(This trip report's pictures haven't been incorporated. All of the
pictures can be found
in my Yosemite 2000 photo album
Leaning Tower and other Yosemite treats
A Yosemite trip is in the planning. Nice, happy, vague, safe - Chad
Lake, myself, who knows who else. Yippee!
April 2000: Chad says the words, "Leaning Tower."
The world just got a lot less vague, and a permanent nervous tingling
expectation begins in my stomach. I don't know too much about aid
past yarding on gear, but it certainly seems like I'll have to do some
learning. Chad's spent some more time aiding, and climbed much of
Touchstone, but hasn't hit a big wall before. We're both in for some
If you've ever gotten complacent about your rack ("Heck, this puppy'll
take me anywhere but Indian Creek!"), decide to try a big wall. The
credit card begins to bend under the strain of new ascenders, aiders,
a gri-gri, and that set of Aliens I'd been drooling over for the
longest time. The homework continues: I practiced jugging an
overhanging line in an abandoned elevator shaft, and practiced some
honest-to-goodness aid in the middle of a staunchly sport area,
Rumney... but you take what you can get.
(And in truth, a wall is a great excuse to buy all the gear you've
been putting off).
Don't read Dingus Milktoast's Leaning Tower trip report before you
climb LT. Reading about the harrowing bolt and head ladders gave me
indigestion for a week, but Chad assured me that the ASCA had rebolted
most of the route.
I'm so antsy about the trip that I can't sit still, but Delta wants a
small fortune to let me move my flight up, so I compromise and take a
6am flight to Salt Lake. Not a bad decision - the flight's empty and
I sleep through much of it. After a final trip to REI and IME in Salt
Lake to pick up a harness that won't turn my innards into sausage,
the adventure begins...
June 6, 2000: The rather convoluted drive to the valley
We leave nearly on time, or at least, before noon. The trip to Ely,
NV is unremarkable other than actually winning $2.50 at a slot machine
on the obligatory "I'll donate a quarter to the Nevada economy" play.
The trip from Ely was somewhat more interesting. I take the wheel,
continuing down the road the previous driver (ahem) had started on 6.
After being pulled over to let some enormous mining equipment pass, we
trundle down the highway. An hour passes, then an hour and a half.
At some point, we see a sign saying "Entering Mountain Time Zone."
We joke about it. We pass a lake that John and Chad seem to
recognize, and they're surprised that there's a formation so much like
this in Nevada...
We pass a sign saying "Ibex, 10 miles". John, Steve, and Chad seem
rather surprised that there's an Ibex, NV. It becomes the subject of
some jokes. I drive on, the sun at my back.
The sign saying, "Salt Lake City, 120 miles" stops us dead cold,
however, and we alternate between screaming and laughing as we realize
we spent the last 2.5 hours (and 150 miles) going the wrong direction.
This is not a proud moment in my navigational life, so we're not going
to talk about it anymore, okay? Especially the fact that we passed a
_BIG SIGN_ saying, "Welcome to Utah." Right-o. Settled. Move along,
nothing to see here.
2.5 hours later, we hit Ely again, and stop for dinner at the same
Taco Time at which we had lunch.
We pull in through Tioga pass at some ridiculously early hour, and
bivy in a rather nice spot in the Meadows.
June 7, 2000:
We get a great campsite in Camp 4, since we arrived relatively early.
This may be related to our rather odd choice of nap locations and
corresponding fear of rangers. Ahem, but we're not talking about that
Steve, Chad and I hit the base of El. Cap for a bit of warm-up
climbing. I start things out with a gorgeous fist crack, Little John
Left (5.8). A year in the Northeast has addled my crack gear scoping
ability, and I take only a single #4 camalot with me. This is sorely
missed as I run out the crux, but the climbing and company are joyous
despite the gear oversight. Chad follows with a nice job La Cocita
Right (5.9), which I'm happy to revisit again after being introduced
to it by Karl Baba last year. The crack has gotten a bit more mellow
in the last year, I'm happy to report. We TR La Arista (5.10c) and La
Cocita Left (5.7 and really, really fun chimney/stem climbing) to end
a short day.
