Lee's 2002 USA Yosemite Trip Journal

(My trip journal from my 2002 USA trip - saved here to my blog for posterity - Lee)

2/5/2002 - Brisbane to Melbourne.
Virgin flight was pretty dodgy charging for both food and drink, so I went without. Stayed at Neil's place and ate curry.

3/5/2002 - Melbourne to LA, to San Fran, to Lover's Leap.
Long flight to LA. 14 hours. Didn't sleep, but did have the funky screens in the seat backs, so watched A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Couple of meals, all good. LA was a bit of a scare. Very ethnic. Also, they weren't going to let me into the country because I wrote "No Fixed Address" under residential address on my green form. It took changing it to "Yosemite National Park" and Marcel's negotiation skills to get me in. Got our car in San Fran, a massive Ford Windstar. Big van thing. Went to get food and had an interesting experience. We were in Rite Aid (equiv. K-Mart) and asked if there was anywhere where we could buy fruit and vegies. The guy yelled across several registers if there was a salad bar nearby. Told us no, and that we'd have to go back to Sacremento. Turns out that the shop next door was a Safeway - huge grocery store. Talk about language barrier. Drove out to Lover's Leap and got there in the dark. Found what I thought was chossy rock in our campsite, turned out to be snow! Thank god for Dad's good sleeping bag.

4/5/2002 - Lover's Leap
Amazing high granite in an alpine setting. Woke up with snow covering all the mountains around, and pine forests everywhere. Little meltwater streams and bright green shaggy moss on the massive conifers. Pretty spectacular scenery. Don't know how you could top it in terms of natural beauty. The climbing was really good. Started very cold but the day warmed up which was good. I led 260m of moderate climbing this day.
*** East Wall 130m 5.6 (15) led all
*** East Crack 130m 5.8 (17) led all

5/5/2002 - Lover's Leap
I strung the first two pitches together to make a 60m pitch and Marcel did the second pitch. That got us up to beneath the Main Wall. Very imposing and huge with routes from 3 to 6 pitches. To get up to it though we had to walk through snow, which I did in Tevas (freezing), and then do a dodgy pitch up this gully which was dripping with water. Fun. Neil and Marcel went to do a 5.9 offwidth and crack route which is featured in the "50 Best Climbs in the USA" book, while Marty and I settled for *** Corrugation Corner 5.7 . I led all once again. Marty wanted to bail off the first pitch due to lack of food, but we only had a single rope so had to keep going. The second pitch was spectacular climbing on a featured arete WAY above the ground. Even though it was more like 17 or 18, Australia has nothing like this at the grade. Incredible. Third pitch was an unprotected chimney to a scary 5m traverse, then 50m of dike-hiking. So, that was the day and now I am sitting in the car typing this out waiting for the batteries to recharge on the inverter. Which they're not. So I shall unplug the laptop.
*** Surrealistic Pillar 120m 5.8 (17)
*** Corrugation Corner 150m 5.7 (16)

Lee on Corrugation Corner , Lover's Leap. © N Monteith

6/5/2002/ - Cave Rock, Nevada
We drove out to this sport climbing area situated right on Lake Tahoe. Awesome. When we pulled the rope down from the anchors on the routes on the Lower Wall, the rope would fall in the lake. Neil put the draws up on the two 11a's we did, and took a fall doing so on the harder 11b. I did good flashing all the routes. The 11b had a burly undercling move. Marty rested his way up the easiest one, and Marc did the 11a's with a rest. The rock was very similar to Slider on Tibro, and in the morning, it was way cold, making it hard to feel the rock. We got good photos with the lake in the picture. The Cave itself had a highway blasting through the middle of it. There was a great looking route called Asylum which blasted out the cave. All the routes here had fixed draws made out of cable. It was wild - like a gym. I got stopped by the final crux section. Neil did better doing the whole thing with one rest. Amazing photos. When we got back to camp we went bouldering. After many attempts with completely taped tips, I managed to send an awesome fingerlock problem which a local assures me would be 12d if it was on a route. Very cool.
Over The Falls Direct 5.11a (22) onsight
Over The Falls 5.11a (22) onsight
The Green Room 5.11b (23) onsight
Asylum 5.12a (25) attempt

Lee on Asylum, Cave Rock. © M Blumen

7/5/2002 - Snowboarding
Went to Alpine Meadows and spent the day snowboarding. Awesome. Wasn't expecting to be doing that! By the end of the day, my back was in much pain, and I was having issues with a sore throat, I'm sure contracted from Neil. Sharing pots and pans and cups will do that I guess. Because the lifts closed at 2pm, we had time to go to the Tahoe Library and get on the net to send a message home and upload photos. When we got back to camp at around 7pm, I went straight to bed, feeling a little better the next day.

