Wednesday, 18 November 2015

'Murica Part 1: The Rocky Road to Mount Watkins (Yosemite Valley)

Stephen approaching the "bomber" Pitch 13 pendulum anchor
on the South Face route of Mount Watkins.
"...You get up to 3 upward-driven pins that are equalised as an anchor, and that was the pendulum point for aid climbers to swing over. [...] When we did it, there were 3 upward-driven pins. When I went back [...] 5-days before doing the Triple [...], one of the pins had fallen out and there were now 2 pins, upward-driven. And there was still an anchor and the other pin was just dangling there below, and I was like "well that's sketchy". And then when I solo'd it in the Triple, there was only 1 pin left and there were 2 dangling!"

- Alex Honnold discussing Pitch 13 on the South Face of Mount Watkins

Notoriety for falling off stuff... Now that's
the type of fame *I* can aspire to!
Leaving Australia at the absolute height of my "climbing fame" (see this article on Rock and Ice: ), my climbing partner Stephen Varney and I headed to America to find out what all this "Yosemite Valley" hoo-ha was all about.

Two Australians, One a Priest, the other a Philosopher, drive into Yosemite Valley sounds like the opening line to a joke, and perhaps the punchline was on the Catholic Church for letting a heathen like me ride Stephen's coat-tails (Priestly Robes?) and stay in the Rectory in Yosemite Valley for 5 weeks for free... or maybe the joke's on me, for being indebted to Stephen's connections to the Catholic Church in the Valley (and a particularly awesome parishioner called Dave who resides within the Valley) for making this leg of my trip to 'Murica incredibly cheap and quite cushy considering my dirtbag status... But regardless, two Australians, one a Priest, the other a Philosopher, drove into Yosemite Valley, and both returned to Australia without having murdered each other and having had a radical time, so regardless of who was the butt of that particular joke, I'm certainly not in a position to complain.

Any questions?
After being blown away by the initial vistas encountered upon arriving in Yosemite Valley, and picking our collective jaws up off the ground after getting our first real view of The Nose on El Capitan, Stephen and I began the trip with a short day of cragging at Church Bowl crag (appropriately named, ay?). Tackling some easy-ish granite slabs in the rain, we both soon learned that the glacial-polished granite and climber-polished wear on the popular routes meant that Yosemite Granite has more in common with ice-skating than the granite climbing we were both used to... particularly when it came to smeared feet on friction slabs. The Valley also proved to be living up to its reputation for sandbagged grades (which would be further confirmed in the following months after I left The Valley and climbed elsewhere in America).

Running it out on Pitch 3 of Nutcracker.

On the 2nd day we hit up the classic 5-pitch 5.8 crack "Nutcracker", which lived up to its 5-star classic static, but also confirmed my fears regarding the hyper-polished footers, as I certainly felt like I was working a lot harder than I ordinarily would for a mere grade 16 trad route! We finished the day doing some other single-pitch climbs at the Manure Pile Buttress (including two R-rated routes, to get our collective heads into gear for the more psychologically intimidating climbing to come in the following weeks), but finished the day early in preparation of the following days adventure.

Mimicking Timmy O'Neill on the bold Pitch
4 of the East Buttress.
Day 3 was a significant step in our Yosemite Initiation Process, as we tackled The East Buttress of El Capitan, a 13-pitch 5.10b (grade 19/20) route off to the extreme right side of El Capitan. Though not really regarded as "an El Cap route", it's still an engaging introduction to the longer and more committing climbs in Yosemite, and would also require us to descend the infamous East Ledges from the top of El Cap, something we'd need to have dialed if we were going to do one of the Big Wall routes on that wall.

