We started this climb off-route, with Shanjean leading. The topo was a little tricky to follow here. The pitch was only supposed to be 5.7, but Shanjean soon found herself struggling a lot. Fortunately the protection was good. She eventually decided to lower off, and I went up to give it a try. When I got to where she had been, I discovered that it was indeed much harder than 5.7, and soon realized where the correct route went, just to my left. Fortunately, I was able to downclimb, keeping pro just under me as I went, so that I didn't have to leave any gear behind. I even bootied a hex, a #4 Wild Country Rockcentric, undoubtedly left behind by another leader who had made the same mistake, as a lower-off piece. I got it out without a fight, and without even using my nut tool, which further supports that theory: it wasn't stuck there irretrievably, it had just been left behind.
After traversing slightly left to get on route, I continued up the pitch, which was pretty pleasant despite a lot of wide stuff. When I reached the top of the pitch, I set an anchor and put Shanjean on belay. I worried about the time a bit, because we had wasted a lot of time with that off-route section. We still had plenty of daylight left, so I didn't doubt our ability to finish the route before dark, but I didn't want to finish too late. For one thing, I didn't want to have to hike down in the dark, even though the trail would be simple. But really, I just wanted to finish somewhat early so we could spend some time in the valley and visit with my aunt that evening back at camp.
Shanjean started following the pitch, and at first, she seemed to be climbing just fine. About half way up, she fell. She hung on the rope for a minute, then started climbing again. I thought this was odd, considering that the pitch was pretty easy and that she's a very strong climber. Granted, this was her first taste of a wide crack, but I worried that she might be bonking. (For the non-climbers out there, or the non-athletes, that means she might be getting really tired, possibly hypoglycemic, and unable to function at her full physical and mental capacity. This can be a dangerous state for someone in the middle of a climb.) A few minutes later, she hung on the rope again. Then a third time. “Yep,” I thought, “She's bonking. We're going to have to bail.” I immediately started wondering what our options were for getting down. I was sitting on a huge ledge with a few good-size manzanitas, but I hadn't seen any slings to rappel from. There had been slings and a rap ring around a large block on a lower ledge that I had climbed past. That would facilitate getting down with two rappels, but since we had double ropes, this would be unnecessary. We just needed to do one rappel from where we were. I hoped that we could find a way to rappel without leaving much gear behind. With the manzanitas, I figured this wouldn't be too much of a problem, and we might even get down without leaving anything.
Shanjean arrived at the ledge. “How ya' doin'?” I asked.
“Good,” came her reply, “that was a fun pitch.”
This wasn't the response I was looking for. I asked a little more probingly, “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” she answered with a deep breath. This was a step in the right direction.
“Yeah?” I said, “Are you all right?”
After a pause, she replied, “I feel kind of weird... almost like I can't really see straight.”
“Are you dizzy?” I asked.
“Not really dizzy,” she said, “just kind of... I don't know... weird.”
“I think you're bonking,” I said. She asked me what that meant, and
I tried to explain.
Shanjean lying down on my little yellow pack She said that she didn't feel like her blood sugar was low, and she'd never had problems with hypoglycemia before, but she agreed with the idea of rappelling and calling it a day. I told her that before we rappelled she should just rest, and she agreed. Still tied in, she laid her head down on my pack. I spent a while thinking about our rappel options and admiring the beautiful views of the valley and of Lost Arrow Spire. We had plenty of time now, so there was no need to hurry. Before long Shanjean sat up, and I decided to start getting things organized and finding a way to rap.
“I was just thinking about finishing the climb,” she said.
I knew this wasn't an option, but I looked at my watch. It was now a little past five o'clock, and there would be three more pitches of climbing if we decided to continue. “I'm sure we could finish it,” I replied, “but it's starting to get a little late, and I really don't think it's a good idea with you being so tired and everything. You may feel alright now, but what if you get two pitches higher and can't go on? We know we can rappel from here pretty easily, but it may not be so easy higher up.”