8/5/2002 - Travelling to Yosemite
Packed up the mighty Ford Windstar and headed the 4.5 hours to Yosemite. Managed to get some drugs for my throat, but they don't have antibacterial lozenges here, so I fail to see me getting better quickly. They did however have antibacterial soap in the bathroom at Del Taco where we stopped for lunch, so I contemplated eating some. We arrived to find space in Camp 4 (a rarity) so we moved straight in, walking past Midnight Lightning (super famous boulder problem) on the way through. Climbers everywhere. On the drive in we had to stop to gawk at El Cap. They're right. The pics really don't do it justice. It's massive. We're planning on going up tomorrow to do some free climbing, so I'll see more of it then. The other good thing about today was that it gave my hands more time to heal. For some reason they were already falling apart before I even got to the States.

My hands © N Monteith
9/5/2002 - Yosemite. Getting used to the cracks
Hot day. Very sunny and warm. Went to two different areas. El Cap was wild. What a little choss pile =). Did booty scavenge and came up with a biner. Yay. The routes we did there were so smooth from a billion hands pawing them. Nasty for footwork. Bought postcards from store. We're planning a big day tomorrow on the Cathedral. Gonna be epic.
** Positively 4th Street 40m 5.9 (18) onsight with silly slip at end
* Maple Jam 50m 5.10a (19) tough roof jams - second
El Cap SW Base Area
*** La Cosita, Right 30m 5.9 (18) slick smooth fingers and hands - onsight
*Little John, Left 30m 5.8 (17) way hard ow - second

Me on Positively Fourth Street, Yosemite © N Monteith & Colour by M Blumen

10/5/2002 - Yosemite. Attempt on Direct North Buttress (DNB) 5.10b of Middle Cathedral.
We had to get in early on this one. The plan was to do the DNB, which is 17 pitches long, and we were planning on doing it as a party of three in a day. Some speedy climbing tactics would be required. We got up early and headed out to Middle Cathedral. Neil was up the first pitch when we realised we'd forgotten the daypack, so Marc ran back to the car to get it. Upon coming back up, we found we didn't have enough water, so he had to go back down again. The first pitch was a V groove chimney which was given 5.7 (16). It was so hard Neil fell off! I shunted up the line, pulling on the rope in several places. Marc fell seconding. Second pitch was the 10b crux. It was insane. Up a corner to a massive no pro, incredibly balancy traverse 10m left. If you fall off on the traverse, you would take a massive bone-breaking swing back into the corner. If that's not an "R" pitch, I don't know what is. And it wasn't given "R" in the book. Neil fell higher up on a bolted section you can thankfully French free past. Tiny polished sloper slab climbing about grade 23, and not the 19 they give it. I fell off there too. My pitch started quite good with good climbing up an increasingly difficult corner to a roof. I stemmed as wide as I could to clip a fixed wire, and the swung up into the roof, with my hands above the lip and my feet below. It was at this point that my 'fixed' wire fell out, and me facing a big fall back down into the corner. I began to fear-pump immediately while swearing and crying. Thankfully I managed to keep it together enough the whip out a cam and chuck it in above my head before slumping onto it. At this point I looked 8m down and left of my to see some rap stations. Damn it! I was off route. No wonder it was so hard. Neil suggested I take my gear out and jump off. After a heated discussion I said I wasn't going to be doing that, so I penji'ed down and across to the chains, putting in a few pieces of gear. Marc managed to second and down aid across, retrieving all our gear. The wind was really blowing a gale now, and after Marc led his runout pitch and I shunted, we were all freezing. I was wearing cotton pants, thermal top and a windstopper vest, and the guys were similarly attired. We were in trouble. Neil led the seventh pitch and Marc belayed while shivering uncontrollably. I had managed to jam myself in a small groove in the rock to stay a bit sheltered. Marc and I were discussing who should tell Neil that we should retreat, when he yelled down to us that he could hear every word we were saying :) . He rapped the pitch off a single wire and we bailed down the route in three 60m raps. That night when I was looking through my beta off the web, the DNB had comments like "serious" and "not a walk in the playground". And the guidebook made it sound so innocuous!
*** Direct North Buttress (DNB) 17 pitches 5.10b - first 7 pitches. Led one.

