I went on to write a small report for my Yosemite trip this year (2017), only to realise I have an unpublished draft from the 2016 trip waiting for some final editing! So, here is the report from the last year’s trip to Yosemite (only 13 months late :-).
In September 2016, I visited Yosemite for the first time, and I certainly did not expect to go there on only 10 days notice as I went, without any preparation for trad climbing at all. But don’t miss an opportunity when you have it, even if it is not as you imagined it!
I was there on the International Climbers Meet organised by American Alpine Club with my “American” climbing partner Viktor (we climb in Croatia also). People from Grahorova gym will remember that Viktor and Karmen used to come with their kid Nika (now a grownup), and this kid was all over the place. The International Climbers meet is a week of climbing and socialising between 50 climbers (usually about 2/3 of climbers are from US, and then people from all over the place, like Croatia, UK, Pakistan, Norway…), with clinics during the day and some lectures during some of the evenings.
Before going to Yosemite I managed to repeat a local test-piece Maskirni Keks (7c). A week later I was barely climbing up a 5.10d (around 6b+) on top-rope in Yosemite. The difference in climbing styles is huge – it’s more like starting climbing all over again. And without bolts, which we are so used to, the game becomes like a completely new sport all of a sudden.
Climbing cracks is first and foremost super interesting – you are holding yourself on without actually holding holds! You are jamming various body parts (from fingers, hands to arms, feet and legs, shoulders or even your entire body) between rock surfaces, and you expect it to hold you (or in my case as a beginner, this feeling could merely be called hope). Climbing on top rope is interesting, but the game really starts when you start to lead, and place your own gear. In trad, climbing on pre-placed gear is more or less considered like top roping or practicing for a valid ascent.
I always wondered why do we as climbers have so many different scales to measure difficulty of a climb. Now I understand it totally makes sense to use a new scale when you are climbing something completely different in style. While translating the ascent of 5.10a to 6a might not sound as impressive as a 7c, I consider that grade in trad a bigger achievement than red-pointing 7c.
One other thing that is different, except not having bolts and jamming yourself instead of holding yourself, is the approach to climbing and what is a good ascent, or a good day of climbing. For instance, when trying a multi-pitch routes in Paklenica, the first question you would hear is: “Did you (free) climb it?”, while here people will ask you “How was it?”. In Europe we might get a bit too obsessed with climbing stuff free, while with trad climbing, and it seems to me even more so in Yosemite, the point is to go out and have a bit of an adventure. Did you manage to get to the top? How was the gear placing? How was leading pitch XX on the climb? People don’t really ask if you did the route free – it is more about having a good day of adventure. The difference between doing the route and doing the route free seems a lot smaller in Yosemite.
Enough small talk, here is the action we did day by day:
Day 1: top rope practice and hanging like a potato in 5.10d climbs on top-rope.
Day 2: I went on a gear placing clinic, where I finally began to understand what is a good placed cam or a nut. After the clinic I did my first single-pitch 5.6 lead, followed by a 3-pitch of the same grade.
Day 3: We did the great 5-pitch climb, After Six (graded 5.7).
Day 4: The day 🙂 We went to climb a very famous route, the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, an amazing 10-pitch route just in front of the Nose of El Capitan. Except being listed as one of the top 50 classic climbs in North America, the entire day of climbing you are rewarded with an amazing view of El Capitan.
This was the first really serious climb we did – it’s a climb with continuous 5.8-5.9 climbing (it’s the grade where joking around stops, and stuff gets a bit more serious, at least for me), and there is a pitch of 5.10a face climbing protected with 3 bolts and 2 cams in total. Needless to say, I was scared shitless. But off we went, and finished the climb. I consider it to be my best and most difficult climbing I did in 2016. The grade is only 6a translated to our scale, but it does not compare to other ascents I did that year (I redpointed a 7c, onsighted a 200-meter 7a and did the BWSC speed competition in 20 minutes the same year).
But climbing without bolts, on new rock where it is quite easy to slip in fact, is completely different. The level of control and consciousness in a climb is well beyond pushing physical limits on a hard sport climb. There is a lot more decision making during a climb, and a lot more of your willpower being used.
Day 5: rest 🙂
Day 6: we decided to go “cragging”, which means climbing single pitch trad climbs. We went back to the place where we top-roped the first day, to see how much we learned. I went straight to a 5.10a that seamed easy the first day on top-rope. And before I knew it, I was half way up the climb, pumped as fuck, and too scared to fall on my own gear. So I placed an extra cam and sit in it. Although in retrospect I see that well placed cams in Yosemite are as good as bolts, sitting on gear for the first time scared some fucks out of me, and I was done for the day. I also realised that one day of rest might be good enough for the body, but it certainly was not enough for the mind. I simply had no willpower to win a fight with fear again.
Enjoy some photos by fellow international climber George Cave and my US climbing partner, Viktor.