Damien and I spent our last evening in the High Sierra bouldering at The Knobs in Tuolumne Meadows. This is a classic, old school area for pebble wrestling in the Meadows of Yosemite. Thus, ratings often are rather sandbagged. Expect to add about 1-2 grades on to most problems. The area is HUGE, and there are a plethora of problems for boulderers at any level. Most boulders were on the highball side of the spectrum, but there are shorter rocks climb as well. The location is right beneath typical Yosemite domes on open slabs making for a lovely setting.

Damien and I started on Mushroom Boulder which is lower to the ground on the SE face. It’s a great warm up boulder with lots of V0s (though the one on the far right corner seemed much stiffer than the others). There is also a fun V2 right in the middle of the face. This problem (unnamed) was my first Yosemite V2. Damien completed his first outdoor V1 ever on this boulder!

We moved on to the Eliminator which is a tall boulder featuring the classic Snake Eyes (V3) and Double Dyno (V4) problems. I played on those but they were too high for me to feel confident with the bold moves. However, on the NE Face I was intrigued by the V0 on the tall wall. I was pretty confident about sending it with all the knobs, so I decided to give this “highball” a try (a highball for me anyway.. maybe 15-18 feet). After that success, I went on to attempt the V1 right next to it. This problem is considerably more difficult but the crux is low to the ground and the upper section is exceedingly mellow. I sent this too as well to be delight! Damien and I also climbed the V0s on Small Boulder right beside Eliminator.

Next, we journeyed beneath some trees to Creek Boulder and So Low. So Low is an overhung short boulder with a gnarly V1 & 2 that I just couldn’t get. Fun heel hooks though! Creek Boulder is very tall and most problems looked scary being up so high. I opted to climb Creek Arete though which is a large, knobbed VB about 20 feet high. It is also the “walk off” for the boulder.

With our hands fried we headed back to camp. It was the perfect ending to our trip. I highly recommend this bouldering area!

After spending several days in a noisy, front country campground in Tuolumne Meadows, Damien and I were ready to enjoy the tranquility of the backcountry. From Yosemite, we drove south through the desert to the small hamlet of Lone Pine, CA. The town looks something like an old Western movie and it is the jumping off point for folks looking to climb Mt Whitney. However, several months back we were unsuccessful in securing a reserved permit for the tallest mountain in the lower 48. I was able to quickly devise a Plan B and reserved permits for Cottonwood Lakes to climb Mount Langley (14,026 ft) & Cirque Peak (12,900 ft). Both of these climbs individually are an undertaking due mostly to the high elevation aspect. However, both were class 2 scrambles and required minimal technical ability. They share the same zigzagged ridge-line and are sometimes done a linkup. The Linkup option appealed greatly to us as the distance and endurance required to climb two high elevation peaks in a single day would provide a fun challenge. Plus I love tagging fourteeners!

From Lone Pine we turned onto Whitney Portal Road which is the main route leading into the Whitney Range. After several miles we turned off Whitney Portal and headed for the high country on Horseshoe Meadows Road. Normally I don’t describe the roads leading to the TH, but this one is worth mentioning. First of all, I expected a road that went up to 10,000 feet to eventually turn rugged and unpaved. As it turns out, its paved the entire 22 miles! The next feature worth describing is the design of the road. From the 4,000 ft sandy dessert it switchbacks steeply up the foothills into the high country as previously discussed. These switchbacks are all the edges of cliffs with severe drop-offs of thousands of feet! There is also a sign that warms of falling rocks and that for several hours a day you may find crews clearing the random rockfall! To top this whole extravaganza off there is no guard rail, so definitely drive with care! It is a gorgeous road though, unlike any I have ever experienced, and that fact that it journeyed up to 10k feet blew my mind. In WA our highest road tops out at only 7k!

We arrived at Horseshoe Meadows Camp at around 2:30pm. There are bear lockers here for any food/toiletries you may want to leave behind. Leaving these items in vehicles is an invitation for bears to break in! We shouldered our packs and began the 6 mile trek to basecamp on the Cottonwood Lakes/ Army Pass Trail. The trail winds though dusty, open forest for the first mile or so before crossing a creek and entering lusher woodlands. We knew we had 1000 feet of gain and expected it to be all in one place going up a pass or something of that sort as it normally is in WA. However, the gain was essentially spread out over the course of the 6 miles to our surprise. We also expected to find ourselves at various junctions as the map displayed numerous intersecting trails. Going to the basin the only turn we encountered was the signed turn off for New Army Pass.

