Monday, July 20, 2009

Stop 5: Tuolumne Meadows, CA

Within Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows is at higher elevation than Yosemite Valley and therefore cooler in the summer. It is also supposedly less crowded than The Valley...and maybe it is, but not this week. There is only one campground within this area of the park, and it is full. Every other campground just outside the park is full as well, and we spend several hours trying to find a site.

It's already the second day since my friend Angelina and I left Los Angeles, and we still have yet to climb. We had gotten off to a late start from LA, and then spent time trying to find wireless access along the highway to study a map and see if we should drive together or separately. We decide to take separate vehicles, since I am nursing an injury and don't know how long I can climb.

After checking out several roadside camping signs, we find an area that has free camping, just half an hour south of Mammoth Lakes. It's a perfect little site, complete with babbling brook, though we are both too tired to care too much about the amenities. The next morning we stop in Mammoth Lakes at Mammoth Mountaineering to continue my search for the perfect shoe, and we are able to leave Angelina's car at a park and ride, saving on park entrance fees.

From Mammoth it's less than an hour to the park entrance, assuming you don't miss the only turn required. We of course miss it and, engrossed in conversation, don't notice our mistake for 20 minutes or so. Turning around, we make it to the park, only to find the campground full—we backtrack from the entrance only to find all the other campgrounds full as well. Finally we find a site about ½ hour from the park entrance, not too far from the small town of Lee Vining, and get in a few quick climbs near Elliot Lake.

We sleep with our heads full of dreams of bears and climbing. We awake ready to pound out a couple of routes, but once again our climbing plans are temporarily foiled, this time by a flat tire! It's almost a good thing we are so close to Lee Vining, where for $20 at the garage behind the Chevron station the Subaru is once again good to go.

Finally we arrive at Daff Dome and its relatively short approach. Though several parties are both on and waiting for West Crack, no one is on the dihedral of the somewhat shaded Cooke Book, our goal for the day. We gear up and head straight to the first pitch, which begins just left of West Crack.

The first pitch goes up a short distance before detouring around an underclinging block, and the rope drag turns out to be horrendous. The topo mentions a need for long slings, but even double lengths are insufficient to clear a rope-eating crack at the far left of the block. Upward progress is a struggle, made even worse by injury, and I have to admit that I am just not having any fun. My mistake for not routing the rope better, either straight over the block by back-cleaning the gear on the left side of the block, or by using longer slings. I have no choice but to lower and clean the gear below the block before batmanning back up the rope to continue. After that, however, the beauty of the line becomes clear and the moves are effortless, and the rest of the pitch is an absolute blast.

View across the Meadows from the climb

Angelina leads the crux pitch, and I can not remove one of her nuts. It's been a long time since I couldn't clean a piece of gear, and this one is especially frustrating as it moves freely in a small pod. Pulling up, pulling down, twisting all around...I just can't unlock the Chinese puzzle of the pod, and leave it and continue to the belay. Though clouds are building, we take a chance and Angelina raps back down to see if she can clean it. Of course, it takes her about three seconds! She returns to the belay, and on the gear changeover I promptly drop my belay device and carabiner (Doh!). Again, it's been years since I dropped anything, but dropped gear seems to be consistent with the theme of this trip. With a few rolls of thunder in the distance, we decide it's not worth it to rap down and grab it, even though in plain sight.

Looking pretty haggard at the top

The rest of the climb is devoid of any more drama, and on the descent I try and climb my way back up to the ledge with the dropped gear, but just can't seem to get to it. Perhaps a good samaritan will find it, so I post a note at the message board at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill.

I decide to rest on Saturday, and in the morning we set out in search of Angelina's friend who should be climbing in the area. Even though we don't find him, Angelina finds another climber in search of a partner and off they go, while I spend the day catching up on phone calls and e-mail. AT&T seems to have the best service in the area, with an especially strong signal starting just off the turn-off to Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. I find a stream to sit next to, which is on the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails, and peck away on the computer and chat on the phone while watching the hikers traipse past.

At this point I know I need an extended rest—I am really in too much pain to enjoy the climbing—and I plan to head to Las Vegas to surf the couch of my friends Sam and Brie, who have just moved to Sin City for school and work. We fortunately find Angelina's friend, and Sunday morning we drive back into Mammoth Lakes so she can retrieve her car and head back to Tuolumne, while I head north for some R&R.

Tuolumne Clouds

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