The climb began with a funky chimney leading to a technical stemming corner, and was followed by the crux Pitch featuring an unprotected friction-slab traverse into a really cool shallow groove-feature which I stemmed up, and linked into the next pitch. Pitch 4 starts with a bold rising traverse to gain an exposed arete (the cover of the Yosemite Free Climbs guidebook features Timmy O'Neill soloing this pitch), and was (in my opinion) where the climbing went from being "standard trad-multi" to something really special. To my left was an awesome view of the entire East Face of El Capitan, to the right was Glacier Apron and Half Dome, and here I was riding this exposed, easy-ish, and fairly runout arete. This was my "I'm in bloody Yosemite Valley!" moment.

Stephen turning the "5.9" roof onto the super-polished
slab to finish Pitch 7.
I linked Pitch 6 and 7 into a giant 60m pitch (I actually ran out of rope and had to belay a few metres down from the actual belay point), with extremely varied face, corner and crack climbing, culminating in an improbable series of moves through a rooflet and onto a slippery slab.

Next up I linked Pitches 8 and 9 into a 55m pitch, which commenced with some intimidating moves up a prow and a rising traverse beneath an arching rooflet, before leading terrifyingly to a steep, polished offwidth which I didn't have any gear capable of protecting. After sketching my way up the offwidth, I ran-out the pitch 9 section placing only about 2 bits of gear in 25m of predominantly face climbing (mostly because I had no gear left to place).

After the relatively short 10th pitch, I led the stunning 11th, which is described in the guide as the "psychological crux of the route". Leaving the belay, I had to traverse right, climbing and downclimbing several undercut flakes/blocks, placing minimal gear to avoid epic rope drag. I then headed up an incipient vertical crack system with some Blueys-esque thin face moves thrown in for laughs. This was probably my favourite pitch of the route, as it was airy and isolated (you're out of sight of your belayer after the first few metres of climbing), with crucial gear-management to avoid rope drag, somewhat tricky gear placements, and a wide variety of moves to keep it engaging.

The upper slabs on the East Ledges Descent Route.

Stephen ran up the 12th Pitch, I waltzed up the doddly 13th Pitch, and the two of us made our way down the East Ledges descent, which proved to be easier to navigate than we'd expected, and thankfully had fixed ropes on all 7 abseils. Despite these boons, it also featured some incredibly sketchy 4th-class slab downclimbing, which would be quite deadly to attempt after rain.
The "Wild Dykes".

We arrived back at the car right on dark, and cruised back to base for some well-deserved beers.

We had a late start on the 4th day, and headed out in the scorching afternoon sun to tackle the famous Serenity Crack (3-pitch, 5.10d) and Sons of Yesterday (4-pitch 5.10a) directly above the historical Awahnee Hotel.

The bizarre pin-scar pods, as seen from the start of Pitch 1
of Serenity Crack. The 1st bit of gear is at the overlap
feature in the top 1/4 of the picture.
Serenity Crack is particularly unique as an argument against the type of aid-climbing that features nailing, as it was once a hairline crack, which excessive nailing over time turned into a free-able line of pin-scar pods. It commences with a 7m runout of slippery 5.9 thin pin-scarred pods (particularly scary to do in the full summer-sun) before you place your first bit of gear, and continues for 35 more metres up pin scar pods of varying degrees of depth and usefulness, with the 5.10a cruxes coming in the form of sections that aren't as excessively pin scarred (and consequently more featureless, insecure and harder to protect). By the top of the pitch I was breathing hard, and my ankles were killing me from standing in the pods, but it was an absolute ripper of a pitch that I was glad to Onsight considering the heat.

The second pitch wasn't as sustained at 5.10a, but probably had harder moves in the form of the two cruxes. Stephen onsighted this pitch in fine style, leading up a tricky rattly fingerlocking section through a bulge, then performing a balancy (and intimidating) traverse right to leave the rapidly fusing initial crack and join another thin crack. The new crack began with some seriously insecure moves up the initial seam, and continued up sustained bomber fingerlocks to the anchor. Stephen thought he'd make this pitch a bit scarier by opting to lob his entire rack of wires at some climbers on the ground below, leaving him with very little gear to adequately protect the 2nd crux and above. Talk about hardcore.