Beaten faces on the DNB ©

11/5/2002 - Yosemite. Rest day activities, and climbing with Marty at Swan Slabs.
I needed some rest time after the epic of the day before, so I decided to go with Marty around Yosemite Village. It was excellent. We checked out the Mountain Shop (the climbing store) which had a great range of everything. I bought my cam hooks which I would be needing the day after for my first big wall. I also remembered something Gareth had mentioned that blue-green hybrid Aliens were good in pin scars, so I bought one of those too for $US 55. Marty went all out buying a whole bunch of climbing gear to fill out his rack. However, by the time the afternoon came I was getting antsy to climb. Marty was too, so we headed a short walk from camp and found the Swan Slab area, which due to it's close location to the road and shops is utilised heavily by instructional groups. There's a couple of really sweet lines there though, so I was keen. Marty had only led a couple of times on gear before, so he went really well up this 5.7 corner that we found. I then led the harder variant of that route which was a 5.9. A sustained layback corner for half a rope length. The climb we finished on was the proudest on the wall and had an imaginative name - Aid Route. It has an 11b (23) start on polished, chipped pockets for 8m, leading to a slabby 5.8 crackline. I used one aid to get up into the crack, and from there it was balancy climbing (with weird pin scars I was thankful I had the hybrid alien for) to the anchors. Marty wowed onlookers with his bouldery style, freeing the bottom entirely.
Lena's Lieback variant 15m 5.7 - second
* Lena's Lieback 25m 5.9 - onsight
** Aid Line 28m 5.8 with 11b start - onsight one aid

Marty abseiling - ill fated! © L Cujes

12/5/2002 - Yosemite. The Prow day 1.
The morning was spent racking gear and preparing for Marcel's and my assault on The Prow, a 500m high C2F (clean A2 with some fixed gear) route right up the centre of Washington's Column, which is opposite Half Dome. Our plan was to go up in the afternoon, do the first three pitches to the first ledge on the route, set up the portaledge, sleep, go to pitch eight the next day, then do from eight to twelve and top out the following day. 11 litres of water, food, three ropes, the ledge, and enough rack to do three routes weighed down our one hour-plus walk in. Thankfully Neil and Marty helped us out, walking in with us and helping carry the gear. When we got there after lunch another party was ahead of us (damn!!). They were planning on doing a variant start, fixing to three, then coming back the next day as a party of three to blast the wall. We said fine, so Marc started aiding up the original, while they French freed up the variant. While Marc was leading there was a fair few people around (from the South Face route and elsewhere) and they were kinda bagging me out saying that "The Prow isn't the kinda wall you want to learn to aid on", and stuff like that. "I hope you like exposure". "I hope you like RP's". I told them I had led aid pitches before and would be fine. They looked dubious. I pretty much ignored them. Maybe I should have mentioned my awesome record at KP :) . It ended up the Marc got ahead of the other party, so we headed on up the wall. I got pitch two which was very cruxy, up a badly pin-scarred shallow corner. It required my hybrid alien four times, not to mention the new cam hooks which I had never placed before (but now love!). It was scary because if I had fallen low on the pitch, I would have smashed into the ledge. I finished the pitch without incident and began hauling the pig (for the first time). Marc did pitch three which was long but straightforward and I jugged in the dark up to the ledge. We set the portaledge by torchlight, and then crashed. Before falling asleep, I was tracking numerous satellites before each one disappeared behind the hulking shadow of Half Dome across the Valley.

Me on ledge after night 1 on The Prow © M Geelen

13/5/2002 - Yosemite. The Prow day 2.
I woke to Marc shaking my leg saying we had to get moving. There was a real sense of urgency to put some pitches between us and the other party. They supposedly had a gun wall climber coming today who was going to blast. Pitch four was another difficult pitch which went to me. It was on this pitch that I had a yellow alien blow out of a beaten-out pin scar. I wasn't expecting it to blow, so kinda got flipped upside down by having my foot in the other aider. Blew the same piece a second time before switching to the hybrid alien and making it through. Marc did five and I did six which I assumed was going to be easy, but turned out to be very difficult, I think because a head had blown. I was second stepping off a cam hook and all I could reach was a sloping ledge. A blown head was just to my left. No use there. The back of the 10cm ledge was incut so you could get a massive hook over the entire thing, but I didn't have that. What I ended up having to do was hook a divot on the edge of the ledge with my Petzl hook, and stand up on that. Way scary. A dodgy bolt was way above my head and well out of reach. After trying to free up and almost knocking my hook off when trying to retreat, I ended up having to construct a second top step in one of my aiders out of a sling. Standing in these two loops with my hook just above ankle level, I was able to snag the bolt and slump onto it. Man was that full on! Marc linked seven and eight with some hard aid on small gear (black aliens, micro offsets) to take us to our bivi spot for our second night. We could see the other team further down on the wall. There was no way they were making eight tonight (yay!). This time the ledge was fully hanging, and I got the comfortable outside possie. We ate our dodgy cold food (Chef Boyardee -- getting aid climbers up walls for generations), checked the satellites and stars and crashed.