Many folks climb Langley and Cirque via New Army Pass because it is a maintained trail. Unfortunately, it features lots of sweeping and unnecessary switchbacks up to the pass and adds 1 mile and 700 feet to the trip. We had opted to take (old) Army Pass instead. It was described in the beta as unmaintained with several washouts. However, it was a more direct route and we hate excess switchbacks. Thus, we passed New Army Pass and continued on the trail to Cottonwood Basin.

Upon exiting the forest and entering the open meadows of the Basin we were greeted with our first clear view of Cirque Peak. Directly to the right of Cirque is a massive rock formation that I thought was Langley at first, but it proved to me a minor cliff face. Langley is ff to the right of the cliff and only appears smaller since it is further in the distance. Damien and I followed the trail through the lush meadows passing the signed side track to Muir Lake.

We walked by Cottonwood Lake #1 which has a small ranger outpost beside it. There are five Cottonwood Lakes total. On maps they are unlabeled. Our permit was for lake #3 because our beta suggested it, but even the ranger at the station where we picked up our permits had no idea which lake was which. He said that as long as we camped at one of the lakes we’d be fine. They didn’t care which one. The map at the TH did have the lakes numbered however. Other than that I have found no record. We studied the TH map and decided that lake #4 would probably be better for us.

Damien and I continued on passing through small sections of trees that reminded us of the ones found in Madagascar. Lake #3 is the last of the lower lakes and it appeared to be the most popular camping area.  Several parties were there enjoying the early evening. We continued on toward Lake #4 which is closest to Army Pass.

We climbed up a steep hill about 100 feet and suddenly found ourselves in a more rugged, and alpine realm. We were surrounded by jagged cliffs and the grassy oasis was replaced by rugged terrain. Damien and I found the perfect camp complete with windbreak about 100 feet from the lakeshore (this is a requirement) and set up our home for the next 2 nights. To our delight, we had the entire lake to ourselves!

Damien and I are big fans of the  Alpine Start. Boots were on the trail at 3:30am the next morning. Our headlamps guided us around the lakeshore on a good trail to the rocky base of Army Pass. Here we were surprised to discover a very maintained trail. Every maintained trail in CA we had encountered on the trip ended up being maintained by Washington standards! The good track made a few switchbacks up the talus trending left to get above a cliff band. The tread then follows above the cliff band to the right to gain the top of the pass. The “washout” was one or two large rocks in the center of the trail that were easy to get around. We did encounter some snow patches but they were easy to go around or short enough to take a few safe steps through. We never used the crampons or axes we carried.

At the top of the pass we crossed the border of Inyo NF and entered Sequoia National Park. We turned right here on an unsigned, but obvious trail and followed the broad ridge of alpine vegetation until we reached more rocky terrain and  a big sign. The sign requested that visitors follow the carins provided and remain on the route to preserve the delicate environment. It also asks that climbers avoid making new carins and forbade the deconstruction of the existing carins. I’m not sure who had the time on their hands to disassemble the cairns provided on the route. They were 5-7 feet tall and resembled pyramids!

We followed the cairns through the talus and sand now gaining elevation, though not aggressively. There are good switchbacks and an easy trail to follow. Sometimes there are several dusty trail options to get from one cairn to another. It doesn’t really matter which you take as long as you reach the next carin. At one point we did need to use our hands to scale a short, rocky cliff. There was a class 2 and class 3 option here each with no more than 6 -8 easy moves. The route takes you to the edge of  the nearly level summit plateau. Then is is a quick stroll to the flat, summit block.

We arrived at the summit of Langley at about 8:15am. Of course, Damien and I were the only people there so early. The views spanning from the summit are breathtaking and we were surrounded by some of the tallest peaks in the country. Mount Whitney was even visible from our vantage point. We signed the register and took countless photos in the glow of early morning light. It was difficult to depart, but we still had another summit to climb!

We backtracked to Army Pass. Other climbers were just making their way up Langley. Most were coming from New Army Pass. From old Army Pass we needed to ascend about 300 feet up a hill to New Army Pass. We opted to not take the long sweeping switchbacks which lost elevation before going back up. Instead, we traveled cross country straight up, careful to avoid stepping on the delicate flora. It was pretty easy to keep our feet on the sand and gravel.

