By Mike Sarmiento, © 1996
NdE: Here are accounts about two classic climbs on the Grack: the center route, and marginal right. As you will probably understand, it is not particularly recommended to climb like the author, who, by the way, sprained his ankle a few months later taking his first leader fall on a slab in Tuolumne.
Went climbing in Yosemite this past weekend. Great weather. Arrived 2am Fri nite. Stayed at Camp 4. Went with Tina, and a spanish couple new to Chaos - Pablo & Olga. Boy, I thought that Paul & Maria or Ne-David were terminally affectionate! This couple made them look tame! Had a lazy morning on Sat and showed Tina basic climbing safety such as tying into anchors, different knots, impromptu rappel devices, etc. By noon, we decided to go climb since that is why we were there. I set up a double rope top rope on Lena's Lieback (5.9), Swan Slab, and had a great 100ft+ climb. Tina went first and made it up about halfway before having a mini-epic b/c she: 1) didn't trust my anchor, even though I rappelled down to test it. As I told her, "I rappelled down it so that if the anchor went, only I would die." This didn't seem to console her. Wonder why. 2) hadn't climbed long routes outdoors for over a year. She'd only done local climbs at Craigmont. When you are up 50+ft and the guy belaying you is yelling up encouragement by combining "rappelling" and "dying" in the same sentence, your confidence isn't really built upon. Well, she made it up. We caught a lot of Yosemite tourist's attention as I was yelling up to her to tell her where the next move was. She repeatedly yelled back, "Fuck OFF!" This seemed to get a lot of people interested in what we were doing. One Japanese tourist stood next to me. We made eye contact. He looked at me. Looked at Tina. Looked at me. Tina yelled, "Fuck OFF!" He looked at her. Then looked at me. Then shook his head and frowned. I nodded my head up and down and smiled. He chuckled then walked away. I guess there is a universal language out there. Then Tina didn't want to come down. She was afraid that the rope wouldn't hold as I lowered her. I yelled up, "That's cool. Stay up there as long as you need. But remember, I gotta get back by dark". "Fuck OFF!", she yelled. Guess I should be more understanding sometimes. Finally, she got the courage to trust my anchor, and I lowered her down. She is so used to the relative safer feeling she gets from climbing indoors that she really freaked once she was outdoors. Maybe I should have gone up first. I followed Tina and kept reminding myself not to cuss on the way up. "Don't want to turn into Eric14," I thought. There was a nice crux move about 80ft up. Problem was it was above it was only a smooth face with no holds. I had to stem wide and do a lot of weird stuff to get up & over, but finally did it. Tina, who ended up skipping the crux move, yelled up to me, "Fuck OFF!". I nodded up and down to her and smiled. I'm sure the Japanese tourist was somewhere out there chuckling. Made it back down with out a hitch and retrieved my anchors. I then set up another top rope on a short 9 crack with a 10 beginning move. Tina cussed and attracted more tourists. I cussed and scared them all away. Tuan, Mike, & Suzanne met up with us for dinner that night. Scott & Grace were already halfway into cooking dinner when they arrived. Tuan brought this nice Pine Mountain wood chip log for our fire, and we sat around it telling stories and planning the next day. The moon was 2/3 full and lit up the walls. Nothing like Yosemite in moonlight. Of course, Pablo & Olga retired early to "go to sleep". I guess Yosemite in moonlight can be pretty romantic. On sunday morning, Tina complained that I snored all night. "Must have been the wine," I responded, "Besides, you farted all night long, so touche". Camping with friends. Gotta love it. We had breakfast with everyone then TIna and I joined Tuan's group to climb the Glacier Point Apron. I was glad Tuan was with us, since this was going to be my first lead outdoors. If anything really went wrong, he could hopefully swing over and help us out. We got to the Apron and it was in the high 60s reaching 70. Definately shorts weather. The sun was really beating down on