I just returned last week from my first trip to Yosemite, and it was quite an experience. Those who know me well understand that my real passion in climbing is for ice. Even though I started on rock, once I went to my first Chicks with Picks the love was full-on for ice ever since. Couple that with a move to a city that is 5 hours from the nearest outdoor crag (not to mention NO climbing gym within 2 hours), a broken hand this spring that hasn’t healed correctly, and my rock climbing skills are definitely not in top-notch form.
So, how does an out-of-shape rock climber end up in Yosemite? Thanks to the American Alpine Club! The AAC hosts an annual International Climbers’ Meet and this year was the first time it was opened up to climbers in the U.S. to apply and attend. It was simple enough to apply, answer some questions, write a short essay and a few weeks later I was in! It is an awesome deal, too. I paid for the price of plane tickets, and a fee of less than $500 to the AAC and they picked me up at the airport, fed me three meals a day, provided rope guns in the form of “host climbers” and dropped me back off at the airport one week later. Undeniably a great deal – and that’s even before the experience of meeting and climbing with some really amazing people from all over the world! It was also a chance to get some great quality time with Ryan, who’d just returned home from a deployment.
We flew across the country and arrived on a Sunday afternoon in Fresno. We crammed into a van with some international climbers with John Bragg and George Lowe riding up front. So early on we were chatting away with some rock climbing legends! At the Yellow Pines Campground – for volunteers in the park (which we qualified for with our trail stewardship day) – we set up camp.
Monday morning we divided ourselves into groups to go cragging with the host climbers. This was a good chance for those of us who had never climbed in Yosemite before to get a little experience on routes of different grades. One group went to do some more ambitious climbs anywhere from 5.9-5.12 and Pat & Jack’s, while the rest of us went to do 5.7-5.10 at Church Bowl. The first climb I got on was an awkward squeeze chimney with a 5.7 rating. I had never actually climbed one before, so I was surprised at how difficult it was and began to get really worried about the rest of the week. Next I hopped on a 5.8 crack and cruised it, no problem – whew! Feeling better . Next we got in line to climb the 5-star rated Bishop’s Terrace, which was a really, really fun crack climb. We ended the day climbing a few 5.10a finger cracks, Peruvian Flake and the first pitch of Serenity Crack which is essentially climbing a piton-manufactured crack finger crack – FUN! (P.S.: too psyched on the climbing day 1 to take pictures.)
Tuesday, Ryan and I partnered up with host-climber Ashley, the only female host climber of the bunch, who lives in the valley for about half the year. She’s a total badass, leading 5.12+ trad and having done some of the big walls in the valley as well. She took us up to do the 5-star rated 5.8 Nutcracker at the Manure Pile Buttress. It was a really, really fun climb, with the exception of the mantle on the last pitch (or maybe that’s just me?). Aside from that one move I was feeling really confident in my climbing, but, the struggle with the mantle left six of my 10 digits a hot, bloody mess. A rest day was in order!
Since all I’d really seen of the valley was from the back of a mini-van, we decided to make Wednesday a rest day – a nearly 15-mile rest day, to be exact! We started out from camp and headed up the Four-Mile Trail (which is actually 4.6 miles from the trailhead) to the top of Glacier Point. It was a lovely hike to do in the cool early morning since it was 100% in the shade and still relatively cool. On the way up we passed a few folks headed down who ALL told us about the Mist Trail and the falls on the other side of the valley. They all emphasized that it was a definite “must see.” Luckily, one of the last guys who also recommended the trail described how that one linked up to the one we were on via the Panorama Trail. So, we ended up heading down and across the valley on the gorgeous Panorama Trail, had lunch with our feet soaking in the cold river, and getting up close and personal with both Nevada and Vernal falls which were still really flowing for being so late in the season!
Thursday we paired up with a group headed to Pat & Jack’s Pinnacle. We went out with host climber Corey who was a wonderful instructor (and lover) of chimneys and off-widths. He set up a top rope for us in a 5.7 chimney and worked with me as I groveled up, came down, demo’d some more, and put me back up. I was having so much fun, in spite of how much work it was! Dirty, ugly climbing – just my style! We also climbed the 5.8 Nurdle and a 5.10 called Knob Job before practically melting into puddles of water in the hot sun. While waiting for some shade and debating bailing on the day we turned a corner and saw a monstrosity that appealed to several of us…a 5.9 offwidth and chimney, Desperate Straights. Corey led the route and the rest of us climbed it – well at least part of it A really fun day, overall.
Friday, Ryan and I were hooked up to climb with John Bragg. When John asked what we wanted to do my only request was that we have a day that is simply “mellow and fun” since I wanted to leave the valley on a positive note. So, we headed to the base of El Cap to climb a one-pitch easy route with a great ledge for relaxing, before planning on going over to Glacier Point Apron to climb a 5-star classic crack route called the Grack. However, at the base of El Cap Alex Honnold, who’d been hanging out at camp with us, came over to wait for us to climb and take us to the Alcove to do the rope swing. (I’d missed the heckling John had gotten at breakfast over not having done the swing, so since Alex was taking a rest day he volunteered to make sure it would happen.)
The swing itself is simple, and on a fixed rope. Simply clip into a biner with a GriGri2, take in the slack, coil the rope in one hand, and run off the edge of the slab until the rope pulls you off the ground. From there you just simply soar. As you swing out wide you fly far above the tree tops before heading back towards the slab. You can lower yourself right away to land up high on the slab, or wait until the swinging slows down for a “softer” landing. It was SO FUN. Maybe even more so because it was Alex Honnold giving us the tour and hanging out with us; really, it was so cool to get to talk to him, especially after reading interviews about him for years, to see how he really is in person. (Very cool & calculated!) P.S. I totally have a video of this on my Facebook page that I cannot for the life of me get to load here. So, look for it on the Chicks Climbing Facebook page here!)
Saturday was our trail conservation day, so we headed up to the Cookie Cliff to await instruction…which came about three hours later. So, John Bragg put up the first pitch of the 5.11 The Enema which he had the first ascent of – how cool! It was actually a really fun climb, despite the weird crack/off-width combo. The rest of the day we spent covering up trails and making the “right” ones more accessible. It was just an overall good last day, capped with a SHOWER before our travels home. Does it get any better than that?
Sunday morning came VERY early thanks to a guy in our group who apparently missed the whole “don’t book a flight before 9 a.m.” instructions we got from the AAC. Of course, being the responsible person he is, Ryan was tasked with driving the van back to the airport at 4 a.m., with myself as the navigator. I did get to see a coyote, which was pretty cool though!
All in all, I can’t express how great of an event the AAC put on. I thought it was really fun to climb with people from the UK, Denmark, France, Sweden, Portugal, Brazil, and some other countries too, I’m sure! It was a pretty large group, bordering on 40 total, so to keep everyone fed and arrange transportation and climbs for all of us was really no easy task for the event organizers. The AAC also hosted several clinics including a gear placement & anchor building as well as self-rescue taught by Dave Bengston, the Director of the Yosemite Mountain School, and a off-width clinic taught by Jay Anderson, an AAC host climber. In the evening there were some yoga clinics taught by Jackie Helton, and slacklining available for all! We didn’t get to personally do all of the climbs we wanted (I really wanted to do Royal Arches) but that’s OK, now we know where it is in the valley, what valley grades feel like, and how to plan to go back. If the AAC International Climbers’ Meet is open to residents of the U.S. again next year, I HIGHLY recommend you apply to go – it was really a very good time!
Maijaliisa Burkert is the Marketing & Social Media Chick at Chicks Climbing.