dad has followed. Off in the distance I have watched the controlled fire near Glacier Point stir in the strong gusts and grow in anger. It is getting hard to hear anything but the howling winds passing by my helmet. I wonder what Dad thinks of my placements?
Edge - By the time I reach Meg, the wind has grown into a force to be reckoned
with. As a rather large person even I was getting bullied around by the gusts, and I have
enough experience to know what lies ahead. I lean in close to Meg at the belay and
explain to her the system of rope tugs that I have used in the past to denote such things
as ‘belay off’, ‘belay on’, and ‘climb’. She understands immediately, and I launch up the
The South Buttress of Cathedral Peak is a wide-open affair, with variations on every
pitch. With Meg and I on unchartered territory, I rely heavily on the guidebook to dictate
the easiest path to the summit, and yet there are so many features that it becomes hard to
decipher. With the wind, I grab every available belay ledge to anchor in and touch base
with my partner. Occasionally I can establish line of sight hand signals with her, but
otherwise rely on the somewhat trusting rope tug system. We advance in small capsules
of pitches, less than a full rope length, and we are not alone.
Walking in to the peak, I had noticed at least twelve climbers already on route. Hardly a
ringing endorsement of difficulty, but we were here not in search of a higher “tick”, but
rather as an opportunity for father and daughter to experience the magic of the Sierra
Most of the climbers that we had seen high on the face had gotten the early start that I
had wanted for us. That was all water under the bridge. We were on the lower half of the
face with one team of two just ahead of us, and two teams of two just after us. Higher up
we would converge with another group climbing as a team of four; everyone was cursing
the afternoon wind.
Meaghan - Tug, tug, tug. Dad’s belay is off. I wait for a few minutes; the extra rope gets hauled up. Tug, tug, tug; my belay is on. As I clean the anchors, the extra rope gets pulled up as it becomes available. He’s got me; I begin climbing. The wind has now grown in force, and although the climbing is well within my limit, I am fighting both it and gravity. At one point, I was crimping on one of Tuolumne’s notorious crystals when a gust made me bear down hard and it popped off in my hand, swinging me onto the rope. Damn, that wasn’t my fault!
Edge - Bit by bit we work our way up the face, locating the infamous chimney pitch as a brief reprise from the wind as I crawl into it’s belly. Meg, carrying a light pack, has to face climb considerably higher before entering the chimney due to the increased girth of the pack. I am now sharing belays with the party ahead of us with each lead. They are moving at the same speed as us, so I usually share a ledge with their rotating second, taking the protection opportunities that they have bypassed in their search for the quick and easy. At one point I take up residence anchoring behind a huge flake ten feet to the side of their team; despite us both yelling at the top of our lungs, we cannot communicate without the wind stealing our words. I just cannot hear the man. The wind is warm by New Hampshire standards, and although Meg and I have extra tops in her pack, we do not put them on. This is particularly odd sounding to our belay ledge partners, who have put on every available item of clothing that they have brought. An old man, I am trying to purposely act like a hard man; Meg is just doing it because she is tough.
Meaghan - OK, Dad has said this was going to be five pitches, but it’s already been eight. We are now on a nice, big belay ledge, and he has said it’s the last pitch. Is it? He has a way of bullshitting me that I don’t appreciate. I pay out rope as I watch him negotiate a 5.6 hand crack. We did not bring a whole lot of gear for a prolonged hand crack, so he uses it sparingly as he climbs, making some good size run outs. I have never caught Dad on an honest to goodness trad-sized whipper, and I sure don’t want to start now. He disappears over the granite horizon, and I call out asking if he can see the summit; the wind steals my words. For fifteen minutes I pay out rope in dribs and drabs, then not at all. Waiting for something, I feel one, two, then three distinct tugs. He is off belay.
Edge - What a summit! This thing is no bigger than a picnic table floating in the
high Sierra air. I haul in rope as Meaghan moves over the granite that I have just
climbed; I try to picture her progress with each armload of slack reeled in. I know she is
wondering if we are on the summit yet, and when she mantles into view and sees me on
my heavenly perch, she knows that we have reached our primary goal.
As she pulls onto the summit block, I verbally slap her back to reality.
Meaghan - I’ve never been anywhere like this! Almost 11,000 feet in elevation, air
all around, a tiny summit, a technical descent! We’ve done it! Dad lets me take a few
pictures and then reminds me that we are exactly half way from where we started this
We still need to descend and walk back to the trailhead. The guidebook describes a short
rappel, and then a third class walk off. Dad lowers me 40 feet to a large ledge and then
raps off of some scary looking fixed gear; the summit bolts not there as a testament to the
ever present ethic wars.
