time reversal

the stories of four physicists separated by the whims of fate

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Tuolumne Meadows Take 2 (Or Dave Visits California)

September 17th, 2008 by liz

Dave came out to Berkeley this weekend, and we decided to go rock climbing in Yosemite. It was 94 degrees F in the valley this weekend, so we decided to head up to Tuolumne meadows. We left Berkeley at around 7pm and rolled into the campground around 11:30. After searching for awhile we found an empty site and promptly crashed. Apparently the whole drive up twisty CA-120 Dave thought we were going to die, but was too half-asleep to even mumble this to me as I drove.

We woke up way to early–or rather Dave woke up way too early and tried to drag me out of the tent. I sent him away to register our campsite and then went back to sleep. 20 minutes later he returned. “It’s too early. They’re not open yet.” I groaned and finally dragged myself out of the tent. It was 8am. After a quick breakfast we headed off to Tenaya Lake, where we would be parking for our ascent of Tenaya peak. The first part of the climb was actually just scrambling over rocks and bushes for a surprisingly long distance. When we finally reached the base of the climb we were already exhausted, but the enormous amount of granite looming overhead made us eager to start the climb.


Tenaya Peak with the route “Northwest Buttress, 5.5” shown.

We roped up and I took the lead. The plan for this peak was to simul-climb, a technique where the leader places gear and the second follows one rope-length behind and cleans the gear. There is no fixed belay, and both parties rely on the pieces between them to stop them in the event of a fall. When the leader runs out of gear, they set up a belay and the second climbs past the leader and then takes the lead. Using this technique, we turned the 14 pitch 1500′ climb into a 4 simul-pitch + 1 belayed pitch climb. We reached the top in a little over 2 hours (including a stop for lunch on the rock) and celebrated our victory.

Dave on top of Tenaya Peak
Dave on top of Tenaya Peak

We were tired, hot, and sweaty after our long climb, and to the south we spied a picturesque mountain lake with a sandy beach and grassy meadows. I had one thought: picnic + swimming. After half an hour of descending a steep sandy slope, we finally made it to the lake shore. We both stripped down and ran for the water. About 2 steps in I stopped abruptly. The water was freezing! Stupid lakes at 10,000 feet… We managed to sort of splash ourselves clean (there are no showers in Tuolumne Meadows, so it was really the only option) with the frigid water and then changed our gameplan to include picnic + sunbathing on the shore.

Around 4pm we decided we had better get going, so we started to head towards the west end of the lake. Along the way we met a large group of backpackers who kindly gave us a photocopy of their map. We found out we had been attempting to swim in Mildred lake, and more importantly, we had a long way to go to get back down to our car. It turns out that the descent is kind of sketchy. We had to wind our way through narrow bands of trees between steep slabs, navigate tiny steep dirt paths, jump between boulders, and finally bushwack through the woods. Eventually we came out on the shore of Tenaya Lake tired and ready to go make some dinner.

Dave walks along the shore of Tenaya lake
Dave walks along the shore of Tenaya lake

The next morning, Dave woke up way too early again. He attempted (futilely) to drag me out of the tent, and then went off to do whatever it is that Dave does in the mornings. I finally got up around 8, and tried to stand up. Standing was painful, but walking was worse. Our plan for the day: hike to cathedral peak, climb it, hike back. This sounds like a fairly simple plan, but the hike in is almost 2 hours of uphill, and my legs were really sore from the day before.

We arrived at the trailhead around 10am, and packed up our bags. I took all the food, water, and warm things, and gave Dave the heavy bag of climbing gear. I figured since he had really long legs, it was fair, right? We lost the trail several times on the way to the peak, but luckily the peak kind of sticks out above everything, so we just kept heading towards it until we eventually got to the base. There were already several parties on the climb, but luckily the face is absolutely covered in features, so there are many options for climbing, and passing slow parties isn’t hard until you get to the very top.

Dave in front of cathedral peak
Dave in front of cathedral peak on our hike in. From this view, you climb up the left side of the peak.

We started the climb around noon, and climbed several pitches before we really started running into people. At one point, 4 free-soloers passed us and one asked me if I had any sunscreen. “Of course, I have some SPF 60 right here,” I replied. He told me I better put some on because I was getting burned. I tried explaining that I had already put it on three times that day. I just always burn no matter how much sunscreen I put on. The last pitch from the top there was a huge traffic jam that stalled us for almost 2 hours. From the large belay ledge we were waiting on we saw a thin spine to the southwest, Matthes Crest, which is a mile long razor-thin granite ridge that you can climb. Dave and I decided that we should climb it on a future trip, despite the 3 hour approach.

At this point it was cloudy and a little windy, and it was after 4pm. Finally people got moving, and we summited sequentially while a party of three was messing around with their ropes on the summit. The descent was a big scary, but we eventually made it down and started hiking out around 6. After a long day of hiking and rock climbing, I managed to hurt myself going down some stairs at the end of the trail and falling on my ass. By the time we made it to the car it was dark, and very much time for dinner.

Liz on the summit of Cathedral Peak with Eichorn\'s pinnacle in the background
Me on the summit of cathedral peak with Eichorn’s pinnacle in the background. We will climb this one day!

The next morning I really couldn’t walk. I did try, but it wasn’t happening. I staggered around stiff-legged for awhile and then finally made it over to where there was delicious tea. Dave and I were both pretty beaten up, so we decided to do some top-roping with an easy approach. We did a few 5.9-5.10b slab climbs on the west side of fairview dome, and then called it a day. We stopped for a pint of icecream, then at a fresh produce stand, and then made it home in time to make the most enormous plate of nachos in the world for dinner. Success!

The rest of Dave’s trip out here involved eating lots of food and hanging out on the beach. We drove out to Golden Gate National Recreation Area and visited Muir beach, where we sat on a large boulder and ate an entire honeydew melon from the produce stand of the day before. It’s actually really hard to eat a whole honeydew between two people. Our next stop was Stinson Beach, where we had really greasy (veggie) burgers and fries and spent a good two hours “flying a kite” on the beach, by which I mean letting all the string out, tying the string to Dave’s shoe, and then napping in the warm sand. Then we came back to Berkeley and went to Jupiter’s for more delicious food. Did you know they put cheese on everything? What could be better!?

Dave with giant knife (and honeydew)
Dave with giant knife (and honeydew).

Kite flying!
Kite Flying!

For more pictures from this trip, visit the gallery.

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  • 1 william Sep 18, 2008 at 10:37 am

    I had forgotten how beautiful Yosemite is. Thanks for the reminder!