Best Eco-Friendly Campsite Lights

These are great for camping or your patio….

I had heard about Bio-Lite a few years back from their innovative wood burning camp stove.

Now they’re having a sale on their Nano Grid system and I jumped right in – beginning with these inexpensive SiteLight Minis.

I love the fact that this company is focused on renewable, eco-friendly system of outdoor gear. This light system is pretty neat too:

Bring indoor-inspired lighting to the outdoors with this rechargeable system of modular lighting & power. Anchored by 3 edge-lit lanterns providing bright, even light without any wasted space, the NanoGrid can light multiple spaces efficiently and easily with minimal setup. Included SiteLights provide overhead illumination, replacing harsh shadows with welcome ambient light. Designed to work together seamlessly, find the right light for any job with this kit.

You can find the individual lights here on Amazon. (the minis are only $15-$20!!!)

Climbing By the Rivers of Zion

The freedom and stress of climbing my first “big wall”…alone.

In 2010, I scraped together a couple days off around the first weekend in March. I hadn’t planned on going to Zion by myself and climbing my first big wall solo…

But there I was.

“Oh shit”, I thought. “Am I stuck on the side of this rock wall? Am I going to have to cut my rope? But if I do that how will I rappel?…”

My thoughts began to race as my desperation increased and my heart slowly sank in to my stomach.

“What the f#$k am I going to do?”


Photo by Zack Melhus on Pexels.com

Zion National Park was established in 1919, is located in southwest Utah, and is best known for its dramatic desert canyon landscapes and natural rock arches.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile (590 km2) park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles (24 km) long and up to 2,640 ft (800 m) deep. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park has a unique geography and a variety of life zones that allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches. (Via Wikipedia)

If you have never been, I’d put it on your list. It is incredible.


I had been trying to get a climbing partner to head out there with me but hadn’t received any definite yes’s from my buddies. This led me to practice my roped soloing just to get SOME sort of practice. Finally I got someone to answer the siren call that is familiar to all climbers and we made plans to drive out to Zion.

However, a few days before I left, he got a job he’d been interviewing for and had to bail.

Damn!

So it was off to Zion all by my lonesome.

Freedom in the Journey

I loaded up all my climbing gear in to my black Jeep and drove that stick shift beauty across the southwest from one beautiful location to the next. Driving across that part of the United States can feel like driving in another world. You cruise across rust red landscapes and suddenly dive in to sheer canyons that are hidden until you are right on top of them.

The freedom you feel in a landscape this beautiful is difficult to describe.

All I can do is encourage you to stop hesitating and just drive….which is what I did. Eight hours after leaving San Diego, I was in beautiful Zion National Park.

Watchman Campground

Watchman Campground the next morning

Freedom…and Stress

March in Zion is still pretty cold and I awoke to the sight of my breath and frost on the outside of my tent.

Nevertheless, I had to get my day started, and the anticipation to start this climb pulled me out of my warm sleeping bag.

After breakfast, I drove over to the pull-out across the road from the Cerberus Gendarme climbing area. Here is a shot of where I was climbing…not a bad spot huh?

Red arrow points to the area where I was going to climb.
Red arrow points to the area where I was going to climb.

That little red pin on the left?…that is Angel’s Landing (a well known tourist attraction and hike).

Touchstone ascends the wall just to the left of the obvious crack/corner that goes most the way up.

Touchstone Wall

A mixture of anticipation and worry began to creep in as I looked at 800-1000 feet of climbing that I was about to try.

Am I really going to climb that without a climbing partner?


One thing you have to realize about climbing solo (roped)…you do ALL the work.

Normally you have a climbing partner to split the work with you, alternating between climbing and belaying. Yet, when you rope solo, you actually end up doing 3 times the amount of work you normally would.

Here is the partner climbing equation as a baseline for comparison:

climb the 100ft pitch, fix anchor, belay your partner up to you = 100ft of work (for 1 person)

Repeat by number of pitches (8 for this climb) = 800ft of work

Here’s the rope solo work equation:

climb the 100ft pitch, fix anchor + rappel 100ft back to your previous anchor + ascend the 100ft of rope you fixed to the anchor you just climbed up to = 300ft of work

Repeat by number of pitches (8 for this climb) = 2400ft of work

I was about to climb 2400ft to ascend 800ft!


