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me gusta ... tuolumne and lovers' leap trip report, July 2008

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
12 min read

Originally I called this “when soul meets body…” a long title for what’s sure to be a long trip report, despite the fact that I started to type at 11:31 pm and have to be at work in the morning. A Death Cab title is a bit cheezy, but the first verse lyrics caught my attention anew when we heard the song during our commute for dinner at the Lee Vining Mobil.  The sun wrapped its arms around us… despite excessive sunscreen use, Vic burned like toast and I came back more tan than I’ve been since I was a sun-worshiping kid.  We bathed, at every opportunity, in the cool and cleansing water of the lakes near where we climbed… Vic and I agreed that lake swims are going to be a highly desirable feature of planning future climbing trips.  We still wound up filthy, but at least you feel a bit cleaner when you get to dunk in a beautiful mountain lake at the end of the climbing day.

Edit… But then, I woke up and realized that I’d mistitled the post… hence, the renaming.  Me gusta.

Anyway – despite the many requests I’ve received for photos, you all are just going to have to live with my prose… our official trip photographer was too busy ropegunning his way up pitch after pitch to take photos, so this TR, for once, will be photo free at least for now.  (update, 7/29… read on for the TR, but you can also click here for the new post that includes a couple of photos and a link to the little photo album for this trip, courtesy of Mr. Campbell).
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Tuesday, July 1: travel
We left Bremerton about 11:30am on Wednesday, since my day ran a little longer than expected (I had court that morning, so went directly from court to Shawn’s, our meetup place). A quick change out of lawyer clothes and into comfy clothes, and a bit of repacking later (I did, indeed, have to leave behind my “luxury item,” my big green camp chair with the footrest in order to fit all four of us in my VW Jetta wagon) and we were on our way. The crew was me, Alex, Vic, and Shawn… such a small group this time I didn’t come up with nicknames, although Shawn will sometimes be called Campbell because that’s just how it is.

Wednesday, July 2: I love a happy accident
We rolled into the park in the wee hours on Thursday… I think it was 2:30 or 3 am when we actually got to Yosemite. The trip down was relatively uneventful, and there was just enough moonlight to see some of the rock faces as we pulled through the park. One of my secret objectives for the trip was that, at some point, I’d get to the Valley, and to see El Cap. We planned to bypass the Valley and head straight to Tuolumne, but the universe had other plans for us. We missed the turn for Tuolumne, and wound up at the foot of El Cap just before sunrise. We discussed options… and Campbell’s idea, which suited me just perfectly, was to park it in El Cap meadow and watch the sun come up over El Cap. We nestled in under a tree with a beautiful view and one of my objectives for the trip was accidentally met. For how early it was, there was a lot of activity on the Nose, and spectators started to join us in the meadow just after sunrise. Hans Florine and Yugi Hirayama had started their speed attempt on The Nose, which ultimately resulted in a new speed record of 2:43:33. We didn’t stick around to see them finish, since we had climbing of our own to do. Instead, we set off for Tuolumne, set up camp, and headed to Stately Pleasure Dome.

Vic and Shawn set off on one route (a 5.9, I think), and Alex and I headed for West Country (5.7). Alex lead the first pitch, and then offered me the rack for the second pitch, which I tried but lowered off of after about a third of the pitch. The gear was a challenge for me … small cams are not my strong suit, and I definitely need to gain more experience with them, but that particular day we had racked for Alex to lead (so we had plenty of gear for him) but not necessarily for me to lead (so a third of the way up, I felt like I was running out of gear and got nervous). Alex took over, and lead up the route… it was great fun, especially as a follower. After we topped out and met up with Shawn and Vic, we headed for Tenaya Lake for a dip (note to self — try to always plan climbing trips in locations with lakes. That was awesome). The other three picked out a post-swim toprope adventure… a 10c offwidth where I did belay duty, literally almost falling asleep on belay I was so tired.

Thursday, July 3rd: 900 feet of fun

Saturday’s objective was Fairview Dome’s Regular Route, a twelve-pitch (yes, twelve, pitch) 5.9. We waited behind other parties, so had a leisurely trip up… Shawn lead and I cleaned, with Vic and Alex in a party of two behind us. The climb was unbelievably good. Fun from the ground up, it’s one of those where the holds are right where you need them, and it’s just plain enormously good. The rock seems made to climb, and the views just get better and better as you go up. We topped out just in time to descend during the sunset, and reached the car at dusk. Perfect.

Friday, July 4th: most peaceful 4th of July ever
I didn’t hear a single firework on the 4th of July. Instead, we continued the trend of the trip and slept in, got a late start, Campbell picked an objective, we rock-paper-scissored for partners then racked up and rolled out. The objective for the day was Daff Dome, where Vic and Alex headed for West Crack (5.9) and Shawn’s plan was Crescent Arch (10b). I was a bit nervous… the reported 10b crux of the route is on a traverse, so if I blew it as second, it would mean the equivalent of a lead fall onto a slab, and then either groveling my way back up to the route, or ascending using a prussik, or some other time-consuming and embarassing task to try to get back on route. But, we surveyed the route, Shawn was stuck with me, and I figured, I’ll figure it out. I just can’t fall.