She agreed that it was getting too late, and that she was probably better off bailing now. As I looked through my pack, I remembered the pear I hadn't eaten yet. Fruit is always an excellent source of quick energy. I offered it to Shanjean, and she graciously accepted. While she ate and rested, I untied and wandered over to the biggest and healthiest of the manzanitas. It had one good-sized branch that we could easily sling for a rappel anchor, and it seemed quite sturdy. I decided to check the other side of the ledge to see if there was some sort of anchor already set up, since it seemed surprising that there wouldn't be one. After all, this was a very popular route in a very popular area, and there were plentiful options for natural rappel anchors. I fought my way through a tangle of manzanita branches, and sure enough, there were slings tied to a fairly sturdy branch on the far side of the ledge. I went back and started dismantling my anchor, re-racking the gear from the pitch, and flaking the ropes. Shanjean still sat there, resting and eating her pear. I could tell she was too tired to do much. I set up the rappel, fighting sharp manzanita branches and big biting ants as I cut away some horribly old tat and inspected the newer stuff. I went back and got the rack, reminded Shanjean to be careful setting up her rappel, then rapped off. She set up her rappel without any problems, and within a few minutes, we were back at the base of the climb.
We each coiled a rope, then we set off hiking. The first part of the hike down turned out to be beautiful, with small meadows and wildflowers and water flowing down granite slabs. Unfortunately, at the point where we were supposed to traverse across the slabs, there was far too much water, so we opted to do a short rappel instead. I tried hard to keep my brand new rope out of the water as I rappelled, but it was inevitable. There was just too much water. It accumulated into a fairly sizable little stream at the base of the slabs, and when we pulled the rope, it was impossible to keep it completely dry. Fortunately, it didn't get too wet, and it's supposed to have a really good dry treatment. After the rappel, we had to bushwhack a tiny bit, but before long we found ourselves back at the Yosemite Falls visitor area.
Me and Several Deer
Me in a meadow, with seven deer behind me. One is standing up, but the rest are calmly sitting down. It's always funny to transition suddenly from a wilderness environment to an area of high tourist traffic. We emerged from the woods onto the newly paved trail with harnesses on, ropes and helmets hanging from our backs, and the rack jingling around my neck. I tried to avoid the stares of the tourists, but some engaged us quite pleasantly. We responded with smiles, and most of the way back to the car we joked about how, to the tourists, we were just another form of Yosemite wildlife. We also saw some real wildlife a few minutes later. In one of the meadows, we saw a few deer. When we looked closer, we realized that there were several more sitting down in the tall grass. Being the animal stalker that I am, I started to very slowly wander out into the meadow. They didn't seem to mind my presence at all, and by the time I got within about twenty feet of them, all of them had sat down, and only one or two were even watching me. Shanjean stayed by the road and took pictures. After watching them for several minutes, I returned to the road and we continued walking.
When we got back to the car, it was almost seven o'clock, but we still had some daylight left. I suggested to Shanjean that we go do the “El Cap Layback”. (This refers not to some heinous offwidth at the base of El Cap, but rather to wandering into El Cap Meadow and laying back and gazing up at the Big Stone.) For the first time since last September, I stood in the meadow and stared up at the Captain. I pointed out many of the visible features of the Nose, so that Shanjean could follow its line from the base to the summit. I also tried to point out a few features on other routes that I knew of, just to give a general sense of the layout of the rock. Shanjean was already in love with this place, and started talking about coming back here to live for the summer. She wanted to climb El Cap, but she wanted to climb it free. I admired this goal, but pointed out that it was a very lofty one to strive for. I'm sure she could do it if she really puts her mind to it.
After admiring El Cap for a while, then turning around to check out the Cathedrals for a few minutes also, we got back in the car and started the long drive back to Wawona campground. When we arrived at camp, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Marilyn and Fred had just finished dinner, and they had made a great big pot of Pad Thai!