Me jugging on The Prow © M Geelen

14/5/2002 - Yosemite. The Prow day 3.
Marc was shaking my leg again. "Time to go man". The route had slackened off in angle by now so the aid was up some awkward grooves. At one point I had to attach a wire to a long sling and cowboy it way up to get through an awkward spot. Hauling proved to become harder too on the lower angle pitches. We kept knocking off the pitches and found ourselves on top, with a mammoth hauling epic to get the pig onto the summit. Not 10 minutes after arriving on top, Neil and Marty showed up to our delight (more hands to carry stuff down!). They had done the 15 pitch Royal Arches route (5.7) in three hours by simulclimbing the entire route! They then ran across the ridgeline when they saw us standing on the top of the Column. With their help we negotiated the descent, which in places was "you slip, you die". Not good with a bunch of heavy gear to lug. An hour or two later we were back at camp, and ready for the all you can eat buffet. When we arrived however at 9pm, they were closed! Neil was distraught, and decided to drive to Camp Curry to another buffet, which was also closed. We settled for potato chips out of a vending machine. I passed out on a camp chair.
*** The Prow 13 pitch V 5.6 C2F

15/5/2002 - Yosemite. Rest day after the Prow.
Today is a rest day. Marc and Neil are racking for Lurking Fear on El Cap. Two days ago Neil managed to fix to three with Marty. Marc and Neil are going light on this one, not even taking a portaledge. They are trying to do the route with only one ledge bivi. It's about a 17 pitch route, so I hope they manage to do it, otherwise they are in for some uncomfortableness. I went to the Mountain Store and bought Prana shorts and a pressie for Sammi. Also managed to upload and sort some photos, and read my email before getting dragged off kicking and screaming for more time as I was writing my single-line email: "I love you xoxoxo" in response to Sammi's four mega emails.

16/5/2002 - Yosemite. Manure Pile Buttress.
As I type this listening to Buffy on the car CD player I realise I still have my tape gloves on. Today Marty and I went out to Manure Pile Buttress which is located just down and right of El Cap. We also managed to pick up a stray in Camp 4 - Matt who arrived two days earlier by himself. So down we drove in Matt's van. The two star 5.6 After Six looked like a great one for Marty to lead, so I sent him up. Halfway up I got told that he was actually on After Seven, which was 5.8. Never mind, he still did a great job on the lead, with one face climbing runout section. I seconded that, and then we headed up to the classic of the crag - Nutcracker, a three star, five pitch 5.8. On the first pitch, I was laybacking and jamming up this crack when I grabbed a snake inside the crack. It freaked me out and I grabbed the piece I was at. With some discussion we determined that it wasn't poisonous, so I jammed on through, and ran the first two pitches together. There were two Canadians already waiting on the belay ledge, and because the route was so much of a circus, with a bunch of parties on it, we hung out on that ledge for about two hours in the sun. We just untied and lay around chatting. Very social. Marty decided to rap down and go and take photos of Neil and Marcel on Lurking Fear. Matt led up the 5.7 third pitch, doing a good job on his first Yosemite multipitch. I blasted up the next two 60m 5.8 pitches. The climbing was up a frictional slab with occasional bulges following an incipient crackline. Very good. Finished with enough light to get down and back to camp.
* After Seven 35m 5.8 - second
*** Nutcracker 5 pitches 5.8 - onsight (one pro grab due to snake)

17/5/2002 - Yosemite. Five Open Books Area and The Cookie Cliff.
Marty and I again teamed up with Matt. We headed to the Five Open Books area which is located just left of Yosemite Falls, which were raging. After again waiting in line, we got on the three pitch area classic of Commitment, a 5.9. First pitch was an awesome hand crack which Matt led at 5.8. Second was a layback corner at 5.7 which Marty led, and I led the crux pitch which was a layback/undercling crack through a roof, with feet just smearing. Quite hard for the grade. There wasn't much more there that looked good, so we drove to the somewhat distant Cookie Cliff. This cliff was steep, as opposed to the ubiquitous Yosemite slab cracks. More like Frog, with some way hard routes, and lots of classics. We walked up at about 5pm with the mozzies munching us, and basically decided to climb the first thing we saw (it looked so good). A crackline blasting 30m up a steep wall. Looked it up in the guide and found it was called Catchy, a three star 5.10d (22). I immediately started getting nervous as I pumped through the first moves. The crux was to be the final move where the crack disappeared and you had to "span" the gap. About 2/3 of the way up in the off-finger section, nerves overcame me and I rested. The guys were saying "Man, you were looking solid!" but my head just wasn't right. A couple of metres higher I rested again, and then cranked off the jams up to the crux. I read the sequence perfectly, grabbing a small undercling, and smearing high for maximum reach to get a lock. It was a cool move. Clipped the anchors and brought Matt up, who had four rests.
** Commitment three pitch 5.9 - second, second, onsight (crux)
*** Catchy 28m 5.10d (22) - two rests, crux section onsight.