New Army Pass is signed and was more of a cliff outcrop than a pass at all. Peering over the edge I could see people sweating as they toiled up the infamous switchbacks from down in the valley. I was glad we took Army Pass instead. Cirque Peak was directly across from us and only 600 feet higher. However, to reach the summit we had to walk the horseshoe shaped North Ridge for 2 miles. There is no trail here at all, only talus. To our delight, the talus is not big and blocky, but consists of large flat rocks. It was some of the most fun terrain I ever encountered! We walked along the rock admiring the strange knobs and huecos as we went. Damien and I veered just slightly more right of the edge of the cliff to avoid unnecessary elevation gain to the various sub-summits. It was a relatively long walk, but we were having so much fun on the flat rocks we barely noticed. The last .68 miles the rocks grew less flat but there are easy sand tracks to follow made by big horned sheep. At the summit there are two markers and a register.

The view from this peak gave a marvelous perspective of the Cottonwood Lakes. We could also see the full route we had taken up Langley. We stayed on the summit for quite some time. However, in the distance peaks we could see several thunderheads developing. They were far off, but we were aware that it was not impossible for storm to brew over us as well even if it hadn’t been in the forecast. We journeyed back across the North ridge and descended to Army Pass.

We got back to our tent at 3:30pm which was much earlier than anticipated since we were scaling a fourteener. Spending so much time at altitude over the past 2 weeks had made the linkup easier than expected. It didn’t end up being the challenge we expected, but it was still are marvelous day! Plus, we even had time to take an afternoon nap; a rare luxury for us!

After another tranquil night at the 11,100 foot Lake #4, we packed up camp in the cover of the stars and shouldered our packs as the sun rose. We hated to leave the basin, but it was time to move on to another adventure. The early morning light made Cirque and Langley shimmer as we passed through the basin and back into the cover of the forest. The perfect conclusion to the high elevation linkup.

 

After some heavy smoke days and terrible air quality in Tuolumne Meadows, it seemed like the winds were changing the skies clearing. Damien and I set our alarm to 2am for the climb we had been thinking about since last November: Matthes Crest. Matthes Crest is rarely seen by anyone other than climbers. It is off the beaten path and obscured from view by Echo Peaks. The Crest is a lengthy summit and it allure lies in the ridge. The standard South to North Route climbs 2-3 pitches (5.5) up the South end of the mountain and then traverses for a mile across an exceedingly airy knife-edge ridge (ranging from class 3 to 5.4) to the South Summit. It is possible to continue on to the North Summit (5.7) and cross the rest of the ridge-line down to the other side, but this section involves little pro and down-climbing sketch 5.8 so it was not in our agenda. In fact, it is uncommonly done by anyone. The route is somewhat popular despite its longer approach hence our highly early start to the day.

We pulled onto the shoulder at the Cathedral Lakes TH and began walking at about 2:45am. We knew the first part of the approach since it is the same as Cathedral Peak. We took the trail toward Cathedral Lakes for about a half mile until we reached an obvious side trail on the left blocked off by some logs. We followed this trail along Budd Creek and then over slabs with rocks forming a walkway for about 1.75 miles. At this point the beta is to journey cross country so Damien took a bearing and we headed into the forest. Bushwhacking in the Sierra is not nearly as wretched as it is in WA. Basically, all you are dealing with is a meadow with some pine trees poking out and they don’t even have lower branches! No understory. In the dark, it was difficult to keep our bearing just right and we fumbled around for a while getting to the open slabs. Once on the slabs we continued toward Matthes eventually stubbing upon carins and then a well-trodden sandy, gravelly trail. We followed this track through the slabs and under the striking rocky summits of Echo Peaks. Then we rounded a corner and received our first view of Matthes as darkness began to lift from the sky.

It was HUGE! We stood awe-struck at the intimidating formation in front of us, letting the scale of the mountain sink in. It may have been intimidating but it was also intoxicating. Drawn forward by the Crest we descended about 300 feet through and forest and then across an green meadow with streams to the base of the mountain. We traversed right along the base slowly angling upward toward the start of the route on the far side of the mountain. The going was not difficult and we made quick work of the roughly 500-600 feet of gravel, grass and talus.

At the base of the route there was a single team just starting to climb. They spoke briefly to us mentioning that bad weather was going to move in somewhere between 11am-5pm.  There was a 30% chance of thunderstorms. This was news to us as we had been unable to check the forecast since Saturday just before entering the park nds back then it had been fine. Damien and I had a brief discussion and decided to go for it. We are fast simul-climbers and also knew that storms rarely started before 3pm. Plus it was only 30%.

