Sunday, July 4th, 2004

An Encounter with Spiderman at Matthes Crest

Spiderman at Matthes Crest

I have not been to Tuolumne Meadows (TM) this year, and I can sense
the itch inside me. But knowing that TM is a popular tourist
destination at this time of the year — the July 4th
weekend — I am about to settle for somewhere else. However, on
Friday night when we hear a voice mail from our friend Bill saying
that he was going to TM and might be able to bag a camp site, the hope
rises up in me. Though without a confirmed camp site, we decide to
take a chance. So Saturday, we get up as early as humanly possible
and pack into our car as fast as we can. We finally manage to get
out of Allen’s apartment in Sonora at noon (He just moved there from
the San Francisco Bay Area). It is probably 100 degrees Fahrenheit,
and the scorching sun almost melts the asphalt pavement.

It takes us one hour to get to the Yosemite gate. I start to see the
advantage of living in Sonora now. As we drive towards TM, we see the
dark clouds blanketing the high mountains. What is in front of us
looks like a monster with his mouth wide open waiting for us to feed
ourselves into it. And so we did. Soon after we pass Tenaya Lake, we
are inside the thunderstorm. The heavy rain does not stop us, but the
hail and snow eventually force us to pull over like every other car
does. It is a white out around us now. The windshield fogs up
instantly and the ice is accumulating under the wipers, which is
making a weird sound while working hard to scrap the pouring icy hail
off of the windshield. Allen has to brave into the storm in his shorts to free the
wipers. Not wanting to get stuck in the storm for too long, we move
on slowly on the slippery road, with the heater turned to it’s full
capacity. It is not long before we arrive at the meadow where the
police has stopped all the cars from the other direction. It is quite
peaceful here although wet. Obviously the storm did not show its scary
face here. We pass by about 30 cars on the other side of the road,
while they stare at our snow covered car with ooh and ahhs. I feel like
a hero returning to her hometown.

When we get to the camp ground, the storm is already behind us. Not
seeing a note from Bill on the bulletin board (we missed that small
piece of paper), we circle around the gigantic TM camp ground on its
hundreds of loops. If Bill’s car had been a Toyota Camry or Honda
Accord, I would have given up. But how many red Odyssey can there be
in the midst of those hundreds of camp sites? After who-knows-how-many loops,
there it is, a red Odyssey in camp site E4! We have a place to call
home for this weekend. Yeehaa!

Allen wants to do the traverse from south to north on
Matthes Crest tomorrow. That’s a
back country climb with 3 hours of hike in. The climb is along 1.5
miles of ridgeline of Matthes Crest. I’m a bit concerned about the
weather since it’s been a pattern to have an afternoon thunderstorm in
the high country during the past few days. But I try not to
discourage him too much with my worries.

My alarm clock goes off at 4 am. It’s still pitch dark, but it’s not
raining. We get out of the tent and I can see some stars above us,
which is a good sign. It’s cold, so we make some tea and heat up some
cereal. The time is 5:20am when we leave our car at the trail head.
Yesterday, I told him that if we could not be on the trail by 4:30am,
I would not do the climb. It turns out to be another wishful thinking
of mine.

We follow the direction given on the Supertopo and soon arrive at a
creek crossing. Confused with the description, we cross the creek on
the wet and slippery log only to be turned back by the sloppy trail
covered by hard ice. Actually, at this early hour of the day, most of
the ground is covered by ice from yesterday’s storm. We come to an
agreement that we will just follow the easiest path on this (west) side of
the creek and see how far we can go. Matthes Crest will always be
there, and we can just go for a hike today. So we push on carefully
along the creek. Cathedral Peak pops out behind the trees to our right,
which gives us an indicator that we are on the right track in the
general direction after all. With the help of those unmistakable landmarks such
Cathedral Peak and Echo Peak, we arrive at the base of the climb at
8:40 am, 3 hours and 20 minutes after we left the car. I am more than
pleased with our speed even though my hard breathing keeps reminding
me I am at a high altitude that my body is not used to.

