Days 22-25 - First Big Wall, West Face of the Leaning Tower!
Pat and I woke up, gathered our things, and took off for Yosemite. It was a 7.5 hour drive, and of course I got a ticket. (I got speed trapped, going 44 in a 25. My luck sucks.) Anyways, we got to Yosemite, and it was packed for the Memorial Day weekend. We stopped at the Mountain Shop for a bit of quick beta and some gear, then headed off to the Bridalveil Falls parking lot. We started the process of packing our stuff and racking for the big wall, as well as removing all scented items from the car because of the bears.
After getting everything taken care of, we took off up the steep, talus field approach. It supposedly gains 900 feet in 0.5 miles. It took us about 45 minutes, and we had to make two trips to get all of our stuff up to the bivy spot near the base of the climb. Here are a couple shots.
After all of our crap was at the bivy spot, we hung our food to hopefully deter the bears from ripping into it, and got to sleep. The next morning, we woke up to a couple people passing us to go do the climb. First, two guys went up that were planning on doing the climb in a day, and then another party came up, also with the same plans. The first party, it turns out, was two guys both soloing it in a day (not free soloing, solo aiding) but also somehow helping each other out. Either way, things were sort of slow with them, and that delayed the next party ahead of us. The next party was a party of three, and were also planning on doing it in a day, but I’m pretty sure that was either a lie, or just way too optimistic for them. They were sort of slow, since two of three were also brand new to wall climbing, and because of their slowness, we didn’t start climbing until about 1:30pm. Basically, the Memorial Day weekend crowds were in full swing. Here’s a shot of some of the line waiting to get on the wall.
A quick bit about the climb. It’s called the West Face of the Leaning Tower, and it rated 5.7 C2 Grade V (5.7 is the free climbing rating, C2 is the aid rating, and Grade V is for the length, basically meaning you’re going to have to spend at least one night on the wall to finish it.) The climb overall is 10.5 pitches (the last pitch is a very short bit of 4th class), but all the pitches can be linked. Our plan was to link 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8, and 9 and 10. Linking pitches saves an intermediate belay, which translates to saved time. Our first day plan was to do the first 4 pitches up the the Ahwahnee Ledge (where we’d sleep for the night) and then climb pitches 5 and 6, fix a rope, and rappel back down to the ledge. Unfortunately, since we didn’t get to start until 1:30pm, and the party in front of us was slow, we didn’t get a chance to fix 5 and 6. Anyways, enough about the slow downs, and more about the climb!
The climb starts after some exposed 3rd and 4th class scrambling, about 400’ off the ground. Getting the haul bag (aka the pig, or Miss Piggy) to the start of the climb was SCARY and really damn hard. It probably weighed at least 80 pounds, and climbing with it on exposed 4th class with only an old, core shotted fixed rope for your protection was terrifying. Some people say that’s the hardest part of the route. For some reason, I have a hard time disagreeing…
Anyways, the first pitch is a bolt ladder, and as the name suggests, it’s overhanging. Here’s Pat leading up the first pitch.
There was one spot on the first pitch that was C2 and required two hook moves. Pat cruised it, and had a blast.
Pat at the C2 section of the first pitch.
That there is Ben. He was behind us in line, and wasn’t able to get on the climb that day because of the crowds. However, Ben had a lot of insight to offer, and gave us the encouragement we needed to actually head up there. (After all the delays that morning, psyche was low, concerns and worries were high, and bailing before even starting was a big consideration.) “There are a lot of reasons to bail, but few good ones.” -Ben, the awesome guy at the base with us. After that, we just sorta said screw it, let’s do it.
After Pat finished up pitches 1 and 2, he set up the anchor, I lowered out the haul bag into open space, and started to clean the pitch. Boy was it steep! They say the wall is about 110 degrees, so 20 degrees past vertical. I don’t doubt it. Most of the time, I was free hanging in space with 500+ feet of air below me. The exposure was ridiculous! I got to the first anchor with Pat, which is pictured here.