The Climb

(warning: lots of climbing jargon going forward)

yeah...he's a climber too
yeah…he’s a climber too

With a nice short approach I was looking up at the bolt ladder first pitch in no time:

pitch 1 bolt ladder
pitch 1 bolt ladder

While I was very happy that this well established climb had some fixed hardware, the first 5 or 6 bolts are definitely REACHY. I’m 5’8” with a reach a little longer than my height and I had to top step in my etriers like a mo-fo. But I got them all and made my way to the second pitch with the short roof.

You can see the 2nd pitch’s roof section (triangular shadow I think) above my lead line on the upper left:

I rapped the 1st pitch and got ready to clean.

I was surprised at how straight forward the roof section was. The 3rd pitch was pretty straight forward and went smoothly.

Here’s the view looking down from the top of the 3rd (or maybe 2nd) pitch. Either way...fun shot
Here’s the view looking down from the top of the 3rd (or maybe 2nd) pitch. Either way…fun shot

Tired but happy, I called it for the day; fixed my two lines and headed back to camp.

The next day I didn’t expect how tiring re-ascending 300 feet of fixed ropes can be. Once I got back up to my previous day’s high point, I snapped a couple pics of Angels Landing behind me:

Angel's Landing behind me
Angel’s Landing behind me

Here is a closer shot of Angel’s Landing. Other climbs like, ‘Prodigal Sun’ goes up to the right of the light, square notch and ‘Angel’s Hair’ follows the crack system to the left of it:

Angel's Landing wall
Angel’s Landing wall

After about 500 feet I think I got off route because I ended up doing some very sparsely protected face climbing way to the left of the next anchors.

My ability to curse like a sailor was made well known by my echos throughout the canyon…but I got through ok (even though I had to run it out some). I don’t think it would have been as bad if I wasn’t solo, but climbing solo always adds in that extra factor that spices up a climb. Being off route doesn’t help any either.

At the top of the 5th I took 10 minutes to refuel and actually look around and had my WOW moment when I got this view that I don’t think too many people get.
At the top of the 5th I took 10 minutes to refuel and actually look around and had my WOW moment when I got this view that I don’t think too many people get.
pitch 6, touchstone wall

Now it was on to pitches with more free climbing.

The 7th pitch was another interesting one with the long crack that took #4 C4s, but as I only had two I had to leap frog them all the way up (at least 20-30 feet) to the short chimney squeeze.

I stopped there as there was a bunch of slings/ropes around a huge fixed chock stone and I was running out of light and just ran out of water.

I knew the top of the 7th ends at the tree but I made the call to start rappelling from where I was and thanks to all the fixed anchors, rappelling the route was very straight forward even by headlamp.

The Scare

Rappelling by yourself is a lot quicker than with a partner, but the risks are all your own and thus MUCH higher.

I had already descended over 400 feet and had about 300 to go, when I stopped at an anchor station and began to pull my ropes down to me.

Now the key when pulling your rappelling ropes is to make sure that all of that rock above you won’t snag the rope you are pulling up through the anchor you rappelled from…on the way up OR on the way down. A stuck rope can mean a long cold night stuck to the side of a rock wall while you figure out how you get down, or hope to flag down rescue in the morning.

I was pulling my rope at the top of the 3rd pitch (so the ropes were through the 4th pitch anchor) when all of a sudden I couldn’t pull it any more. Thinking I was just tired I gave it a bit of a whipping motion to get it away from the rock, hoping that the momentum would get it to move again.

It didn’t.

As I whipped the rope more and more hoping I could free it from whatever it was snagged on, my heart began to beat faster.

“Oh shit”, I thought. “Am I stuck on the side of this rock wall? Am I going to have to cut my rope? But if I do that how will I rappel?…”

My thoughts began to race as my desperation increased and my heart slowly sank in to my stomach.