The route turned out to be sustained 5.8 / 5.9 with what appeared to be challenging protection on lead for Shawn… and I was really surprised by just *how* sustained the climbing was on the lower “easier” pitches. I’ve done a fair amount of following on 5.9 terrain, and this climb was strenuous. Shawn pulled the crux move, and then announced his opinion that the sustained 5.9 was harder than the 10b crux move, which added to my “can’t fall” mantra. Sure enough, he was right… I couldn’t actually distinguish what the 10b crux move was, since there were two traverses on slabby footholds with thin hands… either of two sections could have been the crux, as far as I was concerned, and neither felt 10b. I was pretty stoked to have not fallen, but while I was excited, Shawn was freezing his ass off belaying me, so we moved quickly off the top and to the slightly warmer and sunnier south face of Daff dome for some single pitch adventuring. A lovely 5.8 caught my eye, and I did a poor form lead on it… I had to take on my gear a couple of times at the start, but then finished it off and had fun despite the poor form. The 5.5 to the right did, indeed, call my name… it was just plain fun. 5.5s and 5.6s rock. Vic, Shawn and Alex climbed just about everything there was to do there, and then headed to the Lee Vining Mobil station for dinner. If you haven’t been there, it really is a scene. Good food, great people watching, beautiful weather, no fireworks. Best Fourth of July ever.

Saturday, July 5: alpi
ne day

I think Sunday would qualify as an alpine day… although in keeping with the trip trend, we did not get an alpine start. The objective for the day was Cathedral’s Regular Route (5.6) (or, its variations, which proved more challenging than 5.6), and, time permitting, Eichorn Pinnacle (5.4). Shawn and Vic took the start to the right; Alex and I started up a rather crowded middle/left side variation. The climbing was, again, long… the route was very crowded, but even so, the views were stunning and the climbing was fun. Shawn and Vic got a head start on Eichorn Pinnacle while Alex and I waited behind another party at the top of Cathedral, before an intimidating top-out (as far as I was concerned) and traverse over to take pictures then meet up with Shawn and Vic as they topped out on Eichorn and then rapped off. Alex lead up Eichorn and I was shocked by the 5.4 rating when I followed… the climbing was not easy, but it was hugely fun, and it was pretty cool to complete another big day. Alex wasn’t feeling well so we didn’t celebrate the summit… we rapped off Eichorn Pinnacle and then hiked out.

One note about Cathedral and Eichorn Pinnacle (and, especially, the relatively long hike in and out)… if someone’s told you that the mosquitos are bad, they’re lying. The mosquitos are HORRIBLE. Like, swarms at the base of the route and on the trail, and, I even ran into the buggers *on* the route. We were lucky to bum some 98% deet off one of the parties who started near us (on one of two days I didn’t pack bug spray)… but even so, Vic ended up COVERED with mosquito bites. If we all get West Nile Virus, that’s probably the day that did it.

Sunday, July 6th: getting a reality check
So, I’ve been leading very cautiously on gear for about a year now… mostly sticking to 5.6 and 5.7 in Washington and Squamish, with an occasional 5.8 or 5.9 but I’m not regularly getting 5.9s done clean. On Monday, the guys decided that it was the girls’ turn to ropegun, so we headed back to Stately Pleasure and to my nemisis, West Country (5.7). Vic set off on lead with Alex as second; I started my lead with Shawn on belay. Because of traffic on the 5.7 start to the right, we took the 5.6 start to the left, which was okay at the beginning, but when I hit the big traverse to the left, I lost my nerve with visions of horrible rope drag, not remembering that the terrain was really easy. I build a crappy anchor and brought Shawn up… he took one look at my anchor and we decided he’d finish the pitch since my anchor was Not Ideal. He finished up the pitch, built a typically bomber anchor and brought me up. So much for me ropegunning for Shawn… one pitch up, and I’d lead half a pitch, and he’d lead half a pitch.

On pitch two, my nemesis, my performance continued to be terrible. This time, I had plenty of gear so no excuse there. I just didn’t place enough of it. I sewed up the start of the pitch with less than stellar placements because I was so nervous, then once I got to the slightly thinner, slightly flared section, my skill went right out the window. At one point, I placed a crappy nut (a size too big; if I’d kept my head, I could have gotten in a bomber nut just by going a size smaller) and very, very, gently took… thank goodness the nut held, because otherwise I would have faced a huge fall onto a marginal (to poor) grey alien. I finished the pitch, but may have well been soloing; my gear was crap. I need practice, still, with cams for sure, and I still have a lot to learn about choosing when and where to place gear. Luckily, I reached the bolted anchor safely, at which time I clipped in to both bolts and then called “off belay,” and announced to Shawn that I finally had some good protection.