us. I decided to even out my tan and climbed with out a shirt. Tina did the same, but then decided that if she fell, she could really scrape herself up, so she put her shirt back on. Wise decision. I stayed stupid without my shirt. Everyone recommended that I do the Grack, center route for my first lead. It's a nice 5.6 inclined slab that let's you use your feet so you can fumble around setting pro's. To start, we did a 4th class climb up 40 ft. Then we had to traverse right. I "lead" this traverse. I set a pro and tested it for a downward or right/down fall. It held well. The traverse was pretty scary and I started to get sewing machine leg. "Breath deep" I reminded myself. I made it over in one piece and Tina was relieved. I set up some anchors so I could belay her over, then I pulled in the rope attached to her. When I did this, the pro I set while traversing over popped out. Tina said, "Fuck!" I said, "Whoops!" Rookie move #1. So, Tina was pretty nervous traversing across and cussed me out the entire way. I was starting to get sick of it. I then realized that she had no experience doing a multi-pitch climb. I had decent experience following people, but never leading. Luckily, I showed her basic knots, how to set up a rappel system if she dropped her belay device, how to tie-in and off before and after reaching a belay point, etc. the day before. The blind were leading the blind. After debating with Tina awhile and trying to keep her spirits up and give her faith in my climbing ability, I headed up the Grack. I was paranoid as hell and set a pro about every 3-4 feet. Problem was I ran out of pro really quick. Rookie move #2. By the time I got to the second belay point, my pro's were pretty run out. But, that was ok b/c the climb was pretty easy & I felt I wouldn't fall. I set up anchors & belayed Tina up. She stopped cussing by then and concentrated on climbing and cleaning the route. I showed her how to anchor in and how she should always make sure she was either on belay or tied in to an anchor. I then proceeded to take myself off anchor to get ready for leading the next pitch. I then realized that I wasn't on belay. Really dumb Rookie move #3. Yes. I could have killed myself out of stupidity. The only saving grace was that I didn't kill myself and the route was forgiving enough for people like me. Tuan was about 50ft to myright leading a run out 5.9. He could only set about 2 pros per pitch. Crazy. I led the next pitch. Tuan rapped down to where I was and took pictures of me. Finally, a climbing shot that isn't of someone's rear end. He told me that if I felt comfortable with my climbing, then i didn't need to place so many pros. So, I took his advice and spaced pros more economically and only when I felt I needed them. Climbing became a lot faster. By this time, the sun had gone behind the wall & I was in the shadow freezing my butt off. So much for my tan. Rookie Move #4. Tuan was good enough to lend me his t-shirt then he rapped down. I finished the final pitch without incident. Tina made it up and we checked out the great view. I was so cold by then that my left hand was becoming numb. Tina had to pee really bad. I was hungry. So, we rapped down as quickly and safely as possible. When we reached bottom, we gave each other high fives and a sweaty hug. We were alive. I was really glad I didn't kill anybody. I looked at my watch. It was 4:20 pm. We had started climbing at 10:50am. Wow. Over 5 hours to do 3 pitches then rap down. No wonder we had to pee. We hiked back to our car then did the tourist visit to the Mountaineering Shop. I wanted to get a t-shirt like the one that Tuan had lent me, but they didn't have any (It was a Hard Rock Yosemite shirt listing all the classic climbs - The Grack was the first one on the list). Tina & I searched from store to store trying to find some cool t-shirts to commemorate the fact that we survived our first free climb. I had to settle for a 25th anniversary limited edition " Go Climb A Rock" shirt. I paid an extra $5 to have a stupid "limited edition" number on the back of my shirt. #16789 I think. Out of 10 million is my guess. Wow. Made me feel special. But now, whenever I wear it, I'll always remember my first time.
