Friday, June 29, 2001.
I was told that I was snoring again. I think the
Stoners were awake for 55 hours out of 57 hours we
spent on the route. At least I hope they didn't
catch up on their snooze time while belaying me.
pack up, take care of business and Greg leads off on
pitch 9 with Nancy belaying and me packing the bags.
It's either C2, C1 or 5.9 depending on where we get
the information. We decide that it is C1 before
Greg gets to the second placement. Greg
struggles mightily with flared and bottoming
placements that he cusses at trying to make them
better. He gets at least 30 feet of placements
to stick. Then while relaxing on the nice ledge
I hear the familiar, "Pink, tinkle, woosh..." I
quickly mention to Nancy "He's off" without looking
up. Nancy is slammed to the left while the
Gri-Gri locks up. Greg is 10 feet above the
ledge and close to 20 feet below his high point.
A litany of curses fill the air.
fall of the trip, on a C1 pitch. Greg is fine
and actually decides to step up in his aiders to look
at his next placement. It's a C1 placement that
he blew; he just got lazy. Greg takes his time
finishing the pitch and hauls the bags. He sets
up the haul below a nice ledge. What the hell?
He didn't trust the fixed pins above the ledge. Too much sport
climbing for this lad. I yank the bags up to the
ledge and get the anchors set higher.
A look over the edge
shows the blue helmet guys retreating from Anchorage
Ledge. Later in the day, the white helmet guy
gets up to Anchorage Ledge. It looks like we'll
be free to climb as slow as we want to the top. We
know Ben is a few pitches below and moving well.
Maybe he'll catch us. It's now a circus over on
the South Face. Pitch one probably has two fixed
lines and five people buzzing about. We really
lucked out getting the Prow all to ourselves.
a quick re-rack for the 170' pitch 10, I cast off.
C1 all the way. I backclean extensively, leaving
nuts for gear every 20-30 feet. Once the angle
lessens, I throw in free move or two to quicken
the pace. The topo said something about a 5.8
section. I never found it. I did follow the Eric
Coomer dictum of clipping the haul line into a
directional just above the small roof on the pitch.
This is key. Nancy saw all kinds of things stuck
in the flake to the right on her jumar of pitch 10
including a poop tube and possibly Jimmy Hoffa's
bones. The top of the pitch has a great ledge.
bolts, a shade tree and a good place to sit down or
even lay down. Beautiful! Greg helped the
bags get by the clip in point and small overhang.
Greg charged up the eleventh pitch with the big gear
and more cursing. Heck, it got him through the
overhang. He climbed the right most crack
system. It looked like the better way to aid
climb this section. He also got to use the #4.5
Camalot going through the bulge. If you want to
free climb it, climb the middle crack system at 5.9.
If you want to torture yourself, try the belly crawl
crack. It looks bad. All the variations
end up at the same spot anyway, a low angle, blocky
stance with one fixed pin. Greg actually used it
this time. I cleaned the pitch and acted as a
directional for the haul bags to get them past the
overhang and up the corner.
reached the belay, stacked ropes, racked up for the
pitch and take off.
I fully expected pitch 12
to be a walk in the proverbial park. I stepped
right off the belay and mantled to a slab with two
bolts at the top of it. Maybe a better belay for
the top of 11? I then stepped right to a ramp
with a bunch of pin scars, a fixed 'head, which was
actually a mashed in wired hex, then a bolt with a
sling and a 'biner. Hmmmm. I tried to free
climb to the 'head. No go. I plugged in an
Alien into one of the pin scars and hoped it would
hold. I was out a ways from my last gear and the
placement wasn't exactly C1. It held. I
clipped up the mashed in hex and bolt then plugged in
a big unit, a #3.5 Camalot. The next section
is the most dangerous part of the climb. You
have to climb right and up following weaknesses to the
top. Most of this climbing is on very rotten
rock. It's probably no harder than 5.3 at any
point and you have to keep the ropes flicked over the
edge above the last bolt. I grabbed a bay tree
on the way up this section and had a swarm of biting
ants all over me in one second. I brushed them
off and continued up the rotten rock to a steep cleft
leading to the top. The pitch was only supposed
to be 70 feet long. Maybe 70 feet after you
straightened the ropes over the edge, but there is
about 140 feet of climbing on it, most of it easy and
I topped out, I was blasted with a warm wind and sun.
