Summit to Sea Level

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Summit to Sea Level

My third week in Mammoth ended with a final climb and another storm. With my internship over, I chose to spend a little more time in the mountains exploring and attempting Mt. Sill, a California 14,000 footer. The hike to base camp spanned nine miles through various biological zones from chaparral to the glaciated alpine and finished near the immense Palisade Glacier. As the southernmost glacier in the United States, it clearly showed a diminished size and exposed harsher, rockier terrain from its underneath. In the end, unstable weather lead to a retreat 800 feet from the summit, but created more time for other exploration. From moon-like terrain to remote hot pots and empty campsites, the surrounding areas of the Sierras were incredibly stunning. I found cow pastures and old barns and a Thai restaurant right on the airport taxiway in Bishop. The next day was a lonely six hour drive home. From then, everything back home felt crowded, loud, hot and busy. At that point I had spent a good thirty one days above 7000 feet: higher than the vast majority of people on the planet, and away from home every day but three. 

Now, just a week after returning, I left again for a week in Santa Barbara with my sister to compete in CFJ Nationals, the most important regatta of the year. My prior experiences at the venue made me nervous as heavy wind seemed common. In the end, the conditions were a balance between medium light and medium heavy, and culminated in one of the better environments I have sailed in. 

As for the rest of the summer, I hope to return to Mammoth, only this time for sailing in some of the amazing alpine lakes, while practicing my languages, starting the mountain of college applications and finding some climb time. 

Backroads of Mammoth

Palisade Glacier from Mt. Sill Saddle

Palisade Glacier from Mt. Sill Saddle

Temple Crag


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If You Want to be an Astronaut, First Come to the Sierras

Just thirty minutes from the trail, I write this—my fingers are shaking, I'm shivering and I've never been so cold. But I'll get to that later. 

First: astronauts go a long time without seeing other people. On my first backpacking trip to service a seismic station with the U.S. Geological Survey, I saw no one but my co-worker.  

Second: astronauts eat freeze dried food. So do backpackers. 

Third: astronauts sleep in small spaces. A tent is pretty small.  

Fourth: astronauts need lots of training. On this trip to McGee Pass and beyond, we hiked 30 miles in two days with over 14,000 feet elevation gain. We hiked 10 miles uphill in 4 hours. Without my prior backpacking trip, I would have not made it.  

Fifth: astronauts must acclimate to zero gravity. I had to acclimate to 13,000 feet.  

Sixth: astronauts have spectacular views. The Sierra Nevada is the most beautiful place on Earth. 

Seventh: Astronauts must fix things on their own. No one will be there to save them. Fixing the seismic station while the wind blew like crazy and with limited tools was a challenge. 

Eighth: the ISS filters its water from waste. I drew my water from the stream near my tent. 

Ninth: sometimes astronauts loose contact. Our satellite phone died.  

Finally: astronauts must endure extreme conditions. It's Summer. It's July. Yet, after a hard morning of hiking with a hundred pounds, the somewhat unexpected happened. We knew there might be thunder. But ending the trip one day short sounded nice, so we hiked 2000 feet up to McGee Pass, praying for no lightning. None came. Then, right when we hit the tree line, it started to snow. Then hail. Then the lightning was right above us. The hail grew, the snow accumulated. We rushed down the remaining ten miles, but soon the blocks of ice hurt too much. Three inches of accumulation seemed like a winter landscape. The trail then started to flood and the bridges become slippery. As the trees turned to brush, we could see the lightning. 500 feet. 400 feet. I was already miserably cold after a momentary amazement at the conditions. My nerves couldn't handle it anymore, however, and I ran. The lightning hit the parking lot. The hail and snow turned to mush. I made it out, but now as I write this, I'm still shivering... in July. 

Anyway, great trip all around. 

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Tuolumne Backpacking and Climbing

Just three days after leaving Yosemite Valley, I was back again to enjoy the scenery. This time, I was on the tourist end of things, although I managed to climb the last pitch of the Rostrum with Sabine. That night we camped in the backpackers' camp while thunderstorms drenched the mountains. Early the next morning, we drove to Tuolumne Meadows to start our backpacking trip with our parents. 

Small squalls and windstorms made our hike interesting. We crossed off trail through two valleys without seeing any people. Every meadow and slot canyon was filled with flora and fauna, and the mountains still had a little snow left. By late afternoon we set up camp right before a big storm. It was a little fun rushing against time to get everything ready for the rain. We had the perfect campsite on a hill overlooking Echo Lake and below Matthes Crest—flat, dry, and guarded by two marmots. The lightning and thunder came just as we fell asleep in leaky tents. 

