Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sierras, May 25-27


Cori and I got an early start from San Francisco, and headed straight to the Valley with a stop at El Agave in Oakdale for breakfast burritos.  This was her first (literal: the burritos were good!) taste of Yosemite climbing tradition, and before we knew it she got her second dose with broad views of The Rostrum, the Merced River, and countless other cliffs as we parked and headed up to Knob Hill.  It is fun to see someone witness all the huge cliffs for the very first time; Yosemite is unlike anywhere, and Cori was properly overwhelmed by the vast cliffs before we even made to the gigantic walls of the Valley proper.
Cori making her way up Sloth Wall
Sloth Wall looked like a nice 5.7 in the guidebook with a long pitch of easy knobs.  I finished the pitch with little trouble, but the crux move down low reminded me how uncomfortably different Yosemite climbing is with its slippery polished granite and cracks.  I truly missed this place, as it has been almost two years since I've climbed in Yosemite Valley; a place I feel more comfortable at than almost anywhere that far from home.  Cori worked her way up the pitch, stopping and gazing at the valley below every so often.  When she met me at the belay, she told me two important things.  First is she couldn't get one of my new x4 cams out, so I'd have to try to extract it later on.  Second, she needed to pee, and badly.  There were no good ledges, nor anywhere she could easily get to besides the rappel tree...  A sudden shift in the wind provided my lower legs with a little shower as I looked away.
The top of Sloth Wall.
Cori took the first rappel after much discussion since she had only rappelled once before, that time without the inevitable tangled rope management.  She did great, except I heard a yell that she reached the end of the rope, and all I could think of was "FUCK, this is going to be bad, and why did the guidebook say it was a 90 footer??"  Luckily, she found she could swing over to the hillside abutting the climb.  I lowered down to see two people starting to rack up, one of whom wanted to try to get my stuck cam.  I was determined, though, and rapped to the end of the rope, hung upside down and jiggled the thing free.  In what has to be one of the most incredible bouts of coincidence of all time, one of the two climbers starting up Sloth Wall was someone I went to high school with, and hadn't seen for probably 10 years.
An arch in front  of the Royal Arches.
Cori and I made our way into the Valley, but were quickly confronted with a parking lot of traffic on the loop.  The road was so backed up people were turning their cars off and wandering around in the streets.  We eventually extricated ourselves from the mess by pulling into the Camp 4 parking lot where we played around on the boulders and gawked at Midnight Lighting before heading out to camp in Mammoth.
Finishing up a 5.6 or so hand crack in camp 4

Cori rocking some hard moves in street shoes in camp 4.


In continuing the theme of the trip of a sampling of different styles of climbing, Cori and I headed out to The Sherwin Plateau to find some remote bouldering.  I had heard of The Church of Lost and Found boulder long ago, and it has been on my tick list for years, so we made The Catacombs near Tom's Place our target.  The approach was the typical maze of poorly marked and barely visible fire roads flanked by sage bushes scratching the hell out of my car like fingers on a chalk board for almost an hour.  We drove, read directions, looked at maps, and became very frustrated about the lack of clarity of our position.  We turned around and were ready to give up after driving on another nondescript road we recognized a landmark at Pocketopia.  We reworked the directions and found our way to the elusive Catacombs, realizing when we turned around, we were probably 2-3 minutes away from the parking lot.
Are we lost?  As it ends up, we were not.
I was excited to get on some rock after sitting in a car traversing dusty roads for the better part of an hour.  We setup and quickly did a few v0-v1 problems, including Cori's first outdoor bouldering problem ever!  The rock was a bit friable at the top, but the interesting, albeit sharp, pockets were reminiscent of gym climbing.  We dragged the pads around, hopping from one little pocketed alcove to another.  Eventually, I onsighted my first v4, Todd's New Standard, which felt very soft for the grade, but was very similar to the types of problems I have been doing at the gym.
Cori after topping out her first outdoor bouldering problem.

There are lots of cool little side cut alcoves in the Catacombs.

Cori finishing up a v0.
After exploring the main Catacombs area, we headed out to the main target: The Church of Lost and Found.  The guidebook gives purposely vague directions to this iconic boulder, saying you need to follow a path for "5 minutes??".  We scoped the valley rim as we walked along the path, and eventually the rectilinear boulder with the highly chalked arete stood below us, perched on the edge of the Owens River Valley.  It was very eerily isolated, and extremely windy, not to mention much higher than expected.  We carefully placed the pads, and I gave it a go, only to fall into Cori's great spot after unexpectedly ripping off of a small foot.  This was a really hard v1!  I got too spooked when the howling wind gave me another slab fall, and was very bummed at not getting my goal climb.  On the walk back, I found a fun looking overhung prow, and onsighted the unknown problem, which was probably a v2.
On sighting a cool overhung boulder I found.  Probably v1 or v2.
After arriving back at the main area, we still had daylight and the will to explore, so we plunged into The Caverns, which is a unclimbable collection of huge and tightly packed boulders that form small caverns you have to crawl through.  It reminded me of Puragtory Chasm, which was the first place I ever had serious anxiety from being in enclosed spaces, but luckily there wasn't anything too tight of a squeeze here. 

About to explore through The Caverns.

Deep inside The Caverns as golden hour approaches.

We finished the night with pizza in downtown Mammoth Lakes, and Cori did a study session in the Sierra Nevada Lodge, which has a great lounge to poach while camping and needing internet.


The weather forecast didn't look good on Monday morning, and we started the day going to the Looney Bean so Cori could have another study session.  While she worked, I cleaned up the car and re-racked gear for some multi pitch trad, which  would be the grand finale of the trip.  We left Mammoth, and headed to the Meadows as the clouds engulfed us. I stated to pull out gear, tentatively gazing to the sky expecting to feel raindrops.  After grabbing my rope, the sky opened up, and we bailed on Northwest Books.  We hiked up to the base of the climb, and did the 3rd class approach to right below the first pitch.  It never rained too hard, but it was just enough to make the idea of walking off the dome in the rain extremely scary.
It is raining, but we are at Lembert Dome!

Cori trys to get out of the way of my panorama.
A picture near the first belay station for Northwest Books.

Olmsted Point headstand!

I can do headstands too!  Or not.
Upon giving up on Lembert, dome, we decided to head back to the Bay Area, but that wasn't without a stop at Olmsted Point, whose views were significantly reduced by the clouds.  The drive out of the park was filled with the typical extremely slow drivers and those willing to risk death to pass them.  120 is truly adventure driving.  We stopped for dinner and one last study session in Oakdale.  Cori holed up at a Starbucks, with a 11pm deadline to meet.  She got me a sugary tea drink, and I walked around the  town as she finished her assignment.  Needless to say, there isn't much in Oakdale, with my highlight being following a stray dog and seeing a poker club.  Oh and some big silos.  I walked back past the Starbucks here and there, and as the night rolled on, the sugar rush from he drink left me crashing as Cori finished the assignment.  We made our away back to San Francisco, assignment done and weary, but excited for more climbing in the near future.

My best find while Cori studied.

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