From here the descent off of the backside looks tame enough, but as Dad puts it, a
mistake would involve ‘consequences’. Hundreds of feet of slab would easily turn any
mis-step into a disaster. I am willing to unrope and scramble down, but Dad requires a
100-foot rap and then we stay roped together for me to pick a line down to the traverse
ledges. I go down first, snaking around scrub bushes as running protection. Once we
reach the base of Eichorn Pinnacle he finally coils the rope and packs it up.
Edge - The ascent to the ridge is not hard, but arduous. I warn my young Jedi to be cautious; that many accidents happen on descents. We reach the ridge, straddle it for a bit, and then drop down onto the slope neighboring the face we have just climbed. Surfing down on marble sized gravel, we descend quickly to the base. On the approach I had mentioned to Meg the importance of turning around frequently. Now we are familiar with the return, and are able to find it easily amid the high pine forest.
Meaghan - I’m pooped, but that was a lot more fun than I thought. We did it! I’ve hiked over the Continental Divide before, but this was way cooler. I also did my first trad lead. I can’t wait to tell Mom. “Dad, what time is it?”
Edge - 4:30; damn, we’re late. I hope Karol didn’t wait for us at the trailhead. Meg and I race down as fast as our tired legs allow.
Karol - Well, it’s 3:30 and still no sign of them. Sandy and Max are getting restless, so I suggest that we drive down to the lake for a cold swim. We are all concerned for Loran and Meg, but are sure if we just give them a few more minutes, they will be down. We return to the trailhead at 5:00 and wait for twenty minutes. No one coming out has seen them; perhaps they made it back to the campsite? We leave to check.
Edge - 5:30 and we hit the trailhead and the road. Three hours late, and I’m actually relieved that they are not still waiting for us. Wait a minute, we’re exhausted and are now looking at a mile and a half walk back to camp. Why aren’t they waiting for us? Meg and I began hoofing it back to the campground when we saw a bus stop sign at the ranger station. Fortunately, the bus arrived in 15 minutes and we hopped on board. We get off the bus and start the long walk to the far end of the campground at 6 PM.
Karol - Not at the campsite! Sandy is really freaking out, and making Max upset too. This isn’t helping me either… We ask a ranger at the campground entrance about search and rescue. We decide that if we don’t hear from them by 7, then we will report them missing. This is not good.
Edge - So, here we are back at camp, and they are not here. Oh well, I’m fried and so I dive into the bear proof locker and dig out a beer and some Brie with crackers. I know what has happened; we are past the time that I had said and they are all driving around in a panic. Unfortunately I am too tired at the moment, so decide to think things through with a cold one and some cheese. OK, maybe two cold ones…
Karol - Sandy is really pissing me off. She keeps talking about the worst-case scenarios, and Max is getting really upset. They are not here at the trailhead, but some climbers are coming down, maybe I’ll ask them. “Have you seen two climbers, a father and daughter?” “Did they have a yellow rope?” “Yes!!!” “They finished ahead of us. We saw them walking off when we were still on the summit.” Whew, at least they made it off, but where could they be? Maybe they did find their way back to camp and we missed them, but how? I leave sandy and Max at the trailhead as I make one last run to the campsite.
Edge - I bet they are back at the trailhead. I tell Meg to hold down the fort and I start steering my tired legs towards the road. The bus service has now stopped, so I will have to walk the entire way. Maybe I should wait it out with a third beer? I get ¾ of a mile into my walk when I see the black rented SUV come into sight. I wave my hands to get Karol’s attention; she pulls over, then walk up to the door. Ecstasy at my safe return? Unbridled joy? No, I get “the look”. You guys know what I mean. Yeah, that one, and it’s not good. I explain and apologize as we return to get Sandy and Max, who are both overjoyed at my presence. Within minutes we are back at camp with Meg. Soon, we are all prepping dinner and things are back to normal. Just another day at the crag.
9 Comments Add a Comment
amazing trip report.
I would had a tear of joy if I were you when she asked to lead.
|Great report. I love the differing perspectives!|
|Fun!! I did the cathedral for the first time last summer -- there was a free soloer who was at the top in 20 minutes -- I guess time is the cost of safety.|
|Great photos of the climb. Nice story too.|
|Great story! Isn't it wonderful that climbing is a bond that you can share with your daughter? How wonderful for her as well. I climbed with 2 of my 3 kids before they went off to college. It was a magical time for me.|
|OOOOO good for u|
|Hah! Good to see that life and climbing at your house is the same as mine. Any trip reports I do will reference yours for family complexity. Your family especially your spousal interaction regarding the climb is a carbon copy experience of what I would have. I'd over estimate the time. She'd be angry and then we'd kiss and make up. That's climbing! Argh!|
Super report,what about more photos?