Jen and I finally did our first climbing trip to Yosemite. I’ve always been pretty intimidated about this place, since a lot of hardcore people climb here. And rightfully so–the grades here are stiffer than anywhere else we’ve climbed, and the climbing style itself is very different. Many of the routes are known for slabby climbing on slippery granite and cracks of all sizes, with grades that will definitely humble newbie Yosemite climbers.
We left Thursday evening, having Friday off for Veteran’s Day, and arrived around 11PM. We planned the trip about a week in advance and used National Park Reservations (https://www.nationalparkreservations.com/) to book an unheated tent at Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village). Despite its official-sounding name, National Park Reservations is a third-party travel agency that helps you book lodging at various national parks. Thus, they charge a 10% non-refundable fee for every booking. I think the service they provide is pretty good, though–when I tried to book directly through the official website, it didn’t appear that anything was available and the site was a pain to use. Booking through National Park Reservations, I was able to get more options and speak to a real human.
The unheated tents are actually pretty nice. They come with sheets, blankets, pillows, safe, bear locker outside, shelves, lights, towels and a table. The blankets are not enough to keep warm at night, so it was definitely a good idea to bring sleeping bags. Clean bathrooms and showers (free) are close by. Entering the facilities require inputting a PIN that they give you when you check in. An outdoor gear and climbing store, cafeteria, and general store were a short walk from the cabins.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the cafe and then headed over to Swan Slabs for an easy introduction to Yosemite climbing. We first hit up Swan Slab Gully, a 3-pitch 5.6. The first couple feet off the ground, with a wide, low-angle crack, is actually the crux of the whole climb. At the top, you’re rewarded with an awesome view of the Valley.
After hiking down from the top of the route, we came across some moderate 5.6-5.8 slabs and setup a top-rope. We practiced three or four slab climbs each on different faces–pretty challenging. Some techniques I noticed were finding sharp nubs of granite to put your foot on, as well as putting your foot flat against the rock and just getting as much friction to hold you as you step up. A lot of this rock, especially near the base, has gotten polished from generations of climbers practicing here.
After the slabs, I soloed a few easy hand cracks up to 5.8 and tried out some bouldering nearby. I didn’t have a pad, so I mainly did V0-V2, but did manage a V3 traverse. I will say, the V0’s felt hard. A lot of the problems seem to involve mantling on some sloping shelf which sort of terrifies me.
Jen and I headed back to Half Dome Village for dinner. I ordered a large veggie pizza which turned out to be surprisingly tasty! I highly recommend it.
The next day, we headed over to Church Bowl, another roadside crag with picnic tables and bathroom facilities nearby. Jen and I hopped on Aunt Fanny’s Pantry (5.4). Then I went to lead the Church Bowl Chimney, a 5.6 wide chimney crack. I was pretty scared while climbing it, and the sides of the chimney are a little slick at points. When I got out of the chimney, I realized I was already past the halfway point on my rope and couldn’t get to the tree with a webbing anchor. I unfortunately hadn’t read the guidebook closely, which says the route’s 120′ long. With no other easier place to rap from, I parted with a couple slings and gear and managed to get down safely.
Next, I led Uncle Fanny (5.7) and Church Bowl Lieback (5.8). Uncle Fanny has a thin chimney crack which utilizes heel-toe foot jams. While climbing the lieback on Church Bowl Lieback, my foot slipped on the slick granite and I tumbled about 10-15 feet, getting caught by a small #3 nut. This was my first fall on trad lead, so that was exciting! More exciting was my nut held, although I couldn’t retrieve it–it’s probably stuck there forever.
The top of Church Bowl Lieback goes over some cracks before reaching the tree anchor. As I was rappelling, I was thinking that I should move the rope out of the crack, but I decided it wasn’t worth fiddling with, so I just went down. But when I tried pulling the rope, it was completely stuck in that crack. This was also my first time with a stuck rope, so I wasn’t completely sure how to retrieve it. After thinking a couple minutes, I tied two prusik knots on the two strands of the rope and attached one to my harness and the other as a foot loop. I alternated stepping on the foot loop and pushing the other prusik up, and weighting the harness prusik and moving the foot loop up. After a few times, I got into a good rhythm and reached the top in less than 10 minutes. What I should have done was tie in short along the way, meaning every 10-15 feet, tying a backup knot with the rope and clipping it to my harness. That way, if the prusik failed, I wouldn’t fall all the way to the bottom. Luckily, nothing happened and I successfully freed the rope and rapped back down. After this experience, Jen and I decided to call it quits on roped climbing for the day due to all the “firsts” we were having.
We headed to Sentinel Boulders for a little while, doing a few V0/V1s before heading to Camp 4 Boulders. I tried the ultra-classic Midnight Lightning V8 just to try it, but couldn’t get too far on it. Probably the most memorable problem I did was the Glass Pyramid Face (V1) slab. A group of tough gym climbers and I were trying to figure this one out for at least 20 minutes. High feet on really small nubs and thin crimps leads to better holds near the top. I finally sent after one of the other guys figured out the moves. Definitely the hardest V1 I’ve done!
The third and last day was a bouldering-only day. We first stopped at some boulders in Half Dome Village, sending the Angler (V3) after a few attempts. On our way out of the park, we also stopped by Cathedral Boulders, which has a 15 minute approach. I was able to finish the Bogart Traverse (V5) and Ladder Detail (V5).
Overall, I was really happy with our first climbing trip to Yosemite. We learned a lot about slab and crack climbing techniques, the crowds were minimal, and the weather was amazing for this time of the year. We only got a small taste of what Yosemite has to offer, and we’ll be looking forward to going more often during next year’s climbing season!