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In Indian Creek…without a rack Posted on 10.17.2010 by greg.kuchyt
Love Muffin Cafe - Moab, UT

Love Muffin Cafe - Moab, UT

Effectively we’re up shit creek without a paddle…or more fitting, we’re all dressed up with no place to go. Since we’re meeting a friend out here who has 10 sets of cams we decided not to bring our own rack. Now we’re sitting in the Love Muffin cafe in Moab, hoping the day won’t be completely burnt waiting to meet up with our gear supplier. It’s quarter to 8 here, and we’re still sitting around. My vote is today is a burned day, but maybe that’s the pessimism from a 20 hour day yesterday.

If in the Moab area, check out Love Muffin. Here’s a parting shot of Don and the interior of the cafe.

Classic, in every sense Posted on 06.25.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Matt coming up on the pitch 4 belay

Well, we’re happy to say that we climbed the Regular Route on Fairview Dome (5.9) yesterday! We have to admit that the entire day was a bit more difficult than we had hoped but we still managed the climb (12 pitches) in 7.5 hours (the guidebook recommends 6-8 hours). The biggest complication was snow! There is still a lot of snow up in the “high country” and we had to ascend a receding snow field to gain the crack system that starts the first pitch of the route. We found the ratings of the pitches to be much harder on Fairview. The crux 5.9 pitch was very difficult as much of the footwork was on polished rock and it was very dirty from having been wet earlier in the season. Our fear of the crux pitch being wet didn’t come out to be true, but the dirtiness didn’t help make things easier. Above were a couple more pitches of 5.7/5.8 and they were sustained, more difficult than we anticipated, and long (like 150′). The climbing was worth it though! Wow, what an incredible route with pitch after pitch of amazing climbing which all lead to a summit that topped out around 9900′ giving us a great view of surrounding peaks and Tuolumne.

Greg on awkward 5.8 terrain

To us, this climb represented the culmination of our combined 10+ years of climbing requiring a lot of skills and techniques learned previously. We got the genuine alpine feel we were looking for, with perfect granite, snow-capped domes and peaks in the horizon, and no other people around. Based on the topo, this route involved about 1400′ of climbing, which most pitches being 5.7 or harder.
Today, we’re deciding not to climb anything. I finally came down with the bug that Matt was trying to shake the whole trip. I had the initial signs yesterday, but was still able to climb. Today, it’s not so good. We’re ok with it though, we got 2 of the 50 classics done this week and yesterday was a great note to end the trip on. We’re taking it easy in the Valley today and tomorrow we’ll be packing up and heading back to San Francisco to do some tourist-type stuff before we head back to the airport to drop off the car and then hunker down for our early morning flight. I’m sure we’ll have a more detailed trip report once we’re back, but as of right now I know both of us would have done anything for this experience. This was an amazing trip; one that I’m sure we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives.

Classic climbs with unclassic descents Posted on 06.24.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Matt running it out on the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral

After a couple rest days, we hit our main objective yesterday. The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock (5.10c, 5.10a, or 5.9 A0), one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America. We chose the 5.10a variation and we both freed the moves on the crux pitch! We did the route (11 pitches) in 7.5 hours, 30 minutes quicker than the guidebook suggested time. The descent however…that’s another story. Let’s just say the descent off of Middle Cathedral makes all Adirondack descents look like pre-school. Armed with the guidebook’s directions we still managed to get completely lost at the top. After about an hour of aimlessly following faint signs of impact we stumbled upon a tree loaded with slings. We made the rappel and ended up on a ledge, we did some 4th/3rd class scrambling down to get to a somewhat sketchy chockstone loaded with a rat’s nest of tat and some biners. After backing up the tat with some fresh cord we made another rappel and ended up on a huge vegetated ledge where we finally picked up the proper descent path that landed us in a talus-filled gully between Higher and Middle Cathedral. Another hour or so of scree surfing and 3 rappels through polished/wet 4th class brought us back to the approach trail and after three hours we were back at the car (for reference the guidebook said a maximum of 2 hours to descend).
Today we took a rest day in Mariposa to re-hydrate and refeul for our next big objective, another member of the 50 classics, the Regular Route on Fairview Dome (5.9) in Tuolumne Meadows. We’re a little unsure at how this one will go. There is still snow up in Tuolumne (it’s at about 9,000 ft), and the guidebook says that in early season the crux of the first pitch (also the crux of the whole route) is running with water. We took a drive up there Monday with the aim of climbing the route but I bagged it before we left the car because I was exhausted and just didn’t feel up to it. We’re feeling better about it now, and hopefully it’ll go with minimal problem. It seems as long as we can get the first 4 pitches in the bag, we’ll get the route done no problem. The only issue will be the descent, a 2nd/3rd class walk-off on the backside of Fairview Dome which we aren’t sure whether or not is holding snow still. There’s only one way to find out.