Damien led up the first pitch, 5.3. It was about 120 feet and topped out at a good belay ledge. We decided to combine the next two pitches making for a long 200 foot, full rope length pitch. I led this section which climbed up some easy blocks before entering a crack system dihedral with knobs. I placed moderate protection as I went along until several feet up the dihedral. The crack would only take cams and I was simply out of the size I needed. I could not downclimb back to the ledge confidently, so I made a conscious decision to run it out. I don’t know how I held it together. The climbing was not difficult, but with your last piece of protection 25 feet below you suddenly the game changes. I remembered how high ball boulderers and free solo climbers took steady deep breathes. I copied them and focused carefully on each move, making sure every simple movement my body made was precise. Speed was sacrificed as errors could not be afforded. I think I placed about 4 pieces in over 100 feet. On my way up I wondered what I would find when I reached the ledge. I had no gear for an anchor. I needed natural pro and I hoped I would pull over the ledge to find a big horn or massive boulder. Thoughts like this, thinking ahead, kept me sane I a climbed high above my distant protection.

It seemed like an eternity on the wall, but I did eventually pull over the ledge. To my delight I was greeted by a giant boulder. I slung the boulder and set up my belay to bring Damien up to join me. When he arrived Damien prepared to lead the Simul-climb section and racked the gear. We folded our 60 meter rope in half to shorten it without the hassle of a kiwi coil.  A climber joined us on the ledge as Damien took off. Things were still much quieter here than on Cathodal Peak. With ten feet of slack in the rope I disassembled the anchor in preparation to follow. When the rope went tight against my harness I climbed up a few feet and pulled over to the ridge.

I was greeted by a true knife-edge. It was spectacular in both airy exposure and in sheer wild beauty. Ahead of me I could see Damien making his way up and over the first hump in the ridge. Enthralled I followed, cleaning gear along the way.

The climbing was not especially difficult. The exposure was heady though and any mistake even on the class 3 sections would result in a long fall. But luckily, exposure is awesome too us so we didn’t mind.  The rock is excellent quality with knobs, cracks and blocks. Nothing was loose on the ridge. Between the class 3 and 4 sections were areas of low class 5 mostly where there was a hump in the ridge. Often these features were intimidating from afar, but not difficult to climb. There were a few tricky moves though sprinkled throughout. Of course, 360 degree views of Yosemite engulfed us as we made our way along the knife-edge. It was glorious, but I did note building clouds.

The traverse to the South Summit took us exactly three hours, which is the estimated speed for someone soloing the route! We swapped gear once about 2/3 of a mile in. As we enjoyed the splendid views of the South Summit we observed the sky. It was blue with fluffy clouds, but the distant mountains seemed to have, at the very least, some rain. We lingered a bit before setting off for the descent. It was difficult to pull away. We had the summit to ourselves! But the next team was getting closer and we knew the weather could change in an instant.

To descend we needed to access the Notch between the South and North summit. Damien down-climbed the South summit and followed a 5.2 ramp system down to a tree as described in the beta. We switched leads at the tree because of rope drag. I led out following the ramp, but it led to a gully not a notch and it was on the wrong side of the mountain. I tried a different path with the same result before climbing back to Damien. Damien took a go at finding the notch and discovered that the topo beta we had neglected to mention that the ramp leads into a gully and then you must climb back up to the notch!

The temperature dropped and more clouds moved in as we unroped at the notch and descended several yards to the rap shrub. I rapped first and made it to another rap tree with a questionable mess of slings. However, I was not at the ends of my rope. We ended up doing a single rap down instead of the 2 in the beta, opting to downclimb a few feet of low class 5 rock. No sooner than we had pulled the rope and put on our approach shoes did the sky grow grey and the distant sound of thunder echoed of the rocky cliffs. Swiftly we scrambled down the easy talus and sand to the cover of trees. The team behind us? They decided to stay up on the mountain and climb the North Summit!

We ran into another team in the forest. They had bailed on questionable trees and shrubs partway down the ridge when they saw the weather moving in. We chatted for a bit as light rain began to fall. We needed to cross open slabs to return to the trailhead which didn’t sound all that appealing. They took off after some time. Damien and I lingered a bit more to see if the thunder would move off. It didn’t and the rain grew a bit harder. We decided to a least climb the 300 feet through the trees to the slabs and then decide how to proceed.