A beautiful view of the western end of the valley
greeted me as I set up the hauls off a couple of
trees. Greg helped the bags over the first edge
and waited to top out with his wife. Made me
want to fly home right then and there to see my
family. I'm such a sissy.
We got all the junk to
the top and decided to bivy at the top. It was
6:30 PM. We sorted out all the gear, ate dinner
(plus all the extra cans of fruit the kids brought
with them), drank plenty of water, took obligatory
summit pictures with an alpine glow on Half Dome in
the background. We made a clean and
non-cheater-stick ascent of the Prow. Though we
definitely benefited from mid-season, fixed gear
was great to be on top of the column. We played
flashlight/headlamp tag with folks on Glacier Point
that night and yelled 'Wilbur' as loud as we could
from the summit
so the folks playing that game in the Pines campgrounds could hear it like it was from God. Sometime in the middle of the night something crawled
across my feet and was poking around in a few stuff
sacks with food and accoutrements in them. I
thought Greg was searching for lip balm. I
looked up, without the goggles, and saw a skunk.
I yelled and Greg shined a light. Nothing.
I'm lucky not to have been sprayed. Greg and
Nancy laughed and said it was a Ringtail Squirrel.
It may have been Bigfoot. Time to zonk back out.
I actually didn't sleep that well. I was too
jazzed to be on top with a couple of real novices and
I helped them get to the top of their first wall.
Because of me, they will probably have a lifetime of
wall experiences, good and bad. I felt pretty
good and proud.
Saturday, June 30,
2001. Time for the casual stroll down the
North Dome Gully. It can't be that bad.
We're doing it after a good night's rest, we're well fed,
we're hydrated and it's perfect weather. It
can't be that bad, really. I poured out 1.5
liters of water because I didn't want to carry it
down. I only carried 1.5 liters with me.
For some reason the pouring out of the water haunted
start at 6:30 AM and thirty
seconds into the walk, we're lost. We crossed
onto the eastern side of the Washington Column summit
ridge way too soon. We end up not quite at the
top of the 'Death Slabs' and have to reverse our
track. I end up crawling on all fours with an 80
pound haul bag on my back, through the Manzanita
bushes, to get back to the proper trail. Greg
does a great job
finding the correct path and we stumble, scramble,
crawl and trip our way east toward the North Dome
Gully. We get to an obvious gully with a 30'
hank of 9mm fixed on the opposite side and about 40
feet down. There are cairns marking the way down
to the rope. We follow the rope down to it's end
and slide down 60' to a blocky section. Do we
continue down or do we go across? No cairns, no
footprints in the soft, sandy soil. We take off
the haul bags and explore. We find cairns on the
opposite side of the gully, up high. We should
have crossed over the gully at the bottom of the fixed
line. Cairns mark the
way to the next gully, the North Dome Gully.
We finally get over there
after a terrifying climb back up the first gully with
big heavy packs on. After a short steep down
hit a rappel station or a steep downclimb. Greg starts down
the gully climbing
with his haulbag on, but it gets too steep and scary. It's
probably only class 4, but you'll certainly die if you
blow it up high.
opt to rappel. While Nancy is setting up the
rappel, Greg falls about 8 feet into a rock crevice
while repacking his haulbag. Another flood of curses
reveals that he is basically OK. We don
harnesses, helmets and rappel. I remember
something about the description of the NDG talking
about, "...if you ever contemplate a rappel, you are
off route." Too late, Nancy is at the bottom and
Greg is cursing his way down the rope.
Part way down, Greg becomes inverted while on rappel
and his Petzl Shunt saves him and traps him at the
same time. Another bout of curses and he makes
the bottom of the rappel, slightly scuffed.
After a 100 foot rappel a non-stance is reached.
