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The Prow

A trip report by Madeleine Schultz

Mon, 10 May 1999

Alan, Matthew and I headed to Yosemite on Friday night to attempt the Prow which is a long aid (A2 mostly) climb on Washington's column, a formation that is located opposite the vertical face of Half Dome. Alan and I attempted this climb last year but retreated due to bad weather and me being ill.

We arrived at the Ahwahnee parking lot at around 10 pm and packed the bags. Three people require a lot of food and water and clothing for a two day climb, although the gear is only slightly heavier than when climbing as a two-person team.

We hiked up the trail and slept at my favourite cave which is most of the way up the approach trail. Once again I realised why I normally use a thermarest - thinsulate pads are not very comfortable!

At 5:30 am we woke and started packing, then hiked the rest of the way to the base of the route. Matt was leading the first pitch (P1) at about 7 am. I started leading P2 at around 10 am. It was a bit thin - at one point I had trouble getting anything to stick and an offset nut pulled out, causing me to fall. I had backcleaned one piece so I would have fallen about 10 feet, but Matt was on a loose anchor (the pitch starts with a traverse) and he swung out a lot so I fell about 15 ft. It was a very gentle landing but I was somewhat shaken up and ended up using the cheater stick to get past that section. The upper part of the pitch went better, traversing left onto two more crack systems and up to the anchor. Alan took off on P3 and pretty soon we and all our gear were at Anchorage ledge.

Pitch 4 starts with a bolt ladder so Matt was pretty fast but then the crack is quite difficult; he slowed down a lot and we were at the top of P4 at about 3 pm. Alan started P5, with two mashies right above him. One of them was shiny and new - but that proved to be a bad thing when it ripped out, pulling out the lower one and dropping him about 20 ft - fortunately we had put the rope through a directional; unfortunately the rope hit my arm pretty hard as he fell. He bravely continued up, using a good tcu in the place where the mashie had been - makes you wonder why people insist on nailing clean climbs!

At the top of P5 it was 5 pm and we decided to try to get to the top of 6, even if it meant climbing in the dark, as we were anxious to get down by Sunday night. I was not in a great mood as I led off and the pitch is very long. I felt better as the crack improved, and I made it to the "bolt ladder" in reasonable time. However, it is not really a ladder so much as a series of bad mashies, a few bolts (old and new) and some long gaps. With no shame I used the cheater stick twice and the extension draws (equalisers for short people!) many times, and arrived at the anchor (small stance) at about 7:30 pm. Alan and Matt got there before dark and we had the portaledges set up and were eating by dark. It was a nice place for two ledges - there are 4 bolts, a piton and two rivets so you can spread out a bit. It was a beautiful night and we didn't settle down to sleep until 11 pm.

The moon woke me when it rose over Half Dome at about 3 am, and I slept a bit more before we got up at 6 am and started getting organised. Matt started leading a bit after 7 am and we thought he was taking a hell of a long time - until we realised that he had run two pitches together! So soon we were at Tapir Ledges, top of P8, and feeling like we would definitely make it by nightfall. P9 was a lovely easy A2 crack which I really enjoyed. At this point a fast party of two attempting a one-day ascent had caught up with us (it was 1:30 pm) and we overlapped on P10 which Alan led - he got slightly off-route up high, taking a nice-looking crack that headed left when he was meant to go up the gully on the right. He was able to downclimb but then another problem occurred - although he was leading on a 60 m rope, the other two ropes were only 50m and he couldn't quite reach the anchor! Fortunately a person was belaying there and she clipped the end of a sling in for him and we came up - hauling was not a problem with the haul line through one directional up high. I helped the bag over a couple of bumps and then we were at a nice ledge with only 1 and a half pitches to go.

Matthew got P11, which starts with some free and French free before heading up a nice wide crack. He got to the anchor where the other party was getting organised and we got there at about 5 pm. The last pitch was a pain in the ass - after 4 aid moves it is a 4th class sandy slope - my rope drag was horrendous but the parties at the top told me to continue up to the top. I could barely move when I got there due to rope drag, and had to go down and help drag the bag up - we unpacked it and Matt jugged with a lightened bag, while Alan and I carried the day packs.

We were all finally on the summit at 6:30 pm. The view is amazing - the Cathedrals, North Dome, Half Dome, Mt Starr King, Illuoutte Falls... But we couldn't stay too long as we knew the descent would be tough. Indeed it was - we went mostly the right way I think, with a few scary traverses and down climbs, and were at the trees by dark. Some kind person has put reflective spots on many of the trees marking the descent trail which made our life much easier, and we got back tohe car at about 9:30 pm. Exhausted!!

What a great climb.

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