Saturday, June 25th, 2005

Offwidth Training in Yosemite

It all started from a message on a climbers’ Internet forum, SuperTopo — this guy, going by username climberweenie, expressed interests in training for a physically demanding classic climb, Steck Salathe (SS), and was looking for a partner. I responded to him before I regretted. was I really going to climb with some total stranger I had never met? Yet…Training for SS meant climbing chimneys, offwidths, and wide cracks. I might be able to find a friend or two who is willing to do it with me, but I’ll feel guilty as soon as their suffering begins because I’ll think that they are doing it because of me. But this one… his suffering would not be my responsibility, which was an intriguing thought. A few email exchanges later, we had planned our itinerary — we would do a day trip to Yosemite, starting on Royal Arches (5.7 A0) and then cragging by following the SS training regime.

When I talked to a friend about this plan, he questioned the sanity/maturity of someone with that user name, climberweenie. But not speaking English well was a blessing for me as I only recognized the word, climber, and that was enough for me. My friend also questioned why I would want to do Royal Arches again because it was never my favorite because of its large amount of low grade climbing/hiking. Well, that was exactly why — not knowing the stranger, I was only willing to commit to a low grade climb so that my life would not be dependant on my partner. I would solo it if needed. Also, climberweenie mentioned his wife in another post of his, which made me feel a little more secure. If there is a woman who can put up with him, he can’t be too crazy, right? See? I did do my research before I did the bold move. I guess my partner-to-be was nervous about what he was getting into as well because he threw many questions at me regarding my climbing experience and style.

We met at Livermore airport on Friday evening after work. First impression? He looked like a normal guy. And even better, his really name is Scott. It was a smooth drive out of the Bay Area and Scott turned out to be a very fun company in the car. We camped outside of the park and went to sleep around 9:30 PM, which was early enough that it didn’t feel too hard to get up at 4:30 AM the next morning when the alarm went off. We geared up with two double ropes and a thin rack and left the car for Royal Arches at 6:15 AM. The first pitch starts with a 5.6 chimney both of us felt comfortable enough soloing. We decided to solo as far as we felt comfortable with and rope up as soon as either of us wanted to. The ropes did not get off our shoulders until we were at the top rappel anchor. In hindsight, free soloing on this climb might not have been much faster, although more exciting, than roped simul-climbing because tying to a rope would provide the mental security that one needed to just “go for it”, while without a rope, we both were really careful with every move at the few sketchy/exposed sections. Our long rappel might have taken as much time as it took us to climb the route — the thin double ropes always found a way to tangle themselves up into tight balls. We were back at the car at 10:15 AM.

We took a break and enjoyed the luxurious lobby and bathrooms in the Ahwahnee hotel before we were headed for the Camp 4 Wall. I first led Doggie Deviations (5.9). Doggie Diversions (5.9) was Scott’s lead. He cruised up the first pitch (a 5.7 chimney) with a long runout, but was shutdown 20 feet up the 2nd pitch because he used the #4 camelot at the top of pitch one, and was facing a 40 feet runout with awkward wide crack climbing. He lowered down and brought me up from top of pitch one. With the #4 on my harness, I was eager to give the 2nd pitch a try. It was a 5.9 as awkward as it could be — wide and rightward leaning. I kept pushing the #4 up with me and was eventually rewarded with a short section of hand crack. Finally came the real business, Doggie Do (5.10a). I had to hang at the crux — getting over the block — to shake out my over stretched right arm (I tried to extend it a few inches longer). The mosquitoes there were furious and left a few bites all over me despite my generous application of the bug repellent.

When we arrived at the Base of El Cap, it was almost 6 PM. Our plan was one of us would lead Moby Dick (5.10a) and then we would toprope
(5.10b) next to it. Scott said he was tired and I was intimidated by the fingery crux at the bottom. So we decided to do rock/paper/scissors to decide who would lead, and I won. When I just started to enjoy the relaxation that only a follower was granted, he said “Ok, you won, so you get to choose whether you want to lead or follow.” It only took that little bit of a hint for me to change my mind, so I led it. This change of order also put me on Ahab first. That was the second hardest 10 I’d ever climbed (only second to Generator Crack) — long and sustained Chimney and offwidth climbing. The transition from the offwidth chimney to the wide hand crack was my crux, but this time, I managed to stay in the crack. By the time I reached the belay (TR’ed it clean), I had lost a small patch of skin in my right palm from the chicken-winging. I probably had made the climb look so hard that Scott decided to skip it that day — plus, we were almost running out of day light. Our reward for the hard work was some greasy food at Denny’s in Oakdale.

As far as climbing painful climbs with a total stranger (well, not anymore) goes, it was really a fun day!

For all the photos, please click here.