[Karl Baba, sitting in the firelight of rec.climbing, begins a tale. Slowly the circle of folks grows silent, listening to the story of the weekend:]
I was driving into the Valley to climb a while back and remembered that Brutus and Em (Nurse Ratchet) were there for a month and hoped to climb El Cap. What the Heck! I pulled over past Bridalveil and fired up my Talkabout. (I knew their radio channel since I had worked with Em on her aid climbing) Sure enough, they radio'd back that they were on pitch 19 of the Muir Wall, moving slow but hanging tough for the summit.
Some days later I was plodding my own way up El Cap. Suddenly, there was a radio call for me from Em and Brutus in the meadow. They sounded hammered but happy, and were sorting gear after a successful ascent of the Muir. I told them to go have a soak in my hot tub, since I obviously wasn't using it. I don't know how they knew I was up there. Small World of Coincidences! Later in the day, the dang radio came unclipped and bounced 400 feet to the talus. Dooh! My partner found it a few days after we got down. It still works!
Two weeks later, Sumo and I are getting ready for a day's climbing and I get a phone call. Brutus and Em are celebrating before heading home, having climbed both EL Cap AND the Regular Route on Half Dome, and they want us to join them for Sunday Brunch at the Ahwahnee! I'm definitely getting a warm place in my heart for these guys. We gorged decadently, said our good-byes and waddled off to climb. I hoped to see them again soon.
So in mid-July, I was totally delighted to get a last minute email from Em to see if I was free for the weekend. Brutus, glutton for punishment, was going back to Half Dome to do it in a day with his friend Michael, and Em was looking for a partner. Yip--E!
[Em takes over the story:] I was planning to help Brutus and Michael carry gear to the base of Half Dome, and hike up the cables to sunbathe on the summit while they climbed. But when they changed the approach plan from a leisurely hike on the Panorama Trail to an aerobic sprint up the slabs, I realized I'd only slow them down, and started looking for other ways to have fun. I e-mailed Karlee, and when he suggested East Buttress of Middle, I was stoked. This classic had been on my wish list for a long time.
[Karlee resumes the tale:] Saturday morning, Em and I started up the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral. I gave her the first lead, an easy one. Em is like a classic car that needs to warm up for a while before it runs optimally. She made noises about having a bad climbing day for the first pitch or two (even though she climbed just fine) and I played along until she found her groove and we sailed up the climb in total harmony.
Another team had started two pitches ahead of us. At pitch 5 they headed left up the bolt ladder, and we turned right onto the 10a Fifty-crowded variation. At the time, I was secretly pleased when they continued up the burly left hand original route, replete with lichen and weird slots, leaving us smooth sailing on the easier right hand side. As we cruised past, hearing curses emerging from a dirty chimney, I recognized Ian M. (from rec.climbing) and his partner Mike. Ian is a god who once returned to me a whole rack that I lost at the base of El Cap. Small World of Coincidences!
[Em notes:] I had always pictured following the original line up the bolt ladder and left side. So I was WAY glad that Karl was doing the routefinding. Sometimes there's a good reason for a variation.
[Karlee continues:] Em and I basically traded leads except for the hardest pitches that I insisted on taking. Thanks to using the "50 Crowded" variation we managed to free the whole route at 10a. We had stopped for a snack a pitch below the top about mid-afternoon when suddenly the radio goes off and it's Brutus calling from the base of Half Dome. I was astonished that we could converse between Middle Cathedral and Half Dome. The two formations are miles and miles apart. We couldn't even see Half Dome from our route. Turns out that due to a late start and trouble on the slabs approach the night before, Brutus and his partner abandoned their Dome-in-a-day plans and were hiking back out. Major bummer!!!
[Brutus sets down his beer and joins the conversation:] It was a typical failure for me. Started from the bay area later than I wanted, then we were delayed by traffic. By the time Michael and I caught the shuttle to the Mirror Lake trailhead to start up the slabs, (in 100 degree heat) it was 7:30 in the evening. I had a bad feeling about the time. Since Bill Wright had recently made this approach in 2.5 hours, I figured that it would take us at least three times as long. By 11:30 PM when we stumbled with flickering headlamps the last few steps to the spring at the base of the face, we were exhausted, chilled, sweating, and falling asleep standing up. Michael tried throwing up to feel better, but it didn't help. I fixed a hot dinner and at midnight we collapsed where we stood. At 4:00 am we held a short discussion and decided that the Face would have to wait. Neither of us could summon the energy necessary for such an effort after the previous night-fight. We pulled the sleeping bags over our heads and slept until the sun hit us at 1 PM As we packed up, vowing to return, I contacted Em and Karlee on the radio and told them of our plans to at least get some aerobics out of the trip by hiking out through Little Yosemite Valley.
[Karl picks up the thread:] Em and I deeply sympathized. She was sorry because she knew how much Brutus was looking forward to a doing a fast-and-light Grade VI and I was sorry because I can't imagine a longer, burlier approach to a climb to get shut down on. As Em and I hiked down the Kat Walk she asked if I'd be willing to climb something long and hard with Brutus, to redeem his weekend. My direct inspiration from God said "Galactic Hitchhiker!" (Perhaps it wasn't God, I tried to talk Karluu into it a week earlier but the weather wouldn't cooperate.)
[Em inserts: ] I've had major wood for that climb ever since reading the FA account in AAJ.I knew Karlee had done the 2nd and 3rd ascents. It was exactly the climb I had in mind...but it's a big deal, and I was afraid to ask. Karlee must be telepathic.
