Adventure comes in hundreds of ways in Yosemite. Most of the time, the fun starts when something essential is forgotten. Leaving the head lamp, the water, or the topo can all lead to more adventure than planned. This fall taught me the importance of bringing and following the directions on a route.
Stoner's Highway climbs the left, sunny side of Middle Cathedral.
Stoner’s Highway follows discontinuous features on the immaculate rock of Middle Cathedral. Though the route sits only a few hundred feet from the splitter cracks of Central Pillar of Frenzy, the two routes could not differ more. Where Central Pillar involves well protected jamming, Stoner’s Highway follows technical slab climbing between highly spaced bolts and sparse gear. I snapped a picture of the topo with my iPhone and quested up the slab. I followed a few bolts, saw a feature, climbed back to some bolts and built an anchor forty meters from the ground. When I pulled my phone out to check the topo, I saw a dead battery. That’s when the adventure began.
Bronson and I knew that the route wasn’t harder than 5.10 plus so I quested, looking for any signs of life. I spotted an old piton and followed a dirty corner and bad rock. At the end of the corner, a new bolt marked the route 40 feet to my left. I slung a piece of rock and gently lowered down and then reclimbed the route to the correct path. After a few more harrowing pitches, we rappelled after four pitches.
I read the topo for The Lurch and though it showed a crack system up higher, it said to traverse onto the face. I followed the topo and soon realized why they avoided the cracks. The corner was formed by a pair of instable stacked blocks. I'm glad I read the topo and didn't blindly follow the corner.
A few days later, British climbing ace, Dan Mcmanus and I hiked towards Widow’s Tears. A pair of local climbers established The Lurch ,a 5.12c/d seven pitch route, earlier this spring. I took a picture of the topo and locked my screen to save battery. We managed to make our way up the route with few problems. I fell on the first 5.12 pitch and did some tactful skirting around loose rock on the fourth pitch. On the crux pitch, we took the name of the route to be literal and did a wild Lurch move across the wall. Dan began descending but instead of following the anchors for the previous pitch, he attempted to link the rappels. He had to build an anchor in the middle of the wall. I rappelled the traversing last pitch, prussiked back to the anchor, pulled the directional and descended again. I pulled the rope and picked up Dan. We continued our descent with less problems.
Doing the crux sequence on the Lurch, which involves a wild move to the arete.
A few days later, Dan and I woke in the dark and hiked to Liberty Cap to climb Mahtah, a new 14 pitch 5.12+ route. We treaded carefully across the ledge to the start. A climber had died falling off the ledge the previous spring. We started the route at sunrise and dispatched the difficult right facing corners. This time, I took a picture of the topo with my phone and we followed it exactly. We found the grades to be a bit generous, which was nice since we’d hiked so far. The route took us all day to climb and the hike down took awhile as well but of my Valley adventures, though it was the biggest day, it was the least epic.
The Crack of God pitch on Mahtah is a 130 foot dead horizontal traverse which links the corners of Mahtah with the Harding route.
Dan Mcmanus following one of the 5.12 corner pitches on Mahtah.
One of the big lessons I learned this fall in Yosemite was to follow the topo. It makes route’s significantly easier, far less dangerous, and allows you to have bigger adventures.
We've got exciting news for our members involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters!
Touchstone Climbing and Big Brothers Big Sisters Bay Area are happy to announce a partnership that will make it easier for volunteers to bring kids climbing. Active Littles are now FREE on their Big Brother or Sisters Touchstone Climbing membership. This means that if you are a Big Brother or Sister, you can bring your little climbing as often as you'd like, and still have your guest passes left over for friends or family.
Until recently, Big Brothers and Big sisters could use one of their two free monthly guest passes to bring their Littles climbing. "But we wanted to do more!" said Membership Services Director Monica Arranda who helped to launch the program. >
If you are part of BBBS, bring your Little to the gym along with your active membership cards, and we'll sign them up as a free member on your account. The next time the two of you come climbing, check-in will be fast and simple.
Rob, a Touchstone Climbing member, is also a mentor with BBBS. To share one of his own passions with his 'little,' Patrick, he started taking him climbing. "He has loved climbing, and started asking me every week if we can go."
"I'm so excited for this opportunity to bring him more often!" said Rob. "And so is Patrick."
On Sunday, October 20th, Dogpatch Boulders hosted a Meet Up to kick off the new program. 9 Big Brothers and 9 Little Brothers came to the gym and had a great time.
"Bringing kids to the climbing gym is such a phenomenal bonding experience," said Dogpatch Boulders manager Justin Alarcon. "People tend to break out of their shells when they are moving, challenging themselves, and toping out boulders together!"