Day two could not have been more perfect. Waking at sunrise, with nine hours of sleep, we quickly prepared our mountain of gear needed to get up our goal of Matthes Crest. We climbed steeply in elevation to gain the ridge, where we spend a good portion of the day trad climbing and simul climbing across knife-edged rock. The clouds looked like something out of a Pixar movie, and luckily shed no rain as we slowly moved over the mountain. I had never climbed horizontally before and was unaccustomed to the style we used to traverse over a mile of granite—2000 feet more than El Capitan. At times, I felt worn out by the endless climbing, but each new view was incredible and exciting. From the ridge I could see Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Valley, every dome and volcano and snowy peak in the area. Far below, our seemingly minuscule campsite marked by an orange tent marked our starting point of the day. 

Interestingly, dinner was somewhat luxurious—freeze dried delicacies from around the world. We even had a private stream for water and a tree as a lightning rod. The mosquitos were not that bad, and seemed reduced in number due to the wind and rain. We decided to stay at this camp at Echo for another night, and start on our hike out in the morning.

Once again at five, we followed a map around Cathedral Peak and onto the John Muir Trail—a freeway in comparison to our empty, trail-less valleys before. Of course, the trek ended with a sprint to the car and some real food. 

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Top of the Rock

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Top of the Rock

Yesterday (Thursday), at 2:30 pm, I topped out on the Nose, 3000 feet above the valley floor. Below are my thoughts at 2am the morning before the summit push, along with the main entry. Due to wifi deficiencies I could not post this until now. 

••• 

Climbing the largest granite monolith in the world makes me feel small. While I am trying to sleep on the creaky and wobbly portaledge, I can't help but notice that I have a view of the stars unlike one I have ever seen—a view that, when coupled with my location, makes me feel even more minuscule. All around me, it's near pitch black, and above me there's nothing but a giant starlit sky... Speaking of the portaledge, after seeing it collapse twice while it was being set up, I decided to leave all my gear on, including my ascenders and belay device and daisy chains. I kept my anchor point so tight that it lifted my waist slightly out of the ledge. In the middle of the night, I was too scared to go to the bathroom for fear of the ledge flipping over. 

••• 

What did I find on top of the climb? Nothing beyond what I expected: my dad, pine trees, bushes and an incredible view. In the end, I didn't climb The Nose to reach a summit. In fact, there really isn't a summit. Because of this, climbing in The Valley is certainly more about the challenging journey up than simply reaching the top. I guess the climb was part physical challenge, part adventure, and part awesomeness. After seven more steep, overhanging pitches from Camp V, I now stand on relatively flat ground, back in the real world. It reminds me that with climbing, you live on freeze-dried food ("Kathmandu Curry", "Spicy Indian Feast" and "Chicken Teriyaki"), and a lack of bathrooms, a bed and any other comfortable items. Still, the absence of these things make the experience like nothing you can find in daily life—something almost other-worldly. Furthermore, climbing has allowed me to spend time in the fresh air—a whole lot of fresh air. As I approached the top, I noticed a plethora of wild flowers clinging to nothing but thin cracks, changing in color just as the geological composition of the granite changed. When I was on the portaledge, I also saw more stars than ever before. It's these pleasant surprises, coupled with the view and the thrill, that have made El Cap pretty awesome. 

We reached the summit with hours of daylight left, after the steepest pitches of climbing yet. I struggled with soreness and nervousness, along with challenges passing fixed gear on roofs and taking mini swings into the air. I even needed to re-aid a roof section as my rope would not fit through my lower-out ring. What's the most crazy is the fact that you can't see the summit until the last five feet of the climb, so I kept guessing how much farther I had to go.

The descent turned out to be the most brutal part, with 50 pound haul bags, rapelling and endless switchbacks. Back in the valley, I soon was reminded of all the commotion and how many people are here, along with what flat ground feels like. My sleep cycle has changed, and I am rediscovering real food and these things called mattresses...

Of course, I would like to finish this journal by saying thank you to my guide, Mark, my mom who dropped me off, and my dad who picked me up, those who donated to Bay Area Wilderness Training, and my trustworthy solar panel that kept me connected to the world. 

What's next? Three days of break then back to Yosemite and work in Mammoth! 

More hanging belays than not  

Just a little exposure

The Great Roof

Smiling on the outside, filled with fear on the inside. Having fun nonetheless!  

At the top!  

(Not) ready to go down. Thanks dad for coming up to carry some of my stuff. 

With Mark 

Photos by Mark Grundon and Tom Evans

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Cooper, Ned and Camp V

Aid climbing involves cycles of physically challenging activity and waiting periods. It is these waiting periods, coupled with a 2000 foot drop that make the mind do strange things. To pass the time, I started to name all my climbing gear. We are using two identical haul bags, so I named them after my two identical black labs, Cooper and Ned. Just like Ned, one is worn down and old, while the other is relatively new. My carabiner is William, and my belay device is Pat, short for Un-PATented. As for the climbing, today involved some tough, technical terrain involving swinging, traversing and zigzagging. We started at 6am and did the King Swing as well as the traverse under the Great Roof. Another 8 pitches down and 7 to go! Sorry pictures may not upload—service is almost nonexistent. 