The thunder claps were not overhead when we reached the tree, nor were they loud cracks. No lightning thus far. We opted to move quickly through the slabs. About ten minutes in there was a flash of lightning and we hid in a small “canyon” in the slabs by a tree. Fifteen minutes later we began moving again. The storm passed us leaving nothing by lingering rain and distant rolls of thunder as we reached the Cathedral Peak Trail. It was still a long walk back, but having Jimmy Chin pass us on the trail made things go a lot quicker. We had seen him a year ago on the same exact date climbing the Grand Teton. What are the odds!? He and his team had also bailed on Matthes when the weather moved in.

 

For some reason or another I’ve always wanted to climb Clouds Rest. Maybe its the unusual name? The summit is between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows and affords magnificent views into the Valley, Half Dome and the High Sierra. Of course, when we started out at the Sunrise Lakes TH that morning the sky was thick with smoke from the new Wawona Fire, so the views weren’t quite as expansive. However, it was still a worthwhile scramble.

The trail begins near Tenaya Lake. The after the track crosses the Tenaya Lake drainage and it  heads  sharply south. There are a few junctions, but this is always a clear sign indicating Clouds Rest/Sunrise Lakes. After perhaps a half mile or so the relatively level trail begins to switchback up to the crest of Tenaya Canyon. This is the steepest section of trail throughout the entire 14.4 mile trek. Still it is well maintained and tamer than most trails in WA. At the top of the canyon ridge there is another signed junction. We continued right toward Clouds Rest.

The tread descends about 300 feet in the shadow of Sunrise Peak.Shortly after crossing an easy boulder field we entered a forest, traveling once again on level ground. There is small tranquil pond and several creek crossings. The trail in this section is pleasant, yet uneventful in terrain until the next trail junction. Here the forest begins to open up and the trail once widens as tread aims upward. It is not nearly as steep as climbing up Tenaya Canyon though. Just before gaining a long broad ridge the first view of Clouds Rest comes into view.

The summit seems like a much longer walk than it actually is. We gradually gained elevation following the broad, dusty ridge. The smoke was extremely thick and impenetrable on our right, but we still had some decent, albeit hazy, views on the other side of the ridge. Soon the trail reaches some pancake shaped rocks on the ridge. There is a small trail that journeys just below the peak for anyone who does not what the “scramble” to the summit. The description of the scramble is that it is a narrow, knife-edged, exposed ridge. We found none of this to be true. Yes, we were on a ridge with perhaps three or four brief class 2 moves. However, the ridge is nearly completely level and wider than most side-walks. It is in no way exposed or what I would describe as knife-edged. Regardless, the  pancake rocks were fun to climb and we quickly reached the broad summit. The Valley was completely socked in with heavy, grey smoke and Half Dome was all but swallowed by it. We still could see in other directions and during our time on the summit the smoke blew around a bit and gave as a faint glimpse of Half Dome. It was a pleasant day and we must of stayed on the summit for the better part of an hour. We were lucky to have the mountain to ourselves aside from some greedy chipmunks!

On the journey back to the trailhead we came across quite a few other hikers. I guess a late start is common in Yosemite. We prefer to start before the sun has barely crested the horizon!

 

Cathedral Peak is the most popular climb in Tuloumne Meadows of Yosemite and for good reason. The moderate climb features stellar rock quality, fun pitches and has a short approach. There are several variations of the climb which help with handling the masses to an extent, but all routes funnel to the Chimney pitch which effectively negates this. Damien and I were well aware of this alpine summit’s reputation for crowds so we opted to get a very early start to beat the rush. The book stated that arriving before 8:00 would put a team in a good place to avoid hold-ups.

We arrived at the Cathedral Lakes TH at about 3:30am and headed up the trail. Around this time Damien discovered that he forgotten his helmet, but we decided to keep going knowing that rockfall was not common on this climb. There were several junctions and we took a wrong turn causing us to loose time. Back on the main trail we followed the path by headlamp to a clear, marked off side trail on the left. We took this trail and followed Budd Creek for about 30 minutes. The tread then turned away from the creek and crossed over slabs. There was a “path” bordered by small rocks through the slabs which was handy. We reentered a dirt path through the forest, but after some time it seemed to peter out. We decided to just go directly uphill toward the peak. After some wretched, steep scrambling through talus, dirt and sand we reached the base of the peak and followed what appeared to be  a boot path up and to the right. However, as we looked at the topo and the wall of rock in front of us things just didn’t seem to match. We were taking the descent path up and were much too high! We backtracked down, again loosing time and finally made it to the start of the SE Buttress at 6:30am.

