Sunday, May 24, 2009


"So you want to go bouldering?" I shivered. The sun still hadn't hit Yosemite's Birdalveil parking lot. Sweeney smoked a cigarette by his pick up and shook his head.

I shouldered a pack full of ropes and gear and trudged towards the Wall of Ages, the yellow expanse of granite to the right of Bridalveil falls. Sweat dripped down my shirt, and the cotton stuck to my chest when we got to the base.

"You never sweat like this when you're bouldering." I told Sweeney.

Sweeney nodded. He rolled a cigarette, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and then rolled another coffin nail. From the base, the 5.12 bombay chimney pitch loomed over us. The route looked wide, dirty, and heinous.

"Lucho onisghted the route. Then said it was awesome. You know what that means?" I asked. Sweeney coughed a cloud of smoke and peanut butter. "It means its totally scrappy, covered in lichen, and not worth doing. So you want to go bouldering?" I didn't wait for an answer. I shouldered my pack and stared heading back down to the car.

"Lucas!" Sweeney shouted. His eyes were wide, and his body coiled, ready to spring and tackle me to keep me from leaving. "I'll link the first two pitches. You won't have to lead the offwidth."

I dropped my pack, and set up to belay. Sweeney quickly dispatched the first pitch, which the topo claimed as solid 5.10 but felt more like 5.9. I followed, arriving at the belay to find that Sweeney hadn't linked the pitches.

"I thought there might be too much rope drag," he handed me a dozen over sized cams. "Looks wet too."

I climbed into the maw of the 5.10+ offwidth and thrashed inside of the eight inch crack for ten then twenty then thirty minutes. The sharp calcite deposits on the side of the granite wore enormous holes in the knees of my best pants. Strawberries sprung up around my kneecaps, and my skin shined a bright pink. I'd progressed five feet off the belay when I decided to retreat.

"You wanna go bouldering?" I handed Sweeney the rack, praying that he would get stuck inside the beast of the crack and want to retreat to an afternoon of cranking hard moves close to the ground. I had visions of sending V sickness and while working on tanning.

Instead Sweeney grunted up the outside of the crack, stacking his fists and pulling through the bulge of the wide crack. Fifteen minutes later, I followed him up, repeating the fist stack, and making the holes in my pants a little bit bigger.

I led the next pitch, which follows a crack, into a roof, and then encounters a difficult lip boulder problem. I chimneyed and stemmed up the crack. At the lip, I jammed my hand in a small constriction, skated my feet on the lichen, and tried to pull through five or six times. Finally I pulled harder, and then fell. I slammed in a cam and french freed through, then headed to the anchor. Sweeney followed the pitch, claiming that the 12c crux felt more like easy 5.12. I shrugged. Could be.

Sweeney headed up into the bombay chimney of the next pitch. His feet pedaled on the dirty rock and granite flakes showered on my head. He jammed his hands vertically in the crack, traversed, then pulled over the roof, continuing to the belay. I followed. The 5.12 felt more like easy 5.11.

The next pitch found me wandering up a thin crack covered in bushes and flakey granite. The 5.11+ rating felt easier but I was wandering into no man's land, wondering what the topo said, and hoping I went the right way.

"Where do I go?" I shouted down to Sweeney but I couldn't hear his directions over the roar of the falls. I stared at him while he pointed up then left and then right.

"We could still go bouldering," I screamed.

Sweeney lead the next two pitches, linking the two short bits with a lot of rope drag. Surprisingly, these two 5.11 pitches were hard. They had difficult boulder problems protected by bolts.

We summitted and rappelled the route. The topo we had said to leave the tag line anchored to the belay at the second pitch and rap from the fourth to it. We barely made the rap to the fourth pitch, employing some shenanigans.

The pitches on the route were short. The climbing was dirty and a little bit easier than the rating Jones had. A couple days later Honnold and Gleason made the fourth ascent. Alex said the route was probably 11+. That sounds about right.

At the base, I rubbed my worn knees, and brushed off the gray flakes of granite. This was adventure climbing. "We could have gone bouldering," I told Sweeney.

He lit another cigarette, smoked it. Then rolled and lit another one. He'd onsighted the route, climbing it casually.

"Yeah," he blew out a ring of smoke as a mass of dirt fell out of his hair, "we should have gone bouldering."


Justin said...

Nice James. I take it this is about the route 'Mamma'?

James said...

Yeah...I thought the route was called Momma. I guess not. It was an old Josh Thompson aid route. Jones added bolts and what not.