“What the f#$k am I going to do?”

The Calm

Hanging from the side of the wall, darkness now fully descended on the canyon, my thoughts settled. Then an interesting thing happened…a moment of calm and clarity came like the sudden ceasing of a storm.

I really only had three choices.

  1. Cut the rope
  2. Hunker down for a cold night
  3. Give one last full body weight pull on the rope

When you are backed in to a corner with nowhere to go, clarity can hit you like a slap in the face.

”Full body weight pull it is then” I thought.

I have never pulled so hard on a rope in my 10+ years of climbing.

All of a sudden I dropped…

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Then…just as suddenly…I was jerked to stop by the anchor I was tethered to. With a whirling, whipping sounds that zipped through the air, my rope flew by my head.

It was free!!

Somehow I had pulled my rope free and it was now hanging below me patiently waiting to be of use again.

With a hoot that echoed down the canyon I set up my rappel and started down to the dark canyon floor. A couple pitches later I was finally down to the car and utterly exhausted. I threw my gear down and made my way back to camp once again:

The Bitter End

Knot terminology:

Bitter end: the very end of the line

Climbing big walls is a push-pull relationship.

You will get psyched to have a project to work up to, obsess over the details, read about it, and even dream about it as the rock pulls you to it.

Then you actually start climbing.

Over the years, I have heard people describe Big Wall climbing as “Type 2” fun.

Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.

That is spot on.

So, even as the fear of being stuck, the nerves of climbing off route, and the exhaustion was still fresh…that very next day, I drove around and just enjoyed the park.

Reveling in the fact that I had just been a speck on the side of these thousand foot monoliths, I sat in the back of my Jeep, ate my lunch, and stared up at what might be my next climb.

one last B&W picture I took
one last B&W picture I took

Apple and Patagonia Close but Continue to Pay Employees During COVID-19 Pandemic

Companies with a clear ‘why’ shine during crisis…

My Dad works at an Apple store back in my home state. He actually told me about this before it hit the news.

Apple Closes Retail Stores Outside Greater China Until March 27th and Outlines Steps It Is Taking to Protect Employees

We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers. Our online stores are open at http://www.apple.com, or you can download the Apple Store app on the App Store. For service and support, customers can visit support.apple.com. I want to thank our extraordinary Retail teams for their dedication to enriching our customers’ lives. We are all so grateful to you.

Tim Cook

I am a self admitted fan of both of these companies.

When I saw that Apple and Patagonia were both doing this, I was reminded that there is a reason these companies have “fans” like me. As Simon Sinek says, they have a why at their core that is about more than the bottom line.

PATAGONIA CLOSES WEBSITE AND STORES DUE TO CORONAVIRUS, WILL CONTINUE TO PAY WORKERS

It is actions like this that help keep me and many others faithful to brands like Apple and Patagonia.

We should remember that, even when starting a blog, a vlog, or any endeavor.

Your life won’t flash before your eyes

Yosemite Valley. El Capitan. My foot had just slipped…

Yosemite Valley. El Capitan. Salathe Wall. The Ear.
“F@#k this.”

mountain

“F@#k!!!”

Numerous variations of that phrase left my mouth more times than I care to recall while I climbed behind “The Ear””. An aptly named rock formation, it is artfully featured about 1,800 feet up the face of El Capitan, and appears to constantly eavesdrop on every creature in Yosemite Valley…

…except on that day.

That day there was no way that The Ear could even hear the blare of an occasional car horn over my violent mutterings and free-flowing curses. It wasn’t out of anger that I spouted those profanities; it was due to the fact that I was at least 40-50 feet above my last piece of protection and if I fell, I would fall onto any number of ledges below…like a pinball that is haphazardly pulled by gravity towards its final resting place. Needless to say, I was scared out of my f@#king mind.


Back in 1958, the first ascent of El Capitan (via “The Nose”) sparked a “Golden Age” of climbing in Yosemite that led to many of today’s classic big wall routes. Throughout the 1960s, local climbers lived in Camp 4 and pioneered these climbs up the granite monolith of El Cap, which watches over the Valley floor to this day. The Salathe Wall, first climbed in 1961, is considered to be second only to The Nose in its popularity, classic style, and all-around big wall beauty.

