Trip Report: Lots of Firsts

I had been climbing for three and a half months, reading rec.climbing and dreaming of a trip to Yosemite. Someday, I would tell myself, when I know how to do this and can climb that and have the time and the money, I will go to Yosemite and climb with Karl Baba. And then Karl posted one teaser too many and I crumbled. By the end of the day I had plane tickets, a rental car, and a date with Karl in two weeks.

I bounced into the gym that night and babbled about it to anyone who would listen. I dragged one of my climbing mentors, Mike, over to the crack and said, "Now you have to teach me to climb it." Mike had told me before that I wouldn't like climbing the crack and that I should leave it alone until I was more experienced. He wasn't much more enthusiastic about my climbing it even now but he did demonstrate the technique for me. Then I had to wait till he wasn't looking to actually try it. Of course, he was right. I hated the crack. My hands hurt; my feet hurt even worse; and I couldn't do more than a few moves without falling and ripping off some more skin.

The next two weeks were filled with ups and downs (and struggles in the crack). Most of the people at the gym were enthusiastic and supportive about my upcoming trip but there were some who enjoyed tormenting me with dire predictions and unpleasant "facts," particularly a guy named Bill who came up with some winners like:

"You're going to get a few hundred feet up and freak from
the exposure."
"Just because you can climb 10a in the gym, don't think you're going to be climbing any 10s out there."
"You think *this* crack hurts?"
"Wait till you spend three hours at a hanging belay and then tell me if you like trad climbing."
"Do you know how long those pitches are? A helluva lot longer than 40 feet."
"It might rain the whole time anyway."
"A guide can't *haul* you up the route."
"You're really going to stay with some guy you met on the internet?"

The real low point was when the evil crack put a hole in my Mythos, a huge disappointment since if there was one thing I had going for me it was comfortable shoes. It turned out to be a stroke of luck though because I bought a pair of shoes more suited for cracks and on the day before my flight out, armed with my new Synchros and a pair of tape gloves that someone helped me make, I climbed the evil crack all the way to the top with no falls and no whimpering. Bill applauded me. I was ready. Scared, excited, ready.

To sum up the trip in a nutshell, none of the dire predictions came true. The exposure when we got above a thousand feet was breathtaking, but not in a bad way. I not only climbed 10a while I was there, I did the 10d crux of Serenity Crack. Granite felt good compared to the concrete in the gym crack. The only time I spent more than 20 minutes at a belay was when we had to wait for parties above us at Serenity Crack. The climbing was sustained but not nearly as pumpy as the vertical walls at the gym. The weather was beautiful for all three days. And Karl never had to haul me up anything, although I think he could have if he'd had to. Also, he didn't murder me.

In two and a half days I did my first multi-pitch climb, my first outdoor crack climb, my first rappel, my first chimney, and my first 10d. (I also dropped my first piece of gear.) And that's not all. When we got down from Serenity Crack, Karl asked me if I'd like to lead Maxine's Wall next to it, a 10a sport climb. Karl went up and clipped the first bolt for me (a sort of human cheater stick) and then I led it. It was my first time on lead. I got above the bolt he had clipped, clipped one more, and then fell reaching for the next one, registering my first lead fall. But I climbed back up and finished it off (I even got to place a cam along the way) and came down proud of myself and with several more firsts under my belt.

The whole trip was fantastic. I drove away from Karl's grungy and exhausted but exhilarated and sorry to be leaving. I had done things I'd have had no chance of doing any time soon without Karl and had packed months worth of experiences into a few days. So, to anyone out there who has thought "maybe someday" my advice is: just go do it. Don't listen to the people telling you that you can't. If you have someone like Karl looking out for you, you can. And it's everything you dreamed it would be.


P.S. Upon re-reading this I realize how strongly the phrase "Don't listen to the people telling you that you can't" needs to be qualified with the phrase "If you have someone like Karl looking out for you." While I was physically prepared -- I had the strength, stamina, equipment and technique I needed -- I was sorely lacking in some important outdoor skills. It's a good thing that Karl has a history of soloing because my lead belaying was so bad that I was probably more of a menace to him than a safety net. It took me until day 3 (after climbing over a thousand feet on day 2) to figure out how to feed him slack without hopelessly kinking up the rope. (Belaying for Karl is a workout -- he moves *fast*.) At least half the time that I clipped myself into the belay I forgot to lock the 'biner, a potentially fatal mistake which Karl never failed to catch. I didn't know how to rappel, so Karl had to keep me carefully backed up at all times. Cleaning gear was misery; thankfully Karl doesn't place much of it. Also, he picked the sport climb I did because there was no chance of my hitting anything if I fell once he had clipped the first bolt for me. And he watched me like a hawk while I did it to make sure that I clipped the bolts correctly and that I didn't run the rope between my legs. So I encourage the beginners amongst us to get outside and have fun doing it, but pick your partners wisely and don't forget that there's a lot more to climbing safely outdoors than tying a Figure 8.

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Dawn on Serenity Crack
Dawn on Serenity Crack
Dawn after her first lead fall. She went on to finish her first 10a lead outdoors with no more falls!