Team selfie from the base of Serenity Crack.
The 3rd pitch is the crux, and harbours an intense finale as the 5.10d crux resides in the final few metres. It starts with steep crack climbing up twin right-facing flakes on perfect jams, to a small stance before the crux. I cruised to this point, loving every moment, fiddled in some alright gear, then committed to the crux. The crux itself is vertical fingerlocks between spaced pin-scars, with absolutely no feet for about 5m. Though it's embarrassing to admit it, I tried to stop part-way up the crux to place gear, and eventually pumped out and fell off. After a brief rest, I committed to this section properly, not stopping to place any gear, and climbing in bad technique, as I wasn't trusting my skatey feet at all, and basically just used my pure crack-climbing strength to yard my way up these fingerlocks to the final slopey mantle (which felt decidedly scary when I looked back down at my last bit of gear miles below). As you might imagine, I was pretty disappointed with my performance (though I could maybe blame weariness from East Buttress the day before, or the baking sun as mitigating factors), and rather than deal with the absolute cluster of people trying to work out how to abseil from my anchor at the end of the pitch, I chose to link it into Pitch 1 of Sons of Yesterday for a giant 55m pitch (with almost no protection in the last 15m, as I had no more gear to place). But regardless of my failure to onsight something well within my limits, it's a cracker of a pitch, and worth the effort to get to it to try for the onsight.

After Stephen joined me at the end of the first pitch of Sons of Yesterday, in a moment of softness, we decided that we were sick of the intense sun and the crowds of climbers bumbling around on the pitches above us, and chose to rap back down to the ground and call it a day. Regarding the climb itself, I'd say that the top two pitches of Serenity Crack are absolute classic, and I don't doubt that the rest of Sons of Yesterday deserves its reputation... But the first Pitch of Serenity Crack, though involving some outrageously cool climbing, is pretty sketchy and painfully unpleasant, making it a hard sell to justify going back up again for the tick.

The following day was mostly just a rest day, involving a trip into Oakhurst to buy food, and a brief aid-climbing refresher session at Church Bowl crag before tackling the real objective of this first leg of our Yosemite Trip:

The South Face of Mount Watkins (910m - 19 pitches - 5.10b C2+)


Though we didn't know it at the time, the South Face route on Mount Watkins (climbable at a minimum of 5.9 C2+, though based on what we onsighted I claim 5.10b C2+ for our ascent) has a reputation as being harder than the The Nose on El Capitan, or the Regular Northwest Face route on Half Dome, and as with these other routes, it's the 3rd "major face" of Yosemite Valley (which forms The Triple Enchainment as solo'd by Alex Honnold last year). It's only a few hundred metres shorter than The Nose on El Cap, is longer than The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, has more difficult access and descent from the summit than either, and due to it's unpopularity is quite loose, vegetated, and with lots of the original manky bolts.

The 1st of 9 fixed ropes and 300m
of Jumaaring to get to the start of
the climbing.
Talking to locals at Camp 4, I learned that many parties don't even make it to the start of the climb due to the extremely demanding access (involving more than 2 hours of bush-bashing up a hill with tricky navigation, and 300m of jumaaring up fixed ropes of dubious quality). Stephen and my attention was originally drawn to this route because we wanted to tackle a big wall which was shorter than The Nose (though, admittedly, we only looked at the number of Pitches, rather than the actual length of the climb), had predominantly pitches that we could climb free, with only a handful of pitches of mandatory aid, and wouldn't be swamped with the crowds of the more conventional big wall routes in The Valley. I have to admit that I was also intrigued by the obscurity of this route, as despite being one of the 3 major faces, it doesn't really get climbed all that often.