Image via iamountaineers.org

Over 50 years after that first ascent, Josh and I were preparing to climb the Salathe Wall, a 35 pitch route (about 3500 feet) up the southwest face of El Capitan. We had been planning this trip for almost a year and our excitement was at a fever pitch now that the time was finally here. We had meticulously checked our packing list numerous times to see if there was any way we could reasonably lighten our load since we knew lugging a 60 pound haul bag up El Cap would expend precious energy and slow us down.

Any climber that had crossed our paths over the past year and even whispered the words Salathe Wall had been peppered with questions of tips and advice, a couple of which really paid off during our climb. With our year-long preparations finally complete, we settled down in the birthplace of big wall climbing and attempted to sleep before our climb.

sunset in Yosemite Valley

The inside of “The Ear” is commonly described as having a Bombay shape, or what is essentially an upside down “V”. What this means for climbers is that they can’t climb away from the most dangerous part of the pitch (the opening to the abyss below) because above them the climb narrows to about 3-5 inches. If you can picture a tiny person climbing from behind an earlobe towards the outer part of that ear, then you can somewhat picture what the climb is like. The intrepid souls that decide to brave this climbing crucible have to do this without any substantial climbing gear protection, risking life or lots of broken limbs.

(If you see the picture below, you can see what the pitch looks like. That last piece of protection at the lip was my last piece. If you look close you can see me hidden in the shadows above.)

(Now, there is climbing gear that allows for some mitigation of this risk, but it was climbing gear that we didn’t have with us…much to my chagrin.)

What this meant for me was that I had to traverse the middle ground of this upside down “V” looking for tiny edges to grab and small ledges to put my feet on while hoping that I didn’t slip or grab the wrong one. In fact, I was trying so desperately to stay away from the opening below that I couldn’t even turn my head to look around due to how narrow the space was up higher. I would have to ease myself down just enough to look behind me, or even just to look at my feet, and then turn my head back around and slide back up into the unwelcoming space above that was trying to spit me out.

Never once in my climbing career have I actually feared for my life while on a climb…

…except on that day.

As I thrutched my way along behind The Ear, I did my best to stay as focused as possible. After what felt like an eternity of feeling around for good ledges in the direction I needed to go, I found an edge that I could actually hang on to. It was not what I wanted, but I had no other choice. I had to move onward and leave the tenuous comfort of my current stance or inevitably fall from exhaustion.

With my back against one wall and my hands pressed out against the other (similar to how one might climb up a chimney), I slowly crimped (fingertip grab) a small edge out to my left and began to shift my body weight. Looking like a mime behind a glass wall, I slid my left foot outward towards what looked like a long 1/2-inch ledge that might be good enough for me to shift onto. And it was. I released a drawn-out breath between pursed lips as I prepared to move my right hand. However, I was wedged so tightly in this space that I couldn’t turn my shoulders.

I had to slowly drop my right hand down to my waist and windmill it back up towards my left hand, akin to a slow and deliberate Peter Townsend style guitar strum.

image via Guitarworld.com

Again, success!

Last, I needed to move my right foot over and hopefully move on towards safer climbing. I began to move and – BOOM! – my foot slipped and my body started to follow…


Time slowed and my heart skipped a beat as it tried to leap from my chest to somewhere safer than behind my sternum.

Every basic human instinct in me was screaming that I was about to die…

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

I’ve never truly had a freak out moment while climbing and this time was surprisingly no exception. I would later reflect on this moment and be amazed at how, when you have absolutely no choice but to keep moving, then you do. It’s just that simple. I don’t know too many climbers who have been in situations similar to what I experienced (mostly because its best to avoid them at all cost), but it gives you a whole new perspective on what your limits truly are.

I also noticed that my life didn’t flash before my eyes.


image via switchbacktravel.com

My left foot skipped off the tiny edge it was on and tried to follow my right foot down towards the distant valley floor. I don’t recall what I said to El Cap at that moment, it probably wasn’t nice.

