If you’re a climber and are about to take your first step into the Valley, it’s impossible to avoid setting unreasonable expectations. After all, how can any place possibly live up to a reputation as great as Yosemite and Camp 4? They’re practically mythical. This trip, however, was about to exceed my wildest expectations.

SATURDAY:
My adventure began when I edged my Dad’s pickup off the side of the road 45-minutes from the Valley to pick up Chris Vanluvan. Chris was simmering in the heat at the dusty base of a stop sign atop a well-worn A5 Radix haul bag. A worldclass boulderer who, together with his girlfriend back in Bishop, has won PCA bouldering competitions around the country and has been putting up sick numbers, Chris was preparing for a summer as an instructor and guide with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Name a climb in Yosemite or Toulumne Meadows and he’s likely climbed it…. and more than once. Unfortunately, Chris had been on the road a few days (and nights) and was anxious to catch up on much overdue sleep, so engaging him in conversation and getting prime Valley beta wasn’t easy.

YOSEMITE VALLEY
Upon arrival, I quickly staked out a prime site at Camp 4 (“Sunnyside Campground”) and began setting up quarters. This would provide 30 minutes of amusement to the inebriated and well-medicated residents of the nearby campsites. The North Face had provided me with a “loaner” tent while mine was being repaired at the factory. As a cosmic joke, fate decided that I was to leave the instructions behind. Great. How tough could it be? Half an embarrassing hour later, I would finally figure it out,….the poles go on the inside!!!

Having served my responsibilities as Camp 4’s resident clown, I decided to wonder across the road to grab a quick bite to eat. Fortunately, I ran into Chris who quickly introduced me to two of his friends, Jason Kehl (see page #21 of Climbing’s June 2002 issue – dig the hair!!) and his girlfriend, who happens to be one of a handful of professional climbing photographers and a championship boulderer in her own right (and also has great hair). It looked as if the entire roster of the Professional Climbing Association’s (“PCA”) top boulderers were in the Valley. They invited me over to Curry Village for some amazing pizza and conversation.

“You’re out here for trad climbing?” Asked Chris.
I managed to get out a “Yeah” between a few bites of pizza.
“Man, I can’t even remember the last time I tied into a rope!!” He replied. Jason smirked.

Great. T-r-a-d Climber. Was this like being a skier in a world full of snowboarders? Self-doubt began to creep in: Here I was at a table with three of the best boulderers in the country and I was carrying around 20 pounds of excess weight, 15 years of excess age, and – God forbid – a rope. The image wasn’t helped by the pizza sauce smeared across the graying stubble of my face. Overweight, overaged, and suffering from too little oxygen (Yosemite Valley is about 4,000 feet above sea-level). This was going to be fun.

Unfortunately, Gunks.com uber-climber, Chas, would also show me the errors of my slothful ways. After meeting at Camp 4 ranger’s shack, Chas helped me load up my gear before introducing me to my first Yosemite climb, Nutcracker.

THE NUTCRACKER (5.8)
With Bozo The Clown in tow (aka “Me”), Chas turned out of the Camp 4 parking lot and drove out to the Eagle Creek area where he was able to point the route out from the road. The Nutcracker is one of Yosemite’s classic moderate routes. A 5-pitch 5.8, the crux comes near the top of the route: a committing mantle of a 5.8 headwall almost 500 feet off the Valley floor. Fortunately, there was no wait when we arrived so we quickly racked up and Chas jumped on lead. Chas moved quickly, sewing the route up tight before setting the anchors and putting me on belay. I set my hydration pack and helmet near a tree before beginning the climb. The first 2 pitches were a sustained and challenging introduction into Yosemite climbing. By the 3rd pitch, the seeds of exhaustion were sown, I was getting darned thirsty, and I began moving more slowly. I still had two more pitches ahead of me.

At times, Chas would yell out encouragement, “Looking good. You’re moving well.”
I would grunt out something incomprehensible in response, “Hurumphichitik!!!!”

Having finished the fourth pitch, Chas gave me some beta on the crux mantle before heading out on lead. Despite Chas’ speed in topping out and setting up the anchors, traffic was beginning to form below. Ignoring the line below, I waited for the following team to reach me so that I could beg or borrow some water before committing to the 5th and final pitch. I didn’t want to “hit the wall” in the middle of the crux and have to lower off so close to ticking the climb. I needn’t have worried. Chas’ beta was perfect: the headwall became one of the easiest parts of the climb.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get another chance to thank the following team for the water (a real life saver) – I was anxious for Chas and I to grab a quick bite at Curry Village before resuming our day on the granite.


JAMCRACK ROUTE (5.9)
Having frightened the tourists in Curry Village (“Look Mommy!! Who are those stinky men with tape all over their hands?” Yucky!!!), we headed out to Lower Yosemite Falls for my introduction into crack climbing. The short stroll to the base of the climbs took us over the base of Lower Yosemite Falls which spilled into the Valley from 2,500 feet above. In the heat of the afternoon, the spray was as welcoming as central air-conditioning and the view absolutely indescribable.

For reasons I can’t imagine, Chas felt that I was ready for a real jump in the grades. So he led and set up a top-rope on Bummer (5.10c) and Lazy Bum (5.10d). Tourists had formed at the base of the wall and were enthralled by Chas’ vertical gymnastics. Fortunately, I was really sketched from 5-pitches of sustained climbing and was able to put on another clown-show for an appreciative audience (this was beginning to become a habit). Despite encouragement and terrific beta, I just couldn’t muster the required energy to tick either of these two climbs.

