Tuolumne, Memorial Day 2009
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Wednesday May 27, 2009 at 9:34 am)

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Tenaya Lake reflection

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Tenaya Peak

Yosemite’s Mist Trail toward Nevada Falls
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite (Wednesday May 20, 2009 at 7:07 pm)


Nevada Falls with Liberty Cap



I finally made it to Yosemite and hiked the trail to Nevada Falls and them on towards Half Dome.  The trail starts at Happy Isles, skirts  Vernal Falls, and after four miles reaches Nevada Falls. I crossed the falls via the shaking footbridge, with torrents rushing down below me.

From here, the trail meanders towards, and through, Little Yosemite Valley to end on the summit of Half Dome. I followed the trail as far as the shoulder of Half Dome - about 7.5 miles, and judging by the creaky knees during the descent, farther than I should have gone on my second hike of the season.

But the falls were irresistible, and I wanted to peek over Half Dome’s shoulder to admire the Valley below.  Also, I hope to climb a few routes this summer with very long approach and descent hikes, so I figured a little training would benefit me in the long run.

Plus I brought back these beautiful photos to share!

How many ropes?!
Posted by sibylle in women, Yosemite (Monday March 9, 2009 at 9:01 am)

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Bev Johnson on top of El Cap after we climbed the Triple Direct

HOW many ropes are up there? It looks like about six - I thought we only took three!

But wait - Dan tried to lower some food and water to us at our last bivvy - six pitches from the top; and in the middle of nowhere without a hammock.

But someone asked me about which ropes to take climbing. My answer: it depends.

Usually, I take one lead line to Europe. I took a 60m line the first few trips, but then we encountered too many 32m to 35m climbs, so I bought a 70m lead line which works well for European sport climbs and as an added benefit, also works well at Indian Creek, Utah, which has a number of 120-foot crack lines. With a 70m rope, you can toprope these climbs with one line.

I’m reluctantly taking two ropes to Australia; mostly because of the extra baggage charges I’ll have to pay. Climbers told me that several good climbs in the Arapiles require two ropes to descend – two 50m rappels. So we’re taking one 60m lead line and a 6mm tag line, to save weight. I also use the 60 m lead plus 60m tag line combination on climbs with a long approach – we’ll take this in to climbs in the Sierra.

I take it in to desert towers with a long approach, but sometimes I prefer two 8.8 mm double ropes, in case one of the ropes gets damaged on a sharp edge. The towers sometimes have such high winds, which can wrap a rope around distant flakes, that I like to take the beefiest ropes possible.
I also like the double rope combination in the mountains if I think there’s danger of the rope getting damaged. It’s a trade-off between more weight and added security, or less weight and less backup.

All together I own the following ropes:
70 m lead line
60 m lead line
8.8 mm 55 m double ropes (older)
60 m, 6 mm tag line

I replace one or the other of the above ropes annually, so that none are too ancient …  and it takes a few years to acquire them all.

Alpinist 25 - the Silver Issue
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, utah, Yosemite, Eulogies (Saturday January 3, 2009 at 8:13 am)


And the last issue

Shortly before Christmas, an unknown group bought Alpinist Magazine for $71,000. Originally on the block for as low as $30,000, I’m glad they got this much and hope to see a magazine published again, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

However, while everyone still thinks the poor economy may get worse, it may be difficult to find investors to support a new publication.

There’s also the question of business model —Alpinist published a high-quality magazine with few ads, hoping to support it with subscriptions.

Dougald Macdonald, editor of the American Alpine Journal, provides an shrewd analysis of why Alpinist didn’t survive.

Though considered the best climbing magazine in the world, readers were unwilling to pay for that quality.
“It never attracted nearly enough readers to turn a profit,” said Macdonald. “Climbing and Rock & Ice . . .  deliver . . . what readers and advertisers want to see”

“Alpinist executed the limited-advertising, high-subscription-price, “reader supported” business model, it simply didn’t work in the tiny climbing market,” Macdonald concluded.

I’m particularly anxious to see Alpinist or a related magazine resume publication. I wrote a story for issue 25, originally titled “Bev’s and my Grand Adventure”, that appeared as yet another incarnation of “Walls Without Balls.”

The editor asked me to write about Layton Kor, Alison Sheets, and my first ascent on the Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks. I’d started this story when the editor told me that Alpinist would fold..

Perhaps I can write it for the new magazine.


