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by: Eric Henderson (email@example.com) & Paul Brunner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Unfortunately, E-man and I had returned to the working world. Gone were the carefree days of wandering the Sierras, in search of scaring the be-jesus out of us. Big wall climbs, kayaking, and surfing were replaced with suit, ties and traffic jams. 6 months into the program left us bitching like a bunch of Camp 4 blue jays. "Gawd, I'm gonna rot if I park my hide one more week in the office." "This gym climbing crap is leaving me with a fluorescent tan." It was time to get off the couch, quit eating those twinkees and stop watching Gilligan's Island reruns. Dammit, the rat needed to be fed!
Bar room chatting always leads to trouble. Ours was no different. We had forgotten about the Lurking Fear adventure, and did not want to wait until Spring for another wall. "Yeah, yeah, a winter wall. Yeah, yeah, sounds like fun." With our work schedules and lack of vacation accumulation, a long-term project was out of the picture. "Hmmmm, something easy, something overhanging, something quick, ahhhhh, Leaning Tower, of course!" I still remember E-man, hunkered over his computer, checking the weather. "Ya got this here storm, followed by 12 hours of clear, then ya got this here HUGE storm..." With the rat nibbling I said, "Yeah, looks like great weather, let's go!"
Friday, after work, and Mario Andretti E-man was setting a record pace to the valley with both my hands on the dash and foot on the floorboards acting as an invisible brake. The Red Hot Chili Pepper's blasting, "Hey batter, batter....Swiiinnng!" I think the ride was spookier than the climb! Eeeertttt! and we skidded to a stop in Bridalveil Lot, flopped the oinker (Good ol Bobo) out and sorted gear. The park was completely empty and snow dotted the area. Suddenly, a Ranger comes flying in and stops in front of us, lights glaring in our face. "Whatchya doin?" "Climbing Leaning Tower, sir." "Where ya sleepin?" Since we were privy to park rules, E-man stated, "On the wall, of course." Getting back in his car he said, "You boys better be on the wall tonight. I'll be checkin' on ya." After he left, E-man said, "Yea, like he's gonna hike all the way to the base just to check on us. Hell, I'll slap a nut in and clip it to my bivy sack to make it official."
Whacking through the woods in fading light, we made it to the catwalk leading out to the start of the climb, and bivied for the night, attaching my Markhill stove to the rock by a nut, making us official. The next morning I woke to cloudy sky's and warm temperature, hmmmm, seemed like E-man's "this here storm" was on it's way. But, a stout brew of coffee kept the project going and in no time, I was belaying E-man for the first pitch.
All geared up like a PG&E repairman in a winter storm, I waddled across the catwalk to the start of the A2 bolt ladder, took a look at the 100 degree overhanging pitch, then my watch. It's 7:00 am and hasn't started raining yet, "lets go for it!" The first part of pitch one's bolt ladder went by fast. There's not a whole hell of a lot of gear placement problems; just clip n go. Never mind the fact that they're all ancient spinners - I'll get a good piece in that little crack up there. Geez, now I'm at the crack, there's only a couple of rotten old heads with no hope of getting much else in around em. It was just starting to get real fun after a couple, then one of the old heads I was on decided to begin sawing the wire - one strand at a time right before my eyes. EEEK!!! The little wire was so rotten it literally began unraveling if I as much as wiggled a toe. "Hey!!! Dog! Wake up or I'll be down to visit real soon!" I don't remember what I got in around it, but was able to unload the manky thing quick. The rest of the pitch was a breeze, and it was cooling off fast. Off belay!
Hey - Wow - Check out the view! I was now fully committed, and a rappel was out of the question. Once Paul let Bobo go he must of hung about fifty feet out over the Bridalveil parking lot. About this time another team seemed to be trying to make their way across the catwalk, screaming back at one another like they were already on their 5th day of an epic. I mean the catwalk is a little narrow, but come on guys - the Dog and I walked across it in the dark to flop out our bivy sacks. For cry'n out loud! Its broad day light. So what does one do when safely hunkered in at the belay but start laughing and singing dirty songs. "Hey Paul, let's get a move-on." Before I knew it, Paul was working on stringing the next two pitches together. The circus below continued, and I continued to laugh and sing, "We're too sexy for this climb, too sexy for this climb. On the catwalk, baby, on the catwalk! Hey, howya guys doin' down there?!" "Shuuuuttt-Up, Ahhhhh!" Half way up the cleaning of pitches 2-3, I realized the pudwackers below made a smart decision and headed home to catch the rest of the Saturday morning cartoons.
It had started to rain now, fading in and out with occasional snow flurries. The temperature was hovering in the low 30's. No worries, we've got excellent protection from the wet stuff by the sheer overhanging angle of the stone. Yee Haa! My pitch! I was feeling pretty juicy and the A3- pitched looked straight forward. A few large hook moves later and I was sittin' pretty on Guano Ledge. Just across a little friction move was home for the night. Hey dude! Looks like we're staying at the Ahwahnee tonight!
The weather was really starting to deteriorate now, and the day's work wasn't over yet. We've gotta fix two more pitches if we plan on getting off this sucker in the light tomorrow. The A1 ramp that moved off the right side of Guano in a traverse was getting pelted by freezing rain. "Put yer jacket on Dog - yer up!" I couldn't hear him cursing at the storm very well because of the roaring sound of the wind, but boy did he look like he was having fun. He was only 40 feet off to my right when I yelled "look out!" Here it comes. There was a maverick cloud moving in on a collision course with the Dog, all big and white against a black sky, and coming fast. Then it hit. Paul, only 40 feet away, disappeared completely in the fog of it. Wild! The upper part of pitch 5 and beginning of pitch 6 was completely soaked, creating slow goings.