Allen disappears behind a boulder while I busy myself with putting my
climbing shoes on and racking up. However, a few minutes later, when
I look around, I don’t see Allen any more, I see Spiderman!!! Obviously,
after Spiderman and his buddy (from Spidermen community) defeated

Incredible Hulk
, he has decided to come and chill out here. There
is a woman following up the first pitch above us, and when she looks
down, she can’t stop laughing. I don’t know what has happened to Allen,
but climbing with Spiderman sounds just as good to me. Shortly after 9 am we
both start free soloing up and soon pass the woman and her partner on
the first two pitches. As soon as we pop up on the ridge, I can
immediately see why many people have been fascinated by this climb.
Imagine, there you are with hundreds of feet of drop on your left and on
your right, and thousands of feet of granite wave extending in
front of you. You have to be a stone not to be impressed.

There is no protection in free soloing, so we free solo within our
comfort zone. After about 3/4 miles at a section that looks
sketchy, we rope up. Then we mostly roped solo (with only a rope between us)
and occasionally simul-climb (with a few pieces of gear before us
while moving simultaneously). When we stand on top of South
Summit, it has just been 2 hours after we started climbing. We have
been moving in a good pace.

Spiderman leads up the pitch to North Summit, where we find the
register box. We sit down and have our lunch while
reading through the scrambled notes in the box. One page of photocopy
of the Croft guidebook catches our attention, on which reads that
one morning Peter Croft decided to run up Matthes Crest really early because he
had to be back for work at 8:30 am. He was no Spiderman; He was
Superman! I lead the pitch after North Summit because there are a
couple of scary down-climb sections (one of them could have been
avoided if I had chosen the right path). Belayed climbing slows us
down quite a bit, and I watch a couple of free soloists pass me. Inspired, we
decide to put away the rope and free solo the last 0.5 miles
of ridge after North Summit except for one more exposed down climb section
where we use a cordelette
to protect ourselves. Sometimes, I’m down climbing;
sometimes, I’m hopping from one rock to another 2 feet apart with great
drop in between; and sometimes, I’m traversing a long way with my
hands on the knife-edged ridge and feet on granite knob extrusions.
That is the wildest experience in my life. We start heading down a
little before the north end of the ridge to cut our way back to the
plateau where we have come from. There is no more snow on our way
back, and we get back to our car at 4:50pm. The sun is still out and the sky is blue.

Next day, every muscle in my body is screaming at me. We plan to do
something really really easy before we are headed home. But somehow,
we end up at the base of Crying Time Again (5.10a R, 6
pitches) on Lambert Dome.
The first pitch has a very heady slab section, and my feet
are hurting tremendously in my brand new Mythos (this is the first
time those shoes see lights). I almost consider backing out. But I can’t
because Allen is already up there and we only have one rope — there is no
turning around. I try
hard to ignore the throbbing pain that comes from my toes, and pray
for not slipping every time I shift my weight onto a new slopy hold.
When I get to the belay, it is almost my crying time again. But I
guess I finally get used to the pain, because the climb just seems to
be more and more fun. When we top out, my heart is again filled with
joy despite that I can’t even stand up. The thunder clouds are
approaching us, but that does not worry me any more, because I have
had a fun weekend of climbing, and I am getting out of here before the
clouds dump their first rain drop on me.

The thunderstorm monster is waiting for us to enter its mouth.

Before we are eaten by the monster, we look back to the blue sky over Tenaya Lake behind us.

The windshield dutifully prevents winter from falling onto my two little duckies.

I love those mini vans. And every does.

Since we can’t go anywhere in this rain, we might as well learn something. Today’s lesson: figure 9 knot.

Guess how long does it take two blonds to put up a tent? Oh, two beautiful and smart blonds after some scotch and beer. I even got a movie!

I am hiking in with Cathedral Peak in the back.

Spiderman starts floating up the wall.

Spiderman needs to carry a backpack too so he can look cool.

Can you see me? I’m carrying the rope in mountaineers’ coil on my shoulders and I’ve come a long way.

Spiderman is traversing a knife blade.

Spiderman is everywhere.

This photo shall testify that Spiderman and I, Mei, have been on North Summit of Matthes Crest.

I cannot get the whole ridge in the viewfinder without using the panoramic mode.

We are both down on the ground safe and sound.