18/5/2002 - Yosemite. Rest day. First shower of the trip.
Definitely the highlight of the day was being able to have a free shower. That night we went in for a movie showing the Park Service was doing on some El Cap climbing. It was a video about Allen Steck in his seventies re-doing his route East Buttress Of El Capitan that he did the first ascent of when he was young. It was good beta, because Neil and I were planning on doing the route the next day!

19/5/2002 - Yosemite. East Buttress Of El Capitan.
This was the day Neil and I would attempt to climb El Cap in a day via the free route, East Buttress which is 13 pitches long and grade 5.10b (20). I got woken up way early, around 5am, and in the cold, we drove out to the access point. After a 40 minute walk up, looking at all of the parties dwarfed against the massive wall we came to the base, a 5.9 chimney. Yuck. Neil the wide crack man can do this pitch. After stringing the backpack underneath me so I could chimney properly, I made it to the belay and had a look at the crux second pitch. I suggested to Neil that we lead in blocks, but he was having none of it, saying if he had to do the chimneys and offwidths, I was damn well getting the crux :) . I cranked up a few moves and put in a high runner, then downclimbed and launched across to the next piton-scarred crackline which led up into a smooth, gritstone-like groove. It was awesome full body climbing and I needed every old school trick in the book to inch my way upwards. Third pitch wasn't memorable. Fourth pitch led up off a ledge up a long slab to a natural belay. Fifth pitch went straight up a crackline with good knobby face holds to a ledge. The sixth pitch was mine and looked pretty wild. It was a couple of metres of arĂȘte climbing which was right on the nose of the buttress splitting the El Cap faces, then a leaning line with poor feet. What made this worse was that snowmelt from the top of El Cap was running down the face about 200m left of us, but due to the wind and how high up we were, the droplets were extremely mobile and were flying around. Quite beautiful really, like a school of fish in the sky as the large drops caught the light, but they were wetting us and the rock. After some frantic slapping and smearing I made it to the belay. I passed some gear en route that a previous party had left to bail off. A cam and some biners. Neil bootied this on the way up. Upon getting to the belay, he whipped off the daypack. Unfortunately for me, he'd clipped gear into the pack's waistband and my gear went spiralling down into the void. I counted some wires, biners and my nut tool. After bouncing several times in time to our swearing, the stuff landed down near the fourth pitch belay ledge. Neil's response was "Well, guess who's getting this booty cam?". The next pitch was the 5.9 offwidth which Neil led. Mostly face climbing though, which was good. I climbed too high in the crack before traversing out onto the face and almost fell off on second. Didn't though, and made it through to the belay. I have no memory of my next pitch, but Neil's pitch 10 was the wildest on the route. 60m of climbing up a vertical knobby face with sparse pro. Unbelievable positions and exposure. Awesome. Pretty straightforward climbing on the next couple of pitches followed and we soon topped out on the summit ridge of El Cap. Incredible views, but we dared not stay long, because a storm was predicted and already the clouds had rolled in and we started to get the odd drop of rain. We pitied the two parties on the route below. One of the main reasons we chose to do the route was to check out the East Ledges descent, which is the main way of getting off El Cap. We wanted to check this out before doing our aid routes on the Cap. We had heard that it was pretty heinous, but after several raps down crappy fixed ropes, we made it down and back to the car in 1:45, agreeing that this descent was much better than the North Dome Gully descent that we had to do off the Prow. On the way down, I was looking around for booty, and found a rope stashed under a rock with some empty water bottles. Looked like it had been there for about a year, but on inspection it seems pretty good. New lead rope! Woo! So we ended up doing the route in under 10 hours car-to-car.
Gear lost: two biners, 2x #8 HB offset wires, #8 HB wire, nut tool.
Booty obtained: four biners, a long length of new prussik cord, a #1 Metolius cam, a 60m rope, several tie-offs, a rivet hanger.
That night it was raining and crap weather so we went to the Mountain Lodge (bar) and the guys drank beer while I watched the two hour finale of American Survivor sans sound. An afro-American woman won it by one vote. They've had some good token winners.
*** East Buttress Of El Capitan 13 pitches 5.10b - onsight, alt. Led crux.

Neil on East Buttress of El Capitan © L Cujes

20/5/2002 - Merced and Star Wars. Bad weather enforced rest day.
Terrible weather, so we drove 70 miles out to Merced. Went to In-And-Out-Burger for lunch, which was excellent. They only have about four items on the menu, but they use real unfrozen beef and potatoes. Yum. Then we drove around endlessly looking for a cinema which was playing Star Wars. Eventually found one and watched it while the video guys picked it apart. Bought food at the "Grocery Outlet" and headed back to Yosemite, only to find that the gate was locked and the road was closed due to major rockfall over the road. Damn it! We ended up having to pay $110 to stay in a dodgy motel. The best thing about it was cable TV and I got to watch a Next Gen episode.