But I hung on.

As adrenaline consumed my entire being, I was able to keep my body tense enough to quickly get my feet back on to that long 1/2-inch ledge. I did my best to control my breathing and refocus because even though I had saved myself from being spit out of that shadowy nook, I wasn’t done yet.

mountain

I continued as I had before, slowly looking for the next holds to shift my hands to, with my feet meticulously following along their tiny, long ledge. As I finally reached the outer part of The Ear, larger hand holds appeared above me, allowing me to grab onto something substantial as well as place gear to protect a dreaded fall. It felt like I had been encapsulated in this dark space for hours but it had probably been closer to 15 or 20 minutes. I was done! As I belly flopped onto the ledge above, there was another climbing duo taking off ahead of us (doing a variant of our climb) and the guy closest to me just looked over with a knowing, wry smirk. He must have heard my obscenities that were meant for El Cap.

I’m sure he understood.

Salathe Headwall Pitch…a couple hundred feet above The Ear

I set up our anchors and Josh promptly jugged the line up to my new ledge. (Jugging is ascending a line so you don’t have to re-climb a pitch.) He congratulated me on a pitch well done and laughingly stated that he was glad he didn’t have to climb it. (He had just climbed the Hollow Flake earlier: much more difficult than what I had done, but I appreciated his modesty,) I said thanks and told him that I’d never climb that pitch again.

Ever.

I still feel that way.

Atop the summit of El Capitan, Josh and I are happy to be done climbing, at for least a little while.

Tommy Caldwell Interview

A couple years ago I stumbled across this Tommy Caldwell interview and at first glance it seemed pretty standard. “How has Dawn Wall changed your life….What was the attention like…..What did the President say when he called?”. But then I found a couple insightful nuggets that I thought were different.

Tommy Caldwell mentioned how important good partners are and how friendships usually develop from them:

The mountains just have an amazing way of creating these lifelong friendships that I haven’t figured out how to do outside of climbing, really. Sometimes I look at other people and I think, “How do people become friends? How do you become close without going on these adventures together?” I don’t even really understand that because [in the climbing world] it happens in this so much more intense way.

​I also like this question. It really shows how much a part of TC that Yosemite really is.

If you could have brought up any historical figure or inspiration to you, who would that have been?

Nobody’s ever asked me that. That would have been a trip! It would have been cool to have somebody like Tom Frost up there – he’s always been a big Yosemite legend and it would have been cool to experience El Cap through his eyes a little bit, because he was there when the wall was first being climbed in those very first years. Warren Harding would have been amazing, because he was just so good at partying up there and he loved the environment. For whatever reason, my mind goes toward the people who know Yosemite really well. I would want to learn more about El Cap from their vision.

​Nice and quick read with some great photos.

Off the Wall: Tommy Caldwell

NASA Admits Climate Change Occurs due to Earth’s Orbit, Not Fossil Fuels

Huh…

“For more than 60 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has known that the changes occurring to planetary weather patterns are completely natural and normal.”

I saw this headline and opener and thought…yeah right. Yet, after just a quick read through this, it makes sense – even to someone who was a former political science major.

“If we had to sum the whole thing up in one simple phrase, it would be this: The biggest factor influencing weather and climate patterns on earth is the sun, period. Depending on the earth’s position to the sun at any given time, climate conditions are going to vary dramatically, and even create drastic abnormalities that defy everything that humans thought they knew about how the earth worked.”

🤔

NASA admits that climate change occurs because of changes in Earth’s solar orbit, and NOT because of SUVs and fossil fuels

Perhaps This is Why We Climb…

Such a beautiful climbing quote…

So it happens that the wealthier and more advance a society, the more fanatic its interest in certain kinds of sport. Civilization’s trajectory is to curve back upon itself – naturally? Helplessly? – like the mythical snake biting its own tail and to take up with passion the outward signs and gestures of “savagery.” While it is plausible that emotionally effete men and women may require ever more extreme experiences to arouse them, it is perhaps the case too that the desire is not merely to mimic but, magically, to be brute, primitive, instinctive, and therefore innocent. One might then be a person for whom the contest is not mere self-destructive play but life itself; and the world, not in spectacular and irrevocable decline, but new, fresh, vital, terrifying and exhilarating by turns, a place of wonders.