The Camp 4 parking lot at Yosemite was full when we arrived Friday night/Saturday morning, so I parked a la san francisco, i.e. illegally. Well, actually, legal and illegal are defined loosely out here. I checked my watch, the one with the cool blue indiglo light. 1:30 am. Then I checked the passenger side of my car. My sister had puked out the side while we were heading down the winding road to the valley. Just wanted to make sure it was clean. It was. I guess I was driving a little too fast - as always - well, at least fast enough to keep the puke from sticking to my car. I had wanted to pull over, but there was no place to stop, and I knew another car was behind me about 1 minute back. I've seen too many rear end collisions in my life, so, I just kept on going. Is that brotherly love or what? Hey, I at least stopped at the bottom of the hill to get her a drink of water. We set up our tents b/c we heard rain was expected. By 2am I was naked and cozy in my bag. I set my alarm for 6:30 am, thinking that would be enough sleep. I forgot to account for the fact that I had only been sleeping an average of about 5 hours a night for the past week because of my busy schedule. Sleep deprivation is something that just never seems to hit home with me. Yawwwwn. I actually woke up at 6:30, but laid around til about 7 thinking about the nice day ahead and the light dusting of snow we drove through the night before. Nature finally called, so I got up. It was a little chilly that morning. The sky looked like it was going to be a warm day. So much for the accuracy of internet weather forecasts for rain. I went to plan what routes we'd hit that day, then remembered that we didn't have a route book. Armin thought I had a route book. I thought he had a route book. Maybe if we thought hard enough, we would have a route book. Sure enough, I thought, Armin thought, then we realized we could just go over and borrow one from Aaron. One of his partners, Tony, had a route book. He thought Aaron had brought a route book, so he said we could use his book for the day. Ten minutes later, he realized that Aaron thought someone else would bring a book, so Aaron never brought a book. Apparently, everyone was thinking way too much on this trip and only one route book was brought. Armin & I thought we'd go up After Six at the Manure Pile Buttress below Yosemite's famous El Capitan. But, since we were still thinking, we then thought it would be a good idea to go buy a route book. We headed over to Curry Village and went straight to the Mountaineer Shop. Tons of route books. They were all out of _Yosemite Free Climbs_. I guess someone at the shop thought someone else had placed an order for more books, so they never placed the order. A mind is a terrible thing. The great thinker behind the counter suggested to the great thinker in front of the counter (that would be me) that I could probably find a copy at the Village Store or the Ansel Adams gallery. The Ansel Adams gallery? I think not. Well, we didn't want to spend half our day looking for a book, so we decided we would just hit Glacier Point Apron since we were already so close. Armin, Ryan and I got our gear together and started the hike to the Apron. Armin had climbed The Grack, Center Route on the Apron about a year ago, and I had just climbed it as my first lead about a month earlier. Of course, I thought he knew how to get there, and he thought I knew how to get there. Somehow, our thinking got us there, although we still didn't have a route book. Aaron had told me of a good climb to try on the Apron, but I forgot what it was called. The only routes I knew of were Center Route and the one to the right of it that Tuan had lead while I was on CR. "That's called Marginal," Aaron told me earlier that morning, "No. You <
> don't want to lead that. It's totally run out." I remember that Tuan mentioned the route only had about 2 spots per pitch where you could place protection to stop your fall. He thought it would be fun for me to rappel down to it and top rope the route. I scrambled up to where other climbers were just starting the Center Route and asked if I could take a look at their route book. They said sure. Then one said, "Hey, is that Armin?" Turned out it was Eric6's girlfriend and her partner Elizabeth. They were at site 5 of Camp 4 that morning. The climbing world is very small indeed. I looked at the book to try to find a climb that we could do. But, I'm pretty clueless about what's cool to do and what's not. Well, since I was doing so much thinking already, I finally decided to put my brain and common sense aside. I decided I would lead Marginal. Yikes. Each pitch looked about 100 feet or so. Without using my Excel spreadsheet for calculations, I