21/5/2002 - Trying to get back into Yosemite.
It's 12:50pm and the road finally opens and we can get back in. There's snow all over the ground on the drive up and I'm dreading what we're going to find when we get to our tents. My bag full of clothes and stuff is sitting in the vestibule and covered over by a tarp. El Cap is covered with snow and the tourists are out in force taking photos. It ends up being not too bad, although there is snow around the tents. Neil and Poul are going to start Mescalito (5 days) tomorrow, and hike all their water in to the base late in the afternoon. Around the same time Marc and I decide that we will attempt Zodiac (4 days). So we hike our 24 litres of water up the deathy talus slope in the failing light of the afternoon.

Lee and Marcel rack up © N Monteith

22/5/2002 - Yosemite. Zodiac day 1.
Zodiac is about 600m high and 16 pitches long. It's a classic trade route on El Cap. It's graded A2+ (if you're nailing) or C3 (clean A3) with a pitch of C3R (dangerous clean A3). Most parties nail on a couple of pitches. We headed up there early to find lots of people hanging around. There was a French team of three who had fixed ropes to six (!!) and were jugging up. Then there was a soloist who was going to jug the French guys' ropes and continue from there, and finally there was an American team of three who were fixed to three and were jugging too. Marc began leading pitch 1 at about 7:40am. 40 minutes later when the aid started getting hard (C3 - the hardest he'd done yet) he had to be lowered to go and drop some excess weight. Back on the lead and several hours later he finishes and I start jugging. It took me some time to re-aid across the long roof on the pitch, so Marc continued up the C2+ second pitch. Pitch 3 was mostly a bolt ladder with a C2+ move into an easy C1 crackline, and Marc kept up the momentum by leading this pitch as well, which got us up onto Dead Bird Ledge. The sharp end was now mine, and I got an easy introduction, with a straightforward C1 pitch, then I kept pulling down on pitch 5's mammoth rivet ladder to lead us up to the 1 foot wide, Dead End Ledge. Upon getting to the ledge and hauling the pig, the combination of a big meal the night before, poor morning preparation, and a couple of pitches on the sharp end took their toll on me. I shouted down to Marc "If you know what's good for you, you'll jug slowly!". I needed to go so badly I wasn't even concerned with my personal safety, chucking my harness off to crouch unprotected 200m off the deck, while waving at the tourists with binoculars in El Cap meadow. As the light was failing, we set up the portaledge and settled in for the night. The previous day in the comfort of Camp 4, we decided that hauling foam mats was unnecessary. How I regretted that decision when even in four layers of clothes, I froze due to having no insulation under me. A poor night's sleep is just what I needed for the next day's climbing.

23/5/2002 - Yosemite. Zodiac day 2.
Ugghh. Day two. Better get moving I guess. Hmm, it's the crux pitch of the route. The infamous Black Tower pitch, rated C3R - dangerous fall potential onto a spike of rock. In 1999, Neil took a 6m fall on the pitch, pulling out two cams and getting bad rope burn on his hand and busting his lip and elbow. Marc was happy for me to lead it. It started easily enough with a slabby hand crack leading up to the tower. Then things started to get interesting. Dodgy small wires in flared, polished pin scars. Not nice. If these pulled out, I would be harshly deposited back down on the slab, possibly breaking bones. Extensive use of the blue-green hybrid alien was needed. Harder than anything I had encountered before, I was really happy to pull up onto the top of the tower, straddling a leg either side. It was at this stage that the guy in the party above yelled out "Hey dude, how was that?" to which I replied "Yeah, pretty f'n hard!". He then said, "It only gets harder!". I looked up. Ahhh crap. The crux section was above me, and the dangerous fall would occur by ripping gear and falling down onto the spike I was sitting on. Damn! There was a beaten out thin seam leading up, and it was full of broken fixed gear, like snapped pegs, and unusable heads. I ended up having to use the big fishhook to hook over the top of snapped pegs, and other gnarly techniques. Getting to the belay was a huge relief. As it's more efficient to climb in blocks, I continued on pitch 8, doing a free traverse in my big boots, partially assisted with hooks. That led up into a way steep corner with a seam running up one wall. This seam was chock-a-block full of broken RURPs. Fun to negotiate at C2+. Marc was feeling a bit dodgy, so I continued on the mammoth enduro corner of pitch 9. Lots of cam hooks and a hefty grade of C3. While weighting my yellow alien in a flared pin scar, it ripped and I took a scary daisy fall onto a small rivet. Thank god it held, because my last protection (a rusty peg) was quite a way down. The day's climbing got us right into the middle of the Grey Circle (a massive feature of El Cap). Our portaledge was set up on a bulge, which meant it was kinda hanging free, and we floated around, way up in a sea of rock. I can't articulate the thought processes and mind games at play on the wall, but I found overcoming my inner demons was the hardest (and most fulfilling) aspect of bigwalling. A whole day of leading hard aid ensured that mat or no mat, I slept like the dead.