[Karl resumes the tale:] Em and I returned to Wawona to start dinner for the whole crew. Brutus walked in the door an hour later. Em and I smiled like used car salesmen and told him we had something REALLY COOL in mind for him the next day. Right off he said "I'm being set up. Galactic Hitchhiker, right?" GEE-SUS! How did he know? The dang climb has only had probably a half dozen ascents and he and I weren't even planning on climbing together. Brutus isn't even remotely a woman (who might just intuitively know what's up) When he nailed the plan out of the blue, I knew the climb was on. Small World of Coincidences!
Brutus, however, was feeling skeptical of pulling off such a major climb on such short notice and needed more seducing, so I went about talking up the merits of the climb and downplaying its length (39 pitches) and difficulty (11a/b/c?). When he asked what time to set the alarm, I felt like a high school kid watching his date's prom dress drop to the floor!
Better yet, having Brutus for a partner made me feel like the climb was going to be like fishing with dynamite. Why even wake up early for it?
To make sure the climb went extra smoothly (for me) I printed up a couple of topos from my web page. With 39 pitches squeezed onto just one page, Brutus couldn't read anything on it. He'd left his glasses back home with his chrome-plated walker. I would be happy to serve as his "interpreter" for what climbing lay ahead. Maybe this is why Brutus wound up leading every pitch 10c or harder!
After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we started up the Apron at 8.23am. With simulclimbing we combined the first 7 pitches into 2 pitches and got to the top of Goodrich Pinnacle in an hour. More running pitches together and a little more simulclimbing and we reached the top of pitch 15, just below the Oasis, in two hours. Brutus is a little like an old classic car as well. One that can go fast but makes a lot of noise doing it. He was breathing hard and coughing at the belays, but he climbed like greased lightning and didn't even pause at the cruxes!
[Brutus inserts:] Truth be told, Karlee was dragging me up this thing so fast I couldn't breathe. To make matters worse, after a wild and very confusing hot-tub party the previous night, I had somehow ended up wearing a way-too-tight lavender thong under my climbing pants. The peril of this garment was soon realized as we started climbing, crushing my *ahem* nether regions every time the rope tightened. Although completely safe, I had no choice but to try to move fast enough to keep some slack in the rope, but every time I accelerated Karlee would either speed up (if we were simul-climbing) or hauling the rope even faster (when he was top-roping me). Soon we were flying up the route at an incredible pace. At one point, as I approached the belay just under the speed of sound, barely ahead of the horrifying bite of tension, I saw my tormentor's hands in a demonic blur, reeling in the rope by the armload.
[Karlee resumes the tale] The next 6 pitches constituted the "Olympic Wall" which contains the most serious climbing on the route, including some 5.10 lead-outs. The first ascent party had planned to return to add bolts here but never got around to it. Naturally I gave Brutus the lead so he could enjoy full value adventure and I could relax and enjoy! We slowed down a bit to be careful with the moves, but were still climbing great. There was one reachy 11a (10d in the topo) traverse move that, after taking several falls, he had to AO by pulling on a draw. Brutus looks like a leprechaun on steroids. He's not very big but when you shake him, you realize he is a rock. I'm probably 3 inches taller and barely squeezed by the move at full albatross extension.
Naturally, I had to sentence him to leading the 5.11b/c crux pitch as atonement for his AO infraction.
We kept cruising efficiently, in perfect sync. The usual breeze was very intermittent and the rock heated up so much that in a few places it was hard to touch. Soon we reached the 4th class to 5.7 ramp area and simulclimbed for 7 pitches. Thank God those pitches ended on "Ice Box Ledge" where it was shaded and miraculously cold. We were both sweaty and worked from the aerobic stretch.
[Em inserts with heavy Russian accent (parental alert):] I vas listeningk to the heavy breathingk on the radio, and I vas getting very excited beingk on top, knowingk that those two sweaty, handsome boyhunks vould be comingk overthe edge soon...
[Karlee continues] Ice Box Ledge is the belay for the crux pitch (11b/c in the topo.) I gave Brutus some beta on making it easier but he did me one better by going up, clipping some bolts, down-climbing and climbing off to the left, reducing the difficulty to one short 11a stretcher move. He nailed it!
[Brutus interrupts] I hyperventilated in the shade below the crux pitch, black and green spots swimming in front of my eyes. Karlee pointed vaguely upwards, sprayed some detailed and accurate beta which I failed to comprehend, and gave me an encouraging shove. Time to go. Terrified of the totally blank face above me, I clipped and retreated, whining, from the crux and tried a different way. Now I was in a fix. Although top-roped, there was no nearby draw I could use to cheat. A fall at this point would be too painful to contemplate, what with my undies threatening at the slightest tension to turn me into a steer. Whimpering in self-pity, I climbed beyond the limits of my strength, impending castration threatening like a guillotine. With great relief I clipped the belay, manhood still intact.
[Karl continues] A little before 4pm we radio'd to Em, who was monitoring our progress, "We're just two pitches from the top!" When we topped out at 4:22, she met us just below the Glacier Point railing with snacks and icy beverages! Talk about an awesome way to end a long day of cranking! We basically tied the existing speed record of 8 hours (fortunately, it doesn't seem anybody else tries it!)
Two awesome climbs with two awesome folks! It doesn't get any better than that.
[Brutus and Em raise their glasses: two awesome climbs with one awesome guy! THANK YOU KARLEE!!!]
[Brutus adds, in an aside, as someone opens another beer] Uhh... This thong belong to either of you?
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Galactic Hitchhiker, 2nd,3rd ascent Trip Report
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||Em on East Buttress Middle Cathedral