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posted May 23, 2010, 10:12 PM by Brisbane Rockclimbing Club


Jenny Tannoch-Bland


Terror gripped our hearts - the car was trashed – gaping.  “The photo was taken 3 days ago.  The owner of the vehicle left a box of toilet tissue in the trunk,” said Helen the Ranger.  Eeeek.  A bear did THAT?  “Yesterday a gentleman left a box of cereal on top of the bear box and turned his back, incurring a $5,000 fine when the bear swiped the cereal.” Eeeek.


Tuolumne Meadows

Welcome to Tuolumne Meadows (say Too-wol-um-me).  Helen said that two bears, Rosie and Honey, were ‘active in the park’; their sense of smell was 2,000 times greater than humans’ and EVERYTHING smelled like food to them.  We must store everything in the bear box, not a skerrick in tents or cars.  Even cleaning our teeth anywhere but the toilets was taboo.  This was serious.  How would I survive the night without lip gloss, hand lotion and red wine in my tent?! 

Sleep is elusive when you’re busy second-guessing the BEAR on the other side of the nylon.  Did we ourselves reek of delicious lotions and soap, our clothes of scented washing powder?  Isn’t a tent a soft target??  Just as we drifted off, a crazed gunman attacked, shooting people at random.   Well…actually…turned out the rangers let off firecrackers and fired rubber bullets at the marauding bears, seeking to restore their fear of humans.  Sure restored the fear of this human.

By morning, even in our traumatised bleariness, we were eager to try the huge grey granite domes.  Tuolumne is Girraween writ large and on steroids.  ‘Wonder why the guide book advises top-roping the first day?’ mused Tan.  Those locals sure are proud of Tuolumne’s rep:  huge runouts on polished, slippery slabs.  Eeeek.  How ignominious – our first climb in the US on a top-rope! 

On Day 2 I developed a fiendish plan: Tan was the slab climber so she would do all the leading.  Simple, but Tan was too tired from wandering with bears all night after visiting the toilet.  (No peeing on the ground, it attracts the bears.)  Somehow single pitching all day settled our nerves and on Day 3 we sailed up our first US multi-pitch, enjoying the mind-blowing scenic splendour of Hermaphrodite Flake to the Boltway (5.8, 4P, 400’) on Stately Pleasure Dome overlooking Tenaya Lake.  We had arrived.  Tan had even averted disaster when our rope threatened to snarl on the descent.  The moment was bitter-sweet without Al and Steve, who had pulled out at the 11th hour due to injuries. By the lake we got great beta from two terrific hard case dirtbag climbers who had been high since1969.  Now that I’ve said that, they shall remain unnamed.

Then we were ready for the 700’ climb we had being eyeing off since Day 1, the impressive West Crack, (5.9, 5P) on Daff Dome.  What we learned:  if you don’t want to spend 2 hours freezing your knickers off cramped on a hanging belay, don’t assume other parties are faster than you – check them out before ushering them through.  Apart from that it was a magical romp, the most exciting part being locating the abseil anchors on the vast domed top.  Every day we earned our ice creams.

Though we were trapped in Tuolumne by fires, several classic climbs later we had grown to love our prison.  Our new American friends warned: “Don’t go down the Valley, Man.  It’s full of crowds, bugs, smoke and heat.  Stay up here.  Climb free.”  It was tempting, but we had a dream...


Yosemite Valley

And the dream became manifest.  It’s hard to convey the grandeur, magnificence and sheer scale of Yosemite Valley.  Think ‘overwhelming’ and ‘daunting’.  And think ‘exciting’ - we sprang out of the car to take pics of each other at first sighting of El Cap.   With our camp set up in The Pines (ohmigod there’s Half Dome!! Cripes, my tent is UNDER Glacier Pt!!) we set out to reccy near Yosemite Falls (sadly not falling).

A multi-pitch on our first day in The Valley – high five!  There were 3 climbers above us on Commitment  on Five Open Books so we did  P1 (5.8, 100’) and abbed off.  Then we moved over to Munginella (5.6, 3P, 350’) recommended by our Tuolumne friends as a great intro to The Valley.  The top is an area of ‘frequent climber-caused rockfall’.

Once we had hooked up with Mick and Ula (honeymooners from Brissie doing The Americas Road Trip in their van) we never looked back.  Shared great climbing, dinners, Polish sausage, wine, outings and campfire lies. 