On the way out, we find a rope that an earlier party had tossed from
El Cap, and then left on the trail behind them as they descended.
It's a bit tattered, but Chad and I don't have a lower-out line yet,
and this yellow bundle of fuzz finds itself nominated.
Back in camp, I meet several extremely cool friends of John and Chad,
and we set up to bivy for the night, Chad in a new OR Advanced Bivy,
and I in a borrowed outing club bivy sack.
At 3am, it begins to dump rain from the heavens.
At 3:01 am, I begin to notice that my bivy sack is as waterproof as
cheesecloth. Wrapped in a tarp, I spend the rest of the night in
abject misery as rain soaks my head -- the tarp is slightly less tall
than I, at 6'3".
June 8, 2000:
It rains. John introduces us to a new card game, Creights, and 7 of
us occupy a table in the cafeteria for the next 8 hours, watching an
impressive who's-who of Yosemite climbing wander around. We're still
waiting to hear what Lynn Hill and Beth Rodden accomplish on Lurking
Last night's bivy sack episode was an obvious message from the
climbing gods that I need a new one before touching a wall. Heeding
their message, I scrape off another portion of my soul and hand it
over to the nice folks at the Yosemite Mountain Shop.
No rain tonight, but the new Bibler Big Wall bivy kicks butt anyway.
June 9, 2000:
No rain. Forecast says, "Clear for the forseeable future," whatever
that means. Chad and I start racking up on our picnic table, then
pose for the obligatory pictures. It certainly seems like a lot of
gear, and this is a _clean_ route. Eek. Mark Gully feeds us some
gear beta, so we plop two #4 Camalots down on the table as well next
to our 18 liters (45lbs!) of water. We're planning on spending two
nights on the wall, and three days total climbing. We pack the pig
and Chad's pack. The pig is heavvvvvy. (About 120-150lbs of heavy).
I realize at this point that the seam grip on my bivy sack isn't dry
yet. Brenna graciously lends me hers (same make and color, even).
The climbing gods are smiling yet.
Steve drops us off at the Bridalveil Falls parking lot. We start
hiking in. Chad takes the pig first.
The pig is heavvvvvvy.
We hit the base of the talus field, and start meandering up.
The pig is heavvvvvvvvvvvy.
Midway up, we swap packs, and I take the pig. Stepping up onto a 2'
high chunk of rock suddenly takes more energy than I can imagine. The
pig is verrrrry heavy.
Cursing and muttering, we name Chad's haulbag "Cartman."
(Cartman, you're such a fat fuck, when you walk down the street,
people go, "God damn! That is a big fat fuck!"). Somehow, being able
to curse him by name makes the bag a bit more tolerable, but the rest
of the hike up to the base of LT is still pure agony. But we arrive,
throw down our packs, gear up, and go to scope out the actual route
across the "4th Class" traverse to get to it. There are some fixed
lines on part of the traverse, and with a pack on, I'm rather glad to
have them there.
Our plan is to fix the first pitch tonight, bivy, climb to the ledge
tomorrow and fix the next two pitches, and then summit the day after.
With this in mind, Chad starts up the wildly overhanging first pitch.
Thank God, the bolts on this pitch are shiny new, and stamped with the
Chad hits the A2 section of the first pitch, and it slows him down a
bit, but some small nuts and a hook or two later, and he's through
it. I watch carefully as he bounce tests his pieces, realizing that
I'm going to have to do the same thing soon. It's starting to get
dim as Chad reaches the top of the pitch, and he lowers back down
sounding a bit shaky: it's hit him that we're about to climb a big
fucking wall. It hasn't quite hit me yet, and I sleep well that
night, aside from a few times awakening thinking, "bears. food in
haulbag. bears. eek." Luckily, the bears left us alone.
