2015 is an important year in the history of Yosemite National park. First of all, the Dawn Wall was freed for the first time and labelled “the hardest climb of all the times”, then we heard the sad news of Dean Potter’s tragic death. Also the park celebrated its 125th birthday.
During October this year, Natasza and I paid a visit to the birthplace of rock climbing. And there, we lost our hearts.
♣ Journey to Paradise ♣
The trip from San Francisco takes about 6 hours by public transportation. From downtown SF you hop on the BART to Richmond, take the train to Merced and from there, a bus takes you to the Valley. It’s a nice journey that takes you through beautiful places like Mariposa and the stunning landscapes of the Sierra Nevada.
Two years ago I went to Nepal and trekked to the Everest Base Camp. I still remember when I caught the first glimpse of Mount Everest, I almost shed a tear. Well, seeing El Cap for the first time remind me that feeling. Big time.
Every climber has seen tons of videos shot in Yosemite. Every corner of the valley has been featured on a book, in a movie or whatever climbers read and watch. In fact, Yosemite is a little bit like New York: because we are so used to seeing movies that take place there, the landscape becomes familiar and the first time you get there, it’s like a massive déjà-vu. You feel home straight away.
But books and movies are just what they are. Physically being there is priceless.
When you’re in the valley, you are surrounded by giants of rocks. They’re all around you. You feel like the mountains are looking at you. So, when you dare looking back at them, you feel so small and you realize how great nature is … and how nothing you are compared to it. Then you pop a beer and feel the greatest again.
We stayed at Camp Curry, in a non heated tent cabin that looks like boy scouts tents in Moonrise Kingdom. Well, they are comfy and a great value for money, but as said before, they are not heated and the least I can say is that nights are cold in mid/late October. Of course you have to watch your food because, according to the many signs you continuously come across (even above your bed), there are wild, rogue bears all around you. They are hungry, ferocious, smart and they want your wiener (literally) and your beer. Ouhh scary! So you have to keep your food safe in bear canisters in front of your tent and watch your back, because they’re everywhere! We didn’t see any bear. But according to locals, they saw us.
We just had a week to spend in Paradise. It’s short, it goes super fast, but we loved every second we spent in Yosemite. Life seemed easy and simple there. We dressed the same everyday, we had peanut butter toasts every morning and ice cold beer every night, we met lovely people and saw what a proper climbers community looks like.
Of course Yosemite is crowded, but nature is not spoiled though. Tourists mainly stay on paved trails and within a short distance from gift shops and restaurants so one can have a taste of an American wilderness experience.
♠ Go climb a rock ♠
Of course, the main purpose for us was to climb. Natasza didn’t climb much lately so I tried to choose some easy to moderate routes that would suit both of us. The cool thing in Yosemite is the history behind every climb. Every single route is a piece of history, first ascenders are people like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and other famous names. Supertopo on their book features some nice and sometimes fucked up stories about the climbs and their authors.
The quality of the rock is amazing. As you may know, it’s a granitic area, the rock has this soft, porous kind of skin perfect for friction moves (there are plenty of them in Yosemite). But even with the amount of climbers coming there, it’s not as polished and slick as the rock you can find in the Alps for example. The best feature in the Yosemite rock is -of course- the infinity of cracks that go everywhere up, sideways and more (?). It makes Yosemite a dream destination for crack climbing.
During this trip we climbed some of the classic routes, we were ready to line up but were happily surprised to find just a few parties on each route we climbed.
We started with Nutcracker (5.8) which is supposedly the first route that has been established not using pitons but nuts (that gem came from England at the time).
First pitch was excellent and very diverse in terms of climbing: lieback, run outs and all kind of jams including a roof-like section. Sustained, committing and technical: awesome climbing (see pic below).
At the start of pitch 3, a very exposed move is very intimidating and heady, then, when you go past it, it’s just some of the best jamming I had the opportunity to climb so far.
As soon as you start to climb and reach the top of the trees, the views over the valley are epic.
Start of pitch 3, perfect hand jam.
We climbed several routes over the week, including Jam Crack (5.9) which was awesome. It’s considered to be the perfect introduction to jamming in Yosemite. It’s a two pitch climb, super easy and aesthetic. We absolutely loved it. Pitch one is hand jamming all the way up (maybe a couple of fists as well) while pitch two is a bit more technical with some fine finger jams. A great climb for the end of the day.
At first Natasza was a bit skeptical about her ability to climb this route. But as soon as she got on the rock, she took off and destroyed the route with clean jams and perfect style. Hats off, darling!
Another nice climb, super easy (we soloed some parts) was Sunnyside Bench (5.4). Yes it’s a 5.4, yes it’s easy, and we loved it. We didn’t want to push too high in terms of grades but just wanted to enjoy ourselves in Yosemite. The big hazard on this route were the loose rocks almost all the way up. I found myself shouting “rooooock!” more than once since another party was behind us. Luckily I killed no one (as far as I know).
We also climbed After Seven (5.8), another fine multipitch route. We found the first pitch super sketchy and pretty hard to protect. Decades of piton use changed the shape of the cracks and sometimes make it awkward to climb. Apart from that, the rest of the route was excellent: long run outs, a chimney, some slabs and tons of cracks, a pure Yosemite delicacy.
♠ El Cap ♠
Of course El Cap, along with Half Dome, is the most iconic rock face of the valley. From the bottom, it seems endless, an ocean of rock. It’s really fun to hike there and to witness some climbers going for it. I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to climb it, but being there and seeing it, it makes you want to do it, for sure. Well, we’ll see what happens in the future!
From every angle, The Captain is impressive.
♠ Gear ♠
When going on a climbing trip, we usually tend to pack everything necessary and nothing more in order to save space and weight in our bags. Well, my advice here is: don’t be too picky about gear, take plenty of it, read the topos before going, and trust them! They are accurate. Supertopo is at least. More than once I found myself short of friends and had to run out some sections and trust me, I didn’t want to fall there. Everything we climbed during this trip was bellow my ability as a climber and it saved our trip and our wallet because otherwise we would have had to buy some more gear at the local store. So take tons of cams, thousands of slings and billions of nuts. You’ll be using them all.
Yosemite is the dream destination for climbers. But not for all climbers. To enjoy Yosemite, you have to be able to climb on gear. I need to write that because most of the climbers I know are sport climbers. It’s the norm in Europe, not in the USA. Then you have to know the basics of crack climbing. We saw some people not being able to climb easy routes because they had no idea how to jam. And if you plan to lieback instead of jamming, you won’t succeed.
But if you are able to climb on gear and to jam (at least a little bit), then go for it! You don’t need to be a 5.14 climber to enjoy Yosemite. Though be aware that the grading is not the same as it is in Europe, and especially in Scandinavia. A 5.8 in Yosemite can easily feel like a 6+ in Sweden or a 6a in France. So, don’t be too proud and take it easy, as said above, even easy and moderate routes are enjoyable.
Yosemite, see you soon again!