The excursion into Yosemite started off well enough. I left San Diego with a partner who was also named Steve; we had met some years earlier on a previous climbing trip and had shared a rope a couple times since when we crossed paths. I needed a partner for the valley (Yosemite Valley) and he wanted to get back into climbing so it seemed like a slam dunk when we decided to climb El Capitan together. Two noob big wall climbers getting after it on the largest monolith in the world. Good life choice.

a tale of two Steves...on El Capitan

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. As I have said, climbing is often not the hard part of climbing as much as the logistics required to get on the stone itself.(please see the map at the end of the post–it will help you interpret some of the running around we had to do!)

We initially realized that we were short on some essential gear (big wall climbing is very gear-intensive) and so our first challenge was how to acquire a set of ascenders and a daisy chains for Steve as well as a porta-ledge, and a pulley to aid in the hauling of gear which is WAY too heavy to haul hand-over-hand. The porta-ledge was to be supplied by a friend named Mike McDonald, a climber I met on the Supertopo climbers forum–and since this was the biggest item we needed we sort of glossed over the remainder of our gear list assuming it would just come together.

We approached Yosemite through Bishop (on the east side) where we spent a night and did a little bouldering. Here I also managed to lose my iPhone in the town park, something I failed to realize until we were hours away. This might seem like a minor frustration but the phone was to function as my link to keeping the blog and facebook updated through pictures shot along the way. Also, it wasn’t really MY phone. It was Stefanies, and she had given it to me before she left. I have never been a big fan of iPhones, but having seen their usefulness over the course of this project, I had gotten used to using hers and it somehow made me feel closer to her having it with me. Now, I had no way to show or tell what I was up to. Or contact Stefanie who has been super busy with her training.

Being on a climbing trip at times is akin to being under the hot sun with no shade in sight. It is very…sustained and you can feel stranded. Coupling that with not having contact with your best friend and partner and wife–basically is like the aforementioned scenario but standing under a magnifying glass. What initially would have just made you sweat…now makes you smolder and smoke. I cannot overstate the mental exertion that this portion of the trip cost me. 

We intended to shoot for the valley the following day so as to make the most of a weather window (low chance of precipitation and mild temperatures) and bang out the ascent in short order before temperatures got too hot. We had to drive across the park and out the west side  (To Groveland) to meet Mike who was loaning us the porta-ledge and I was able to put the lost phone out of my head for a time as he showed us how to put it up and we “talked shop” about the joys of bigwall climbing. That connection wound up taking a solid day as we were hampered by limited phone access.

The following day we set off, back east into Yosemite National Park with Mike’s portaledge and some other gear he generously loaned us. Straight up, Mike is a terrific human being. He just loaned us over a thousand dollars worth of gear without any question or hesitation and went out of his way to make sure we had all the information we needed to have the best chance at success.

Driving back into the park, we realized that we still were lacking the ascender and pulley and…that there was a heinous noise coming from the brakes on the front driver’s side.  We decided that we should postpone climbing El Cap for another day and address those issues first. We headed all the way back across the park and out the east entrance and down into Bishop. I was fortunate that Steve is a mechanic and was able to fix the brakes for a pint of beer and the cost of parts and tools which were supplied at a significant discount thanks to another friend at need, Darin, who worked at the auto parts store in town and thought our project (and the Dragon Wagon!) were “totally bitchin'”.

We were anxious to turn around and head back up into Yosemite that afternoon but were told that a frontal system had moved in for the evening and our only point of entry to the park, Tioga Pass was closed. Yosemite Valley is surrounded by mountains and all of the entry points for the valley sit at higher elevations–the east side pass, Tioga Pass, is close to 10,000 feet so it can be whiteout conditions there and hot as hell in the valley below.

We accepted the delay and headed out to the Buttermilk Boulders to spend the night, climb a little and get everything packed up to hit the ground running once we got  to the valley.

Night bouldering fun in the Buttermilks

Re-visiting the Ironman Traverse.
Newly repaired Dragon Wagon and the remnants of the storm blowing out of the Sierras in the background
One of the best nights sleep that I had in the last several weeks.

The next morning, we packed up and hit the road up into Yosemite again. I picked up a pulley in Bishop and we decided to try our luck in the valley to get the ascenders for Steve. We stopped in the east side of the park (Tuolumne) to do some climbing on the way and spend a night. I got more video than photos of this part, but here are a few…

Tuolumne, the higher, cooler east side of the park. Rounded domes predominate rather than sheer cliff faces.
Once the brakes were fixed we began thinking of how to address the fact that this car goes about 20mph up hills...the Dragon Wagon is a singles hitter for sure, not much in the home run category!
Steve leading out on P2 of South Crack (5.8R). I got more video of this route that shows how "spicy" it was. There were multiple points on several pitches where a slip would have meant a 80-100 foot fall!
Two Steves, high up on South Crack. Happy to be alive after some intense slab-paddling!
Re-charging post climb. Lots of sun. Getting back down to the car was a real grunt--much harder than climbing up, I thought.
Yay sleep! That's where I'm the VIKING!
Found a sweet place to spend the night with a great view!

We woke up the next morning, poised to head into the valley and met a very cool gentleman named Jim who we chatted with for about an hour–I have been privileged to meet some incredible people on this journey. I want to shout out to Mike McDonald who loaned us his ledge and some extra hardware for our climb which is no small extension considering the investment required to own such gear in the first place. Also Darin and Chris from the auto parts store in Bishop who went out of their way to help us get back up and running. My partner Steve totally styled the brakes too–and saved us a lot of time and money there. Last but not least, it turns out that the phone I lost in the Bishop town park was found by a wonderful lady named Heather who looked us up on Facebook and is mailing it back to us! Ultimately, no matter how far “out” we seek to go, it is the kindness of friends and strangers alike that bring us back.

Logistics of the Yosemite area played a big role in the challenges of this adventure: We approached from Bishop on the east, and had to traverse the park and then some to borrow the porta ledge from Mike who was in the Groveland area to the west on 120. The balance of the climbing (and food storage) took place in Yosemite Valley itself and the nights that we were not sleeping on the route or at the base, we were camped outside the park south of El Portal on 140.