YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
It was mid October 2010, I had just gotten back from the Australian ski season and was climbing with my good friend Nathan Murphy in the Peak district. The conversation went something like this:
So we left 5 days later on a two and a half week trip to Yosemite National Park to try and speed climb some big walls.
SAN FRANCISCO. When we flew into San Fran, it was the 23rd of October, so we knew we were cutting it fine with the weather being the end of the season. We arrived to an empty park, and there were maybe five other teams of people climbing in Camp 4. It was a very wet, cold and snowy trip, however we still managed to climb 3 big walls and various multi pitch climbs. I was teaching Nathan new skills as we went, and he did incredibly well. It was good style that he did 3 big climbs and had never spent the night on a wall or any idea how to haul. One of the main challenges was the light, there was not much of it so it made all day attempts much harder.
WASHINGTON COLUMN. Our first big climb was the south face of Washington Column. I had never done the route before and it is most people’s first big route in the valley. It is a 12 pitch route with easy free climbing mixed in with a few sections of C2 aid. We split the route into two sections, I did the first six pitches and Nathan did the rest. Normally for real speed you have one leader and one seconder, as you try and avoid coming together at all costs as it waste’s time. Although time was an issue, it was not a priority as this was a warm up route, and it was more about learning. Nathan had never jumared or aided before this was already a steep learning curve. For most party’s, the route takes 2-3 days however it can easily be done in a day. So naturally, we set five hours as a goal.
We ended up on the route quite late, and finished after six hours as the sun was setting. It was a great route, but I remembered, a tricky decent from doing The Prow four years earlier. So, being the king of bivis, I managed to convince Nathan that we should camp. We had no gear with us, and I was wearing some chinos, a t-shirt and a light hoody. It got down to zero degrees centigrade and we froze! We ended up having a very uncomfortable night’s sleep in a vigorous spoon, but avoiding hypothermia. It made for a memorable start to the trip. Making the descent in the morning was definitely the right move. On this wall, I also learnt that Nathan was very good at dropping things, but this always happens and you just have to improvise.
WEST FACE OF THE LEANING TOWER. We then went to do the west face of the Leaning Tower. This was in fact my first ever big wall four years before with Chris Bevins. Being on the tower again you remember how steep it is, and how it really schools you on how to jumar. Also, being on it a second time I thought next time I have to come back and free climb it.
We started early at sunrise as we slept at the base the night before. The walk in was not as bad as I remembered but it is always a sweaty mission. The first 2 pitches are a big reach bolt ladder, thrown in with some old copper heads and a few hooking moves which were great for Nathan. He flew on the first half, really getting the hang of short fixing, which is when you get to the end of the pitch, pull through the rope and carry on climbing self belaying while your partner jumars up. The second half was fun, and involves a large roof. When I got to the top, the sun was setting, and the alpine glow on El Cap was incredible. However the sun had set by the time Nathan had got up. We did the route in six and a half hours which was very respectable. We then abseiled down in the dark.
In between all the rain and big walls we managed to get some great climbing including two of my favourite routes, Serenity Crack and the Central Pillar of Frenzy.
HALF DOME. We then hiked up the death slabs, which aren’t half as bad as they sound. I would recommend to all parties to go up and down but watch your footing in places. Then, we were at the base of Half Dome. This was my main priority for the trip, and something I had wanted to do since meeting Royal Robbins and hearing him talk about it. We had planned to do it in about 8 hours, as we were moving well now and my usual climbing partner Chris had done it in 5 hours before. Therefore, I thought 8 hours would be respectable! This went out the window by the 3rd pitch, when things weren’t going our way. Nathan sliped on the first pitch and took a huge fall, which always knocks the confidence and then dropped the ropeman which is key when simul climbing. So we soon ditched the speed, and just enjoyed the climbing. It was incredible. The best route I have ever done, and I definitely want to go back to free it all. It was so much incredible 5.9 hand cracks - real dream climbing. I especially loved the squeeze chimney which is really a great squirm. My e-light broke with a dodgy connection which definitely spiced things up in the dark when seconding, but we made the summit after 21 hours. The cables had been taken down and we could not find them in the dark, so we had another cold night out, and walked down in the morning.
The next day it snowed, and this really dashed any hopes of any more climbing, as we had planned to do the nose in a day as well. Nevertheless, we had a great trip, and got a lot of climbing in considering the weather. It was then straight to San Fran for a few days to party, a great way to end the trip and all in all, it was a great two and a half weeks of life.
Yosemite National Park
Length of time: 2+ weeks
The Goal: Speed climb as many big wall routes that we had time for.