Stephen at our gear stash near Tenaya Creek.
X marks the spot.
I went out for a recon lap on Sunday (our 6th Day in the Valley) while Stephen led Mass for the Catholic Parishioners at The Pines. Starting at Mirror Lake, I hiked along the main trail to Tenaya Creek, then bush-bashed my way up Tenaya Creek for several hours to the start of Tenaya Canyon, where Mount Watkins first came into view. After getting lost trying to work out how to get to the base of the main cliffline, I eventually arrived at the first of the 9 fixed ropes encompassing more than 300m of jumaaring. As carefully as possible I jugged each rope, backing up wherever possible (sometimes there were multiple fixed ropes on a pitch), testing all ropes before committing, and knotting/repairing damaged ropes as I came across them. After eventually arriving at the base of the actual climb, I deposited the small gear-stash I'd brought along, and rapped back to the ground. On the walk back down I ran into Stephen, and we cached a second volume of gear a short distance back down Tenaya Creek from Mount Watkins.

On our 7th Day in Yosemite Valley, Monday 21st September 2015, Stephen and I set out to tackle our first big wall. We hiked all the way back to Mount Watkins, jumaared the fixed ropes and brought the entirety of our gear stash to the base of the actual climb. In the early afternoon (and in the worst heat of the day) we commenced climbing the bottom pitches with the goal of fixing ropes on the first 3 vertical pitches and sleeping the night on the comfortable ledge below the climb.

Stephen on the last of the
fixed-rope Jumaars.
Stephen high on the 90m Pitch 2 to the top of
the pillar.
The first Pitch is a rope-stretching 70m of easy 5.5 climbing (about grade 14/15 climbing) to a dubious belay. Stephen led the second 90m pitch (necessitating some simul-climbing) at about 5.7 (gr17) to the top of a very obvious pillar feature in the middle of the wall. After that (though, for some reason, not actually counted as individual pitches) you have to do 2 x 50m pendulums, whereby you rap down 50m from the top of the pillar, and make a massive pendulum rightwards to gain a ledge. After both climbers reach the ledge, you get to repeat the process to reach another ledge even further right and lower down. This turned out to be quite tricky as a lot of sideways motion was needed to make the distance on the pendulum, and with the pillar to smash into if you lost momentum and swung backwards. Stephen had the nerve-racking duty of managing both of these pendulums, and eventually, at about 4pm we arrived at the start of the 3rd pitch.

Stephen on the 2nd (easier) pendulum. Vertical wall-running
is apparently his specialty.

The 3rd pitch at 5.10a wasn't too hard, but immediately was quite scary as I climbed up vegetated, loose blocks on vertical terrain and with bad gear. The real saving grace for the pitch was a short but intense finger-crack through a rooflet and onto a smooth blank face, but unfortunately was followed by more loose rock and unprotected gardening. Arriving at the belay we fixed 3 ropes to the ground, and retreated to our campsite right on dark.

Having been slaughtered by the heat in the brief amount of time on the wall, I decided to go all the way back down the fixed ropes to refill some extra water bottles at Tenaya creek to bring our total to 16 litres between the two of us over the 2 following days. This of course necessitated yet another trip up the fixed ropes, but by the time I arrived back at our camp on the ledge, I was so tired I slept like a baby.

Stephen, dead as a doornail, at our camp below Pitch 1.
The men below their mountain. Full of optimism.

Attempting to free the brilliant 5.10c Pitch 5,
and failing due to a frustrating foot slip.

We commenced jumaaring up our fixed ropes early the next day, and Stephen led the 4th pitch (a mixed aid/free pitch through a roof and up a wide crack) at first light. I tried to free the next seam/corner/wide crack pitch (at 5.10c) but had a silly footslip on the lower crux which robbed me of the Onsight. Next up was a super-runout pitch of face climbing with some very creative (and basically rubbish) gear, followed by 2-pitches of ledgy corner-crack climbing which I linked together (with hideous rope drag, despite placing almost no protection for the specific purpose of minimising rope drag) to arrive at the "Sheraton Watkins", a big ledge which is supposed to be a good bivvy spot, but looked utterly terrible.