Founded in California in 1958, BBBS Bay Area serves Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties. Since 1958 they have carefully matched over 11,000 children with a mentor and provided ongoing support and guidance to ensure optimum outcomes. They currently serve about 1,000 children each year and have set a goal bumping that number up to 2,000 children yearly by 2018. Children between the ages of 6 and 16 and they are eligible to stay in the program until graduation at 18.
"Male mentors are currently needed in Fresno, the East Bay, South Bay and the Peninsula,' said Match Support Specialist Hannah Rudsten. There is a pressing need for healthy male role models to be matched with enrolled boys in these areas. According to their website, 700 at-risk children are currently on the waiting list, and 82% are boys.
If there's one thing that a climbing gym has plenty of, it's eligible bros! If you're interesting in becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, find out more about volunteering!
The benefits of mentorship are undeniable. Surveys of mentors and parents/guardians whose Little had been matched 12 months or more reported the following results:
- 100% improved GPA’s if they were struggling in school
- 96% improved their ability to avoid using physical violence
- 92% improved self-confidence
- 85% improved peer relationships
- 81% improved attitudes towards school
- 74% improved their outlook for the future
- 72% increased their trust in adults to help with problems
We're happy to find more ways to involve underserved youth in our neighborhoods in climbing and a healthy lifestyle. Big thanks to BBBS for working with us to give volunteers an easy way to bring their kids to the gym to share the joys of climbing!
By Hans Florine
This weekend I headed out at 5:45 am Sunday morning from the stables parking lot with the goal of climbing The South Face of Mt Watkins with friends Will and Naomi. Between 'reading' descriptions from The Super Topo guide and Yosemite Bigwalls guide by Erik and Roger, we figured that we would be at the base of the route around 8:30 am.
I put 'reading' in quotes above because I only skimmed the directions in regards to the approach, and peaked at the maps. After all it’s MT WATKINS right? – How could you walk up Tenaya canyon and miss it? – Well we did miss it, until we made 4 hours of mistakes in wrong turns and misguided steep scrambling.
Six hours and 2 minutes after leaving the stables parking lot we arrived at the base of the route! We decided against climbing out of the ditch given how late we arrived at the base. (Translation: “topping out on Watkins, El Cap, or Leaning Tower, is just crawling out of The Ditch, so really do have to “enjoy the journey.”) So, we had a great adventure, exploring various slopes and tiny trails in Tenaya canyon, found a cool water hole, our legs are super fit -or will be when we recover, and we now have a gallon of water stashed at the base of The South Face Route!
I just got through presenting stories to The AAC International Climbing Meet Friday evening. I was telling them how we have these incredible wild walls here in Yosemite AND they are so accessible and close to your car door. –Funny sort of “foot in mouth” adventure for Sunday.- I don’t call 6 hours close to the car door.
Points to remember:
-bring people with you that like to adventure. We had an adventure, the outcome was unknown. We got to explore around a beautiful canyon, in a beautiful place. Our group was joking and laughing and having a good time.
-Read CAREFULLY a couple sentences from past travelers, guidebooks, intermet forums, etc. and save yourself 2 hours, or 4 or maybe days.
-Love the journey.
I had a great time sharing stories with the AAC group on Friday evening and super time instructing some of them at the base of El Cap on Saturday morning. I learned a few things “teaching” these experienced climbers. How lucky am I?- Getting to teach a class at the base of El Cap? Big Thanks to Carol Kotchek and the American Alpine Club for inviting me to participate!
Saturday afternoon I got to go up five pitches on The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral with Diane Payes. Again, we didn’t top out or even get out of The Ditch. That was better then OK for us, we got to climb on awesome granite terrain, with a beautiful alpine glow light on El Cap across the valley, and earn our meal with The AAC group later that evening.
I hope you got to summit something this weekend, or crawl out of a ditch, or just embark on something where you didn’t know the outcome before starting.
Recently, Alice Ng trained with the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit. She wrote a bit about it for the Touchstone Blog.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump...
The Blackhawk was just over the tree line, a mere 75 feet above us. The wind generated from its propellers forced me to the ground and blew my colleague’s 35lb pack down the hill. Our team, one of several from the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU), was being extracted from our assignment by hoist at the conclusion of our search mission. Hanging by a single line, I took a moment to examine the terrain we had just searched. Steep and overgrown, our “trail” quickly disappeared into the landscape. Above us, the military officer signaled us to enter into the helicopter.
The following week our unit was deployed to the Trinity Alps. Joined by other SAR units from other counties, we searched the ridgelines and gullies along steep alpine terrain. If necessary, we would rappel and ascend ropes for better vantage points. Both assignments required searchers to spend the night out in the backcountry. We carried our shelters, food and climbing gear with us and prepared for every contingency from weather restraints, to terrain considerations to possible injuries. While roped technical skills are not needed for all BAMRU missions, being able to move quickly and efficiently across varied terrain is, and a skilled searcher would need to practice this regularly.
