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Yosemite: An Overdue Detour

By Fallon Rowe
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Yosemite: An Overdue Detour

I put my head in my hands while sitting in the car in Oakland. Our plans in the Bay were falling through, we were alarmingly stressed and hangry, and we were worried about leaving all of our gear in the car in the city.

“Let’s just go to Yosemite instead,” Landon offered.

I was surprised and quickly shut him down — we didn’t have time on this road trip to my sister’s wedding in Seattle for that big of a detour. Yet… the granite bug had bit me while we’d sampled the climbing at Donner Summit the previous day. Having just a taste of California granite wasn’t enough and I was eager for more. Though I’ve been climbing for almost twenty years, I’d somehow never been to Yosemite. It didn’t take much more convincing before we pointed the car toward the Valley and drove through the night.

As soon as we left the city, I instantly relaxed. Being back in the mountains was reassuring and I was filled with anticipation as we set up a quick camp outside the park. The next morning, we tore down the tent and rocketed into the Valley. It was too hot to climb, so I marveled at the massive formations while we did the rounds visiting the most iconic climbs — I touched the base of the Nose while straining my neck up at El Cap, and I stood below Midnight Lightning with a sense of reverence. After seeing these rocks in so many climbing magazines and films over the years, it was surreal to finally be there.

Desperate to escape the heat and psyched to climb, we drove up to the east side of the park, where the cooler temps of Tuolumne greeted us. Tenaya Lake glittered in the sunshine below a spectacular canyon of pristine alpine granite walls and peaks. Paradise! We pulled off and instantly racked up for a romp up “West Country” (5.7) on Stately Pleasure Dome, a slabby wall rising right out of the lake. Sleep deprived but stoked, we simul-climbed for a while up easy slab and cracks, and then pitched it out when the run-outs and consequences seemed more severe. The friction slab was surprisingly challenging for the grade, and I was impressed with the rock quality and movement.

The next day, we cragged in Olmsted Canyon. After a quick warm up, we set our sights on a tricky 5.12 finger crack called “Body Double.” The insecure feet and tips jamming made for some exciting falls onto tiny gear — I was proud to keep Landon off the ground as he whipped over and over in the difficult crux. He took a mighty amount of skin off both sides of his pinky finger when he fell out of a shallow lock. He convinced me to give it a lead burn, and I enjoyed the finicky climbing, but it was too hot for either of us to send that day while it roasted in the sun.

We only had a day left before we had to continue our road trip up to Seattle, so we decided to go for a High Sierra classic:  a link up of Cathedral Peak and the Eichorn Pinnacle. We jumped out of our sleeping bags for an early alpine start and slogged up the approach trail for a couple hours as the sun rose. At 8 am, we arrived at the base of the climb, an immaculate granite wall leading to the summit. Dark clouds loomed in the distance, and we banked on simul-climbing fast enough to avoid getting caught in a storm.

By the time we were halfway up the wall, it started sprinkling on us. I told Landon we should bail as I eyed the dark gray clouds blowing right toward us. There was no thunder or lightning, and it was still early in the morning, so we decided to keep climbing. After all, it would be easier to descend from the summit than it would be to bail. We shifted into high gear and I breathed hard as I covered terrain quickly, flying up the easy cracks and dihedrals, trying to race the storm.

For my last lead block, the wind picked up and reminded me of Patagonia. I looked down between my feet to see the rope being blown sideways between each of my pieces as the wind tried to push me off balance. I pulled over the perfect final crack onto the ledge of the summit complex and pulled my rain jacket hood tight over my ears to block the wind. I could hardly believe my position. I was supposed to be sightseeing on the coast, but I ended up here instead. I smiled, amazed that it had worked out.

We celebrated on the summit of Cathedral for a few minutes, grateful that the rain had stopped and that we hadn’t become lightning rods, and peered over at Eichorn Pinnacle. Originally, we’d planned on doing a harder, longer route on the other side of it, but since the storm was so unpredictable, we settled on a consolation prize:  a one pitch jaunt up the easy north side to tag the summit. Scrambling along the ridge between the two peaks didn’t take long, and the clouds were thankfully holding off.

“The North Face” was supposed to be a quick 5.4, but in our haste, we started up the wrong crack. Landon battled up a disgusting offwidth with wild exposure dropping away below him as the wind battered us at almost 11,000 feet. I was reluctant to follow once I realized it wasn’t the correct route, but pulled through to join him atop the pinnacle. 360 views rewarded us with an incredible alpine landscape spreading out all around us.

We’d lucked out with the storm and didn’t want to push our luck even further, so we rappelled off and hiked back down to our packs. By the time we returned to the car, we felt like we’d made the most of our short detour to Yosemite. Getting just a taste wasn’t enough — I have a long list of goals for the Valley, so I know I’ll be back. The granite is waiting.

August 25, 2022
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