Marcel chilling on Zodiac © L Cujes

24/5/2002 - Yosemite. Zodiac day 3.
Lucky me! Pitch 10 was the famous Nipple Pitch, which is a house sized pancake-like flake. For a good 15m or so, it's a roof, which is C3, or if you want to smash bits of iron into it, it's A1. We didn't. So that meant non-stop inverted cam-hooking, with a couple of pieces left as protection as I moved my way out on these seemingly impossible pieces, wishing I had opted for the thicker tape when slinging my cam hooks. I found it quite scary and exhilarating. As the flake angles up from horizontal to the nipple (where it cuts back), it gets gradually wider. Climbing around the nipple itself required the #5 camalot! After finishing the nipple section, the pitch doesn't let up, with solid C3 climbing to the belay. It was in this section that the party above informed me that I would need to nail a birdbeak to get through the section. I thanked them, and climbed straight through using a perfect cam hook. Poor Marcel seconding this pitch! Because I couldn't really leave gear on the roof (I was using heaps of cam hooks), he had to re-aid the roof using his own cam hooks. That took us ages. After leading the previous four pitches, I was happy enough sitting on the belay reading our awesome book (Fast Food Nation) waiting for him to arrive and take over the sharp end. Pitch 11 was the Mark Of Zorro pitch which had some steep country, and a bit of C3 action on mostly dodgy fixed gear. The last pitch of the day was the Devil's Brow which Marc led at C2+. Our portaledge bivi was a little bit sheltered, which was just as well, because meltwater rained down all around us during the night. Thankfully we were dry inside the bright yellow portaledge fly.

25/5/2002 - Yosemite. Zodiac day 4.
Pitch 13 was long and zig-zaggy at C2. It was my lead. Much back cleaning and some dodgy free climbing was required. One memorable move low down on the pitch was when I had to step off a bolt onto a bathook in a steady stream of water pouring down the rock. There was no way to rush this move, but damn it, I was getting wet! A sodden #1 cam out right allowed me to escape out of the waterfall. Who was responsible for perfectly lining the waterfall up with one of the only bathook moves on the route? I want names! As I neared the top of the pitch, nature was reminding me ever more forcefully of its existence. Even though I promised myself I would NEVER do anything as stupid as removing my harness on a wall ever again, the luxurious two foot ledge at the top of the route was simply too inviting, and I once again gave the tourists an interesting view while Marc jugged and cleaned. Feeling lighter and much happier, I roped in again and launched up a strange bolted offwidth pitch. It was protected by bolts, but you actually climbed it by continuously crack-walking two #4 camalots up the crack. This got me up to a roof complete with a million tatty slings you use to pull around onto a hanging slab and the belay. We could see the trees on the top of the wall. Only two pitches to go. Summit fever was setting in in a big way. Marc did the bizarre pitch 15 which he found scary on thin gear up a slab. The scary part was that if he fell, he'd end up on the slab - ouch! With the help of cam hooks, it all went to plan. During this pitch, all of our ropes decided to tangle themselves into a knot, and get caught up underneath the pig, hanging lower than the belay. Tempers frayed and harsh words were exchanged. While 20m diagonally up and left of me on the lead, Marcel dropped one of my expensive spectra slings. Instead of spiralling 650m downwards, the wind deposited it on my shoe. More harsh words. We both had summit fever. It's a hard thing to combat when the summit is so close. You just want the whole thing over and done with, then you're already thinking about the descent and the buffet you're going to go to that night. It's around this time when your mind isn't on the job that mistakes start being made. We had to constantly reign in our desire to be on top, and take it one step at a time. Marc finished off the easy last pitch and we summitted at 3:05pm - 79 hrs and 25 mins after starting. I think we kinda missed out on the speed record of 8 hours or so [now under 2 hrs(!) -- Lee, 2008]. If we could only shave 71 hours off our time we'd be getting close. ;)
*** Zodiac 700m VI 5.7 C3F

Me atop Zodiac, El Cap - after four days on the wall © M Geelen

26/5/2002 - Tuolumne Meadows.
As a rest day, we drove out to the awesome scenery of Tuolumne. We took climbing gear "just in case". Neil, Marc and I ended up simul-climbing a massive 5.6 route on Polly Dome in about an hour. It was situated right above a lake and there were heaps of other climbers around, and some right above us on the route. We blasted up the granite dome. Towards the top I found it more fun to run like a lizard up the rock at top speed, rather than climbing carefully. I was also climbing with the video camera and I think I got some good footage. The descent down the dome in climbing shoes was painful. We had non-franchise-operation burgers for lunch (excellent) and drove out to Mono Lake, the home of some quasi-impressive limestone tufas which form under the lake from seeping groundwater and are exposed when the lake level drops. Kinda like white towers on the shoreline. We cared not for the $3 entrance fee and decided not to pay.
* Great White Book 200m 5.6

