After a day of running around the Emigrant Wilderness scouting things out for a trip I was going to lead a few days later Russ and I found ourselves in the Bridalveil Falls parking lot sorting gear in the dark. The plan was to bivy by the car and then hike up with all the gear, food, and water the next morning.
As we were finishing up and about to turn in for the night 3 headlights emerged from the woods. Three young(ish) guys were coming down from carrying up a load. They told us there was also a Spanish party of 3 that had already fixed the first two pitches.
We moved our wakeup time back from 4:30 to 5:30. We didn't have a portaledge and apparently neither did the Spaniards. The 3 Americans told us they thought they might be able to bring one. All of us were planning to sleep on the Awanhee Ledge, which Supertopo says will comfortably hold 4. Hmm...
Anyway, we were at the base of the 4th class ledges by about 6:30 in the morning the next day after a torturous approach with ridiculously heavy packs. The Spaniard and American teams were nowhere to be found. The 4th class sections had some brand new fixed lines on it that I assume were left after Lynn Hill and Katie Brown's free climb of WFLT about a month earlier.
I quickly lead the first two pitches in one and we began to hear the Spaniards as Russ was nearing the top of pitch 3 and heading into pitch 4. The first Spaniard jugged up to me as Russ was finishing pitch 4. In broken English and Spanish we worked out that the Americans were apparently not heading up today because of a missing grigri. A strange reason, but a welcome one.
I began talking to the first of the Spaniards about sleeping on the Awanhee Ledge. She seemed concerned, saying the guide says only 4.
Si. Quatro es OK, pero cinco es una fiesta. I assured her.
Oh. Fiesta. Good. I dont think she was buying it.
Anyway, Russ was off belay and had the line fixed just as she was getting to the anchor I was at. We said our goodbyes and I started jugging. Once Russ and I were both at Awanhee we started making ourselves comfortable and drinking some food and water. There was a brief bit of rain and clouds, which delayed the afternoon sun-bake for a couple hours.
Around 4 I started up pitch 5. The plan was to fix 5 and 6 so that we could quickly get out of the way of the Spaniards in the morning.
After doing a little pendulum from Guano Ledge I started aiding across a thin seam that angled up and right. Around the 5th piece I weighted a crappy HB that blew. No biggie as I just swung back onto my previous piece.
I finished that seam and then did a little free climbing to gain a flaring 1.5 crack that went up for about 40 feet before another short section of free climbing before the anchor atop the 5th pitch.
I was back-cleaning the whole way because the placements were rather redundant and we only had 2 of each size cam. Near the top of the flared crack I was running low on gear and having to get creative, but I wasnt too worried as the 6th pitch was largely a bolt ladder.
I came to a really awkward part of the crack and found myself putting in a so-so red tri-cam. It was good for downward pull, put definitely not outward. I got on to it and then reached below me to pull out the orange TCU that was going to be a perfect next placement. Then just after I racked the TCU, I leaned back and put outward force on the tri-cam.
Pop! Off I went. I remember thinking I think my next piece is pretty far down right before slamming into a slab below the flared crack.
That was exciting! I called over to Russ as I looked up about 30 feet to where Id started my flight.
Russ was completely gripped and his mind had gone into full evac mode until I made my proclamation and he could see that I was at least in good spirits.
Yeah, I think so, but my left hip is gonna be bruised. In fact it was about 3 weeks before I could lay on my left side without yelping in pain. Other than that I just had some scrapes on my left elbow.
As I was hanging there straightening out my gear I dropped the tri-cam and watched it fall for a lloonngg time as it made the 1,000 foot journey to the next piece of ground. I must have yelled rock at least 10 times.
I doggedly jugged up to the purple Camelot that saved me and kissed it before finishing the pitch. By the time I got to the anchors the sun was within an hour or two of setting and I was completely worked. Id spent about 3 hours baking in the sun while doing that pitch. I was a little wigged and a lot tired and dehydrated. We had plenty of water but it seemed impossible to drink as much as you were sweating when the sun was hitting the wall full force.
The 6th pitch would have to wait until tomorrow.
How do you feel about leading the rest of the pitches tomorrow? I asked Russ after hed cleaned the pitch and jugged up to me.
Not a problem. He said to my great relief. I was a little wigged about the experience and worried that I would have a repeat performance and slow us and the Spaniards way down.
Russ and I had a goal of drinking beer the next evening and I definitely wanted to achieve that goal. I think Russ might have wanted it even more.
Back on the Awanhee Ledge us and the Spaniards got along quite well speaking in English, Spanish and Italian all at once. It was a great evening and a fantastic view of the sunset and the stars.
I slept very little that night. I was gripped with fear and whenever I did manage to fall asleep I would inevitably roll onto my left side and wake up with searing pain.
In the morning I was more than a little concerned to find that I was unable to make a fist. Hmm
This is gonna make life interesting. I thought. But after slowly stretching my fingers they were back to being functional in a few minutes.
We did some tricky ropework to get under the 5th pitch anchors to start jugging and to get the haulbag free. I went last and had to clean the anchor and then simultaneously put myself on rappel and jug. Russ didnt quite understand how I was going to do it and asked me if I had done it before.
Nope. But I read it in a book once. Russ didnt find this very reassuring. Neither did I, but it worked so Yay! for books.
Russ Lead the 6th pitch and then linked 7 and 8 while I jugged and belayed all day. By the time we were ready to start the 9th and final pitch I had recovered my wits and was ready to lead again but decided not to say anything because I knew Russ would be faster. We were both on the ledge below the 4th class final pitch by 4:30. I finally relaxed a little, but only a little. I knew the descent was going to be a bear. We started descending around 6 and didnt reach terra firma until 9:30. Supertopo makes it sound like theres about 8 rappells. I lost count around a dozen.
So, there we were at 9:30 back on the ground but still about an hours hike back to the car. We figured the Mountain Room Bar would be closing at 11, so wed better get moving. We ran down the talus and trail to the car to get there at about 10:25. We then threw everything into the car and drove AFAP over to Yosemite Village.
At 10:34 we showed up to find the doors locked and the clearly posted hours stating that they closed at 10:30. We were grief stricken. We banged on the door in hopes that someone would take pity on us and let us in for just one beer.
The manager came to the door in seconds. Sorry guys, but we close at 10:30. The Park Service wont let us serve you now.
Please!! I cried. We just came down off the wall and we need a beer!
He took a step back and looked us over. He cringed. We were probably two of the dirtiest humans he had ever seen. All our clothes and exposed skin were smudged with dirt, our pants were ripped, my shirt was smeared with blood from a blown cuticle, and we smelled like an unholy combination of bodily excretions. Russ was still wearing his chalk bag.
OK. One beer each.
We thanked him like starving refugees being served up a steak dinner.
We had enjoyed dinner and a couple beers there the evening before heading over to Bridalveil Falls, so we calculated that we had done the climb in roughly 50 hours bar-to-bar and about 42 hours car-to-car. Worthy of a toast for sure.