Galactic Hitchhiker (Second and Third Ascents)


I remember reading in Climbing Magazine that a couple of guys had put up a 41 pitch grade VI on Glacier Point that they said was the longest route in North America. I really started scratching my head when I learned it was rated 5.11b with no aid climbing involved. That seemed to be a project in the remotely do-able range compared with most of the new Grade VI’s that go up in Yosemite: New Wave A4+ head-hunting up tenuous lines. I made a mental note of it.

Considerably later, I took some less experienced climbers up Goodrich Pinnacle on the Apron and noticed a few bolts on the rock above the Pinnacle. I thought it would be fun to explore a bit and went back with my friend Mark Albosta (the great and powerful Lummox) for a little looky-see.

It was fun climbing an unknown route without a topo for a change. We followed bits of fixed gear (all coated in Yellow Plastic dip so you know you are on-route) and found ourselves at the left edge of the Oasis (where the wall gets steeper) at the base of a well bolted pitch that was soaked in water. We felt we had climbed some 5.8 and a bit of 5.9. I learned the email of the first ascent party through newsgroup channels. First ascensionist Matt Brooks graciously emailed me a topo, warning me that the route should only be done when it is completely dry in the Fall, and that we should have big wall experience in order to attempt it.

When we saw that the topo only had one 5.11 pitch and that the section we just climbed had been rated 5.9 and 5.10, our mouths started watering. It was just too incredible that a grade VI free-climb in Yosemite Valley might be unrepeated after almost two years, and that it might be within the reach of fools such as ourselves. Still, 41 pitches is a lot of climbing and hauling would thoroughly suck, but we had a feeling that the route could be pulled off in a long day. Matt said that a couple of pitches in the middle were still pretty run out, and that someday they would add a couple of bolts to them.

In August of 97 we took a trip up past the once-wet pitch to scope out the steep section that allegedly had some 5.10 lead-outs. We made good time up to pitch 20, where we left a little water, and rappelled, determined to come back early in the morning for the whole Chihuahua, either glory or an epic. We were astounded that the climb was fairly consistently overrated. Now, I’m not complaining, I hate to be sandbagged, but the climbing was just not that bad for a climb that was supposed to have 12 pitches of 5.10 or higher, and 7 pitches of 5.9.

We started climbing at 5 am the next day. We got extra bold and only brought one 60 meter rope. We didn’t know how long the climbing would take, or if we would get worked, schooled, or fooled, so we tried to move quickly. We soloed the first two pitches (5.6 and 5.7 on their topo) and simul-climbed to the top of Goodrich in two pitches (3-4 and then 4-8 so the leader would had an anchor to fall on for the run-out variation of the 5.9 pitch)

From the summit of Goodrich, and for most of the day, we ran two pitches together with a 200 foot rope, and simul-climbed the particularly easy sections of pitches 12-16 and 29-35. For the first half of the route, it was like taking candy from a baby. It was unbelievable that the route kept proving itself to be moderate. It was like going into a bar and finding Cindy Crawford sitting there smiling at you,… you look behind you to see who she is smiling at, but it’s you! and she insists on buying you a drink and then dinner. You can’t believe what’s going on and pretty soon she’s grabbing your butt. You are waiting to wake up from the dream, but then she starts to…..

Well, don’t let me get carried away, I just mean that it was all going better than expected, until the 10d pitch (21 on the first ascent topo.) Mark had led the pitch with a fall and felt that it was actually more like 11a. He is 6’5" and the move (well protected with a bolt) makes you really stretch your legs. To make matters worse, we were going light, with no rain gear and only one rope, 21 pitches up, and it was starting to rain, on a slab route! Dang….the fairly godmother’s carriage was turning into a $%^ pumpkin! I wound up A0-ing the 10d move since the rock was a bit wet and we were pressed to figure out what to do. (I found out when I did the third ascent that I missed the key hold that was hidden behind a shrub on the left! I finally got revenge and freed it.) Mark had climbed an off-route 5.10 offwidth lie-back flake after the 10c bolted section (that we rated 5.8, maybe 5.9) The wide crack was dirty, steep, and abusive, and a world of crap fell into my eyes. ( I found the easier and proper route for the 22nd pitch on the 3rd ascent, stay in the corner past the crack you will have no desire to climb) We talked about our options. We hoped the rain might be temporary. We decided to press upwards and either have a really, really big epic, or get Cindy, I mean, the second ascent of the route.