Training at Berkeley Ironworks helps keep me in shape and ready for deployment. Its yoga classes keep my body flexible and nimble while the weight room helps to me to build up my core strength. Being a climber has greatly impacted my ability to move confidently around exposed terrain and handling situations that require me to use rope protection. Training on the wall gives me the strength, endurance and comfort on exposed walls that is necessary on many SAR operations. These competencies allow me to contribute to BAMRU and its overall mission to help lost or stranded people in the wilderness.
The Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU) is an entirely volunteer-based non- profit IRS recognized 501(c)3 charitable organization serving the community that requires commitment and flexibility. BAMRU is accredited and nationally recognized by the Mountain Rescue Association, and our members have to be at the top of their game. Being a member means deploying for search and rescue assignments at a moment’s notice and participating in rigorous trainings throughout the year. It is demanding work but can also be incredibly rewarding. To provide such a service to our community makes a remarkable difference in people’s lives.
. Donations can be made at the BAMRU website and are greatly appreciated.
World renowned for its immense glacial polished granite, Yosemite is the mecca for rock climbers. For nearly two centuries, from the days of scrambling peaks in the Sierra to the cutting edge free climbing on El Capitan, the cliffs of Yosemite National Park have set the standards for climbing.
Warren Harding topping out on the first ascent of the Nose of El Capitan.
The earliest climbers in Yosemite summated the granite formations in the most rudimentary ways possible. In 1869, naturalist John Muir climbed the technical Cathedral peak in the northern Sierra ropeless. Six years later, George Anderson employed eyebolts, drilled hand and foot holds and fixed rope to summate Half Dome. Through the history of Yosemite, there would remain a stark contrast between the minimalist style and the heavy-handed siege tactics.
For over fifty years, climbers in Yosemite climbed the formations at great personal risk. It wasn’t until the 1930s, when Robert Underhill, after a season in the Alps, brought the use of pitons and rappelling to Yosemite. Over the next decade, California climbers develop rope techniques for catching and holding falls. They also imported pitons from Europe. The climbers hammered the metal into the rock and used it as a means to ascend, aid climbing, The advancements in rope and gear contributed significantly to climbers summating the Cathedral Spires and other formations during the decade.
Royal Robbins and Tom Frost hanging in hammocks on the first ascent of the North America Wall. Frost photo.
In the mid 1940s, a San Mateo black smith, John Salathe revolutionized the piton game when he joined the climbers at the Sierra Club lodge in northern Yosemite. Salathe used his experience as a blacksmith to create hard steel pitons from the axels of an old Ford Model A. The pitons worked significantly better in the hard granite of Yosemite than the European soft iron models. Salathe began climbing extensively in Yosemite, making the first attempt on the Lost Arrow Spire, climbing the Southwest face of Half Dome and making the first ascent of the Steck-Salathe on the Sentinel over the course of five days.
The 1950s saw one of climbing’s greatest rivalry. The two greatest prizes of Yosemite, the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan, remained unclimbed. In 1957, Harding raced his Corvette to Yosemite Valley to climb the Northwest face of Half Dome only to find Royal Robbins on the route already. With the help of Jerry Gallwaas, Robbins completed the five day first ascent of the Regular Northwest Face, Yosemite’s first grade VI climb. With Half Dome climbed, Harding took to the last prize of Yosemite. Over 47 days spread out in a year and a half period, Harding fixed a long series of ropes up the Nose of El Capitan. In November of 1958, Harding, George Whitemore and Wayne Merry made a record 12-day push for the summit. The highly publicized ascent cemented the wine drinking Harding as a hero and forced Robbins to the cliffs.
The 1960’s saw Robbins making a quick second ascent of Harding’s Nose route on El Capitan followed by an ascent of the Salathe Wall on the Southwest face of El Capitan with two other Valley climbers. Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost climbed the Salathe Wall with only 13 bolts and sparse use of fixed ropes, making a 6-day summit push from 600 feet up the wall. Robbins ascent proved that El Capitan could be climbed without siege tactics.
Harding and Robbins continued to attempt to out climb each other. The steep West Face of the Leaning Tower and the remote South Face of Mount Watkins fell to Harding. Robbins answered with the first solo of a big wall route, climbing the West Face of Leaning tower in a storm. Along with Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard, Robbins climbed the North America Wall on the Southeast face of El Capitan, completing the most difficult climb to date.
Billy Westbay, John Long and Jim Bridwell standing in front of El Capitan after the first one day ascent of the Nose.