Perhaps out of embarrassment or perhaps because he felt sorry for me, my partner decided to give me a shot at the Jamcrack Route – a route that the guide describes as “excellent straight-in finger and hand jamming.” Although it looked 5.6 from the deck, I soon found that this route was a solid 5.9. With Chas explaining crack-climbing technique from below, I began inching myself upward and the top slowly became closer. Despite weighting the rope (O.K.,… I slipped), I managed to grunt, sweat, and curse my way up the route. I was elated. I had managed to climb a “classic” Yosemite crack climb. Had I attacked this climb before Nutcracker, I was convinced that I could have completed the climb with little problem (at least that’s what I continue to tell myself).

Following another trip to Curry Village to refuel, we returned to Camp 4 for a well-earned night’s rest. Before hitting the rack, we decided to police the campsite to make certain that we “bear-boxed” anything that may attract Smoky or any of his furry buddies. In spite of an abundance of alcoholic beverages and new friends with which to share them, we managed to resist and quickly fell asleep…. comfortable in the knowledge that we had left nothing around to attract our four-legged friends.

SUNDAY BEGINS,….
At 6:00AM the following morning, I managed to crawl from my tent and make my way to the men’s room in order to address some personal hygiene needs (what was that smell?). Upon reaching the men’s room, I was confronted with a strange site: a large clear plastic bag of barbecued spare ribs lay strewn across the men’s room floor. Back and forth across the floor were cute little barbecued bear tracks. Interesting.

MUNGINELLA (5.6)
Having avoided possible bear attack and broken camp, we returned to Lower Yosemite Falls to take a shot at Munginella. The short hike to the base of the climb would turn out to be the crux. Although not particularly strenuous, the altitude and prior day’s exertion had resulted in my weezing my way up the trail. As a serious alpine climber, Chas was surely at a loss.

Before returning to Camp 4 the night before, we noticed that the Rangers had mobile search-lights directed on the wall. Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) was rescuing a team of injured climbers stranded after dark. As we turned the corner, we noticed that we would be climbing the same route as the injured climbers from the previous night. Bloody bail-biners and webbing were awaiting our arrival. Almost immediately, several other teams began lining up and waiting for their shot at this popular climb.

Normally a 3-pitch climb, Chas decided to link Munginella in 2 pitches. As the guidebook described, we were about to find that the climb “Provides a spectrum of 5.6 challenges.” Top to bottom the route is sustained 5.6 climbing. Although not particularly challenging, Munginella is an absolute blast. I suspect that most Yosemite climbers view the route as a series of crack climbs. However, I linked the sections together by liebacking most of the cracks. Essentially, Munginella wonders up a corner system to the left of Lower Yosemite Falls. Again, I only wish that there were words in the English language to describe the beauty of climbing alongside of the majestic Yosemite Falls.

Having completed another wonderful climb, we began the walk-off. On the trail, we ran into two members of the YOSAR team who had come back to collect the bail-biners and webbing from the night before. After asking them how the rescued climbers were doing, one of the YOSARs replied “Much better than they were last night.” Obviously.

CHURCH BOWL LIEBACK (5.8)
The time was rapidly approaching noon and we both hoped to leave the Valley by 2:00PM. Chas had a beautiful wife to get home to and I wanted to get my seven-hour return drive underway. So it was time to “kick it up a notch” and get things moving. Chas wanted to do Commitment (5.9) but I wanted to attack some climbs at lower grades. Despite breezing up Munginella, I was worried that I was too weak to finish a 5.9 multi-pitch. It’s a decision that I continue to regret.

Despite my disappointment in allowing myself to talk Chas out of Commitment, he was about to introduce me to yet another section of terrific climbs at the Church Bowl. Once again, Chas felt that I should be able to crank off 5.10. This time he set his sights on the first pitch of Book of Revelations (5.11a) that follows a series of pin scars and is rated 5.10a. Chas shouted encouragement and beta. He placed a block of rock at the base of the climb to take the first 24 inches out of play. He paced and looked concerned. In the end, nothing worked. This was one clown who wasn’t going to get up a Yosemite 5.10 any time soon. However, without realizing it, the time spent flailing away on Book of Revelations was having an effect on my crack climbing skills: I was beginning to understand how ring-locks and finger stacking were supposed to work.

Instead of continuing to pound away at Book of Revelations, we shifted over to another popular climb: Church Bowl Lieback (5.8). While awaiting a neighboring team to clear the base, we learned that a familiar-looking member of their team was a Gunks Ranger who, in turn, also recognized me from the Trapps. What a small world.

Chas racked up triple Microcamalots and doubles up to 2”. That’s one thing about Yosemite: the cracks tend to be uniform and require more duplication of gear than we find necessary in the Gunks. Yet again, Chas demonstrated his command of the vertical world by sprinting up the single pitch climb. Grade 5.8 and 5.9 climbs were obviously nowhere near his limit. Church Bowl Lieback also continued to underscore the dramatic differences in our technique. Although, as the name suggests, I liebacked the entire climb, Chas was able to get in low and close to the rock with superior crack technique and inhuman strength.

We topped out under a small collection of trees. From the security of the shade, we took in the views for one last time. Amazing.

“Chas, I really can’t thank you enough. This has been the best climbing weekend of my life.” I said. Although he didn’t say so, I’m sure he was reminiscing about his first trip to the Valley years before. He knew the feeling.

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The flight back was a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did. After finally making it back, work wasn’t much better. Why couldn’t I still be back in the Valley, I wondered. A week later I received an e-mail from Chas, “If you ever need a partner for the Valley, just look me up. I'll be available.”

Count on it.