“I heard a clink clink clink.” Lyn Barraza, the manager of Berkeley Ironworks was not excited about the noise. Lyn was high on the Steck-Salathe on Yosemite’s Sentinel and exiting the notorious chimeney section of the Narrows. “My #6, my one and only piece of pro, had come out while I was climbing around in there trying to figure out how to exit.”
How in the world did a person whom college friends called conservative and straight edged ever find herself in such a predicament? Lyn’s trip to the base of the Sentinel began in 2001 when her son Cam started kindergarten.
While Cam was at school, Lyn was learning to climb at Berkeley Ironworks. A year after starting to rock climb, Lyn began working the desk at Touchstone’s Class 5 gym in Marin. Lyn was hooked.
“When I first started climbing I was like a lot of gym-bred climbers, I was into sport climbing. I went to Smith Rocks in May of 2002. What I didn’t know yet is that sport climbers and boulderers are a lazy lot. I left my house in the East Bay at 3AM and got to Smith, set up my tent and was at the base of the cliff by 8AM. It won’t be a surprise to most folks that I found myself totally alone for the next two hours.” said Lyn of her first climbing trip “I had to solo up Bunny Face.” Lyn’s turbo-charged psyche kept her climbing non-stop for her four days during the Oregon sport area’s offensively hot summer. “I had so many splits. My tips were wrecked. Then I went to Rifle in July and those have been my only rope-climbing trips in the last 10 years of climbing.” Lyn’s climbing history from that point on revolved primarily around bouldering. The following October after Smith and Rifle, she went to Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah, and then Font, Squamish, Horse Pens, Rocky Mountain, Vegas, Rocklands, Leavenworth, with a significant amount of time spent in her “home crag” of Yosemite Valley.
“I basically went from being one of those people who thought using a toothbrush to clean climbing holds was stupid to being that person at the crag with the really cool auto-extend stickbrush that everyone wants to borrow.” In the ensuing years, Lyn has managed to make her way up a number of significant boulder problems in Yosemite, including one self-professed crappy first ascent of a short crimpy problem at Bridalveil Falls. One of Lyn’s proudest climbs is Thriller, a classic crimp test piece in Camp 4. “It was my first real project, I had to spend a lot of time and effort on it. It was mentally taxing. That’s one of the boulder problems I’ve done that stands out. I’ve never tried any other climbs as consistently.”
“I’m old enough to start trad climbing, “ said Lyn when asked her age. Lyn’s psyche for trad climbing nearly matches her obsession with bouldering. She’s attacked it with full force. She’s kicked tents in Camp 4 to motivate climbers to go cragging at 6:30 in the morning!
The Steck-Salathe remains one of Yosemite’s most challenging climbs. Involving serious chimeney climbing, slab technique, and an ability to cover a significant amount of crack terrain, the route offers the obvious line up the North face of the Sentinel.
“I’d read about it in Ordeal by Piton.,” Lyn said of the route. “It was my 3rd or 4th climb in Yosemite. It was a situation where ignorance gave me false optimism.”
Lyn and her partner, Ingar Shu began climbing at sunrise on a fall day. “Ingar was recovering from food poisoning the weekend before. He led the first pitch, and 30 feet into it, he got a leg cramp. ” The route finding proved difficult plus they hauled a small pack, which slowed them down. Half way up the climb, the pair reached the notorious chimney section, dubbed the Narrows. The wildly exposed chimney and squeeze climbing puckers even the toughest hardman.
“I didn’t read the topo for the Narrows very carefully and didn’t know how to exit the chimney section. I went out left to where I should have exited, but it was super exposed climbing and I couldn’t believe that was the right way. I was in the Narrows for an hour looking for the way out and in that time it got dark.” After climbing up and down the chimney, looking for the exit, Lyn climbed back towards the belay. “Ingar read the topo to me off his iphone. I put in a number 6 and then I moved towards the exposed exit from the chimeney.”
That’s when Lyn heard the notorious clink, clink, clink. She managed to pull out onto the face, making it to a marginal ledge on the face, with an enormous stretch of unprotected granite sweeping below her.
The rest of the route, involved more tricky route finding, loose rock, and a bit of seriousness that Ingar and Lyn didn’t want to tackle in the middle of the night. The pair tried to sleep on a ledge above the Narrows pitch. “It was pretty funny. We tried to sleep but it was a really slopey and small area. There were picas on the ledge and we didn’t want them to get too close. We heard this crazy rattling around.We only had one space blanket. Ingar said I was hogging the space blanket. We were pulling the space blanket around and it ripped apart.” Half of the space blanket floated down to the Valley floor. Whoops! The pair topped out the next day, surviving an epic bivy.
Besides spending lots of time with her new dog Lucy, Lyn plans on climbing Freeblast on El Capitan, getting out to new bouldering areas, and climbing as much as she can.