June 10, 2000:
I'm up early (6:30 or so), so I start readying the gear and make a
trip with the pack over to the base of the climb. Chad wakes up
shortly, and we each feast on a PB&J sandwich before preparing to get
the rest of our gear across. I take another packfull of stuff over,
but the pig is still *really bloody heavy*. We fix a line on the
easier 4th class section, and Chad climbs it with the pig, but we
decide to haul the bag across the harder "this is 4th class??"
section. The day starts out sweaty.
Chad jugs and I lower out the pig. Watching the pig dangle in space
makes me realize exactly how overhanging this pitch really is, and
with that in mind, I start cleaning, and shortly I'm at Chad's belay,
and it's my turn to lead my first pitch of a big wall.
Happily, the 2nd pitch proves to be a pure bolt ladder, and it's
likewise been rebolted. I can cope with this, and as Chad predicted,
I get into a rythm a bit of the way up, and the pitch seems to go
pretty quickly. Chad joins me, and mentions that we lost a sling &
locker. Ahh well.
Pitch 3 gets thin and requires gear, but - muahaha - it's Chad's lead.
He styles it, though it takes a while. At some point during this
lead, Chad starts in with a Russian accent which will follow him
through the entire wall, except when he's gripped. Phrases like,
"Ooooh, Crack, you love me, no? Show me how you love me" begin to
rain down as Chad places one piece after another. Cleaning, I
learn the value of having a hammer along to clean nuts. I show up at
the 3rd belay, and eye the crack above me. "Where are the bolts?".
"You'll be fine, Dave," Chad assures me, "Just test the pieces as you
get 'em and you'll be all set. It's mostly A1."
My first real (e.g. "not totally bomber") aid placements seem to go
OK, though bounce testing them is a bit nervous. I'm temporarily
stymied by a shallow section of crack that spat out my #1 Camalot onto
my helmet, but somehow manage to fudge a placement and move on. Where
Chad resorted to Russian accents, I seem to resort to profanity in my
discussions with the crack and my pieces. Luckily, they seem
unoffended. A bolt ladder starts up, and I follow it to a blank
section of face with a bolt a fair distance away.
The hooks jingle at my waist, but I refuse to heed their call. The
angle is a bit more mellow here, so I climb up higher in my aiders and
try to clip the bolt. No go. I top-step, but my daisy isn't long
enough to reach. Finally, by scrunching up as high as I can possibly
get, I'm able to reach (barely!) the next bolt with a biner. I build
a small train of biners from there, and can finally clip my aiders
into it. Phew!
Being rather tall does have its advantages sometimes.
A bit more wandering up and a few free moves lead to Guano Ledge, and
there's a fixed line over to Awahnee. I haul as Chad cleans, and we
dance a celebratory jig as we realize we're still on schedule - it's
about 5pm, and we've made it to the ledge. We manouver Cartman over
to Awanhee Ledge, and get ready for the next two pitches.
The first pitch from the ledge traverses way right. It has a
reasonable amount of fixed gear in it, but Chad has to place gear
frequently to make some of the reaches, and some of the gear is pretty
shaky. At some point during this, I retied Chad's jacket with a
sling. The sling came undone, and I turned around to the
stomach-churning sound of Chad's jacket slipping away from me down the
slope of Guano ledge, to disappear. "Shit! Shit shit shit," I
yelled. "I just dropped your jacket..." I explained lamely to Chad.
He seems less perturbed by this than I am, though perhaps he was just
putting a nice face on it.
Chad climbs carefully, and makes it to the end of the traverse without
incident, but takes about three hours for the lead. I'm starting to
get nervous at this point, and rig my headlamp. Large flocks of small
chattering birds seem to frequent this ledge ("Guano Ledge" -
surprise, surprise), and they start dive-bombing Chad and myself from
time to time, sounding like tiny little warplanes strafing you as they
Surprisingly enough, cleaning the pitch takes very little time - the
pieces are close enough together that I don't need to aid any of it
and can reach the previous piece while hanging from the rope. A rythm
develops, and about 25 minutes later, I join Chad at the belay.