Tuolomne - West Crack
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Sunday December 21, 2008 at 4:18 pm)

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Daff Dome - Blown Away / West Crack

Amanda came to visit me in Summit County today, and, as always, we talked about climbing – what we’d last climbed, where we’d been. It reminded me of our wonderful summer, and longingly made me think of Tuolomne.

The Sierra Nevada is one of the most beautiful places I’ve climbed, blessed with long dry summers that have little rain, but doesn’t get hot because of the altitude – 8,000 to 14,000 feet.

One of my favorite climbs is West Crack on Daff Dome. I think this was my second lead in Tuolomne, way back when I was still in my teens. I took Tristan up the climb when he was 11 years old.

The approach is reasonable – maybe 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how fast one walks. After a short hard move on the first pitch – face climbing with a slippery-looking crystal as the main foothold, the rest of the route follows pleasant cracks with numerous knobs on both sides.

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Pitch two on West Crack

At the start of the second pitch, an awkward looking roof presents the main obstacle. The trick here is to look around and use the crack. Climb it right side in, which allows you to reach a great bucket on the left wall.
After that it’s easy going, using huge knobs on both sides of the crack as footholds or handholds, with an occasional piece of gear  in the crack for security.
The angle eases off as one climbs higher up the crack, with each pitch a little easier than the one before.

With perfect rock, great jams, sunny warm weather, and incomparable views, this remains one of my (and everyone else’s) favorites climbs.

Warren Harding and Yosemite
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Yosemite, California (Tuesday November 18, 2008 at 4:08 pm)


Harding on El Cap - Alpinist 25

Alpinist’s anniversary issue, #25, features Harding climbing El Capitan on its cover. In a way, these symbolize the ultimate achievements of climbing in the North America for much of the past 50 years. Harding, the ultimate ‘hard man’ and adventurer, was the first to climb El Capitan, Yosemite’s iconic big wall and once the world’s biggest climbable monolith.

Sadly, Harding did not live to see this celebration of his vision and his achievements. Though we had many of the top climbers from the 60s at the Yosemite reunion, the man whose vision drove the first ascent of El Capitan was missing. I’m glad that at least the House of Representatives finally recognized his, and his teammates’, achievement, and that Alpinist chose Harding and El Capitan to grace the cover of their “silver” anniversary issue.


Harding’s book

Unfortunately, Alpinist also bit the dust, part of the detritus resulting from the crash of the stock market, the financial crisis, and the unavailability of money. At least El Cap survived and appears as hale and well as ever —clean granite walls still jutting up toward the sky, dihedrals of all sizes remaining to challenge future generations of climbers. Let’s hope it lasts a while longer —I’ve almost got my son talked into attempting aid climbing!

For those who can find it, read Harding’s hilarious spoof of the climbing culture, adorned with Beryl Knauth’s apropos cartoons.

Warren’s signature,  cover page

Royal Robbins and Yosemite
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Yosemite, California (Thursday November 13, 2008 at 10:15 am)


Royal Robbins

Royal Robbins completed the first ascent of almost every major cliff in Yosemite —except for El Capitan. In fact, the reason that Warren Harding decided to attempt an ascent of El Cap was because when he and his team arrived in Yosemite to climb their intended goal, Half Dome, Robbins had beaten them to it.

Harding in his typical inexorable style responded, “Well, since Royal beat us to Half Dome, let’s go try El Capitan.”

After Harding got the first ascent of El Cap, Robbins promptly climbed El Cap’s Nose route in 7 days, as compared with Harding’s 47-day siege effort. He then went on to climb a new route on El Capitan, the Salathe Wall (named after John Salathe), followed by the North American Wall (for the silhouette of the grey rock found there). Later he soloed el Cap via the Muir Wall, which goes between the Nose route and the Salathe Wall.

Robbins wrote one of the first  modern books on how to rock climb, Basic Rockcraft, in 1973 and later wrote Advanced Rockcraft. When I started climbing, these two books were the bible of every novice climber I knew.

When I was at the Yosemite reunion, Royal’s photo was in almost every book I owned, since he’d done the first ascents of most significant Valley climbs. As I found book after book with his photo, I asked him to sign yet another autograph, until his wife Liz remarked that I was relentless. I laughed and replied that it was his fault for writing too many books and articles, and doing too many first ascents that were pictured in everyone else’ books. Not a bad legacy!

Pat Ament wrote a biography of Robbins, Spirit of the Age, in 1992, which chronicles Royal’s accomplishments in greater detail.

