Sunday, April 10, 2005

Free solo goes awry, 5.8

A last minute snow storm on Friday prompted my climbing partners to bail on our Yosemite trip. But with the campsite already paid for, I decided to drive down in the case the rock dried out by Sunday. I spent most of Saturday on the hiking trails around Mirror Lake. Then on Sunday, when the sun did appear, I began climbing.

I had free soloed all 1400 feet of the Royal Arches Regular Route by 11 a.m. I took off my shoes and climbed barefoot to get past the waterfall on the traversing pitch 10 but found dry rock elsewhere. North Dome looked drier by the minute and promises of spectacular views into a freshly snowed-on Yosemite backcountry coaxed me up to the base of the 5.8 South Face, a brilliant line of lie-back dihedrals up a beautiful piece of rock.

I soloed up the first two straightforward pitches of 5.6 finger lie-backing, then pulled out a rope for a "wildly exposed" 5.7 traverse from one dihedral to another. Above the traverse, I anchored in, rappelled, and climbed the pitch again. The next pitches of 5.5 hand jamming felt easy and fun. But pitch 5 and 6, at 180 feet each, looked like less of a romp.

Again I set up my Gri-gri and went to work. The finger jams were positive but the last 20 feet of 5.6 to the ledge was an unprotected smear fest up smooth, wet granite. I climbed around to a more difficult but dry runway in between water streaks. I moved quickly on it, hoping that momentum would carry me past the wet parts to the manzanita branch hanging above. It worked.

With the sun starting to drop, I started another rope solo up a flooding chimney on pitch 6. My hands and feet couldn't get sufficient pressure on the wet walls so I put my whole back on the wall. Freezing cold water soaked and re-soaked my clothes and shoes and I moved out into a 5.6 dihedral. It too was unclimbable. Two pitches would have led to the summit and an easy walk-off but even with the blurred thought processes caused by a setting sun, wet clothes, and a rush of fear, I knew I had to rap.

There are no bolts on the route so I rapped off anything I could find. I rappelled off a manzanita bush only to find another one 30 feet down, so I clipped, pulled, and went again from there - anything to give me an extra chance at finding something else to rappel from. I rapped off some of the lower-incline sections on a single nut.

I reached the base of the rock in good time and made the somewhat complicated traverse over to the North Dome gully in plenty of light. The Supertopo guide book makes a big deal about this descent, but it was mild compared to some of the recent hack-fests I've done in Red Rocks, Nevada.

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