—Joyce Carol Oats

I believe that quote speaks straight from the part of my soul that yearns to climb and could never tell me why.

This is in the introduction of the book El Capitan: Historic Feats and Radical Routes. I don’t remember when I bought this book but this quote is the most perfect opening to a climbing book I’ve ever read.

Climbing Half Dome: A Regular Man’s Oddessy

There was something surreal about being 1700 feet off the ground and bathed in the glow of the earth’s nightlight.

There was something surreal about being 1700 feet off the ground and bathed in the glow of the earth’s nightlight.

A few years ago I went out to try and climb the iconic monolith that overlooks Yosemite Valley … Half Dome. This monument to the beauty of nature and constant reminder of how small we are, adorns California drivers licenses, tourist t-shirts, and family vacation photos around the world.

Now what I’m talking about is not the 16 mile (round trip) hike that thousands of vacationers attempt each year. My undertaking was more akin to a mortal man’s attempt of a seemingly herculean task – a multi-day climb up the granite, vertical, northwest face of Half Dome. Something that only a small group of masochistic adventurers attempt each year. (or for those demigods of the climbing world who can climb it in just a few hours – climb multiple times a year) One needs a fair amount of experience before even attempting such a labour, suffice it to say, I worked towards this for quite a few years.

half dome route
half dome route

My partner for this Homeric journey was Eric; a climbing buddy of mine from San Diego who himself had been climbing for quite some time and had this on his to-do list. We actually attempted this very climb back in May 2010 and came down due to a still fresh back injury of Eric’s that flared up. In retrospect, it was probably the Fates looking out for us as there was still snow adorning the summit of Half Dome which would have made summiting and coming down quite dangerous.

Enough of the preamble and on to our epic.

We met in Fresno outside of what some might call a ‘trading post’ for adventurers; aka REI. We got our gear together in my Jeep and promptly rode off towards the climbing mecca of Yosemite Valley. A couple hours later we were on the Valley floor and our climbing banter was in full force and our excitement was palpable.

“I’m stoked to finally get this done!”
“We should definitely make it to 11 on the first day”
“Big Sandy is gonna be awesome!”

If you had dropped into our conversation then and didn’t know what we were talking about, you would probably think we were just babbling idiots speaking Greek…but we didn’t care. We were about to climb Half Dome!

We parked my Jeep as close to the trailhead as allowed, got our last provisions together, sorted gear one last time, and settled in to try and catch a few hours of sleep before our early start.

Day One

Where we had parked is where everyone who hikes Half Dome has to park, and many folks get a VERY early start to try and summit by sunrise. What this meant for us was that we caught about every headlight from every car pulling into the parking lot at midnight, 1am, 2am, etc. These Half Dome pilgrims were excited about their journey as much as we were about ours, and their anxious chatter wasn’t exactly conducive to sleep; therefore, we decided to just get up and go at about 3am. So off we went.

start
start

The hike was pretty intense as there are fixed lines that need to be climbed and you ascend about 3,000 feet from the Valley floor to the base of the climb. It also took us a while to find the trail in the dark, and we had to manage by waiting till it started getting light out and eventually made it to the base of the climb at about 9:30am.

We took a breather and without giving ourselves a chance to look back, we took off.

It took us a while to get into a groove, but we got into a slow rhythm and made it to the top of pitch 6 by about 6pm. (that’s about 600 feet) We weren’t moving as fast as we would have liked, but we had worked this into our flexible schedule, so we decided to take it easy since we were traveling heavy with water, food, and more climbing gear than we’d have on a normal climb. We settled in for the evening and enjoyed a sunset view worthy of two adventurers who were at peace in their element. We were happy with what had transpired thus far and blissfully unaware of the events and labours to come.