It's a completely dry quicksand that slides down the
gully with frightening speed at every slight movement
we make. We somehow grapple
our way over to a sturdy tree and tie off. Greg
repacks his bag and we continue. The hardest
part is over, we think. Now all we have to do is deal with
the sand boarding, butt scuffing and general sliding
that takes us down to a westward traverse following
cairns to the sandy switchbacks on the slabs. The switchbacks
are tough and look like they could be fatal if you
blow it at certain spots. Eventually, one more 100' diagonal
rappel on the slabs leads down to more switchbacks and
the trees. Sisyphus and his boulder have nothing
on descending the NDG with a full haul bag on your
back. What a lucky guy.
I was done. Stick a
fork in me. My only water bottle broke part way
down the slabs and the temperatures were reaching into
the 90's. Good thing I poured out the extra
liter-and-a-half of water that morning. I am so
smart, S-M-R-T (as Homer Simpson would
say). At least we now had shade. Instead of
hiking back up and down to the base of Washington
Column, we went down toward the Indian Caves.
time I will walk up and back down to the base of the
column. The Indian Caves route leaves you way
out from the walk in and probably adds a mile to your
hike. The trail is not too bad except for two
spots where I took the haul bag off and chucked it off
the steep ten foot drops. I finally reached the
civilized Indian Cave trail and laid down. Greg
had been there for twenty minutes and Nancy for ten.
Now I'm an Old Angry Coot. Greg takes off
immediately, Nancy close behind. I lag for
another 10 minutes and then muster the strength to
pick up my cross. I slog out to the paved road
hoping for a water fountain or even a puddle of water.
Nothing. They wait for me, the AOC, at the paved
We move along the paved
bicycle trail in a completely separate dimension from
the clean tourists with glorious bottles of water in
their hands. Nancy and Greg take off. They
obviously have more gas in the tank. The rear of
my pants are shredded and give a full showing of my
undies. I could care less. Some kids point
it out to the world and everyone gawks. Some
jerks in Stanford shirts strut by and say, "Was it
really worth it?" I almost chucked my bag at
them. It gave me some fuel for the walk back to
camp. Now I'm a VAOC. Then a YPS employee motored by in a three
wheel scooter. I waved and she waved back.
I walk a little more and she comes back and gives me
water. It ends up that she is Ben's girlfriend!
You know, Ben, the guy soloing 'Ten Days After'.
She takes my bag a few hundred yards to the backpacker camp and I
pick it up. Walking without the pig on my back
made me feel like I could fly. We talk and she
has been watching Ben and us for the past few days.
Ben bivied two pitches below us at the top of Prow
pitch 10 on the previous night. He was probably
only a little behind us (Ben makes it down the NDG in
two hours with all of his gear! That punk!).
We talk for a short while
and I continue my journey. I hike through
North Pines campground, over the bridge to the
entrance of Lower Pines and find my way back to our
site while tourists point out the fact that my pants
are blown out. The first thing Greg and Nancy
say to me is, "You got a ride back, the climb doesn't
count." I blurt back a swift and curt, "Fuck
OFF!" All while little kids are standing there.
I'm such an Angry Old Coot. Greg and Nancy
really know how to push my buttons. I fish out my cell
phone from my tent and call my wife. It's 1:15
PM. It only took me 6 hours and 45 minutes to
descend the North Dome Gully. Yeah baby, I'm a
regular bat out of Hades. I'm never doing the
North Dome Gully ever again. Ever.
After cleaning up in the
disgusting Curry Village showers and downing some food
and beer; I begin sorting out the gear. We
carried everything up and back down for proper
disposal except for our pee. We tried to pour it
onto exposed areas out of the climbing area using our
pee-bottles. It didn't always work. I
cleaned out my poop tube for future use. No
problems, it cleaned up nicely. The kids didn't
even try. They chucked their poop tube into the
trash. I had a rather large family of ants
living in my haul bag. They were gathered around
the garbage bags that held our used food cans.
The ants seemed to dig the static haul line for
whatever reason. Nancy had the privilege of
carrying the rack and a rope without the benefit of a
pack. Fifty pounds of awkward swinging junk.
All of my gear got dragged through the sand and dirt,
certainly not Nancy's fault. We should have
hauled a mini pig just to carry the hardware down.