A little tired and a little nervous at Camp V

A little tired and a little nervous at Camp V


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Warning: Climbing Is Dangerous

Probably on about pitch 8, 1000 feet up, while standing on a belay ledge a square foot in area, the wind began to pick up. I pasted myself to the wall, not looking anywhere but up. While belaying, I noticed a sling that read: "warning, climbing is dangerous". At that moment I laughed a little; here I was at an incredible elevation on a tiny ledge attached to the rock with a piece of metal. Early, around 6 in the morning, I had ascended 500 feet in one push. After that, I climbed a 5.9—in approach shoes. Almost every belay station was hanging. The tiny little tag with its warning message seemed so meeble, so pointless, considering my circumstance. Nonetheless, the elevation stopped worrying me. It's now something like an airplane—you're so high up it doesn't matter. What really scares me are the jet-force winds that pick you up and make everything hard to do and everything hard to hear. 

Today, we finished on El Cap Tower, twelve pitches in and about ~1500 feet up. Tomorrow includes the Texas Flake and King Swing. I'm not sure how I'm going to like a swing 2000 feet up. Setting up the portaledge now, and I just found out that I'm sharing the wall with Alex Honnold! Anyway, it was a great, long day of climbing and I look forward to what's more to come. 

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Sickle Ledge

We started the day by carrying another thirty pounds of gear to the base at seven in the morning. The climb started with a nice series of four pitches (~400 feet), of which required some swinging on the ascenders and some hanging belays. Climbing was straight forward without a haul bag, although I carried a backpack and a rope backpack and another rope, which made traversing foot-wide ledges precarious. By noon, we had climbed 400+ feet and Mark lowered me back to the ground on his 600 foot rope, which took ten minutes. He then spent two hours hauling the gear up to the ledge while I worked from below to make sure the bags did not get stuck on any overhangs. Joining us on the Nose were two German parties, some French parties (although it might just be one; they are really loud so it's hard to tell how many there are) and some college climbers. After climbing, I learned that there is a team attempting to climb both El Cap and Half Dome in a day. Meanwhile, my mom ended up climbing a five pitch (600 feet) classic route, The Nut Cracker, to pass the time. 

Tomorrow I will get up at 5:30 to ascend back up the fixed rope and continue to El Cap Tower where I will spend the night. Much more elevation gain to come tomorrow and the next days. Tonight is my last night on solid ground (and ~7000 feet elevation) until at least Thursday. I better not forget the toilet paper! 

View from Sickle Ledge, 4 pitches up

View from Sickle Ledge, 4 pitches up

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The Good and the Bad

Starting with the bad: it's hot and it's crowded. Everyone sticks to the road, so at least it's not hard to get away from people. The heat is unavoidable, but the wind keeps it less stuffy. Speaking of the wind, I now think that it'll be more scary than the heights, as it will blow all our gear around and make it hard to stick to the wall. I also saw a dog owner let his dog "go" in the river, three feet up stream of two swimming kids. I watched in horror as the "brown logs" floated into the innocent swimmers. Bad nature etiquette seems prevalent here. 

The good: training only lasted for an hour this morning as it was all review. I biked around 20 miles today carrying 80 pounds of gear to the base of the climb as my guide, Mark, can't drive me around due to guiding policy. I discovered some amazing trails while roaming around. Some statistic stated that 95 percent of visitors don't venture a mile up any trail. I think it should be revised to something like 85 percent don't venture 20 feet from the road. It was amazing seeing Half Dome, El Cap, the Cathedrals, Lost Arrow and all these other faces from amazing perspectives, without people, and just a walk from the road.

While bringing our gear to El Cap, we saw people rappelling from the summit on a 3000 foot long rope (which must weigh several hundred pounds). The common rope length is around 180 feet. We caught the rappellers at the bottom and learned that the trip from the top can take 30 minutes and is dangerous due to the fact that the friction on the rope can burn through metal. Anyway, tomorrow we will climb four pitches, which are perhaps the hardest in terms of bringing our gear up—part of this is the terrain, but also because we will have seven gallons of water which will get lighter as we go on. Tomorrow will also be expedition-style where we will rappel on a 600 foot rope to the bottom after a day of climbing to spend the night out of the wind. Two days from now we will be off the ground for good for the remaining three to four days. 

 *As I will be not high enough for service nor low enough for wifi tomorrow, I may not be able to get a post in. 

Beaches along my bike trail

Beaches along my bike trail

El Cap above a beach  

El Cap above a beach  

The Nose up close. Try to find the climbers!  