was able to derive that I'd have a pro about every 33.333 feet, so if I fell, I'd at most only whip about 66.666 feet. Seemed fine to me. Again, I had my great thinking cap on, the same one that left me without a route book for the trip. Armin said, "You're going to lead Marginal?!! Wow. You're CRAZY! Well, I'll follow you!" Not much arguing there. At the time, I didn't stop to think that this was only my third lead outdoors. At the time, I didn't stop to think that I could seriously scrape a lot of skin off if I took a lead fall, or worse. At the time, I was letting the beauty of the rock overwhelm me and just let my adrenelaine run. At the time, I was using marginal thinking. I organized Armin's rack and tied in. Armin wanted me to put on a chest harness in case I took a big whipper. Good advice. Unfortunately, I hadn't gotten around to buying a climbing helmet yet, so nothing to protect that great thinking brain of mine. "Climbing", I said. "Climb on", Armin replied. The first pitch to the tree was pretty easy. The route is on a big slab that sits at a 40 or 50 degree angle or so, maybe steeper. You can walk up it if you know what you're doing. Most people opt to place their hands on the rock for balance, then slowly walk their feet up. Halfway up teh first pitch, I realized something. "Oh!," I yelled down to Armin and Ryan, "Make sure you guys have double-backed on your harnasses." "Always." They yelled back. I climbed on. Before I knew it, I was at the first belay point. I tied into the webbing already on the tree, then put Armin on belay. He followed, then Ryan followed. We were now about 20 ft below a small roof that looked about chest high. A nice crack led right up to it. I began leading the next pitch and followed the crack. When I got to the roof, I realized it was about as tall as I. Yikes. So much for my judge of distance and height. The binocular vision that distinguishes humans from fish apparently wasn't working for me. Today, I was a fish. I looked for a way to get above it. Nothing there. Just then, a climber below us yelled, "Hey! Have you ever done this route?" "No!" we yelled back in unison. "Well," he yelled back, "I've done it a couple of times. The route goes to your left. You should just step over the roof. There's a pro above the roof." Well. Now I had to down climb. I think Armin was getting a little nervous about my leading, especially because I really didn't know where the route was. So much for my photographic memory. I was a dumb fish. I got back to where Armin and Ryan were then traversed left. A few feet before I got to the roof, my left foot slipped and I started to slide. "Shit MIKE!" yelled Armin, "You're really starting to scare me!". "It's do-able", I thought as I remembered what Aaron explained to me earlier,"You just gotta concentrate." But, he was talking about another route. "You don't want to do Marginal - it's really run out." "You don't want to do Marginal." "You don't want to do Marginal." I recovered and move forward. No turning back now. I got to the roof and looked over it. I saw Elizabeth and Eric6's girlfriend (forgot her name) so I said, "Hey! How's it going?" I then looked up to figure out where the route went. The next belay point was about 100 ft away, maybe more. Fear hit me. "SHIT!!" I yelled to Armin and Elizbeth, "I gotta go _THAT_ far to the next belay? !!" "That's why they call it Marginal," yelled back Eric6's grilfriend. "It's do-able", I thought, remembering Aaron's advice. "You just gotta concentrate." I decided to forget the line about, "You don't want to do Marginal." So, I concentrated on my feet. Step. Breathe. Step. Step. I made it over the roof. A hanger was there and I clipped in. Aaah. Heavy breath of relief. I continued on. Step. Step. Step. Slip. Panic. Grip the rock with my fingernail. Aaah. Balance. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Slip. Panic. Panic. Panic. Grip the rock with any fingernail not broken yet. Aaah. Balance. Step. Step. Step . . . I looked down. Armin and Ryan were below the roof and I could no longer see them. Thus, they couldn't tell me where the route was. I was on my own. Step. Step. Step. Step. Whew! I made it to the next belay point. I tied in and Armin followed. He got over the roof with out a problem. "I can't believe you're leading this Mike," Armin yelled up to me as he was climbing. "Hey," I yelled back, smiling. "It's a lot of fun isn't it?" Ryan followed and we got set up for the next pitch. It looked as if we were about 150 ft from the top of the route. My rope is 50m, or 165 ft. We could make the climb in 3 pitches, although I remembered the route book showed 4 pitches. I climbed on. "Whoa Mike," Armin yelled up. "You're climbing pretty