I'll clean the gear when I get home. I pack what
I can and climb into my tent for the night. I
bring a full bottle of water to quell
the 'middle of the night' thirst
that has followed all the walls I've done in the past.
I moved my flights up and booked a night at a hotel
near SFO. I plan on getting a good meal, a clean
shower, some time in a hot tub and a nice comfy bed.
Sunday, July 1, 2001.
I get up, finish packing and get out of the valley.
I don't even stop to look at the Captain. I just
want to get out of there. I get to Oakdale, stop
for gas and snacks. I come out and two big surly
guys (you know they're bad guys when they have tattoos
on their faces) are looking into my unlocked
pickup truck. All I have visible is a cell
phone, a CD player and a few loose dollar bills.
Note to self: Lock car while in Oakdale. I
get in and drive off while receiving some serious
vibes. I get to the hotel, check in, shower and
hit the hot tub. Unfortunately, a large wedding
has occurred at the hotel during the day and
all of the guests have forced their drunken, bloated
bodies into the Jacuzzi. No thank you, I'm not jumping in.
Back to the room for some room service; a big Caesar Salad, a loaf of
Garlic Bread and two Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. I
watch TV and stretch out in the nice big bed.
Monday, July 2, 2001.
Everything smells like old beer and garlic. The
TV is on. I fell asleep
with beer number two in my hand and a partially eaten
Caesar Salad in my lap. I am completely
slathered in 12 hour-old Caesar Salad (with
remains and stale, warm beer. I wonder what
housekeeping is going to think? Another long shower and I'm outta there. I get to SFO
and try to check in at the curb. In Newark NJ, I
arrived with two big FISH Behemoth Bags packed with 80
pounds of gear each. The limit is 70 pounds/bag
on United Airlines. The dialogue in Newark went
Curb Check Guy #1:
"Hey Tony, I tink
dees bags are ova da limit."
Tony, Curb Check
"Betta take dem
"I believe Mr.
Lincoln checked these bags and they are OK."
Curb Check Guy #1:
"Hey Tony, dees
bags are OK."
And I get to check in
with no problems and no extra baggage fees. For
those who don't understand, I bribed Curb Check Guy #1 with a
5-spot (a sawbuck, a 5 dollar bill). On the way
to check in at SFO I was whisked directly to the
oversize check-in before I could plead my case with the curb
check guy. Here is the dialogue at SFO:
Oversize Baggage Check-in Person:
bags are overweight. You need to pay $75 for
"Well on the
way out from Newark they said that bags were OK."
Oversize Baggage Check-in Person:
"You are still
required to pay the excess baggage fee of $75."
"I believe Mr.
Jackson checked these bags and said they were OK."
Oversize Baggage Check-in Person
(looking at me like
I just sprouted two additional heads):
"Sir, I don't
understand. You are still required to pay
the excess baggage fee of $75."
"Do you take American
I bypassed the $5 & $10 moves and went straight to the big
guns, a $20 bribe. It's tantamount to skipping
the 'Double-Dog-Dare' and going directly to the
'Triple-Dog-Dare'. It didn't phase the SFO oversized
Check-in Person. What a geek or maybe
I'm just a scumbag? Could be both.
The flight was canceled and I was pushed back to a
slightly later flight. Really no problem.
I got home kissed my sleeping kids and slipped into my
own bed. What a cool trip.
Two Weeks Later. The kids (Wall Gumbies) headed down to
New River Gorge
in West Virginia for a sampling of world class crack climbing
for a few days after the 4th of July. I found
out that the guys who fixed on Zodiac made it a couple
of days after we finished. Team Philly scores
two Yosemite walls in a week. As you
already know, much of my body mass was eaten by NJ
Greenhead flies during a sea kayak trip at the NJ
shore on the 4th. Greg's back has been killing
him since the NDG descent. They are heading to
the Gunks this weekend. Maybe I'll go with them
and try my hand at free climbing for a day. Nah,
gotta cut the lawn, do house chores and baby-sit my kids this weekend.
The North Dome Gully is looking better everyday.