Authors at the Yosemite reunion
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Yosemite, California (Wednesday November 12, 2008 at 10:51 am)


Allen Steck, Doug Robinson, Chris Jones

As I walked around the auditorium in Yosemite, meeting climbers many of whom I hadn’t seen since the Camp 4 celebration in 1999, and some of whom I hadn’t seen since the 1970s, I marveled at how many of the people I spoke with had written books, edited magazines, and influenced climbing in the United States over the past 30 to 40 years.

The two most prolific authors present were Royal Robbins and Allen Steck, with Steve Roper, who would have contended for the honor of most guidebooks written, absent from the festivities. I’d brought books I owned to get autographs (while also giving out autographs to others) and the number of climbers that had stories in one of the anthologies continued to amaze me.

An expatriate British author and climber, Chris Jones, wrote Climbing in North America. While no other climbers wrote stories for this book, he included photos of many of them on their finest routes or first ascents, which of course needed an autograph! Then I had Dan Duane’s El Capitan, with many exceptional photos of the celebrities present, who could now immortalize their presence in my book.

My finest collection was all issues of the long out-of-print Ascent, the premier journal of its time, edited by Roper and Steck. I’d just picked these up at my mother’s house, where they formed part of my late father’s library.
“Where did you get these?”  Steck asked, surprised, as he signed them. “They’re in perfect condition—obviously part of someone’s library!” He graciously signed all issues of these, as well as my copy of “Fifty Classic Climbs in North America”.

Other authors present included Doug Robinson, Beryl Knauth (illustrator of Downward Bound with Warren Harding), and El Cap speed record holder Hans Florine. I traded books with Hans and hope that it’ll make me a faster climber!

A toast
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Tuesday November 11, 2008 at 1:47 am)


MC Ken Yager, on right, proposes a toast

Ken opened the evening’s talks, films, and slide show by proposing a toast to honor our lost friends. Since Warren Harding, the star and instigator of the first ascent of El Capitan, and Bill ‘Dolt’ Feuerer, another member of the first ascent party, are both no longer with us, it seems particularly appropriate to remember these climbers at the start of the show.

I cam close to tears, because Beverly Johnson, my partner on our ascent of the Triple Direct on El Cap, was killed several years ago in an accident while heli-skiing. Beverly was for many years one of my best friends, mentors, heroes, and favorite people, and I think I’ll always miss her bright smile and cheerful teasing.

After the toast, Ken showed a great film of Warren Harding—his life, climbs, the El Cap ascent, and his later days. Then the various climbers involved in the first ascent showed slides and regaled us with stories of who did what —when they could remember—and hauled what to where. Someone told of how they used an old can of paint lacquer as a water bottle. They’d poured something equally noxious  (and toxic) into the paint can, to rid it of the taste of lacquer, but that didn’t work.
“We had a lot of water for hand washing,” he concluded.

All present appeared to have a great time, not only listening to the talks, but also taking photos of famous personalities and getting signatures on books, magazines, and the program.


From left:

Mark Powell, Wally Reed,  George Whitmore, Allen Steck, Ellen Searby, Rich Calderwood, Wayne Merry from El Cap first ascent and Ken Yager, MC

Warren Harding and Bill “Dolt” Feuerer are no longer with us

Yosemite - El Capitan
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Monday November 10, 2008 at 7:28 pm)


El Capitan

I’ve been in Yosemite for a few days to climb and also to attend the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of El Capitan.

Thursday morning brought clear blue skies, sunshine, and warm weather – a joy and delight to find conditions like this in November! We parked at the junction by El Cap meadows to hike in to the Manure Pile Buttress. For some reason, the National Park Service (NPS) closed the one-way road from Camp 4 and the lodge to El Cap, so that all traffic now takes the formerly one-way road on the other side.

For any climbers who want to climb formations along the closed road, we hike in. I’m actually pleased with one aspect of the road closure – not as many people will be climbing on the very popular “Nutcracker Suite”, in contention for a “most crowded climbs in the Valley” award. When we reach the Manure Pile Buttress, we find about three groups on the Nutcracker, but no one our planned route, C. S. Concerto.

For non-climbers and non-locals—the name ‘Manure Pile Buttress’ derives from the large pile of horseshit that NPS used to amass beside the road, near the trail to the climb.  I believe that as climbing became more popular, and more tourists hiked around to watch climbers, having a ten-foot tall pile of dung became less acceptable and eventually the park service moved it elsewhere (I have no idea where).

As we climbed CS Concerto, I could look over to the massive bulk of El Capitan beside us and admire the stark beauty of the geometry of the roofs and buttresses. When I look at El Cap, I want to climb it again.

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