The Nose up close. Try to find the climbers!  

 

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In Yosemite Valley

Made it to the valley after seven hours! We took a one hour detour to Glacier Point to see the valley from above. After that, we drove to Cathedral Beach to look at El Capitan through telescopes. I forgot how many people are in this valley, and that there even is a rush hour. The Nose looks fairly crowded and the hot weather and fires on the way in were slightly discouraging. Service is non existent and the wifi is overused—there are tons of people in this one tiny building trying to do business and stuff on their computers! Training starts tomorrow and hopefully will only last for one day as I'm ready to get on the wall. 

 

Glacier Point

Glacier Point

Pointing at The Nose

Pointing at The Nose

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Summer, Day 1

School has just ended and I am already packing for my first trip—El Cap! I'm leaving tomorrow so today has been all about packing and setting up this blog and finishing some work (I will be in the Sierras for 28 of the next 31 days). I've also been studying the topography of the route, and I now fully understand the implications of climbing such a big face. Food, water, clothes, gear and waste all need to be carried up and out and I will be without running water for around five days. The Nose on El Capitan is highly technical and will require two training/review days prior to the start along with the use of several traditional racks (look up cams, nuts and tricams). Personally, I am most worried about the height and hanging on little pieces of metal 3000 feet up. I will be bringing a solar panel so hopefully there is service so I can keep you all updated, and ledges large enough so that I am comfortable pulling my phone out. Anyways, happy summer! 

Topo map, +/- 34 pitches

Topo map, +/- 34 pitches

The pile is growing  

The pile is growing  

      Summer has just commenced with my participation in the Neill Advanced Sailing Clinic in Chicago. With great conditions complete with rain and thunder, I genuinely enjoyed the new setting away from sunny California. Now, after four days left of school, I will head to Yosemite and Mammoth for four weeks to spend time climbing, backpacking and interning with the US Geological Survey.   Here's an update on my first challenge—climbing The Nose on El Capitan:  The week of June 20, I will attempt to climb El Capitan in Yosemite Valley via “The Nose” route. The Nose is 3000 feet high and requires 31 climbing pitches over the course of four days and three nights on the wall (yes, I will be sleeping on the wall). The Nose is often described as the best rock climb in the world due the considerable physical and psychological challenges presented by the route and the pure aesthetics of climbing El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.   In addition to challenging myself physically and mentally on this climb, I’ve set the goal of raising money for a very special organization, Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT). BAWT was founded with the goal of connecting youth organizations, especially those serving disadvantaged youth, with California’s amazing wilderness areas. BAWT provides professional wilderness training and gear to help organizations create programs that get kids into the natural areas of California. Each year, thousands of kids experience California’s natural areas because of the efforts of BAWT and its supporters.   Given the role that the outdoors has played in my life, especially the outdoors in California, BAWT is the perfect organization to support with my El Capitan climb.   I hope you’ll consider helping this effort with a donation to BAWT. My goal is to raise between $5,000 and $10,000 for BAWT. To help, please use the following link and contribute whatever amount you can. All contributions are fully tax-deductible. Donate  HERE . Also, please share my effort with your friends, family, and co-workers. 

Summer has just commenced with my participation in the Neill Advanced Sailing Clinic in Chicago. With great conditions complete with rain and thunder, I genuinely enjoyed the new setting away from sunny California. Now, after four days left of school, I will head to Yosemite and Mammoth for four weeks to spend time climbing, backpacking and interning with the US Geological Survey. 

Here's an update on my first challenge—climbing The Nose on El Capitan:

The week of June 20, I will attempt to climb El Capitan in Yosemite Valley via “The Nose” route. The Nose is 3000 feet high and requires 31 climbing pitches over the course of four days and three nights on the wall (yes, I will be sleeping on the wall). The Nose is often described as the best rock climb in the world due the considerable physical and psychological challenges presented by the route and the pure aesthetics of climbing El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. 

In addition to challenging myself physically and mentally on this climb, I’ve set the goal of raising money for a very special organization, Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT). BAWT was founded with the goal of connecting youth organizations, especially those serving disadvantaged youth, with California’s amazing wilderness areas. BAWT provides professional wilderness training and gear to help organizations create programs that get kids into the natural areas of California. Each year, thousands of kids experience California’s natural areas because of the efforts of BAWT and its supporters. 

Given the role that the outdoors has played in my life, especially the outdoors in California, BAWT is the perfect organization to support with my El Capitan climb. 

I hope you’ll consider helping this effort with a donation to BAWT. My goal is to raise between $5,000 and $10,000 for BAWT. To help, please use the following link and contribute whatever amount you can. All contributions are fully tax-deductible. Donate HERE. Also, please share my effort with your friends, family, and co-workers.