There was a team of 3 young women in front of us. They had 2 full width and length ropes and rope management was already an issue for them as they belayed the leader. As we prepared to climb more teams arrived and soon there was a t least 6 or 8 separate parties waiting to get on the route. Finally, the women were high enough so that Damien could begin leading. Meanwhile at the belay station the women were having a hell of a time untangling a bird’s nest of ropes and swapping gear inefficiently. Damien tried to offer advice to them when he got to the belay tree, but they just giggled and paid no attention. They moved slow even for a team of three so anything would have helped. It was frustrating for everyone waiting. There are other route variations as I mentioned before, but they are higher rated with 5.8 and 5.9 moves and some sections rated R. So not many teams were willing to start somewhere else. Bythe time I left the ground there were about ten teams in line.

The first pitch has some slabby moves followed by what appears to be a low angle hand crack. However, it is much steeper and harder than it looks. I was impressed by Damien’s lead. Damien continued to lead on the second pitch which was blocky with cracks. A fun, clean pitch for sure. We swapped gear at the next belay tree as we waited once again for the women. It took forever. Finally I lead out following a 5.7 corner and making an airy mantle move out onto the face. The hardest trad pitch I have ever led! From there I followed easy knobs to a ledge and belayed Damien up. It was not the end of the pitch but I was held up behind converging teams. I led up the 2nd half of Pitch 3 to a large ledge . Here is where everyone was bottle-necking. There are 3 options: far left was a class 4/ low 5 “escape to summit”, in the middle a scary looking steep face and to the right a tight chimney. Everyone was lined up at the Chimney. We first opted to skip the line and do the “escape”, but I discovered as I led that there was little protection and the rock was loose. I downclimbed and we ended up waiting in the now long line to climb the Chimney.

Damien led this section as I had issues getting into the feature. It requires climbing up either side of the walls just outside the chimney which are rather polished and then shoving oneself inside an extremely tight space via an exposed step-over. Getting inside is difficult on its own, add a pack and it’s downright gnarly. Damien managed to squish himself into the Chimney and slither up inch by inch. Then it was my turn. After wrestling myself inside the narrow slot I found myself mostly stemming up unlike everyone else I had watched climb it. It seemed to work well for me though.

Damien belayed me from the top of the Chimney and I took over leading the rest of the pitch, though I ended up stopping to belay him once more due to other teams in front of me. Finally, I pulled over a flake and descended a few feet to the base of the summit block. There was an easy crack system for the final few meters to the top where I built a gear anchor in the cracks. Damien joined me on the summit shortly after along with a few other teams. We didn’t linger as it was getting late. I lowered Damien down the summit block and he then walked around the 4th class corner placing gear. I followed him to a small alcove where we untied and made our way on third class terrain to a rappel tree. After re-tying a sling, which had a dangerous overhand knot, with a proper water knot we did two rappels to low angle terrain. Then we followed the ridge and crossed over to the same boot-path we had taken in the error that morning. When we arrived back at the base it was 6:30. We spent 12 hours on the route, but only 4 hours climbing! On the way out we discovered there was a good trail all the way to the base of the climb. We had somehow gotten off that path that morning in the darkness.

The moral of the story is to start this route in the dark. Also, we saw many folks using questionable anchor techniques and knots. Most teams treated this climb like a roadside crag and had no alpine experience. This was scary being that this is definitely an alpine summit. Something to keep in mind. The good news is that the route is indeed stellar and the views ridiculously awesome the whole way up. Just expect to share it with a lot of teams.

Traditionally, after driving through the night to our destination, Damien and I always do a short day hike. After spending 17 hours in the car we are not in condition to do anything technical or long when we pulled into the park. Damien and I arrived at Tuolumne Meadows in the high Sierra of Yosemite National Park around 9:30am. After registering at the campground and setting up our tent, we headed out for our first summit: Lembert Dome.

Lembert Dome, is a short hike of about 2.5 miles out and back and 870 feet of elevation gain (summit is 9449ft). However, Damien and I decided to do a slightly modified version of this popular out and back trip. We made it into a loop with a detour to Dog Lake. This made the trip probably about 5.5 miles and added roughly 100 feet of gain.