27/8/2002 - Yosemite. Rest day and bouldering.
Neil and Marc were heading up to do a long route on Higher Cathedral. So Marty and I decided the night before that we would do the classic first five pitches of Central Pillar of Frenzy on the Middle Cathedral. In the morning though it was another story for me. I was totally wasted from the wall, and slept in until 10:30am. Neil and Marc had long gone so I hung around with Marty and chilled out, before heading out around lunch time for some bouldering. I had a good session, nailing quite a few cool problems and having fun with the camera gear. My skin is nicely trashed again now, but there'll be plenty of time for it to heal back in Australia. The reality that the trip is coming to an end is hitting me now, and I'm regretting that there is so much still to do.

Me on Midnight Lightning © M Blumen

28/8/2002 - Yosemite. Snake Dike on Half Dome as the grand finale.
Six mile hike in. Seven pitch route. Nine mile hike out. What a mammoth day! Six of us lined up for the ordeal, including Matt the American and Matt Bennett who we'd met a week or so before. He was a Brissie boy who was on an open-ended holiday. His goals for Yosemite were to do a wall, and reach the "lightning bolt" hold on Midnight Lightning. He might be there for a while. At any rate, we headed off from the carpark at 7:30am, and hiked up past the spectacular Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail, one of the best walks in America. Three hours after setting off, we arrived at the base of Half Dome's Southwest face, and the base of the route. Even though it has horrendous access, the route is billed as one of the best moderate routes in the Universe, so there were parties ahead of us, including one party on the ground gearing up to go. I'm sure the appearance of six rowdy climbers put on the pressure, especially since I started running up the crux first pitch as soon as the seconder of the party in front began climbing. Because there was six of us, and the pitches were so long, we climbed in two groups of three, with the two seconders tied in close to each other on the end of the rope. The route was super-easy, but up an incredible dike feature one to three feet wide running up the entire dome. As the pitches went on, the route got more slabby, until it got to the point where I just untied, and started soloing out towards the summit. An absolute leg killer. Imagine walking to the top of Girraween's second pyramid, except 10 times the scale. Walking from the top of the route to the summit took about 45 minutes I reckon. Up there, it was a tourist debacle as expected, considering they have a tourist "track" leading up there, consisting of massive cable handrails going up one of the slabby, but still steep faces. We had to go down this to descend, and it's definitely the most full-on tourist jaunts I've ever seen. So steep and smooth that I crouched down, and slid on my shoes (glissaded) down it. Neil was telling us what an experience it was with the haulbags when he and Nick did the Regular NW Face a couple of years ago. The walk-out was epic. I don't think I've walked so fast for so long. Non-stop power walking down a rocky track for 3.5 hours destroyed my legs. I arrived back at the car to find Neil and Marc permanently borrowing food items from nearby bear boxes. That night was a prime candidate for the all-you-can-eat buffet, and we feasted well.
*** Snake Dike 7 pitches 5.7 (16)

29/8/2002 - Yosemite. Pack up day.
We shed some tears, and packed some gear. Did some bouldering on Midnight Lightning, and soaked in as much as we could. We were leaving the next day.

30/8/2002 - Yosemite to San Fran. Fly out at 5:30pm.
After packing up and saying our goodbyes to our friends in camp, we hit the road at 9:00am and began the trip towards San Fran where the guys would drop me off for my flight before heading to Santa Cruz and Poul's place. After an unintended and stressful (for me) detour, we made it to the airport and I wished the guys well for Baffin. They dropped me off in a completely random spot, which purely by chance happened to be exactly where I needed to be. My main climbing pack was ridiculously heavy, so I decided to do a repack job in the airport before checking in. My favourite pillow was ditched into the trash to make room for climbing gear in my other pack. Check-in was successful, with them not even bothering to weigh my packs - whew! Maybe they didn't see the veins bulging out of my arms and forehead as I moved the bags over to the counter. However, I reckon it was my scungy beard that prompted Z-ray checking of all my bags, and then a random security check where they swabbed my shoes and the laptop for explosives. Maybe I don't have an honest face. It was the same all the way back to Brisbane. Wherever it was possible to be hassled by security, I was. Nevertheless I was stoked to be coming home and couldn't wait to see Sammi at the airport. It was a weird feeling to be back in Brisbane after all the things I'd experienced the last month. It felt like I'd only got a taste of what Yosemite has to offer, and yet it rates as the best trip of my life. As I sit at work finishing this trip report, I'm looking forward to packing my bags again.