fast." "Well," I responded, "This part is easy." I didn't really realize that my adrenelaine was starting to get the best of me. I was just happy to be on the rock. I seemed to flow with the rock. I knew where to place me feet. Where to place my hands. How much weight to place on each foot or hand. I and the rock were becoming one. Really. I was in a zone. About 40 feet above Armin, I got to what looked like another belay point. "Should I set up a belay point here?" I asked Armin. "Nahh," he said. "We're not too far from the top." I climbed on. And on. And on. And on. And on. Tug. Tug. Oops. I was out of rope. I looked up. I looked down. Now what? Armin suggested that we simul-climb. He would be basically solo a small section since I could't belay him. But if he slipped and fell, he would drag me down with him. "Please Armin," I thought to myself, "Don't slip." If I fell, I would actually pull Armin up the wall, so he was relatively safe. Still, I'm sure Armin thought, "Please Mike, don't slip." At least I'd like to think that is what he was thinking. I climbed the face, and Armin climbed. Step. Step. Step. Step. I made it to a nice crack section and just scrambled up the last 20 ft. Whew! My first 5.9 lead. I walked around on the ledge and looked for a place to set some anchors. Elizabeth and Eric6's girlfriend were already using the fixed anchor, and I didn't want to tie into it til they rappelled down. I gave up trying to set up anchors, and asked them if I could tie in. They said sure then began to rap down. I belayed Armin as he climbed. He slipped. "Whoa!" he yelled up. "Hey Mike, did you slip on the way up?" "Yeah," I answered. "I think maybe 4 times or so." "FOUR TIMES!!?!!" he said increduously, "FOUR TIMES! Geez, I would have turned around after the first slip! Man! You are really CRAZY. There's no way I would lead this thing." The only response I could think of was, "Well, you'll just have to call me Tuan Jr. now." "That I will," he said. "That I will." He made it up and sat next to me. A rock came loose under him and rolled down the route. "ROCK!" we yelled. Ryan covered his head. The party following us covered their heads. All safe. Ryan made it to the top, and we all enjoyed the view. A single, ominous cloud was surrounding Half Dome, so much that you couldn't see the top. Looked as if it was snowing up there. Below, we were basking in sun light. Beautiful contrasts. We rappelled down then joined Elizabeth and Eric6's girlfriend for another climb. We now had 2 racks, so Armin lead Harry's Daly and I did Chouinard's Crack. They were a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I was so used to leading Marginal that I had to remind myself to place pro more than once every 33.333ft. We did the climbs without incident. By the time we got down, the clouds had moved in and it was getting cold. We decided we had enough climbing that day and headed to the Village Store to buy that elusive route book. No such luck. We headed to Upper Pines and joined my brother and sister. I fixed us my special Camping Taco's and we feasted. Yummmmy. Later, Armin and I headed over to Camp 4 to hang out with all the other Chaos climbers. Neva, Dave, Aaron, Steve, Tony, Elizabeth, Eric6's girlfriend (and their 2 friends), Scott, and Grace were all there fixing their climbing grub. I had never seen so many headlamps in one place in my life. I was literally blinded every time someone turned to talk to me. We all talked about our days, and Armin & I related our fun on Marginal. One of Elizabeth's friend's commented, "You guys did Marginal? That's one climb that's great to follow. But I'd never lead it." "You did Marginal" Aaron said, " SWE-E-E-ET! See, it's do-able. It just takes a lot of concentration! What was that, your second lead?" "My third," I said. Just then, the gravity of the climb started to sink in with me. I really was crazy, no stupid, no, absolutely insane for leading it. Luckily, I didn't fall. But if I did...if I did... Well, no use worrying about something that never happened. I was just glad I did it and lived to tell, or in this case, write about it. Armin and I left around 10pm to get some sleep. I later laid in my bag thinking about the great day we just had. Fatigue started to set in. I began to get sleepy. Without my adrenelaine, I truly realized the stupidity of my climb. "From now on," I promised myself, "No more stupid stuff. I should climb within my ability, and right now, I'm a beginning trad climber. I should act reponsibly and climb smart. No, smarter." Well, that lasted about 10 seconds, and just like any beginning trad climiber, I fell asleep thinking, "Gee, wonder what climb we'll do tomorrow."
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