In every good epic, there's a point where the proverbial wheels fall off, and it all goes to hell. At this point, Stephen and I had been baking in the sun for most of the day, an experience made worse by the polished white granite amplifying the onslaught, and driving home the fact that for the modern climber, 4 litres of water per person per day (remembering that this volume has to last each of us for all 24 hours of that given day), really wasn't enough in these conditions.

Stephen high on the notorious C2+ aid pitch, right as the
sun vanished behind the west-towers of Mount Watkins.
The next pitch off the Sheraton Watkins was Stephen's, and was a true C2+ aid pitch which was thin, vegetated, a bit loose, with super-fiddly gear (most of which subsequently popped out when I tried to jumaar up the fixed line on Second) and notoriously bad bolts. Suffice to say that despite fairly efficient climbing to this point, this pitch was slow, hard and sketchy, and both of us were becoming delirious with dehydration (something which seems to echo the infamous 1st ascent of this route, whereby the first ascensionists budgeted at 1/2 litre of water per person per day in summer!). After 2 hours of tenuous aiding, Stephen discovered that the last bolt in the final bolt ladder had fallen out, but had left the sheath stuck in the bolt hole (meaning he couldn't even skyhook the hole). He spent quite a while trying to pendulum off an utterly rubbish bolt onto a blunt rib-feature to the right (we later learned that doing it this way is 5.10+) but couldn't stick the free moves to climb the rib. In desperation he decided to try and hammer a pecker into the space between the sheath and the bolt hole, which resulted in a shouting match between the two of us as we tried to work through frazzled tempers and miscommunication to get the required gear sent up on the haul line. Finally, with a few millimeters of pecker hammered into this tiny space, Stephen managed a sketchy top-step in his aider, and mantled onto the ledge to finish the pitch right at sundown.

Looking back at Stephen at the end of Pitch 10.
My bivvy on the ledge below Pitch 12. Exposed!

After this sublime effort, I took the last 2 pitches to our planned bivy spot. The first of these was a 45m low-grade rising traverse left (which I left almost unprotected in the interest of speed, much to Stephen's chagrin), and the 2nd of which was a bold 5.9+ with almost no gear and some weirdly bouldery moves off the belay on bad rock. At about 8pm, we arrived at our belay at the end of Pitch 11. We established an interesting camp whereby we'd both be sleeping on small ledges about 1m wide next to 600m+ of clean air, prepared our poorly thought-out meals (being in charge of catering on this climb, I had the totally ingenious idea that dry 2-minute noodles and nutella wraps would be the perfect meal to cap off a dehydrating long day of trying to contract sun-stroke), and hit the hay to the sound of bats flying around us in the dark.
Stephen on his side of our overnight perch.
This sure beats the Hilton.

Starting at 6am the next morning, I led pitch 12 via a  predominantly free variant start at about 5.9 C1, which deposited Stephen at the base of the huge, steep, leftward arching corner with the infamous pendulum on the lone remaining upward-driven peg that Alex Honnold spoke about in his interview (quoted at the top of this entry). Climbing mostly on aid, Stephen worked his way up the corner, balked at the utterly rubbish remains of the pendulum anchor (he eventually managed to clip a single bolt several metres above the normal anchor, which is used for the all-free variation of this pitch at 5.12d, and pendulum off that instead). The joys of any pendulum whereby the pitch doesn't end after the pendulum, is that inevitably you have a prolonged section of climbing where your only piece of pro is the last thing you clipped to perform the pendulum, inviting all sorts of possibilities for an out-of-control reverse pendulum of epic proportions. Regardless, Stephen finished the pitch, and now it was my turn to contribute the epic pitch (some might say "epic screw-up") of the day.