During Robbins and Harding’s fight for Yosemite big wall supremacy, other Yosemite climbers raised free climbing standards and shortened ascent times. The Steck-Salathe, the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and other Yosemite walls fell to single day ascents. Using only nuts and not the rock damaging pitons, Robbins and his wife, Liz climbed The Nutcracker on Manure Pile Buttress. Their clean ascent of the 800-foot route established a new ethic for climbing. Free and clean became the standard.
The 1970’s saw an increase in the number of climbers and a greater focus on free climbing. Advanced climbing gear allowed climbers to link delicate features on the sides of El Capitan. Jim Bridwell established a number of futuristic routes, including the Aquarian Wall, Pacific Ocean Wall and Zenyatta Mondatta. Beyond the advances in aid climbing, the 70’s saw a jump in the free-climbing standards. Sticky rubber shoes helped climbers stand on smaller edges. Bridwell lead the Stonemasters, a group of Yosemite climbers, into the new world of free climbing. The Yosemite Decimal system went from 5.0 to 5.9 but during the 70’s, Bridwell expanded the rating system to an open ended scale, introducing 5.10 and including the sub A, B, C and D grades. Bridwell furthered the standards of Yosemite by climbing The Nose with John Long and Billy Westbay in a single day. John Long, John Bachar and Ron Kauk, three of the most influential Stonemasters, free climbed the East Face of Washington Column completing the first ascent of the sustained Astroman. In the middle of Camp 4, the Stonemasters left their mark, drawing a lightning bolt below Midnight Lightning, a boulder problem established by Kauk and Bachar and recognized as one of the hardest climbs in the world at the time.
The 1980’s saw greater advancements in free climbing. Todd Skinner and Paul Piana managed a team free ascent of the Salathe Wall, ushering the concept that El Capitan was a place for free climbing. John Bachar, Bill Price and Ray Jardine all established 5.13 routes and Canadian Peter Croft climbed Astroman without a rope. Camming devices made protecting difficult cracks easier and faster, which greatly raised free climbing standards. More notably was the punch thrown in Camp 4. Ron Kauk visited Europe in the 80’s and returned to Yosemite with a top down ethos. John Bachar feared that the adventure of climbing would be lost with the European tactics of rehearsal and inspection. A fight ensued between the friends when Bachar chopped the protection bolts on Kauk’s Punchline route. When the dust settled, Bachar’s ground up ethic was left behind to pushing climbing harder.
In the early 90s, climbers began drag racing up El Capitan with Peter Croft and Dave Schultz climbing the Nose in under 5 hours. More impressively, Lynn Hill made the first true free climb of El Capitan, with an ascent of the Nose. She returned a few years later to free climb the route in a single day. Hill made the first true free ascent of El Capitan. Later in the decade two Austrian brothers, Alex and Thomas Huber stormed through Yosemite, adding to El Capitan free climbing. After freeing the Salathe Wall, they established El Nino, Freerider and Golden Gate.
Lynn Hill on the Nose
The early 2000s saw the Huber Baum continue their El Capitan free exploits. They freed El Corazon and the Zodiac, which they then blitzed in one hour fifty-one minutes. Other climbers raced up El Capitan as well with the Nose speed recording dropping from 4 hours to just over 2. Tommy Caldwell brought American talents to El Capitan, repeating many of the Huber’s free routes and establishing other free routes including Lurking Fear, West Buttress, Dihedral Wall, Magic Mushroom and the Muir. He climbed a number of El Capitan routes in a day. In 2005, Caldwell free climbed the Nose and Freerider in a single day. Caldwell turned to the steep section of the Dawn Wall, which he has been working on free climbing for the past decade. When he completes the route, it will be the hardest long free climb in the world. In mid 2000s Alex Honnold began climbing in Yosemite as well, free soloing Astroman, the difficult Phoenix and making the first free solo ascent of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. His steel-trap mind allowed him to set numerous speed records on El Capitan and do an enormous free climbing linkup with Tommy Caldwell of El Capitan, Half Dome and Mount Watkins in a single day.
Thomas Huber climbing on El Capitan
The past few years have seen other climbers freeing new routes on Middle Cathedral, Mount Watkins and the smaller formations in the Valley. The ability of the average climber has increased dramatic with single day ascents of El Capitan happening regularly. El Capitan becomes more accessible and easier to free climb every year and climbers like Caldwell continue to raise the standards. The future of Yosemite remains unpredictable but very promising.
Yosemite legend, Tommy Caldwell working his project, attempting to freeclimb the Dawn Wall.
Was your #rocktoberresolution to try out a new class? You're in luck!
Great Western Power Co in Oakland is offering a new time slot for a old class. By popular demand, there will be class on Mondays at 8:30pm. If you've never taken a Cardio Boxing class, check out this video to find out more. It's guaranteed to leave you with sore muscles and a smile on your face!
Cardio Boxing at Touchstone Climbing & Fitness from Great Western Power Company on Vimeo.