Instead of starting at the overflowing Lembert Dome Parking Area, Damien and I parked on the shoulder about 1/4 mile away from the Ranger Station. We then followed the roadside trail about 1.5 miles (it is on the meadow side of the road at first and then crosses the street to follow the John Muir Trail). The John Muir Trail eventually leads to the Ranger Stables. From here we continued about another 1/4 mile down the road to pullout. We crossed the street and followed the signed trail into the woods toward Lembert Dome.

The trail climbs uphill immediately, but it is not by any means steep. There is a sign pointing to the side-trail to the summit of the dome after about .3 or so miles. We took this junction and followed the trail through forest until reaching open slabs to the summit. There are many route options here. The easy way is to climb straight up the first bump to where the summit is visible. Then head left over easy slabs and come up the back of the summit. We took a more scrambly route (five or six class 3 moves) directly up to the top of the Dome.

After admiring the hazy, but expansive views (wildfire smoke tainted the air) we found a bit of shade under a boulder. we took a comfortable nap for about 30 minutes, before descending back down to the main trail. Here we turned left (following signs for the parking area and Dog Lake). After ~.25 miels we reached another junction and turned right to do a short side trip to Dog Lake .3 miles away. Dog Lake is popular for swimming and there were a few groups  playing in the cold water. We settled with wading in knee deep.

Damien and I journeyed back to the main trail and continued descending steep switchbacks toward the parking lot, Soda springs & The Stables. We could have returned to the parking lot and then walked along Tigoa Road about a mile back to our car.However, we decided to return via the Soda Springs Trail/Stables. We took a turn in this direction about 1.5 miles after the Dog Lake Junction. This trail led to The Stables Parking Lot. We walked through the parking lot to the marked Soda Spring Trail.The Trail leads down to a wide gravel path. We turned right onto the path and then took the next left over a bridge, through the meadows and back to the road to our car. Kind of a crazy loop, but we enjoyed it nonetheless and tagged our first summit of our Sierra Trip!.

One of our big goals for this Yosemite Trip was to learn aid climbing, both leading and following on jumars. We were lucky enough to find two great location to practice and learn.

Housekeeping Boulders:

Oddly enough this bouldering area also had 2 practice C1 aid routes on bolts. The two routes are located on the first huge boulder to the left of the LeConte Memorial. There is on route behind the boulder on a gradual overhang and another route on the right side of the boulder under sharp overhang. There was a group on the sharp overhang on our first visit so we ended up on the gradual overhang. This route is actually harder. The bolts are very far apart and I had to get on the top ladder step to reach the clips. Often it took a few attempts to clip and I had to use a rivet hanger to reach one bolt (loaned to me by the neighboring team who offered coaching as well). We visited the wall 2 more times on the trip using the sharp overhang route which is easier… at least to lead. That route took the life out of us as we tried to figure out the best way to jumar up and clean. We tried a re-aid technique, a straightforward jug technique (most taxing) and one jumar/grigri ascension technique. Re-aiding seemed to be the best way, but overhanging jugging is a fine art we’ll need to work on for sure.

Church Bowl:

After practice on the bolts, we felt pretty good about trying to aid on trad gear on a wall. On our last day in the Valley we went to Church Bowl wall across the street from the Majestic Hotel. We had seen a good finger crack on the right side of the wall perfect for aiding at C1 on another day we were trad climbing in the area. Damien was first up the wall. The biggest difference is the uncertainty of placing gear above your head and not being able see see fully how it is seated. The other big thing was getting used to the fact that the gear doesn’t have to be good enough to take a fall. Just good enough not to pop when you step onto the ladder. I found the same thing when I led the route later. We also both agreed that jugging up a straight face with infinitely better than an overhang!

I see big walls in the future! I could definitely get more into aid climbing!

Last time we went to Yosemite The road to Glacier Point was closed. We came earlier this year so it wqas open and several hours of climbing we decided to visit the South Rim along the Glacier Point Road for a late afternoon hike. The drive is about 45-60 minutes from the valley to the Sentinel and Taft Point Pullout. We Most folks do one of the other of these destinations, but we did a 6 mile loop. We first went right into the trail to the Sentinel which is a typical Yosemite Dome. As you approach the dome it appears unclimbable without technical gear, but the trail curves around to the other side of the summit which is much lower angle. Not much. The elevation gain to the summit was about 450 feet. The summit is at 8035 feet. Lots of foot traffic as expected since it is only 1.1 miles from the parking lots, but a worth-wild destination for the spectacular view of the valley.