Due to contradicting information between different guides to this route, I was operating under the assumption that it was possible to link pitches 14 and 15 together in a single rope length, and in the interests of making up time (and because I love climbing giant pitches), that's exactly what I tried to do. I climbed the 5.10 pitch 14 section all-free (featuring some pretty scary fall potential due to big runouts), continued past the belay up a wide section and arrived at the C2+ section on pitch 15. The aid section started up a bolt ladder with some of the worst in-situ gear I've ever seen, commencing with a copperhead off a ledge with only 2-strands of the original wire loom holding it together, and those strands rusted into oblivion. For me, rope drag at this point was becoming disastrous, and I didn't have many draws or carabiners left, so I was forced to back-clean each of these rubbish bolts as I went, forcing me to trust a single rusted manky bolt at each point to stop me taking a disastrous fall onto the ledge. At the end of the bolt ladder was a tenuous traverse left along a tiny, crumbling horizontal flake on bad camhooks and skyhooks (made worse by the rope-drag screwing with my efforts to balance on my etriers), which then led to a section of steep climbing around a bulge on half-placed wires. At precisely the point where I was about to move past the bulge and onto the final section of 5.7 friction slab to the anchor, I realised that the almost insurmountable rope drag had now simply become an unmoving rope: I'd used up all 60m of my rope. The initial moves at the start of pitch 14 were too tricky to risk Stephen simul-climbing to get me an extra 10m or so of slack (considering how bad my last few pieces of pro had been), and I was in a terrible place for an improvised belay.

Stephen approaching the infamous 1-peg pendulum anchor.
Placing 3 half-placed wires in rotten rock to create an "anchor", I fixed the haul-line for Stephen to jumaar up (backing it up off myself, so that if the anchor failed I would still become an improvised anchor as I fell to the last piece, and prevent Stephen from going splat). Stephen jugged to the belay at the end of pitch 14, fixed our spare 70m rope to the tag-line so that I could haul it up, and belayed me from that stance to the end of pitch 15. I then left Stephen to jumaar up the newly fixed line and clean the gear as he went, while I fixed the 70m rope to the pitch 15 anchor, abseiled all the way down to the haul bag below pitch 14 to fix the 70m rope to it, and -when Stephen was in a position to haul- released the haul bag before jumaaring all the way back up the 70m line to assist Stephen with the hauling. My efforts to save time had cost us at least 1.5 hours of time beyond what it should have, and now we weren't looking so good for topping out before dark. With our limited water and food supplies, we really weren't in a position to spend another day on the wall, and we simply couldn't afford to waste time like this.

Stephen hating life on the crux C2/5.9 moves at the end of
a steep, off-width pitch.
Stephen tackled the next 2-pitches as part of a compromise (I'd do the top 2 steep pitches in the dark, if he'd lead the wide pitch, and the remaining C2 aid pitch), and methodically thrashed his way up some masochistically wide terrain over the course of 70m of climbing, forced to negotiate some monstrous runouts as we didn't have much in the way of big gear to protect the wider sections. Right at the top of pitch 17 he encountered a free-move through a crumbling rooflet and onto a blank sloping slab which required several falls, a bit of shouting, and much thrashing to surmount, but eventually, right as the sun went down, he managed it, and in doing so unlocked the last pitch of climbing on Mount Watkins that I was concerned about.

One way or another, we would get to the top now.

Using the emergency "cheat stick" as a selfie-pole at the
start of the 5.10c Pitch 18.
The next pitch, at steep, sustained 5.10c, would be a classic pitch of all-free crack climbing if it weren't 1200m above the ground. I really wanted to free it, and certainly put some effort into battling my way up it, but the minute it turned to steep fist-crack climbing, I resorted to resting on the gear, and continued in the same fashion to the top, freeing it in perhaps 4 sections (in between rests).

The last pitch on Mount Watkins, Pitch 19, 5.9 A0, would be done entirely in the dark, and by this point I'd given up all pretense of real free-climbing. I aided my way up most of the initial 5.9 steep layback section and up the bolt ladder through a crazy exposed roof-feature
Another perspective of the start of the 5.10c steep crack pitch.
and onto a prow feature (described in the guide as a "killer topout"). I then climbed free up the steep arete with an exciting runout above the sucking void, and up a final steepish, sharp, crumbly and awkward crack to the summit. Clipping the anchors meant that there was now no more doubt that we'd make it back home this night, but it also instigated the final epic bookend to this adventure.