He points out the next pitch, and comments that there's a bit of free
climbing first. I shoulder the rack, which suddenly feels very heavy,
and set off, trying to shift my mind back into free climbing mode.
It's a very difficult transition, and I dangle about 5' above Chad for
a moment. "God damnit! I *can* climb. I'm a decent free climber!" I
shout, more to myself than anything, and make some ungainly free
moves, tripping on my aiders, to gain the next part of the pitch.
Some quick aid is followed by a long and shiny bolt ladder, and it
progresses without incident. Chad cleans by headlamp.
(Chad hadn't mentioned that this was actually the 5.7 bit of free
climbing on the route, for which I'm quite glad. The challenge on
this section was mental more than anything as it was).
I'm gripped by sudden paranoia rapping in the dark, so I lower myself
on the static line using my grigri with an ascender as a backup. It
may be the slowest descent yet recorded, but it worked, and an
interesting pendulum got me back to Guano Ledge.
Chad followed, and we dined on soup and cheese. It's the best damn
soup and cheese I've ever eaten. A can of soup and a package of ramen
have me completely stuffed, though I ate only a clif bar that day, and
Chad's lentil soup does the same to him. We tie in and fall asleep on
the ledge, with hundreds of feet of overhanging granite above and
below us, illuminated by an almost full moon on a cloudless night.
(And very isolted, aside from the glow from the tunnel and the car
alarm that started going off in the distance. Grrr. More now do I
understand Inez's dislike of technology while climbing).
June 11, 2000:
Another PB&J sandwich starts the day. We slept in until 7:30, but
it's a gorgeous morning and we get going pretty quickly.
Nature calls, and we get the novel experience of target practice with
brown paper bags. So much for privacy. It was kind of unfortunate
when the urine mist got wafted back up towards me, though.
Dehydration and a strong wind a pleasant combination do not make.
Chad decides to lower Cartman directly from Awanhee ledge, so I lower
myself out from Guano, and jumar back up the two pitches from the
I arrive at the belay and realize that I've left both the Wall Hauler
and the pulley on the rack, and I'm too high up to use the haul line
to pull them up. I rig a haul with my ascenders and a biner, and
start the most back-breaking hauling I can imagine. Chad cleans up
the anchor and jumars up a bit later, carrying our marvelous
labor-saving devices. We switch Cartman over to the correct hauling
device, and it goes more quickly. Nevertheless, I've managed to waste
about an hour, and the day is rapidly progressing...
Chad's lead on the next pitch, and I'm glad - it's another thin crack
pitch, and looks like a doozy. Time passes quickly on the wall, but
even with my new huge harness, I start to get uncomfortable after 2
hours of hanging. At some point, I see a flash of yellow spin by me,
as one of my new Aliens goes spinning past me into space. Later
analysis suggests that the gate of the biner got caught on another
biner when clipped back in, so it clicked and _sounded_ like it was
closed. The Alien took our yellow TCU with it when it fell.
The moral seems to be "visually check a reclipped piece."
The pitch took lots of micronuts, and by the time Chad reaches the top
3 hours after starting, he's _completely out_ of small nuts. He sets
up the anchor and clips himself in, then rests against the wall for a
few minutes, completely worked. I kept half of my sanity by not
having to lead this pitch, which definitely fights a battle with the
traverse pitch for most technically difficult pitch on the route.
Cleaning the pitch goes more slowly, as the nuts take a bit more
effort to clean. I scurry up to the belay, and notice a honking big
roof with some fixed gear on it.
"That's not the next pitch, is it?"