The next pitch was more fun… a runout (but not R rated) slab with lots of rolling dishes to paw your way up. Despite my poor performance on the last pitch, I had a ton of fun on the bolted slab. The next pitch was over after the first few moves… easy terrain up to a spot where I built a belay (don’t know if it was an intended belay; don’t think my anchor was any good, so again, Shawn climbed up and over and finished out the pitch).

It wasn’t exactly a girls-ropegun day for me… Shawn ended up leading two half-pitches or so. It was a well-timed reality check for me, though… I still have a lot to learn about gear placement and anchor building, even after as much practice as I’ve had. I got some good coaching from Shawn, and decided that I need to be more careful about the routes I take on while I’m still learning… I need to pick routes where I can see the gear I’m placing, instead of having it hidden on laybacks or low-angle dihedrals, and to look for routes where I can practice resting, and routes that have good feet so that I’m not as desperate placing my gear while I’m still learning. I appreciated Shawn’s coaching without any yelling or reprimand… but still felt like I’d gotten in over my head on that particular route. It was a learning experience, for sure.

That afternoon, we headed for Tahoe.  We took a dip in the lake (secret objective #2 of mine, met) and then made our way to a smoky/hazy Tuolumne.  The air was pretty heavy that evening, and I was nervous about conditions, but we had the campground almost to ourselves, and the place was gorgeous.  The haze gave us a beautiful sunset.

Monday, July 7th: Five Star Day
My concern about the conditions was not merited… Lovers Leap was GORGEOUS.  Shawn, again, lost the coin toss and ended up with me as a climbing partner for what turned into a truly perfect climbing day.  We started on Surrealistic Pillar (5.7, 3 pitches) to a side trip to Tombstone Terror (a super, incredible, amazingly fun 10c… Shawn’s lead was impressive to watch… despite the terrain, he did a well-protected lead and set a good example for me with gear placements and small cams.  I couldn’t pull the top, despite a few tries on toprope, so finished up on the easy top-portion of Boothill, 11a, just to the right.  Shawn got on the 11a… (which he named the “best 11a ever”) and I tried it… I think I made it through the 11a section only to (as is typical for me) pump out and blow the easy section at the top (which I’d actually already climbed, and everything).  It was SUPER fun, though, and I appreciated the very patient belay.  We finished up Corrugation Corner (5.7, 3 pitches) to bring the grand total to eight pitches pre-siesta, and then hit up the Strawberry Lodge for snacks and chilled (or rather, cooked) at the campsite waiting for climbing temps in the evening.

Climbing temps didn’t hit until later than we hoped (we were hoping for 5pm; turned out it didn’t cool off enough to climb until about 7pm).  At 7pm, Shawn polled us for who wanted to go do The Line, an ultra classic 5.9 3-pitch route.  I honestly gave Vic and Alex an opportunity to speak up before I jumped up to start racking up… we headed for the route just before the sun started to dip, and after bushwacking our way up to the base (last time I try to take the lead on the approach when time is running short) Shawn set off on lead.  We had just enough rope to combine the last two pitches so Shawn lead the route in two pitches; I followed.  There are very few perfect things in this world… that route, at that time of day, was perfect.  The climbing was fun, the views beautiful, the sky just a tinge pink from the haze… there were other climbers on East Wall and as the evening got even more beautiful I heard happy hoots from across the wall.  Shawn was visited by an extremely large squirrel while belaying me up the last pitch… the critter turned out to be a dog, whose owners were very apologetic.  I topped out at dusk, and we met up with Alex and Vic who were doing a route to the left and who topped out just after we did for a descent in the dark.

Upon reviewing the guidebook later on, I noticed that we did an entirely five star day, that day.  Aside from any guidebook, grade or rating, I would be hard pressed
to imagine a more perfect climbing day than our five star day at Lovers Leap.

Tuesday, July 8:  going home
We woke up the next morning tired and sore… Shawn still had hopes of climbing, but my brain drifted toward pancakes at the Lodge, and Alex and Vic were also less than motivated to climb.  Instead of pancakes at the Lodge, we set out for donuts and coffee at the Safeway, and turned toward home.

I’ve already told you about the trip home, so won’t repeat here.  And, it’s now 12:49 am, and I have to be at work in a few short hours, so I’ll save any further reflection for later.  I can’t believe, even now, the quality of the climbing we did… every pitch was fun, and some pitches were some of the best/most fun climbing I’ve ever done.  The views, and the sheer beauty of the places we climbed and slept and swam far exceeded my expectations.  I’m thankful for the happy accidents of the trip, and appreciative of my climbing partners company and expertise.  It was, quite truly, a wonderful trip.

Trip Reports

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.