(Hanging big wall anchors tend to be a bit clustered.)
We traded gear, and I prepped for pitches 3 and 4, C2 and C1 respectively. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any offset cams, which would have made the C1 feel more like C1, and less like C2. I had quite a few cam hook moves, and a couple regular hook moves on pitches 3 and 4, which for that being my second aid lead ever, was sorta dicey, but totally awesome.
Looking up at pitch 3.
Basically, I love aid climbing. It’s constant problem solving. Sort of like one big puzzle to figure out, except it’s adventurous and exciting, and scary sometimes. It’s a much slower process than free climbing, however. My first lead took about 3 hours, which was a bit long, but for my second aid lead ever, and it being C2, I was okay with that. Here’s a shot of Pat cleaning the end of pitch 4, which required a lower out.
After pitch 4, we arrived at Ahwahnee Ledge, where the slower party of three that was supposed to be done in a day also decided to crash for the night. This made the belay a bit tight, since it is only really comfortable for four. Either way, it was great to be done for the day and finally sit down.
One of the Chileans from the party of three hanging out on Ahwahnee.
Pat enjoying his dinner of cold Spaghettio’s.
James the Hedgehog and the can opener dangerously close to the edge.
Summer sausage and sharp cheddar on a sesame bagel for dinner. Delicious.
I slept pretty poorly, since I had about an inch and a half of leftover ledge on my side before the drop, and was pretty paranoid the whole night. I was tethered in, but the first time sleeping on a ledge, it’s hard to keep a cool head.
The next morning, I had the hard lead to start off the morning. After a pendulum off a high bolt near the anchor, I had a C2 angling crack. At one point, I was on a micro cam, placing a micro offset and starting to test the nut, when the cam I was standing on blew. I went swinging onto the nut, which miraculously held me, and I quickly replaced the cam. That definitely got the heart rate going a bit! After that, there was some really awkward free climbing on a ramp, followed by fix pins to a C1 crack. After that was an anchor, where I ditched the cams and hung out for a while, waiting for the party of three to get a bit further ahead. Once they were, I had some 5.7 unprotected free climbing where I half-aided off some fixed heads, used a hook for protection, and then reached the arcing bolt ladder that brought me to the top of pitch 6. Here’s a couple shots of me on pitch 5.
Next, Pat had a long C1 lead (Pitches 7 and 8) that he cruised up in very good time! Once he was done, I cleaned and jugged up to him.
Miss Piggy, with me cleaning the top of Pitch 8.
Next up was a SUPER steep C1F (F for fixed gear) roof section on Pitch 9 that was very strenuous. It was technically easy, since all the gear was fixed besides a handful of placements, but the overhanging nature of the pitch really kicked my butt!
After pitch 9, pitch 10 had some awkward C2 roof and traverse sequences that were quite interesting to figure out. Lots of back cleaning, some cam hooks here and there, and some swinging, high step cam placements all added to the fun. Once I finished pitch 10, all I had left was to haul once more, and we were done for the night. Pat helped me space haul the last one since there was a bit of rope drag, and I was exhausted from long, difficult leads earlier in the day. We got the bag up and got ready to crash for the night!
We built a cool little fort out of the haul bag to help block us in. This way, with the way the ledge was sloping, we could sleep untethered since we would have to roll OVER the large haul bag to get close to the edge.
I definitely slept much better the second night, sans tether and with more security since I wasn’t right next to the edge. After breakfast, we gathered up our things, and did the last few feet of 4th class to the top!
After the summit, we headed down the backside of the Leaning Tower via several rappels, and finally it brought us back around near our initial bivvy spot.
Shot of the Leaning Tower from one of the last rappels.
Overall, it was an absolutely amazing experience. There is so many different opportunities from problem solving when wall climbing, and aid leading is like one big puzzle to solve. I loved it all! The bivvies can’t be beat, and the feeling of satisfaction is second to none. I’m definitely looking forward to the next big wall, and am looking forward to more and more aid climbing!