It's July 4th, 2001. I'm getting mauled by
New Jersey Greenhead flies while on a sea kayaking
tour with my regular wall climbing partner at the
south end of Barnegat Bay. It's about 90º
Fahrenheit, 90% humidity and there is no wind.
The flies are having a little feast on my neck and
arms while jet skiers buzz us with their foul machines
leaving oil in the water, hideous fumes for us to suck
down, a constant loud droning of two-cycle motorcycle
engines and large wakes that threaten to capsize our
crafts. The North Dome Gully descent never
Somehow I ('Old Coot' (OC),
sometimes known as the 'Angry Old Coot', (AOC)) got talked
into guiding two, part-time COL staffers up a Yosemite
Nancy Stoner initially
planned on having an ex-patriot eastern Pennsylvanian
friend of theirs, now residing in Moab Utah, to take them
on a wall tour. A couple of months prior to
blast-off, something fell through and I was pinged to
see where I stand on doing a wall with them. I
was planning on soloing 'Skull Queen' on Washington
Column in early May, but my wife didn't like the idea
of me being up there all alone and nixed the plans
without actually telling me not to go. I still
can't figure how she does that. Anyway, I was
spousal approved for an early summer trip to the
valley to climb a wall with Greg and Nancy. Team
For a couple of months
before going out to the valley, I had the Stoners
jugging and rappelling a 100' section of the local
choss pile known as High Rocks in Ralph Stover State
Park (PA). We did that about once a week and
tried to get 500' vertical feet in during each
session. I upped my runs to 7.5 miles and rode
my mountain bike a lot more. I'm not sure what
they did except that Greg killed his back during this
time and suffered a severe bout of Colitis on a
warm-up trip to do Mordor Wall (IV 5.7 A3... trip
report to come soon) on Cathedral Ledge, New
Hampshire. He told me that he needed to drink
two gallons of water a day to prevent the stomach
ailment from occurring. An attack of Colitis basically makes him turn
into a horizontal, moaning, stationary potato for a
half-day. He also gets the most noxious, rank,
nauseating farts ever blown forth from the human body.
And they're silent, so they sneak up on you. Not a good thing to get on a wall
(or in a car with the windows up). Greg just
giggles about it all.
I also didn't relish hauling eight gallons of water just for
Tuesday, June 26, 2001. I
fly out from Newark (NJ), land in San Francisco, get
the rental pickup truck, drive east to Oakdale, load up on
supplies, get a bite to eat and drive to the valley. I call my
family to tell them I made it safely and tell them
they will hear from me on Sunday, after the climb.
Talking to my kids makes me want to turn around and go
home. I miss them a lot.
I arrive in Lower Pines
and find the campsite around 6:30 PM.
I immediately dump all of my gear and park the truck in
Curry Village for the duration of the trip. I
find that Greg and Nancy carried five gallons of water
and a portaledge up to the base earlier in the day.
Good work, kids.
We sort gear and pack what we can that evening.
I'm beat and crash out early. They stay up for a
while chatting with others in the site who fixed
pitches on Zodiac and who are also from Philadelphia.
Wednesday, June 27,
2001. I wake up early, still on east coast
time. Everyone in camp is still asleep. I
do the early morning boogie and make a strong press
pot of coffee to gets things moving.
finish packing and begin humping loads from Lower
Pines into the base of the column around 7:30 AM.
That's a tough stretch from the paved bike trail to
the base of the climb. On the way up I get
covered with biting ants. It's like watching a
horror movie on your own arms. We finally get
all of our junk to the spot below the route.
OOPS. Looks like someone has gotten ahead of us.
Nope. It's a soloist on 'Ten Days After' but he's doing the
original start, not the Prow variation. It's Ben from Boone, North
Carolina. Nice kid, 21 years old. I really
am an Old Coot. We have the Prow to ourselves.
No one else is around as Greg begins climbing
around 9:30 AM while Nancy belays and I pack the two
bags. We have a lot of stuff. Two poop
tubes, two portaledges (one double one single), twelve
gallons of water, lots of food, four ropes (we did two
hauls for the entire climb) and enough gear to setup a
competing climbing shop across the valley from the
Curry Village Climbing Shop.
Greg takes a little while
getting to the belay. This is his fourth aid lead
ever. But everything goes OK and he hauls the
bags. I clean and Nancy spends the entire climb
as bag lackey. She knew the plan before going
up. She has never lead an aid pitch. She
was a real trooper and did a good job helping out when
she could. The system works out well.
It keeps all the belays fairly open with only two
folks at any belay at any one time.
hauls the first bag which has the second bag's line. The
leader then hauls the second bag with Nancy's jug
line attached. By this time the cleaner has cleaned the
pitch and has re-racked for the next pitch. The
new leader takes off belayed on a Gri-Gri while the
old-leader restacks ropes and organizes and Nancy
comes up. This systems worked very well and we
used it the whole way up the wall. It also
allowed us to haul pitches 2 & 3 and 7 & 8 as one.
