Friday, October 15, 2010

June 26, 2010 - Yosemite Valley (Saturday)

Watch for links to video below, and click on pics for larger versions.

Today was a pretty wacky piece of adventure comedy.

A while back, a new friend of mine, Dan--knowing I was training for a guided climb of the northeast side of Shasta in a month or so--kindly invited me to go with him and two buddies on a 3-day, 3-summit weekend excursion into the high country of Yosemite. He thought it might be a good training ground for building on my skills from Alaska--and he was right.

Being that this was to be an "early season" climb starting in the Tuolumne area, though, we needed to know how to prepare. Snow? Dirt? Ice axes and crampons? How cold was it? In the weeks and days leading up to our departure, we all made a few calls to the park ranger station to stay in touch with the changing conditions so we didn't overpack, or worse, show up on the mountain without something we really needed.

By all accounts from every ranger we talked to, the entire Tuolomne area was still under 4 feet of snow, and required snowshoes for backcountry travel, though there was little to no avalanche danger in the areas we were headed, as the snow was all pretty well consolidated by this time of year.

OK... no problem. After a bunch of back and forth on whether we were going, snow or not, Dan's second buddy bailed, we packed accordingly and Dan, his buddy Peter and I set out from the Bay area for our weekend excursion. We made pretty good time (except for the part where Peter... uhh... "lost" his sunglasses... HAHA), and we arrived in the Yosemite Valley around 3:30pm.

The original plan was to park the car in the Valley and take a shuttle up to Tuolumne Meadows and pretty much hike and climb our way back. The idea was that we'd hit 3 summits along the way: Cathedral Peak (10,700 feet), Clouds Rest (9,926 feet), and Half Dome (8,842 feet), ending back in Yosemite Valley near the car in early afternoon of day three. Pretty straightforward.

Upon arrival in the Yosemite Valley, the first task was to go pick up our permits at the ranger station's permit office. Peter and I waited in the parking lot for Dan to run in and back out with a permit in hand--and we waited--and waited. Eventually, Dan came back, frustrated but anxious to get going. Apparently there were a zillion stupid people in the permit line who had no idea what they wanted to do when they arrived, and were using the window personnel as tour guides to help them decide. Ugh.

The wait killed nearly all the time we'd planned to park, pack up, and hoof it back to the shuttle pickup area to catch the last ride of the day to Tuolumne at 5pm.

By the time we got parked (after parking once, getting out of the car, saddling up with packs, getting a ways on foot and then realizing we should be parked in another lot across the valley), we had about 15 minutes to make the run, so we hastily saddled up our packs (again) and headed out (again) on the run across the valley.

We took a long footbridge across a swampy meadow and headed straight across the middle of the valley, thinking we'd just meet the loop road on the other side and cut off some time. (We realized later we should have turned left and headed down the road instead... but that's a whole other thread to this story.)

Almost immediately (but invisibly from our takeoff point) we found ourselves blocked by the Merced river, and try as we might, we just couldn't find a suitable crossing.

With just 5 minutes remaining to catch the last shuttle of the day and all of us sweating like hell from running with heavy packs, we spotted a logfall across the river. In desperation, we went for it.

And like a lot of things out here, it turned out to be tougher than  it looked. The river was only about 30 feet wide at t his point, but the connecting log network was less than stable, and not completely accessible all the way across.

I was looking down, focused on making sure my own feet landed on the right logs, but up ahead, I heard a loud crack. I looked up from my own precarious crossing just in time to watch Dan teeter under the weeight of his pack--and fall into the river.

The spot he went into happened to be a deep trough under a huge uprooted tree on its side, so he was able to keep himself from going in completely by scrambling, flailing and struggling to grab hold of the roots. He went in up to about his chest, pack, boots, and all.

Pretty alarming... the current was strong here, and I was too far away to be able to reach him in any sort of rapid fashion, but I called out to him to make sure he was ok. Peter, who had crossed first and was already on the far bank, heard the same loud CRRRACK! I did, alertly spotted the problem, dropped his own pack on the shore, and bounded back out the fallen logs to help. He grabbed Dan's pack and helped haul him out of the water, and then grabbed one of my Nalgene bottles that was floating away. (Like an idiot, I'd dropped it while fumbling to get it onto a gear loop so I could go help Dan.)

Finally, we all reached the far side, wet, out of breath, and still far from our destination shuttle stop.... FOILED! We threw or packs back on (complete with snow shovels, crampons, and other cold weather gear strapped to the back) and trudged down the valley a ways, and then realized our best alternative for staying the night would be to go pitch camp at the backpacker's campground. It was quite far out of the way, presumably so that paying park tourists (a.k.a. the revenue stream) don't have to see the smelly, dirty, tired backpackers that are a constant in Yosemite.

So we walked back to the car and drove to the backpackers campground. Ugh. After we got camp set up, it was starting to get dark, and we began to consider our food options for the night: get the stoves out, or walk back down to the village and get pizza and beers at the lodge. Hardly a choice, so we zipped up the tent and hoofed it once again BACK toward the village. Along the way, we walked past the spot where Dan and the Merced river got to know each other. It was a long way to the lodge in gathering dark, but the payoff was awesome. A good pepperoni, olive, mushroom, and bacon pizza can cure many ills, and we were soon laughing and chatting again.

After dinner, we decided as long as we were in the area, we should track someone down who could help us figure out when the earliest shuttle to Tuolumne departed the valley, and we found what we thought was the best POSSIBLE person: the head shuttle dispatcher herself! We told her of our troubles, and after much hunting and radioing of other people to double-confirm, she informed us that the earliest shutle in the morning left at 10:55am. Perfect... no early rising necessary to break camp!

It was about this time that I spotted a sign on the dispatcher's building that my buddy Todd would reallllly appreciate. Armed with this new information and now confident of our plan, we then marched back to camp--in pitch black, mind you, because none of us had thought to bring a headlamp to dinner--at dusk---stupid haha)

When we got there, we pulled out the headlamps and gathered around the maps we had of our original proposed route to see we could still pull off the route we intended with the new shuttle schedule. We decided it was still possible, as long as we got ON the shuttle in the morning... guess we'll just have to see! :-)

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