"You're fine, Dave, it's all A1 from here" Chad reassures me. But the
roof still looks really big. I snag the rack, and start out. At some
point, we accidentally combined two pitches, and the 60' slab pitch
got absorbed. The roof is surprisingly not bad, but before I realize
midway through that I can actually _use_ my chest harness, I start to
feel like I'm doing the 6-minute ab workout. Yank, clip, rest, step
up, yank, step up, clip. I'm not the most efficient aid climber the
world has seen, and the roof takes a while. At the lip of the roof, I
spot some mystery metal hanging down, and get paranoid, so I stuff a
#2 camalot in as protection, then aid off of the fixed piece. Once I
get around the lip, it turns out to be a completely bomber #12 or so
stopper, and I breathe a sigh of relief. The angle lets up here, but
I've mis-clipped one of the biners on the roof, and the rope drag is
enormous. Right before the "ok ledge," the crack peters out, and some
5.easy free moves conclude the pitch. The rope drag is so bad that I
have to pull up some loops of slack with both hands, but I reach the
ledge with no major problems, and after recuperating for a few
minutes, haul Cartman's fat ass up the rock.
Chad follows the pitch with surprisingly few curses about my height,
but did need to leave one neutrino on a pin. This is mostly my fault
- I don't have two sets of aiders, so Chad wasn't in a good position
to be able to aid that section of the pitch. Another lesson learned!
Arriving at the ledge and realizing that I get another comfy belay
spot, Chad glares, and starts up the next pitch. I soaked up a fair
bit of time on the last pitch, and I'm starting to get anxious about
the time again. Chad gets some unique cam placements on a wedge of
rock, one below the wedge, and one pointing out sideways from the
other side. He nears a huge, wide roof above, and starts to get
nervous that he'd used his only big gear below. I rummage through the
guidebook, and finally my addled brain realizes that we skipped pitch
8, and that Chad is, in fact, on the final pitch. Woohoo! He cuts
left under the big roof, and places a somewhat shaky final belay - the
ASCA hadn't made it here quite yet, and the fixed gear consisted of
two knifeblades and a 1/4" bolt. A few cams shore this up, but Chad
yells down to me to not start climbing until he's finished hauling.
Unfortunately, I interpret this correctly as, "The belay kinda sucks,"
but I trust Chad and figure it can't be _too_ bad. I have to switch
on my headlamp to clean the pitch, and finally get up to the final
ledge with Chad. We set up an anchor over by the bivy ledge area
(where there _is_ a brand new ASCA bolt), eat another luxurious dinner
of canned soup, and wonder about our wall-food consumption habits.
I've eaten about half of what I'd expected to, and Chad's in a similar
boat. Gully later hypothesizes that all the hanging in your harness
squishes your stomach. Sounds reasonable.
We drop off to sleep on another good bivy ledge, with an even more
full moon above, and 1300 feet of air just below our toes. Wow.
Morning comes with the screaming of more birds, and we eat a bit
more. We finally hit the layer of PB&J that got dropped on the
ground, but after two days on the wall, it doesn't make much of a
We start re-racking the gear, and Chad asks, "Where's the other #4
These are not words you want to hear when you're 30 feet of scrambling
from the top of your route. A sense of guilt starts to come over me
as I realize that I probably left it on the last pitch while cleaning
last night, and I mutter something to that extent.
"Well, we could leave it, Dave. It's only $80."
I quickly find myself scurrying on my belly to clip the last fixed pin
on the route to act as a directional, so I don't end up hanging 15
feet out in space like our haulbag when lowered. I lower myself in
paranoid fashion (grigri+ascender again - I like the combo) down our
haul line, and come to a stop with my feet a few horizontal inches
from the ledge. Swing. Swing. Swing.
Ahh! Finally, a toe touches the ledge, and I push off and swing back
in closely enough to grab the rock. I look up towards the evil
#4-eating wedge of rock, and see it hanging out there working on its
tan. Well, at least it's not lost, but I have to get up to it somehow
- without the rack.
Finally, I decide the only way I'm going to get back to it is if I can
catch the rope behind the wedge and jumar to it. Slightly
harebrained, but I anchor myself to the ledge and start whipping the
rope around, and eventually get it where I want it to be. I climb
back up, clip the #4 off, and push it *backwards* through the wedge,
while dangling off of part rope, and part arm-bar in the wedge.
Cracks that open on both sides are very cool sometimes.
