While Yosemite Valley is best known for the towering cliffs and numerous waterfalls that make up its sides, Tuolumne Meadows is known for the huge domes that dot its landscape like rolling hills of granite. As we approached Tuolumne, we started seeing massive dome after massive dome, and our excitement to climb began rising. As Aaron drove more slowly, I scoured the map and the picture of Fairview Dome in the guidebook, trying to find our climb. Eventually we found it, and got out of the car to have a closer look. This was definitely the right dome, and the line that the climb followed was pretty easy to spot. The guidebook warned seriously about puffy clouds and the possibility of thunderstorms, and since there were a few puffy clouds visible, we decided to check with the local rangers just to be safe. We drove up the road a ways, and asked at a visitor center. The ranger said she didn't expect any bad weather today, and that there hadn't been any rain at all for over a week. So we drove back to Fairview Dome, and started to gear up. It was already 2:00 PM, and the climb would be twelve pitches, so we knew we had to move fast. Fortunately, the upper part of the climb is very easy, and the guidebook recommended that fast parties could avoid the crowds by showing up late and doing a lot of simul-climbing on the upper pitches to move fast. This was exactly our plan.
As we were getting our gear together and discussing our strategy, an old guy came down the trail and started talking to us about the climb. I could tell right away that he was an old timer, the kind of guy who probably had been climbing since the 60's or even earlier, and had probably climbed with some of the greats of his time. He was very talkative, and shared some good beta about the route we were going to do. When I asked him his name, he revealed that he was one of the guys who had done the first free ascent of the route back in 1962. We asked him what he thought of the weather conditions, and he figured the chance of a storm was slim. Though I was enjoying talking to him, we knew we had to get moving, so we took our leave after a few minutes. I'm pretty sure he would have talked our ear off if we had let him. In a way, he struck as me as an old stoner climbing bum. Not that he sounded stoned at the time, but the way he talked, he sounded like he was no stranger to weed either. Regardless, I always enjoy learning about climbing history, and climbing in places that have some real history. And I especially enjoy meeting someone who's a part of the history of a place, like this. That's part of the reason that I enjoy climbing at Tahquitz so much. So far, Yosemite was not disappointing me. But then again, how could it?
The approach hike to our climb was short and trivial, which was a nice break from many of the other places I've been climbing recently. When we finally were at the base and ready to start, I think it was close to 3:00. I led the first pitch, the hardest one of the route, at 5.9. The guidebook, and the man we'd met, had said “polished edges”, and man they weren't kidding. The crux section was short, with a thin crack/corner on my right, and the few crystalline edges I could find for my left foot were so polished that my shoe actually squeaked as it slipped off them. But the protection was good, and I made the two or three required moves without falling, although I did have to pull a really painful sort of backward finger jam with my right hand. We linked the next three pitches into two, and they were a little easier than the first: each 5.8, with similarly polished sections. Aaron and I swung leads on these, and at the end of our third pitch, we arrived at Crescent ledge. We knew the rest of the climb was supposed to be much easier, so we decided to start linking lots of pitches, and we figured we'd start simul-climbing as long as the climbing was easy enough. We had two-way radios on this climb, the first time we had used them, and they came in quite handy now. For most of the rest of the climb, we were a whole rope-length apart, but we could just radio messages to each other whenever necessary, instead of having to yell incomprehensibly. Aaron took off on lead, and we linked pitches 5, 6, and 7 with a good amount of simul-climbing. Then I took the next lead, and we linked 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 continuously. Five pitches of continuous climbing, with only an occasional piece of pro here or there! It was the most simul-climbing I've done on a climb, and it was also just a lot of fun to be able to keep moving continuously for so long. The rope drag got to be pretty bad toward the end, but it didn't matter too much. When I got to the summit, I very quickly set a nice three-piece, perfectly equalized anchor, put Aaron on belay, and radioed down to him to let him know. When he arrived at the top, we noted the time and that it had taken us three hours and fifty minutes to complete the climb. Not bad for a twelve pitch route!
The view from the top was awesome: granite domes as far as the eye could see in almost every direction, with a few more jagged peaks and ridges here and there. It was just before 7:00, and would be getting dark soon, so we hurried down. The descent was easy and actually quite fun: the whole back side of the dome sloped off gradually enough that you could just walk down it easily, and the friction was excellent. Aaron commented that you could probably drive a jeep most of the way up that slab.