Bears and chickens and things… Posted on 06.20.2010 by greg.kuchyt

For anyone who doesn’t get the title it’s from The Muppets Take Manhattan…I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for this post. We got to see our first bears yesterday after a week in the Valley. The weekends in Camp 4 are the scene of some debauchery in regards to bear prevention protocol. We were talking with a fellow climber when he noticed a bear rummaging through an open bear locker from a nearby campsite. He sprang into action, as you’re supposed to do, screaming and generally making yourself appear intimidating to scare the bear off. Not wanting to feel left out I joined in in the screaming to create an even more opposing challenge to the bear. Clearly the bear took one look at the two of us and realized he was in over his head and smartly turned and ran away. Our second bear was an hour or so later.

Half Dome Cables

Someone calmly said “Bear” and put a headlamp on it and just sat there while the bear walked casually around. Since no one was doing anything about the bear, I somehow decided it was a good idea to answer the call. Before Matt even knew what was happening I was sprinting after the bear yelling “Get outta here! Get!”. It’s important to do this with the bears here because they’ve become so habituated to humans they are losing their fear of them. That’s the first step to them then becoming more aggressive, so the NPS stresses the need to keep re-enforcing a negative experience with humans.

On to climbing front, our day doing the Snake Dike was long (12 hours and 20 minutes) but still enjoyable. We hiked about 16 miles all told, did about 1400 feet of technical climbing (8 pitches), and then about 1,000 feet of 3rd class slabs to reach the summit of Half Dome. Most people “hike” Half Dome using the pre-installed cables on the South-ish side.  These cables were our descent. The cables are a crazy thing to see, we though they’d be up 3rd class (low-angle) terrain, but it was like straight up 5th class slab climbing that we would probably rope up to climb.

Matt on the crux 5tth pitch of Super Slide (5.9)

Yesterday we rested for the first half of the day and took care of some logistical errands and then climbed a 5 pitch 5.9 route called Super Slide after a late start. It turns out we were mis-informed that we could camp in Yosemite for 14 days. Currently during the peak season you can only stay for 7 days total. So today we’re taking a rest day and re-locating to a campsite in El Portal, about 30 mins from the Valley. It’s not ideal, but it’s only for another 6 days.

We’re hoping to get up to Tuolumne tomorrow to attempt to climb something. The reports we’re hearing aren’t good though, lots of snow still and if no snow then mud in its place. We’re choosing climbs with very short approaches as a result. Our really only “big” objective is the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral (5.9 A0), which is right across the Valley from El Capitan. It’ll be a big day, but we think we can handle it.

Day 4 (6.17.10) Posted on 06.17.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Another quick update. Again, tomorrow is going to be a huge day so I only have a few minutes to do quick post. Tomorrow we’re going to do the Snake Dike (5.7R) on Half Dome and we’re getting up at 4am and we have about 15 miles of hiking to do along with the climb.

Since we’re doing such a big day tomorrow we did a “short” day today with only 5 pitches and about 600′ of climbing. We did some climbs at an area called Five Open Books which is just to the left of Yosemite Falls. We did a warm-up 5.6 called Munginella and then did our first 5.9 here in the Valley called Commitment which had a wild roof/layback crux with a spectacular layback corner up above as well as a fantastic hand crack on the first pitch. I was lucky to get both the hand crack and the crux pitch! Although the first pitch had a nest of biting red ants in a section of the hand crack that swarmed me while I was leading it, not so fun!!