Unfortunately, I got to do the longest hauls on the
I started up the second
pitch. It begins with a friction traverse to the
right on a sloping ledge. It's not a big deal
but the first few pieces on the pitch are a bit
questionable. There is a fair chance of hitting
the ledge if you blow a piece. The first 30 feet
of the pitch is also the most awkward section of the
whole climb and probably the technical crux.
It's great climbing but you are in a steep, shallow
left facing corner that feels like it leans is some
direction; but which direction? Eventually a
'head ladder is reached and leads around to the left to a C1 right facing
corner to a good belay under a roof. I had
planned on running P2 & P3 together, but I was down to
7 runners and 15 carabiners. It ends up that I
probably could have made Anchorage Ledge at the top of
pitch 3 with that gear, but decided to stop.
Greg cleaned the pitch and I continued up pitch 3.
This is a great pitch. It turns a little roof in
a corner and continues up what I'll call the 'Triple
Cracks of the Prow'. It's a perfectly vertical
white face with three vertical cracks in it. You
start in the right most one, go a third of the way,
step left into the middle one and then eventually step
left into the third of the triple cracks. At the
top of this section the climb moves left off a nice 3/8" SS bolt to
some manky fixed 'heads to some free climbing to some
more fixed 'heads to Anchorage Ledge.
Anchorage Ledge is a nice
place to bivy, though it slopes in and down to the
right. We used portaledges, so the ledge was
just nice to put the bags on. Greg cleaned and I hauled pitches 2 & 3
Nancy came up and we set up our hanging camp.
After everything was set up and we refreshed ourselves
with some food and drink, Greg did a great job fixing
the fourth pitch before dark. The fourth starts
with 50 feet of bolt and rivet ladder and finishes
with 60 feet of tricky nutting and fixed 'heads.
Once Greg got down to the
bivy, we finish up dinner and unpacked the sleeping
gear. Greg and Nancy proved their inexperience
by having no tie in loops on their sleeping bags,
sleeping pads, rain gear and other important stuff.
They racked up a bunch of Gumby points, but I probably
should have checked out the situation prior to hiking
up that morning. We were on the cusp of having a
grand old epic. Luckily, no one dropped anything
I take daily heart
medication to keep the arteries around my pump from
seizing up. The kids knew this and keep
reminding me to 'take my meds'. I guess they
didn't want to carefully lower my body to the ground
and then gingerly carry it out. My guess is that
they would just cut me loose and call the rangers.
I really am an Old Coot.
We talked for a while
before sleepiness completely overwhelmed me. We
yell for Ben, who is now bivied just around the corner
from us, that we need a rescue. He
just yells back that he needs a rescue. Nancy
talks a lot. Like non-stop for four days and
always about climbing. Greg and Nancy are full-on
addicted to the climbing world. They made a pact
long ago to never have kids. They made the
following comment more than once on the trip, "Glad we
found climbing after we got established in our
professional careers or we would have been 100%
climbing bums." I could see their focus on
climbing was strong, like heroin addict strong. I'm more of a
scatter-brain. I like to do a lot of different
things, none very well. I probably had Attention
Deficit Disorder (ADD) back when it was called Pain in
the Ass Kid Syndrome (PAKS). I spent a lot of
time in detention. Nancy and Greg threatened to
start boinking on my portaledge. EEKS.
Better get to sleep before anything happens. ZZZZZZZ.
Thursday, June 28,
asshole. You snored all night long." was the
first thing Nancy said to me in the morning. I
did get a good night's sleep in their Black Diamond
Sky Lounge Single Ledge. Supposedly they kept
rolling into each other all night long when the floor of
my A5 double ledge sagged. They didn't use the
shark fin dividers which helps support the middle of
the portaledge. We brushed teeth, ate breakfast
and did our respective businesses. Actually,
Greg and I went simultaneously with Nancy in the
middle, getting the experience in stereo, trying to
use mind control to mentally leave the
area. Poop tubes get their first of many
Two guys in blue helmets
start up the first pitch using the 'Jo-Jo' start.
The leader is smoking pitches. His second takes
longer to clean pitches that the leader leads them.
Are we going to get passed? Only time will tell.
A little later a guy in a white helmet starts right
behind the blue helmet guys. Maybe he is just
fixing pitches. The white helmet guy also used
the 'Jo-Jo' start. He looks like he might be
soloing. Did we miss something?
Greg went up the fixed
line and hauled the first bag. I cleaned the few
remaining pieces and hauled the second bag. Greg
was tasked with leading pitch 5 because of it's
notoriously long reaches on the bolt ladder.
Greg is like 6'3" but claims to only be 5'11".
He got the lead anyway considering I'm a squat 5'7".