Everyone wants to know – did you climb a big wall?  El Cap?  So to non-climbers, we say ‘Oh yes, we climbed on El Cap.”  That tiny word ‘on’ makes all the difference.  Our plan was never that grand, and we balked at the poo problem.  Climbing Little John, Right (5.8, 3P, 260’) on El Cap Base was challenge and fun enough for us.

Braille Book on Higher Cathedral Rock (5.8, 6P, 700’) was a great adventure for the fab four and a very solid, old school 5.8 – varied climbing on brilliant but sometimes slick rock.  First challenge after the uphill slog was finding the start, but Mick’s instinct prevailed.  At the top of P4 Tan & I  joined Uls on the belay – a perfect photo opportunity as the fading sun lit up Cathedral Spire.  Tan was impatient: “If you don’t hurry up we’ll be climbing in the dark!”  Little did she know – that’s why it’s called Braille Book: you climb the juggy top pitch in the dark.   The hard part was getting off: after a steep downhill scramble through bear territory on perilous rock we were back to the road at midnight.  Wheeee.

We enjoyed so many classic routes; the place is a smorgasbord of **** climbs – you could spend years there, and 6 weeks is over in an instant, so I won’t bother listing climbs, but will mention a few experiences.  Here they are:  climbing off route, not finding the start, falling, backing off, throwing ropes into cracks, wimping, down-climbing, going unwashed for days, watching the wall rats on El Cap from the Meadow, the gigantic rockfall down Serenity Crack just after we reccied it on the day before we planned to climb it, coffee at Degnan’s, Ula’s culinary magic.


My new best friend : )

Gareth, just don’t ask about my infatuation with Ron Kauk of Astroman fame. Came to The Valley at 16 and never left.  He’s taken on a lot of indigenous wisdom and custodianship of the natural world, is a mentor to youth and a lovely zen climbing guy. http://www.anseladams.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=1117

For the big day out on Half Dome’s Snake Dike (5.7R, 8P, 800’) I was glad of Marcia’s advice “Don’t do it first day.  Do it when you are comfortable and confident.”  I’m also grateful to my new best friend Ron who urged me not to feel pressured by time.  “Enjoy the day.  Take it easy on the approach, pace it, eat, breathe, relax.  Let it take as long as it takes.”  The four of us romped up it – gleefully noting one pitch has NO pro – one of the best days ever in one of the most awe-inspiring places on the planet.  One for the Huber Sisters, oh and you too Mick : )

The SuperTopo guides for Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne were terrific, though some people had printed out the web versions and could take just the relevant page with them on the multi-pitches. I’d do that next time.  In Tuolumne you can’t get a photocopy unless you tear the page out of the book, which is a problem if it’s borrowed (sorry, Scott).

If there is a perfect day for rope burn, it’s the last day before a layoff – so Tan chose our last day in Yosemite to take a whipper off Nutcracker on Manure Pile Buttress (5.8, 5P, 600’). Tan’s advice: don’t avoid the mantle.  She was magnificent, straight back up and not a scratch.  Her timing was impeccable – my hand was healed by the time we hit Red Rocks. 


Mini Road Trip

What’s a road trip without excess?  The fab four ate everything in sight at the legendary Schat’s bakery in Mammoth before hitting the gear shop sales, then soaked in hot springs nearby in the desert, finally camping outside Lone Pine.  Then things got weird.  I awoke next morning covered in sand – my tent (well, technically Peter’s tent – thanks Pete) was full of it.  Through the haze I recalled having been NAKED out in a SANDSTORM staking out my tent.  After it had collapsed in on me!  Some idiot had lazily wrapped a string around a rock instead of staking it out in the first place.  Clearly it was the fault of Ula’s cocktails, and $5 per gallon Smirnoff.

Las Vegas, like Death Valley, is worth seeing once.  And the Grand Canyon is undeniably, well, Grand.  Vegas is every bit as crass as you imagine and more, though I should confess to having succumbed to its power:  One night, looking for a show deep in the labyrinthine innards of one of the gigantic casino buildings, we came into a piazza straight out of an Italian village – quaint buildings around the square looking up into a beautiful blue sky.    Blue.  And it’s night-time – right?  But I didn’t get it.  Having been indoors in the fabricated world so long I’d lost my sense of night and day.  I didn’t realise the sky too was fake.  The fab 3 were very kind, which hurt.   Eeek.  Time to go climbing again.