We found out that we can only stay in Yosemite for 7 days total during the high traffic season of the summer. That definitely messes with our plans, especially since the Tuolumne campground isn’t open yet. We’re going to be scrambling to figure how to make this work but there are a bunch of Forest Service campgrounds just outside the Valley, so we might be able to get something there and just make the commute each day. It won’t be ideal, but at least we can salvage our second week.

Sorry, no pictures today because I’m having problems getting the netbook to read the cards. I’ll try to get something up tomorrow if we get in early enough.

Yosemite is…big! Posted on 06.16.2010 by greg.kuchyt

I have to make a quick update as it’s getting late here and we still don’t have a plan for tomorrow morning.

Yosemite Valley seen from the Tunnel Viewpoint

Yosemite Valley

Well, we’ve been here in the valley for only a few days and wow! Things are big here! We got to Yosemite on Sunday and were super lucky to get a campsite at Camp 4 until the 20th. We need to figure out whether we can get another campsite for another week or not, that’s still up in the air. Our original plan to go to Tuolumne and camp has been struck down due to an incredibly wet spring here in the Sierras. The Tuolumne campsite is still under water! More on this to come. Here’s a quick run down of what we’ve done so far.

Day 1 (6.14.10)

Waiting for crowds is no fun

Waiting an hour for a team ahead of us.

We decided to start on some “easy” climbs to get used to the area a bit. First we started off on a 4-star moderate route called After Six (5.6) and then did a climb called Nutcracker (5.8). Nutcracker is a super historic because it’s one of the climbs Royal Robbins did once he brought back stoppers (aka nuts, chocks) from the UK. He did the entire route using the stoppers to prove that they were viable as a means of protecting a climb. This helped the clean climbing movement (see the previous history post I wrote). All told this was a great day, we did 11 pitches and 1200′ of climbing. Not bad for our first day.

Day 2 (6.15.10)

Pitch #...who knows?

Pitch #12 belay

We decided to do another classic climb, this time a 5-star route called Royal Arches (5.7 A0). This route requires a section of aid climbing where you clip into a fixed rope and pendulum across a blank section of rock to get to a ledge. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures from this climb. It was a long day, 12 hours from leaving the ground to touching back down. We did 15 pitches and climbed 1600′! We really struggled a bit with food and water on the climb and we hit the ground having been out of water for a couple hours. We proved to ourselves that we could do big long days though and still keep it together.

Day 3 (6.16.10)

Mariposa Grove

Mariposa Grove

We were really roughed up from yesterday. Tired, sore feet, dehydrated, and in a calorie debt. We decided that it strategically made the most sense to take a rest day. So we did some looking around in the Valley (figured out where to take a shower, watched a short film about the park, and other touristy things). Then we hoped in the car and checked out the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove, just a bit south of the park. I have a few photos as we weren’t rushing like we were yesterday. We did a 6 mile hike in about 2.5 hours and got to see pretty much all the trails in the Grove.

Bay City…Sleepers Posted on 06.13.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Red Roof Inn...Cheap

We’re down and in SF. We decided on a hotel room tonight because we’re both burnt. That’s all I’ve got. Enjoy this crappy quality photo taken from the web cam on my little netbook.

Tomorrow we’ve got a bunch of logistics to work on. Picking up the rental car, food for two weeks, and all the other loose ends before we head to Yosemite at some point tomorrow. Matt is fighting off a head cold, and I’m fighting to not catch it in general. Okay, we need to sleep. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get another update out, but hopefully I’ll have some better pictures to post with it.

Trip Preperation Posted on 06.11.2010 by greg.kuchyt

The initial stages of packing

Behind every big climbing trip lies tens, no hundreds, of hours of planning; The whole process of choosing a location, choosing a time, planning an agenda, packing, etc. is enough for a climbing team to obsess over for months. Add a couple guide books to the equation…and well…you’re adding fuel to the fire. Receiving a guide book for the climbing area you’re looking to visit is kind of like…Christmas. It’s new, shiny, and you’re super excited when you crack it open for the first time; asking yourself what amazing experiences will this guidebook lead to?

