Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hazing, Walk-in Closets and the Art of Free-Soloing

It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, mostly because I'm based in a very 'normal' location this summer (read: not the Arctic or a glacier or a Colombian coffee plantation). Quick update for those of you I don't get to see or talk to. I just finished a year of engineering at Dartmouth. No, I haven't graduated yet. I'll be graduating from both Middlebury and Dartmouth in the next 2 years. The parents are happy about that and surprised I haven't run off to be a trapper, gold miner or bush pilot somewhere in the Siberian tundra as of yet (just you wait, there's still time).
Photo Cred to the lanky Russian Vitaliy, as well as a thanks for bringing me his down jacket to wear while belaying Hamik on Table of Contents



I have learned how to cut my own hair through some trial and error, which at $25/haircut x 2 haircuts/year = $50 I can spend on a lonely ice screw or half a Patagonia t-shirt. I'm doing an engineering internship for the company responsible for Cheerios and Nature Valley Granola Bars. My weekends I spend climbing in Yosemite doing the whole 'weekend warrior' thing.
Sigh. Even with my hair chopping savings, I can't purchase one of these.
More news from my life: I have an apartment! With a walk-in closet. I could live in it with all my things quite comfortably and still have room to do push-ups. A walk-in closet. I'm living large. Did I mention I have air conditioning?

I do get to go to Yosemite National Park to climb every weekend. So far I've spent 12 full days in Tuolumne, 2 climbing at Lover's Leap in Tahoe and only two weekends when I was obligated by work to stay in town.

First off, huge shout-out to Maria Vish (a DMC alum) for hooking me up with the Stanford Climbing Email List. I've been able to find awesome, reliable partners and it's all because she saw one email from me and forwarded it. Thanks! Plus I got some quality nostalgic Russian music time with her on the long drive.

Photo cred Ted Sumers
I climbed in Tahoe at Lover's Leap my first weekend after flying in from New Hampshire. First time climbing on western granite and right after taking final exams. Took some getting used to, but I liked it.

Climbed Surrealistic Pillar, Corrugation Corner, the Line and East Crack. Just enough to stretch the legs.
Photo Cred  Ted Sumers
Next weekend was my first in Yosemite. 

Token Half Dome picture
 I climbed with two guys that kindly took me under their wing: Vitaliy and Hamik. Seeing as I'd only communicated with them via email, I was pleasantly surprised that they were quite normal and knew what they were doing (finding partners online is always a game of roulette in my experience). Trad cragging on Saturday and then Mt. Conness adventures on Sunday. Perfect people to introduce me to what the area has to offer. I do distinctly remember an older guy underneath Bombs Over Tokyo calling me a "triple virgin" for never having climbed in the area before.


Here's Vitaliy drinking coffee and perusing the local library while we wait for Hamik to show up post our car-sleeping night. 
And here's Hamik. Alright, now everyone knows everyone in this story. 


Pictured above is my first lead in Tuolumne called Table of Contents. I asked if it was bolted, V and H said "yes", so I didn't think anything of hopping on lead to climb it. I consider myself properly hazed now.

For those of you that have climbed in Yosemite before, you know that the bolts are often 10, 20, 30... ft apart, such is the 'ethos' of the area and of the people that put up the first ascents. More than once I asked V+H for help locating my next bolt because it was far off in the distance somewhere (at least it seemed like it). Still a fun intro to slab climbing on credit-card edges.

Sunday the boys got an early 4:30am start for the long approach to climb the SW Face of Mt. Conness---a serious route that would've taken much longer to do as a party of 3, so I was on my own for the day. Hamik suggested I hike up the West Ridge.
Prepping for the day ahead and drinking some delicious Chai
 So I let the guys get a head start and set off on the approach on my own with a topo at 4:30am. Life is great at this point. I'm not lost (yet), my backpack is light because there's no gear, and I have the whole day to explore and climb on my own.


 The views are beautiful. The sun is rising. I know where I'm going.

A view of the SW Face of Conness that Hamik and V climbed, and the gully descent to get there.
 Fast forward to the point where I end up on the North Ridge (by accident), take off my shoes to climb barefoot across the 4th/5th class slabs (keep reading to find out why), descend a gully, climb back up it and eventually maneuver around a little cornice to the summit of Conness--->all by accident. From there, I saw V and H sunning themselves on some rocks below me like a pair of lizards. Huh. Not where I was supposed to end up.


The approach took me about 2-ish hours total, but there was a lot of wrong route-finding involved on my part. Newbie mistake.


Pictured you can see V holding a backpack. While we were climbing, a marmot stole it and ate holes in his shirt. RIP backpack and shirt. Good thing the car keys weren't in it. 



We wait for the sun to warm the ice off the SW route, then descend the 300' gully (much less heinous than the one I descended and ascended originally--->that thing was sketch).


Finally we get to the base of Mt. Conness. Above you can see a small yellow and red dot where V and Hamik are about to begin the SW face route. Hamik points me in the right direction to the West Ridge, and my leisurely climb begins.



The West Ridge is beautiful and pretty easy to route-find on. This was my first unroped 5th class climb, and it was a blast. I liked not having anyone near me--->it felt more like a hike that way instead of a climb.


 The exposure was phenomenal. On the 'knife-like' ridge about half-way up, I found a beautiful bail anchor left behind by someone. Big, meaty, hand-sized chalk marks went ahead another ten feet and then stopped, so I'm assuming whomever was there before me didn't like the 500' drop beneath them, turned around and bailed. All 2012 gear (.75, yellow nut, double length, quick draw and two lockers). I snatched it and continued on.

Straddling the ridge
 You might be able to see V and Hamik on the 2nd pitch of the SW face if you look really closely below. I had a clear shot of them almost the entire way up. It was mildly reassuring to know that they could see me, (not that it would've mattered), but I also loved tracking the route they were on--->it looks burly and awesome and they killed it. 



I climbed the first bottom half of the West Ridge in my climbing shoes as a precaution (this being the first time doing something without proper ropes involved). The upper half I just climbed barefoot while sticking to the ridge all the way up (way more fun than going up the 3rd class chossy stuff to the right in my opinion).

I got to the top of Mt. Conness (12,000'?) and slept on some rocks while waiting a couple hours for Hamik and V to top out. There's a really fat and curious marmot that lives at the summit. If you can eat cuy in Peru, can you eat marmot in Cali?


The guys sprinted to the top to meet me victorious and happy, and we began the descent down that took much, much less time than my circuitous approach did that morning. There was a slight delay during which we searched fruitlessly for V's backpack, but it was decided by popular vote that a marmot nicked it.


One thing I have so far failed to mention is how envious of their footwear I was. They had actual shoes. I had 13 year old sandals. It wasn't fair! Actually, it was completely fair, but do I learn? 

If you don't know which sandals these are, or have not been around long enough to notice these same sandals reappearing in every other one of my blog posts, then here is a picture of them from last summer: 


I've replaced the laces, and they have no tread left, but they get the job done. UNLESS you have snow gullies to descend and snow patches to cross. Oh well. I considered it a therapeutic 'icing' of the feet on our descent. 



Vitaliy and Hamik on the hike out.

Mt. Conness was beautiful and a gorgeous day out. I highly recommend the West Ridge to all (just don't wear sandals and beware the thieving marmot). Thanks for the awesome weekend guys, stay safe in Peru and can't wait to crush Squamish with you Hamik!

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