Greg made good time up the initial 'head ladder with a
couple of nut placements in between. The bolts
were very far apart, even for the giant Greg.
let him flail for a little while until I told him a
secret about extending his reach. The trick is:
On steep rock, put your heel in the aider step and put
your toe against the rock. After that, he was
able to get through the pitch without a cheat stick.
Again I cleaned and Greg hauled. I racked up and
started on pitch six.
An awkward move off the
belay leads to C1 climbing in a nice corner on nuts
and cam hooks for 100+ feet. Pitch 6 is a great
pitch and is very long; probably 155+ feet, not the
130 feet in most topos. At the top of the
shallow left facing corner, a hook move to a free move
to a 1/4" bolt. Fun. Then a 3/8" bolt,
then mixed 'heads and bolts to the belay stance.
I used a key Tri-Cam in a blown pin scar to get by one
spot up high on the pitch.
After hauling the bags,
Greg started up the short, 'Strange Dihedral' of pitch
7. Greg dropped a 'biner three moves into the
pitch. I missed catching it as it flew by and yelled
"ROCK!" But it was still falling. I yelled
"ROCK" two more times at the limit of my voice.
It finally hit five or ten feet out from the start of
the climb after falling forever. What a steep
climb! Fortunately the 'biner did not hit
anyone. Greg continues up and finishes the
stays with the bags and I clean. I get to lead
Pitch 8 starts with a
very exposed free/tension traverse down to the right.
Just as I start Greg informs me that he doesn't know
what a tension traverse is. Great timing, pal.
I manage to scrape my way to some mystery slings
attached to a terribly rusty 1" angle pounded into a
hole. A nice 3/8" bolt follows, then a hook
move. A nice thin left arching crack is followed
on small nuts and small cams to a horrific fixed 'head
with a tie-off girth hitched to the nub of the blown
clip-in cable loop. It only has to hold for a
few seconds. I get on it and move smartly to
another 3/8" bolt. Whew! Now a 6" wide
ledge leads left to a short bolt ladder. This
ledge is chalked. Do I need to free climb here?
I figure a way to aid on TCU's placed straight down
behind the ledge rather than free climb. I
follow the three bolts to the free climbing I had been
fearing all day long. Yes, 5.6 terrifies me.
Alas, it's like one 5.4 move right from the last bolt
to mostly 5.0 scrambling over boulders and low angle
corners. I clip gear like a crazed idiot and
have a King Kong case of rope drag by the time I reach
the far left end of Tapir Terraces, our home for the
retrospect my advice is don't clip any gear from the
last bolt until the nice belay/bivy bolts at the end
of the pitch at the far left hand side of Tapir
Terraces. The rope will run straight up to the
belay from the last bolt. I got the wonderful chore of hauling
two bags up two pitches again. But we made our
planned bivy and that was the primary goal.
Tapir Terraces is a weird place. It's like a
room in the carnival fun hose where all the floors and
walls are at different angles. Everything
slopes, one direction or another.
Nancy arrives after
having to lower out around the outside of the Strange
Dihedral (scary). Greg suffers through having to
clean pitch 8, with all of it's traversing and long
reaches. But he too makes it to the bivy after
some well placed curses and general moaning. No
fixing pitches for us tonight, just get the bivy set
up and food out. We chow down and drink plenty
of water. The day before it was cool and today
was warmer, but we benefited from some nice breezes
for most of the day. So we didn't drink all of
our day one water and had extra. I opened up my
dinner bag and fished out a can of
'Hot' Chili, a small can of fruit cocktail and a cup
of banana cream pie pudding. MMMM. Every night I
had a cup of pudding stored in a plastic cup and foil
lid. Some of the cans had sizable dents in them,
but the puddings were unscathed! I guess they
bend, but don't break. All my meals were great
except for the Hormel 'Hot' Chili. It tasted
fine, but I got a horrific case of heartburn that
lasted most of the night. The only thing I
forgot in the medical kit were antacids.
Heartburn from spicy foods; just
another symptom of becoming an Old Coot.
Unfortunately, the bivy
was more cramped on the second night and I had the
bottom bunk where the bags resided. It was my
job to fish out everything for everyone under very
cramped circumstances. I took my contact lenses
out (it's really not that difficult to use contacts on
a wall climb) and zonked out quickly, but
woke up at around 3 AM to take a leak. As I
rolled over to use my pee-bottle I thought I saw a
line of clouds in the sky, but didn't have my glasses
on. I have very poor vision, 20/400. A
little later I saw the same smudge of clouds in
seemingly the same place. I put the goggles on
and saw the most spectacular view of the Milky Way I
have ever seen with my naked eyes! Incredible.
Back to sleep....
of Part 1 of 2
Gumbies and an Old Coot do the Prow (V 5.6 C2F)
Washington Column, Yosemite Valley
Continue with Part 2 of 2