Stephen, jumaaring the fixed line to turn the roof and gain the final crack to the summit.

After Stephen reached the anchors and we shuttled our gear away from the ledge, we still had the monstrous descent in front of us, and it was already 9pm. Making a tactical decision to stash our climbing gear (and only take anything that the local bears might be interested in consuming with us), we continued up the torturous slabs to the true summit of Mount Watkins, and then walked along the ridgeline and into the dense bush. Though we had some vague directions for where to head from the guide, there was literally no trail (though we did find a few random cairns), and the topographic map we had was difficult to follow accurately as we couldn't see the usual landmarks in the dark, relying instead on dead-reckoning via compass bearings to navigate trough the Wall of Tree in the general direction of the trail.

Our gear stash at the summit of Mount Watkins.
"The bears won't find our climbing gear here!"
We found out days later that we'd managed to miss a much easier variant of this same trek by staying higher on the ridgeline for longer, but in the dark it was 10:30pm before we found the branch-trail that would eventually lead to what we were looking for: the Snow Creek trail between Olmstead Point in Tuolomne Meadows, and Mirrow Lake in Yosemite Valley. Despite knowing that it was 11 miles from this intersection back to where our car was parked (and about 1500 vertical metres of descent), I was still operating in the kilometres mindset, and anticipated a mere 1.5 hours or so to get back to the car from this point. As it turned out, 1.5 hours actually amounted to more than 3 hours of slogging, and so it was that we arrived back at our home base in Yosemite Valley at 1:30am in the morning, with a large chunk of our gear still stashed above the climb.

We allowed a rest day, then traveled up to Olmstead Point to access the summit of Mount Watkins via the easier approach on the Snow Creek trail (something we couldn't do during our descent, as it would have required a 2nd car to be left up there before we began the climb). The round trip to recover our gear and return to Olmstead Point took about 4 hours, but at the end of this epic both of us were -if I'm honest- feeling rather broken, and quite disillusioned about the idea of doing any more big walls while in the Valley.

The view from Olmstead Point, with Half Dome to the centre right, and the high Point of Mount Watkins to the far centre left. Not too shabby a view to bookend this stage of our Yosemite Valley trip.
We'd both suffered in the heat with severe dehydration; I'd really struggled with the hauling (I don't have much mass to move a heavy haulbag, and building mechanical advantage into the system after each pitch is tedious); I'd also been somewhat disappointed with what I'd managed to free over the 3 days, succeeding in onsighting nothing harder than Yosemite 5.10b, though I tried to onsight as hard as 5.10d, and feeling -while on the wall- utterly unwilling to even attempt to onsight anything 5.11 or harder. I'm a free climber, not an aid climber, and the sections of french-free that I did do in between easier sections of free climbing just felt like I was allowing myself the easy way-out of the more committing free-climbing. Anyone who has climbed in Yosemite will doubtless attest that the grades there are both sandbagged, and in a style which tends to humble even hardened granite climbers not used to the very specific style of Yosemite granite, but regardless, I wanted to push myself here, and I wasn't sure I was able to do that on the Big Walls, or on the more committing 1-day multipitches.

Yet despite all these dire thoughts, the fact was that we'd only been in Yosemite for just under 2-weeks by this point in time, with at least 3 more weeks to go, and plenty of time to try and perfect Valley trad-climbing in the more challenging grades. Furthermore, we had the time to rest, revitalise and decide whether or not we had the inner strength and tenacity to try and tackle another Big Wall within the next 2 weeks.

And on that note:

Tune in next time for the continuation of this Trip Report on: 'Murica Part 2: The Crowded Superhighway to The Nose on El Capitan (Yosemite Valley).

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