I lower myself back to the ledge, free the rope, and then realize that
I need to get back up, and this means letting myself pendulum out into
space. I do so, hooking my toe on the edge for as long as possible,
and then swing out, supported by a tiny 10mm static line, as I watch
the ground swinging by, a tree 1300 feet directly underneath me.
But, looks like I'm really not terribly afraid of heights, though I
have this odd sense of paranoia as I jug back up the rope and make the
same awkward exit moves that I'd made the night before. Ungh.
When I get back to the top, Chad's still working on placing a bolt to
back up the shitty belay, but isn't making much progress. An
inspection reveals that the tip of his drillbit has split open, and he
doesn't have a spare. Another lesson learned.
Back at the ledge, we're all set to go. I scramble up to the top and
we top-rope Cartman up, then start a long series of rappels towards
the ground. Rapping with a pig turned into another 6-minute ab
workout, until Chad came up with the idea of clipping the top of the
haulbag to the rap line to keep it upright. Life happier, we
descended the rest of the route without incident. (The first part of
the rap was accomplished via a fixed line which seemed in reasonable
shape. Some of the descent anchor bolts were old star-drive bolts
that could use a whack, though).
I grabbed the pig for the descent down to the trail, and we started
talus hopping. We spot a flash of red along the base, and start
wondering, "could it be?" Indeed, we find Chad's jacket nestled among
some rocks at the base. Yeessss!
We continue down the trail, and find a bit more booty, including our
own yellow alien and TCU that we dropped. They're toast from the
fall, but it's still delightful to have them back.
We reach the parking lot, and I do handstands and cartwheels as Chad
calls home to announce that he's still alive. I turn back and look at
the tower, and get the giggles for about two minutes. The looks from
others in the parking lot suggest that I'm quite mad as I run around
and jump onto objects. Mark later commented, "The best thing about
getting down from a wall? You can look a tree 100 yards away, and
say, 'I'm going to go to that tree. RIGHT NOW. And you can get there
in about 20 seconds under your own power.'". He was totally right,
and it was a great feeling.
We jumped in the runoff creek from Bridalveil falls, then started
walking down the road back to Camp 4. Just when we'd nearly given up
hope of hitchhiking,, a woman in a big SUV (enough to hold Cartman)
stopped and offered us a ride. She commented, "As a single woman, I
almost never pick people up, but you two looked so dead you couldn't
pull anything if you wanted to." Whatever the reason, it was a huge
blessing, and she drove us back to camp 4. Thank you thank you thank
John's nose wrinkled up the minute we walked into camp (the odor was
quite fierce. We'd also left our toothbrushes behind to save precious
ounces in our 140-lb haulbag), so we started our celebration with long
showers in curry village. Best damn shower I've ever taken, bar none.
Climbing Leaning Tower was an amazing experience. It was both of our
first wall, and I think we're fortunate that things went so incredibly
smoothly - but luck is also half preparation, and I think that Chad
and I both did our homework well before committing to a 1300' chunk of
As I write this, I'm trying to figure out when I'm going to be able to
make it out to climb Washington Column. This crap is more infecturous
than chicken pox!
Steve, Chad and I climbed Nutcracker the next day, and got stuck
behind a terribly slow party while our brains slowly baked on the 2nd
belay ledge at 95 degrees, and we bailed from the top of the 3rd
pitch. On the rap from the large ledge, I stopped about 30 feet down
and downclimbed the rest to free the ropes - be careful if you do this
rap. Fortunately, the downclimb is about 5.1.
Nice climbing, but it wasn't worth sitting in the sun getting cranky
and feeling like hell, especially after 8 hours, so we finished our
trip at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from the tower -
bouldering around Camp 4, on the Bridwell boulder and some delightful
problems that John had discovered. I celebrated with chilled
gatoritas that night, and we departed back to Salt Lake the next
Not surprisingly, we did end up taking an accidental detour through
Bishop on the way home, but I think Steve did it just to make me feel
better about that earlier detour that we're not discussing anymore.
-Dave, June 17, 2000