Day Two

The next day we started early as we hoped to reach pitch 17, more affectionately known as Big Sandy Ledge. This is a popular place for climbers to stop and sleep for the night as it provides ample room for multiple people…but we had 1,100 feet to climb to get there. So we ate, packed up, took care of some business, and started climbing again.

The previous evening we had noticed some fellow climbers gathering at the base and thought/hoped that these were guys who would try to climb it ‘In a Day’. Climbing Half Dome ‘In a Day’ is popular with stronger climbers as this is a great way to check this route of the personal tick list, and doing it this way cuts out a lot of logistics and hassle. You just have to be really strong, relatively fast, and yell “Hercules, Hercules!” all the way. (ok, that last part isn’t necessary)

As fate would have it, there were two teams that came flying up behind us on seemingly winged shoes. One team American and one Austrian. They were both climbing it in a day (the americans trying for a blazing 5 hours), so we sat by and let them pass us. Now in my past Yosemite climbs, whenever I let other seemingly faster parties pass me it has always turned out to be a bad call and I’ve ended up waiting to climb for an extra 3-5 hours for my generosities. However, this time it was actually a good call and we only got held back about an hour and the two parties disappeared above us before too long (they even took our picture). Eric and I got back into our groove and before too long we were atop Pitch 11 and getting ready to climb some chimneys.

Eric dispatched a quick aid pitch once he figured out the start and I was jumaring (climbing term for using mechanical ascenders to climb a rope) up behind him before too long. Then came my turn to climb over 200 feet of chimney climbing. While these pitches were labeled 5.7-5.9 (relatively easy in climbing terms), they did not feel ‘relatively easy’. Nonetheless, I wanted to keep moving and with an occasional curse word, I managed to use almost our whole 70 meter rope to link all the chimney climbing. While I’m guessing that Eric was glad that I climbed it and not him, I know he didn’t like jumaring up the chimneys as that can be quite the feat with a pack on your back. (In the picture he’s just glad to be done)

(side note: these chimney parts of the climb no longer exist. they fell off in a rock fall a couple years ago)

At this point the sun was beginning to set and we still had 150-200 feet to climb to Big Sandy. So Eric took off to make the most of the sunlight.

Once it gets dark, climbing (especially Big Wall climbing) slows waaaaaay down. You have to look for where you’re going multiple times before you go there and you have to be extra careful because any fall can turn into a quick cluster at night. As we were about to find out.

Just before we were supposed to start the pitch to Big Sandy – we got off route. Our topo (climber’s map) even showed the off route, but we were in the dark. We couldn’t tell if we were at the right spot. Eric climbed for about an hour or so and as he got higher he realized that we had to be off route. So he down climbed and we took stock of our situation. It was past midnight, and we both hadn’t eaten since our lunch about 8 hours earlier. We had already started to run out of water (I had actually cramped to the point of my muscles freezing a few times during my last pitch), only had about a quart of water left, and had a whole day of climbing and hiking ahead of us. As we had only slept for a couple hours the past two nights, we decided to eat and try to bivy atop pitch 16; just one pitch away from our days goal. Bummer.

Little did we know that if we had read one of our route descriptions that we had in our pack, we only needed to descend just a bit and head to our right to find our route up to Big Sandy. But we were a little out of it and hadn’t thought of that. So we tried to settle in to sleep on our barely park bench sized rock ledge.

Let me just say that I was essentially sitting in a narrow granite trough that I couldn’t even sit up straight in. No laying down for me. Eric was able to contort his body to lay on his side if he dangled his feet off the ledge. Sort of.

As the moon slowly crept over the Valley from behind Half dome I got colder and colder, and more and more miserable. I wasn’t sleeping at all. Eric tried to pretend that he was, but he couldn’t even fool himself. I’m not sure how long we sat there as I fell into a semi-hallucinatory state of mind/sleeplessness. Eventually I realized I had to move and warm up, so I woke Eric out of his ‘sleep’ and told him that we needed to climb. He promptly agreed and we slowly got ready.

