first days in the valley

I’ve now been a full week in Yosemite National Amusement Park, glamping-capital of the world (glamping stands for “glamour camping” if you haven’t yet come across this technical term.)  The only difference between Yosemite and an actual amusement park is that you can’t drive your car between rides in an actual amusement park.  Otherwise, the experience of an average loud-mouthed, camera-snapping, belly-scratching tourist is pretty similar, revolving primarily around getting “I was there” pictures in front of famous things and eating a lot of junk food.  Luckily, if that’s not your scene, it takes only 30 minutes to hike up one of the valley’s slopes and get away from everyone getting away from it all.

Vista from the base of El Cap

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As for me, I’m just starting to get acclimatized to the smooth-sided cracks and giant looming head walls that make Yosemite one of the world’s most renowned climbing destinations. I haven’t trad climbed much in the past, so I’m here on a crash course (hopefully not literally) to learn the skills I’ll need to scale El Capitan and the Half Dome, two iconic walls that I’ve wanted to climb since I first donned a harness 16 years ago.

Toby heading up pitch one of the Nose on El Cap

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Gazing up through the car window as I enter the park, I feel a wave of nervous energy flow though my body.  I am completely intimidated by the giant smooth rock faces that soar above me.  Although I’ve done a few trips here in the past as a boulderer, someone who climbs big boulders armed with just a crash-pad (to stop ankle breaks) and a toothbrush (to clean holds, of course!), this is my first time here as a big-wall climber, and I feel much less sure of myself.  It is quite a thing to stand under El Cap and consider climbing it – let alone, climbing it in a day as many do!

New Zealand Peter looking casual following a terrifying 5.9 slab lead on the Glaciar Point Apron

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But it’s not just the scale that’s intimidating.  The rock is often slippery, loose and downright scary, with flared pin scars for the hands and polished slabs that look like marble countertops for the feet.  The gear is also less secure than I expected with several aid placements behind expanding flakes and exfoliating piton scars.  I keep thinking about the early valley pioneers, climbers like John Salathe, Royal Robbins and Warren Harding, scaling these same walls with the most primitive of tools, often just hiking shoes, a rope around the waist, and a sling of pitons (metal wedges hammered into faint cracks).  You can only appreciate the full extent of their boldness once you’ve seen these routes up close!

Mike and I scoping out the moves of Separate Reality

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So far I’ve done 5 or 6 days of cragging in and around the valley.  My most notable climbs have been the East Buttress of El Cap, Separate Reality and Goodridge Pinacle on the Glaciar Point Apron.  I’m gradually growing more accustomed to the climbing style here, although aiding (using gear to make progress over difficult ground) is a lot more tricky than I expected, and could well slow us down on longer walls.

That’s all I have time for now… Here are a few pictures from the first week.  Stay tuned!

***

Jeff at Blum Camp, starting off our trip in style with ice-cold Perrier’s!

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Rapping in to Above the Cookie crag

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Trying out my first tape gloves on Separate Reality

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Mike grabbing his send of the same route. This picture gives another perspective of the route’s unusual position under a big roof flake

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Me, cutting loose on the redpoint. Much easier without a full rack!

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3 Responses to first days in the valley

  1. isaac says:

    Sick Steve! Looks like you almost hosed yourself with the rope on your redpoint burn!

  2. capetownsteve says:

    Haha, Yeah, I actually fell on that burn and the rope flipped me over – luckily just into the air… Needless to say, I was a little more careful on the actual redpoint next go!

  3. James "Jim-Boy" Woods says:

    Steve you have begun to feel the magic of the Valley and describe it very well. I remember 10 years ago climbing there and looking up at El Cap and thinking, “are you kidding me?”, but gradually the style, experience, and confidence grows and you can push yourself to the limits and beyond. I’m confident you will send whatever you like, and just in case, don’t forget even in failure you find the greatest adventure. Cheers!

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