Rock Climbing

A Lembert Sunset Adventure

After dinner, the two crews had the entire evening to ourselves. A bunch of us hiked down the road to the store and then wandered across the highway to Lembert Dome. Lembert Dome is a popular stop with tourists. It’s right on the highway with a parking lot. The dome rises 800 feet over the flats of Tuolumne Meadows. Once out of the car in the parking lot, signs point the way to a trail around the west side of the dome to the rear that lets people walk up to the summit without doing any climbing at all. The side of the dome facing the parking lot, however, is steep enough to be popular with technical climbers. Climbers like it because they have a built in audience right here in the parking lot and along the highway.

Anne, Mark, Dewey, Wayne, Chris, and I walked around the dome to the east, eying the rock and evaluating routes to the top based upon the skills we had just learned that morning. We were just talking the routes through. Since we didn’t have any climbing gear at all, we weren’t going to do any climbing tonight…we thought.

As we got around to the east side of the dome, it looked to us like the grade flattened out enough to make a climb up for us a scramble up some rock instead of a technical climb requiring gear. Wayne and Mark were all for it. We all followed them up. It was an easy scramble for the first 150 feet or so. There were plenty of ledges, trees, and brush to make finding foot- and handholds and resting spots easy. Then the vegetation ran out.

Wayne, Mark, and Chris made their way up practically nonstop. Once we got past the vegetation and easy ledges, though, the rock that had seemed to be an easy grade from down below suddenly got a lot steeper. Anne, Dewey, and I had to start looking more carefully for our route. Dewey finally had had enough and said “I want to go back down!” Anne and I could hear the fear in his voice and see it in his eyes and actions. The only problem with that was that we had already passed the point of no return, especially with no rappelling gear. If we started back down now, it would be too easy to pick up speed and not be able to stop, turning a descent into a fall. The only option was to keep going up. Dewey was not happy with that. Anne and I called up to the others, but they were already so far ahead that they really couldn’t get back down to us, either.

So here we were, Anne and I stuck on a ledge on Lembert Dome with a skittish Dewey.

We talked Dewey through everything we had learned that morning in the climbing school. “Remember friction and momentum, Dewey? Keep at least three points of contact with the rock. Two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand. Spot your next goal, a ledge that you can stand on to rest. Look for vegetation for that. When you see your spot, push off, move fast, and don’t stop until you get to your spot! Your momentum will get you there. If you stop out on an exposed rock, you’ll start slipping back. You don’t want to do that. These little ledges aren’t big enough to guarantee that you will be able to stop on them if you slide back down to one. You just might keep going all the way to the bottom. You can do this, Dewey!”

“I can do this!”

“Yes! You can! Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“OK…where’s your next resting place?”

“Ummm…up there, to the left a little.”

“Looks like a good spot. Go. We’re right behind you!”

Dewey started up and made it. Anne and I followed. The ledges were so small that we had to spread out across the face. We could be separated by ten or twenty feet. We had to holler instructions over to Dewey. Sometimes Dewey wasn’t sure where to go, and Anne or I would lead to the next spot showing him exactly where he needed to go. Then we would have to move up or over to another spot ahead to give Dewey room to make it into the spot we had just showed him. A couple of times we had to coach Dewey out of stopping on an exposed face. “Keep it up, Dewey! Go! Go! Go! Keep your feet moving! Almost there! Don’t stop! Go! Go! Woo-HOO! You made it!”

We made it to the top well before sunset. The view from the top was sweet! We could see alpenglow on Cathedral Peak as the sun set. Unforgettable.

We hiked the trail down the backside of the dome to get down.

The moral of this story: It’s always steeper than it looks from the bottom!

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Rock Climbing, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climbing Tuolumne

One of the most fun times we had in 1987 was the weekend that Yosemite 1 came down to share our camp in Tuolumne Meadows. Diane and Roxanne had pooled some money together from each crews’ rec fund to go to a basic rock climbing class with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Yo1 arrived at our camp on Friday night. Early Saturday we headed over to the school. The instructor took us over to Pothole Dome. The best classroom in the world I’ve ever had was sitting on the warm granite of a dome in Tuolumne.

Climbing Class, Pothole Dome photo 23-1.jpg

The instructor addressed the class about climbing in general. Then he talked about basic ropes safety, and then he went over all of the equipment we would be using on our climb. Last, he covered the couple of basic climbing knots we would need to know to secure ourselves in our harness. Then we broke up into pairs and practiced putting on our swami belts, clipping into the carabiners, and tying our basic knots. The instructor came around and double checked everybody’s set-up. When he was satisfied that everybody was on the same page, we went over to a precipice on the dome and started climbing! Woo-HOO!

Actually, it wasn’t that simple. The instructor showed us again how to clip a ‘biner onto a swami belt, then picked a helper from the class and went over belaying and signals to be used between belayer and climber. (“Belay on!”) The most important part of climbing is learning to trust your gear and your climbing partners. For instance, when rappelling, after you are clipped onto the rope and start to lower yourself over the face of the rock you are going down, your natural instinct is to cling tight to the rock. You need to overcome that natural instinct to rappel. You need to place your feet firmly against the rock and lean back, away from the rock and trust this little nylon wrap around your groin…and the little metal clip connecting you to the rope…and the rope…and the person with the other end of the rope around their waist…to support your weight and keep you from plunging down the cliff to your death. Fun stuff! When you trust your gear and your partner and lean back from the rock, your feet are pressed firmly onto the rock face. It feels totally safe, but you never know that until you trust and lean back.

Climbing photo 25.jpg

Everybody had a chance to climb up the face, rappel back down, and belay at least one other person. By the end of the day, everybody had gained a confidence on steep rocks that we had not had that morning. Some of us were going to have a chance to put this stuff to use sooner than we thought!

Climbing Pothole Dome photo 27-1.jpg

Roxanne Climbing photo 26.jpg

Climber George! photo 24-1.jpg

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Rock Climbing, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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