Day Three

Finally ready, we explored down and to the right and instantly saw where we needed to go. Eric made his way over and I set off at a snails pace on the pitch to our previous day’s goal. We had a full moon that night and it was intensely bright, so once I started climbing I actually enjoyed the climbing.

There was something surreal about being 1700 feet off the ground and bathed in the glow of the earth’s nightlight. I crawled upward, cramping occasionally, but making my way; and before too long I was standing on Big Sandy! The moon had left and daylight was upon us, so that meant it was about 5:30am. Happy to be atop pitch 17 and to see some sunlight, Eric raced up to Big Sandy to enjoy the copious amount of room that it affords.

We relaxed for about an hour and a half, ate some breakfast, and took a 20 minute nap. At this point, our want to get off the rock overpowered our desire to sleep, so we pressed onward. Only 500 more feet!

(above is a zoomed in look at what is known as the Diving Board at the summit of Half Dome)

As Eric was leading the infamous Zig-Zags he suddenly exclaimed “Oh no!” and I saw a whole carabiner of our small climbing nuts falling. They fell in slow motion as we both couldn’t reach them and the realization that this climb was about to get significantly harder flashed through our heads. But all of a sudden…thunk! The carabiner of nuts had landed on the last ledge of Big Sandy!! I breathed a huge sigh of relief and told Eric that I could get them up to him. Disaster averted. Eric finished his pitch and I crawled up our rope to him. One more pitch to Thank God Ledge. (i’ll explain)

We were the tortoise and the day’s light was the hare as we plodded along in our dehydrated, zombie-like state. I finally reached Thank God Ledge and gave a loud hoot as everyone who physically prepares for this climb knows they must also mentally prepare for Thank God Ledge. And it was Eric’s lead.

As you can see from the picture, Thank God Ledge is a 2 foot wide ledge that narrows to about 8 inches, dares you to try and walk across, and constantly reminds you that you are now 2000 feet off the ground as you inch across.

Eric psyched himself up to lead this brain tingling pitch and with some “you got this dude!” and “this is your last hard pitch!” from me, he started.

Eric took his time crossing, but he did it well and made it to his last hurdle on this climb. A Yosemite 5.8 chimney. He had to work on this last section for a while as it can’t be aided and he actually took off his leader pack and climbing rack to make the move…and he made it! With Herculean effort, he grunted his way to the anchors and gave a huge sigh of relief.

At the same time I saw a little black rectangle fly out from the chimney and go skydiving down below.

“Rock!” (a courtesy all climbers yell when something falls)

I knew what it was right away…Eric’s camera…not a rock. He had kept it strapped to him during the chimney climb and the rock had scraped it right off and spit it out in spite of his success. Lucky (sort of) for Eric, the only pictures he lost were pictures of me.

Wanting to wrap up this climb, I hurried across the ledge as fast as I could and made my way to Eric. I took right off on the last pitch or so of climbing with a quick bolt ladder and couple surprisingly tricky tension traverse moves and we were scrambling to the top at 6pm! Yes, it had taken us about 10 hours to do 5 or so pitches. We were exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, super tired…and really, really happy.

There was a group of guys up top that gave us some water and chatted with us for a while as they tried to comprehend what we had just done. (as did we) We made some quick phone calls to our loved ones to let them know we were safe and then booked it off the top of Half Dome to try and make the most of the daylight that was left

Just like Hercules wasn’t done until he completed his 12th labour, we had our 12th trial still ahead of us. We had to hike 8+ miles down to the Valley floor and back to the car. Eric took the pack with all our gear in it because he has that ‘old man strength’ from years of mountaineering and we booked it down. We stopped for water half way down to replenish our screaming muscles and finally finished at 2:30am at the Jeep. Our personal Odyssey was complete. We made it out of Yosemite Valley that night to our respective resting spots and promptly passed out.

(the moon rising on our hike)

As I look back on it, a few years removed now, most of the misery has faded. Climbers often say “I’ll never do this again”…but time tends to be very forgiving and eventually we look back fondly and laugh about stories like this. The world will always need those mortal men reaching for the seemingly impossible.

Maybe that means there’s something wrong with us…and I’m ok with that.