The simple process of thumbing through the guidebook is an experience all unto itself. Like a child peering at the latest and greatest toy, a climber rifles through a guidebook looking for the most classic lines. Looking at topos and photos you wonder how close are the ratings to what you’re used to? Are the ratings in this area going to be hopelessly sand-bagged or delightfully soft?

The unfortunate downside to planning a trip…is planning a trip. Dealing with the logistics of a climbing trip can sometimes be downright disheartening. With more and more people heading to the outdoors it is becoming increasingly necessary for land management agencies to set tighter and tighter regulations on climbing areas, requiring climbing permits or campground reservations. Add on the tasks of finding the cheapest airfare and figuring out travel logistics (rental car, airline baggage policies, etc.) and the excitement of a climbing trip can quickly be eclipsed by the red-tape.

My personal least favorite task is packing, especially when an airline is involved. Airline baggage rules are not climber friendly. Climbing generally involves a lot of gear, so a 50# limit and a 62 linear inch bag size makes for a tight fit for even a short climbing trip. That is, unless you don’t care about paying extra fees for additional bags or overweight/over-sized bags. Can you believe that the over-sized bag fee on a lot of carriers is $100!?!? Regardless of how frustrated you get though, all the animosity melts away the last few days before your trip. Suddenly you’re back to the Christmas time feeling, unable to sleep at night, thinking about the trip. That’s where we are now, so thankfully we are leaving tomorrow, so we can finally stop wondering and start doing.

Yosemite History Posted on 06.10.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Well, I figure the best way to kick off the Yosemite dispatches is to do a quick history lesson on climbing in Yosemite. In America, Yosemite is to climbing as Philadelphia is to liberty. Yosemite is the launching point for the development of techniques necessary to climb the massive faces of rock in Yosemite Valley. “Big Wall” climbing, as it became known, was born in the valley in the middle of the 20th century. This period, 1950s-1960s, is referred to as the “Golden Age” of climbing in Yosemite. Before we get too far into the start of what we would today consider “climbing” we need to talk about how all of it started.

In the late 19th century, climbing was mostly un-roped scrambling of various formations throughout the Yosemite National Park. John Muir reportedly is credited with the first climbing in Yosemite with his solo scramble up Cathedral Peak in the Tuolumne Meadows. The climbing activity that followed for the next 60 or so years was in the same vein as Muir’s ascent of Cathedral Peak; scrambles up terrain considered “pedestrian” by today’s standards. It is the lack of the use of ropes that limits the technical progression of difficulty, unlike in Europe where more technical ascents were occurring due to the use of ropes and rope skills.

In the early 1930s, European rope-work technique made its way to the Sierra Club by way of Americans who learned the trade in the European Alps. With this skill, climbers are able to climb without a fall ending absolutely in death, although the hemp ropes used at the time were a slim safety margin. Climbers also learn to use pitons, a type of protection hammered into cracks in the rock and clipped to the rope to limit the distance a climber would fall.

The climbers of the time turned their new found skills and eyes towards various spires in Yosemite, with a premium being placed on standing on the summit of “something”. However this traditional mountaineer’s perspective was dashed when in 1936, the first ascent of a major wall was accomplished after Morgan Harris, Kenneth Adams, and Kenneth Davis completed the first ascent of Royal Arches. To contrast for our East-Coast climber friends, this is about the same time that Fritz Weissner and Hans Kraus began climbing in the Shawangunks.

While climbing continued in Yosemite through the 30s and 40s, the impact of WWII was definitely seen in the historical record by the lack of paradigm re-defining accomplishments. Many of the Yosemite climbers served in WWII and used their technical skills in the early formative years of the 10th Mountain Division. While the war diminished climbing activity in Yosemite, it also paid back dividends in the form of the war time development of lightweight aluminium carabiners and much safer nylon kernmantle ropes. As well, pitons were available as army surplus following the war, giving climbers a cheap source of pitons that was previously filled by expensive mail orders to European climbing shops.

Post-war climbing in Yosemite was most notably defined by the work of John Salathé, a Swiss-born blacksmith. Salathé realized that the soft iron pitons in use were not durable enough to stand up to the repeated use required to tame the larger faces of Yosemite Valley. Being a blacksmith, Salathé produced the first steel pitons that could stand up to repeated use in the hard Yosemite granite. Using his newly produced pitons, Salathé made ground-breaking ascents between 1946 and 1950 proving his re-designed pitons a success. In the process, Salathé became the first to bivy on-route in Yosemite; a tradition to be both willingly and unwillingly followed by countless climbers to come.