Backtracking down the Sentinel we turned left onto the trai heading to Glacier Point and then then left again at the next junction to Taft Point. We followed the Pochoco Trail to Taft Point and the Fissures for about 2.7 miles (following the signs to Taft at the junctions).

The Fissues are just before Taft Point and are large cracks in the Rim Wall, Taft point has a benchmark, but it is more of an overlook than a summit. Again great views of the Valley. On the way back we took the trail to the parking lot at the junction for .5 miles completing the loop. Short by scenic trip and a great break from pulling on rock for a few days.

Damien and I climbed Regular Route (5.5) last time we were in Yosemite last November. It had been kind of an Odyssey for us back then since we were out of practice on rock and new to the Valley. This year we redeemed ourselves. Sunshine Beach wall is located to the right of the Lower Falls. The Route begins about 100 feet up a third call gully at a god belay tree. I lead the first pitch this time around. Last year I was glad I hadn’t led it… and now here i was leading the pitch. At first glance in looks very easy, but there are many awkward moves with questionable feet. I’d say the biggest issue is the problem solving on the committing moves on tiny numbs of granite. The pitch is about 90 feet end ends at a nice belay tree.

Damien led the 2nd pitch. It pretty long angle and going right around a hump by the tree and out onto the exposed wall. There is are a few fun moves onto the ledge to a boulder problem moved leading to the next tree belay. Last year I had an issue getting up the unprotected boulder problem so I had gone around to the right on onto the unprotected but less reachy face. This time when i followed I got up the boulder problem with no issue using a slopper. I guess I’m stronger? I think this pitch was also about 90-100ft.

The third pitch was our nemesis last year. The 5.4 variation seemed way to exposed on unprotected (to the right), so Damien had lead up the 5.5 direct route. Some committing exposed moved and the whole ordeal of trying to get onto the 5.4 route psyched him out and I went up to finish the pitch lead. But I was terrified the whole time and it took forever. Thus year he flew up the pitch and when i followed I could not understand what my problem had been. This was supposed to be the final pitch, but we split it in two since there is horrible rope drag when the rope is extended the full 60 meters which is how long the pitch is. Damien and I switched leads just above the crux on the gear anchor. I followed the low angle cracks up to a big shady tree about 100feet up. We then opted to switch leads again and pitch out the low angle but exposed slabs to the true top of the ledge.

The climb is a walk off and we followed the climbers trail to the right along the forested ledge to a talus field above the valley where we descended to the trail following carins. This route proved our progress over the past year and was a big accomplishment for us. Our mental aptitudes have grown vastly since almost a year ago!

 

Yosemite was granted a very heavy duty rain storm over the weekend and when the skies began to clear on Monday the Upper Falls, previously dry just days before, was gushing with water. Since the rock will still wet, we decided to make Monday our hiking day and headed onto the Trail to Upper Falls (starts at Camp 4). The trail is pretty steep at times and ascends 2800feet in about 3.4 miles to the brink of the Upper Falls. The path begins in the forest on typical switchbacks. As the tree open the trail gets steeper and our first views of well, mostly mist, were revealed. After ascended for about 1400 feet the trail drops 200 feet to avoid and slab and curved around the shoulder of the rock wall to a wonderful viewpoint of the Falls. After a short section of flat hiking the trail goes into what seems like endless switchbacks until it reaches the top of the North Rim. Here signed point to the right toward the overlook. A quick 1/2 mile jaunt over rock and down some stairs with a rail led us to the top of the deafening falls and views of Yosemite Valley still partially covered in mist.

After a quick break and snack we backtracked to the Junction. We followed left hand turn from the valley bottom and toward Eagle Peak. There are a few junctions on this gently ascending trail, but they are all well signed with arrows to Eagle Peak. The elevation gain here barely noticeable as you trek through the pine forest. Finally a junction is reached with a sign indicating the summit of Eagle. We took this trail which was also not very steep to the rocky summit. It features maybe 2 or three 3rd class moves. It was still misty, but the clouds were break every few minutes revealing a great view of Half Dome! It was hard to leave the summit. The mist gave everything a real high sierra feel and laying on the rocks was just addicting. But we reversed route. We ran into throngs of people on the Upper Falls trail and were very happy we had started early in the morning before light (typical us).

The mist did manage to fully clear on the way down so we were granted perfect views of Half Dome in vivid afternoon light. But nothing could compare to the solitude of the morning where we had the North Rim to ourselves in the mist.