Shit! My turn. By now I was getting really comfortable on the ledge. Okay..OK already. I'm coming. After contemplating the big swing off Guano, thanks to Mr. Dog's nasty habit of back cleaning the traverses, I lowered out then swung. One more pitch and its beers and oysters at the Ahwahnee! Staring up at the 30 or so feet of dripping 5.7 (dare I say) friction moves, I realized that 5.7 means nothing when it's wet and yer wearing an old pair of HiTech hiking boots you bought in Alaska two years before for $40. Break out the hooks! It looks like the only way. On the second or third hook move I had just moved on to a leeper, both feet now in the second steps of my aiders, and "POW!" The whole flake exploded in my face, sending rock and hook smashing into my chin. Son of a mother ~!@#$%^&@#$!!!! Paul's reaction: "Hey man. You dropped yer wallet." Paul, quick on the belay had me no prob, but all I could do was scream about the hit I took on my frozen and now bloody chin. "Hey, really, you dropped yer wallet," he said again as he watched the piece tumble off into space. "That was the Gawd Damn flake I was hanging from. Geeze!" After we both decided another scar on my chin was just another scar on my chin, I cowboyed-up and finished the pitch. We both rapped back to the Ahwahnee with plenty of daylight remaining. Work's over! What's fer dinner?
More spraying from the Dog......
Swwwwiiiing! Back to the Ahwahnee ledge. E-man was better than the damn, B.S. weather forecaster on TV. The first storm ended and was clearing, but we knew the mother of all storms would be back sometime the next day. But, it was cocktail hour, so who cares! E-man continued the tradition of being the "sardine connoisseur" and since we were staying on the Ahwahnee, tonight would be special. Mmmmmmm: corn nuts, crackers, smoked oysters, sardines in mustard sauce, ravioli, chili, chocolate pudding and - whoooaaaaaa - what's this?! Two mega-strurdy-Foster soldiers! Luckily we were tied in, preventing any slurred tumbles by visiting the little boys room. We had a good chuckle regarding the day's events, and could really feel the solidarity of climbing a wall in winter. No sign of anyone else in the park, only the glow of the tunnel lights.
Oooof! The alarm went off way too early, and I fired up the stove for a cup-of-kicker. E-man was still swaddled deep in his bag, the air was crisp and cold, and snow covered the area. The coffee was a definite motivator to get movin' - over to the porta-tupperware-potti, that is! "Dammmit, Eric, if you take one more picture of me carvin' a log, I'm gonna chuck you off the ledge!" Jug-jug-jug. "Gawd, E-man, I feel like grandpa juggin this line." Hmmm, my turn, and I was off running pitch 7 and 8 together which ended up taking the longest time for the whole climb, about 180'. Hustling up the A1, slappin in pro as fast as I could, and then "Whooaaa, whoaaaa" off balance and ass-over-tea-kettle - airborne! Only a little flight time, since E-man had me pre-reeled-in. "Jeeez, Im awake now! It's only A1, what the hell ya doin back down here?" Eric said with a white face. My adventure continued as I grabbed a huge, triangular, loose block while free climbing towards the top. "Jeeeezus, what's next?"
The Roof Master had such a great time on the double overhanging roof, that I almost tied him off and left him there. "Weeeeeee, look I can almost see the car, weeeeee." Damn, gave him too much coffee this morning. Racking up for the next pitch, I noticed that the cloud level was dropping and getting darker. Looks like the hell storm was on it's way. Pitch 10 was cake, but I made the mistake of back cleaning a lot of pieces. While hauling I could hear E-man (rightfully) bitching about getting from one piece to another, especially on the traverse. To keep out of range from him strangling me, I went ahead and climbed/hauled the final pitch. Wow! A razor edge summit!
E-Man sprays a final time.......
Hooray! We made it! Its 3:45 - let's take a few pictures and bag it. Ive got to be at work at 5:00 am tomorrow - EERRRRRRRRR!!!! Ominous black clouds and a cold wind - it was getting late. The first couple of raps down to the west facing gully were quite easy as I remember. Then it turned UGLY! With little more than an hour of day light left we were faced with 8 to 10 of the worst rappels ever. Loose and dangerous rocks were almost impossible to keep from kicking down at one another. At one point the gully was less than 10 feet wide. With Brune Dog below setting the next rap, I was coming down above with the haul bag dangling below. "ROCK!" Bobo had launched a huge boulder about the size of watermelon (a good fifty pounder) down towards Paul. Jesus Christ! Its gonna kill em! With no where to hide it nailed him in the leg, and bounced off. "Hey Dog, yer tougher than that there rock. It just bounced off ya. The storm was blowing full force now. Dead tired, I made the last rap onto a steep scree slope, fell down totally whipped and still on rappel, then laid there upside down with the haul bag on my back like an inverted turtle, too tired to move. Old Hop-a-long followed with a grunt and a grimace. Weve made it! Low 5's all around (a.k.a. too tired to raise ones arm for a high 5).
Dark fell. Pull out the old head lamps and lets get the flock out-a-Dodge. If anyone could have seen us staggering down the scree and boulder fields towards the parking lot, they never would have guessed that we had some 60 years of walking experience between us. Bouldering around in the dark, in the rain, and dead tired with 60 pound packs can sure be comical. Look out! Were on the road in search of Taco Bell now! Zoooooooming down the road, hungry as hell we stopped for a bite in Oakdale. Worst damn chicken burrito I ever had - that guy at Taco Hell otta be shot! Five dreams and one toll booth later, we arrived back in San Francisco around midnight. Screw this parking shit! They can tow my car for all I care - Im going to bed! A couple hours later it was back to the suit and tie thang. "Hey, good morning to ya? Outa my way! Wheres the damn coffee! It seemed as though everyone else stayed in playing Monopoly on this rainy weekend. Go figure?