The 50s saw the beginning of the “Golden Years” with two prominent climbers coming into the limelight and cutting their teeth on many first ascents in Yosemite Valley; these climbers were Royal Robbins and Warren Harding. Both Harding and Robbins began exploring longer and harder routes in the Valley refining their technique. In 1957, Royal Robbins, Jerry Gallwas, and Mike Sherrick completed the NW Face of Half Dome, proving that even the long, steep, imposing walls of the Valley were not unclimbable. Harding, his sights originally set on the NW Face of Half Dome, turned his attention to the quintessential wall in Yosemite Valley, El Capitan. In 1958, after 47 days spread over a year and a half, Harding finally topped out on El Capitan after a siege war of attrition with the wall. Harding’s route which ascends the prominent prow of El Capitan is named simply and aptly, The Nose. Both Robbins’ and Harding’s ascents were visionary and progressive for their times and re-defined the idea of what was possible.

The 60s ushered in an era of progression and an influx of new climbers. The now well known names of Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, Layton Kor, Chuck Pratt, and others were very active in the Valley, constantly expanding the boundaries of what was possible. In the late 50s Chouinard began making his own steel pitons and selling them out of the back of his car. By the mid-60s, demand was so great that Chouinard partnered with Frost and started the Chouinard Equipment Corporation, the precursor to today’s Black Diamond Equipment. About this same time Royal Robbins returned from a climbing trip to the United Kingdom and brought back “chocks“, a removable type of “clean” protection that are wedged into cracks by hand and do not damage the rock like the hard steel pitons. In order to prove their efficacy, Robbins established several climbs using only nuts as a means of protection.

The 70s begin with a growing concern over the increased number of climbers and the scarring of the rock being caused by the steel pitons used to protect the climbs. Chouinard, being influenced to not destroy the climbs he so cherished, began manufacturing his own line of chocks and invented the hex, another type of passive protection used to cleanly protect a climb. In 1972, Chouinard Equipment included in their catalog a 14-page essay by Doug Robinson in which the argument to abandon pitons in favor of “clean” protection was made. This essay is credited with jump starting the clean climbing movement virtually overnight in the US and ending the era of prevalent piton usage. In addition to the clean climbing movement, the 70s also saw speed records on The Nose (less than 24 hours), increasingly harder free climbing grades, and the introduction of the spring-loaded camming device by Ray Jardine. The 80s followed in the same suit as the 70s; increasingly faster, harder, and more daring climbing continually re-defined the possible in Yosemite. The 90s continued to see further refinement of speed records and increasingly difficult and bold climbs. However, climbing in Yosemite during the 90s was most notably defined by one person, Lynn Hill. Lynn Hill’s groundbreaking 1993 free-ascent of The Nose established a new benchmark for style and planted the seed for future climbers to bring free climbing to the big wall arena.

To this date, climbers in the Valley are forever pushing the boundaries; climbing faster, harder, and bolder than the previous generation of climbers. Visionary climbers like Tommy Caldwell are planting the seeds today for the future generations of climbers in Yosemite with his attempt to free the aid route Mescalito. The limit is far from being met, but the bar is set so high at this point that progress comes in small, yet groundbreaking steps.

So that’s a “quick” run-down of climbing history in Yosemite. As you can see, this area is pretty integral to the progression and development of climbing in the US. It’s incredibly humbling to think about being in a place like this, imagining these pioneers setting foot on these massive granite faces looking up into the unknown that hung above them. It makes what we do look like child’s play with our modern gear and detailed descriptions of the routes and what to expect. Their experiences are the true essence of adventure and their accomplishments are all the more visionary and bold because of it. We can only hope to achieve such great things in our lives, but we’ll settle for walking in their steps, thankful for their foresight and work the whole way.


Yager, Ken. “A Short History of Yosemite Rock Climbing.” Yosemite Climbing Association. YCA. 10 Jun. 2010

Chouinard, Yvon. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. New York. Penguin. 2006