Red Rocks

We arrived at Red Rocks in the middle of a heat wave!  One look at the campground and we knew why the locals called it Afghanistan – not a blade of grass, a tree, a shelter, a seat, no fires or stoves allowed, no leaving any food in camp each day!  “Suddenly those huge air conditioned petrol guzzling motor homes are looking quite attractive” quipped Tan.  We high-tailed it 12 minutes back to that huge new luxury Red Rocks Casino.  What budget? While the heat wave lasted we climbed in the shade in the mornings at Magic Bus and Black Corridor where we could push the grades on sport climbs, and lounged around the Casino pools in the afternoons.  ‘The Kids’ (Uls and Mick) who slept in their van, loved the Casino and fully utilised every amenity after their months on the road. 

Some climbers told us about Bonny Springs, a wonderful old ex-movie actress who ran the Old Nevada Ranch right by Red Rocks.  http://www.bonniesprings.com/ They let us cook on our verandah, and they let Mick and Uls stay downstairs in their van free of charge, using our room’s amenities. “Oh and honey, don’t go putting money in that ice machine – just put your bag there and press the button.  It’s free.”  It was home for the rest of our holiday, our base for magical climbing on Ragged Edges on Ragged Edges Wall (5.8, 2P, 210’), Dark Shadows on Mescalito North (5.8, 4P, 1000’), Great Red Book at Calico Hills (5.8R, 2p, 250’), Y2K at Mescalito (5.10b, 4P, 400’), The Gobbler (5.10a, 3P, 330’) and Prince of Darkness (5.10c, 6P, 1200), both at Black Velvet Canyon. The restrictions of the one-way ring road through the canyon and the opening and closing hours at the gates made the logistics interesting, so given that plus our propensity to get lost on the approach, we sometimes missed our target for the day when another party beat us to it. 

Towards the end of our 6 weeks sojourn I found it hard to carry a full pack uphill, climb some big multi-pitch and walk out again.  I was tiring.  Somewhere on a 5th pitch I hit the wall and told Tan.  She, true to form, took charge – she was super gracious and super capable.  We bailed and she insisted on carrying the ropes.  Back at the Ranch I devoured a roasted chicken, tearing it apart with my bare hands, showered and slept.  The next day we rested.   “I’ll be your packhorse” Tan declared, “that way we still get to climb”.  And so she would trudge uphill carrying the gear, the ropes, and our donkey, all on her back.  I took an orange and nail polish.


Day trip

In a pre-dawn haze with a dust storm forecast, the fab four rolled out of the Old Nevada Ranch headed to Joshua Tree which was “just down the road” I claimed.  It turned out to be just down a pretty long road, but finally Mick steered us to the finest Café in any desert anywhere, just in time for lunch http://www.crossroadscafeandtavern.com/    Sated, we hit the gear shops and only then could we tour the Park.  Fantastic, grippy granite – all short – hectares of the stuff.  We stopped for a climb. Tan led, employing a 5.11c variant style to a left leaning 5.9 scimitar crack AND she made it.  She was on fire, I was flagging – we complemented each other. We are definitely going back!  Great day out, driving through endless saltpans and bleak Kill Bill country.  Oh look, more desert. 

On our final day climbing we were up at 5am for Crimson Crysalis on Cloud Tower (5.8+, 9P, 1000’).  We wanted this climb, a classic, but a freezing windy day was not ideal for doing a climb in permanent shade.  As I climbed up to Tan belaying on the 2nd pitch, we were so teeth-chatteringly cold our exchange was brief:

Me       Gee it’s freezing.

Tan      Nobody says we have to do this.

Me       Bail?

Tan      Bail.

We bailed, past 2 Spaniards hidden in balaclavas and bulky warmth, the belayer sporting huge socks over her climbing shoes.  She looked at our descending forms longingly, inviting us to climb in Spain where it was warm. Lovely climbing, and we had done the crux pitch.   We drove over to the sunny side of the loop road and said our farewells to Red Rocks on a perfectly sunny and delightful if uninspiring bolted 5.8 at the Second Pullout. 


Tan’s Handy Hint

When executing a groundfall from a non-existent climb on crappy rock which breaks, ensure a thorny bush to break the fall is at hand.  Then go buy the right guidebook, which for Red Rocks is Jerry Handren’s.


Jen’s Handy Hint:

When tramping across a desert, never ever ever throw your water out.  That would be really really stupid.

Oh and no, we never did actually see an actual bear, actually.

Oh the agony and the ecstasy of returning home. “You are never going to do that again!” Catherine said as she hugged me tightly.  “OK” I agreed, “I’ll never do exactly that again…”