We passed the test, and the rain passed too. We had lunch on the "Highlander" bivy on pitch 23, then blasted upwards, combining two pitches into one without fail. We reckoned that the first ascent folks had to haul up these slabby pitches, and consequently, they were all pretty short. . Watch out for the fixed angles (if there are any left) During the second and third ascents, we cleaned 6 fixed pins with slight finger pressure. The apron’s wider cracks seem prone to expansion and most of the pins were rusty even though they were not that old. Pitches 6, 18, and 19 have some sporty lead-outs on them, but most of the route is bolt-o-licious. We had no objections to a little clippity-do-da but we found ourselves skipping a bolt or two on a couple pitches, just because the climbing was easy and we couldn’t be bothered to clip.

Anyway, pretty soon we found our way to the real business of the route. The 37th pitch is rated 5.11b All day, we had been wondering how wanked we would be after so much climbing, to be faced with a stiff one. Fortunately, it was Mark’s lead. There were plenty-o-bolts on the pitch (although watch out for loose blocks near the top of the pitch. There are also loose blocks on pitch 18 and 20) Mark cruised it without a fall. I followed it without a fall, although it seemed I was just clinging to the rock awkwardly with my fingernails. We both thought the crux was 11b. (although on the third ascent I discovered a secret move that makes it more like 10d+, but I ain’t tellin’, so don’t ask!) (OK I proofread this and now included the beta in the topo on my site)

A few more pitches and we were coiling the ropes, about 200 yards from the Glacier Point Railing. The climbing had taken us 8.5 hours. We hopped over the railing and enjoyed the circus. Topping out on Galactic Hitchhiker is a lot like topping out on Half Dome: there is a whole crowd of folks that look at you as if you were Paul McCartney (or Charlie Manson, who knows?) Topping out on Galactic Hitchhiker is nothing like topping out on Half Dome in one respect, there is a paved road leading off the summit! We hoped our celebrity status would help us get a ride down to Curry Village where our car was parked. It seemed only fitting to hitchhike down from a route with such a name.

I emailed first ascent Matt that we had done the first one-day ascent. He seemed a bit incredulous and suggested that we might have been on a different route. I pointed out that every pitch has fixed gear dipped in yellow. I get the feeling myself that there is a different Nose and Salathe that mutants climb in 5-7 hours. Long routes are a different proposition once you commit to one long day without hauling. Lou Renner and Matt Brooks put up a fine route that has a great view of Nevada Falls and host of friendly bolts for stress reduction. I think it will be a classic once folks discover it (and rocks stop pouring off the cliffs to the right and left of it.)
(by the way, on the Third ascent approach the area to the right, including Monday Morning Slab, was closed, and roped off.

By August of 1999, I still hadn’t heard of anyone doing a third ascent. Rockfall has given Glacier Point a bad name. I met with David Anderson from rec.climbing, who I hadn’t climbed with before, and who had only been climbing 1 1/2 years. He has a knack for slabs, and followed the Dike route and Needle Spoon up in Tuolumne Meadows so fast that I felt like the best way of pushing him to his limits (without red-lining) might be to revisit Galactic Hitchhiker. Sometimes I just get an inspiration regarding what somebody might be capable of. After we had climbed for a couple more days, we talked about some kind of grand finale to his vacation, the Hitchhiker! It was three times longer than anything he had done previously, but was totally game for the challenge. I bought 200 feet of tiny rappel line insurance at the mountain shop and we started climbing at 6.15 am the next day. I am impressed that neither of us were rattled when I took a 35 foot slider on pitch 5 early on. It was a factor two fall past the belay, but the low angle mellowized all the forces. I slipped on some grit while taking the one-piece-of-pro-in-120 –foot 5.9 pitch for granted. I had time for a few prayers while I was sliding down the smooth granite, waiting for the rope to stop me. I scraped my elbow but we just kept cruising. I had to act nonchalant to keep the prospect of 20 more pitches reasonable and because falling while doing some form of guiding is a major party foul.

I got to lead all the pitches on a splendid day of climbing. Dave climbed great on all but the 5.11 sections where his knowledge of French served him well, he deserves credit for taking a big bite of stone! It took us 11 1/2 hours due to having one leader and not simul-climbing much. Still, we did the route about 25 pitches by running many of them together.

Galactic Hitchhiker is a really nice route. There is a copy of my revised topo on my web-site. If you can do the DNB in a day, you can do the Hitchhiker. The approach and descent are total luxury and the views are fantastic. I wish I could have written a more entertaining trip report but I have been procrastinating it for a couple years, and folks deserve to know something about this interesting and fun adventure.

Peace and Love

Karl

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Email Me Below: Brutus checking out the topo from the top of Pitch 22

Karl Leading the Pitch above Goodrich Pinnacle
Brutus following pitch 20 of Hitchhiker. The lower route is outlined below with a blue dot for each pitch. 8pitches are out of sight and 19 are left (We ran many together though.)
Dave Anderson, High on the route on the ledge below the crux pitch.
Dave Anderson, working on the crux pitch.
Brutus leading the pitch above Goodrich Pinnacle