My First Epic

Friday afternoon I was packing and prepping to leave for the weekend to go run a half marathon and climb Yosemite.  As I made a quick visit to my Uncle Joe, who got to town as I was heading out, I chugged a Redbull and then I was off to the races towards Rem’s house to finally head out. The adventure had begun. As I began the drive with shaking hands, I quickly realized that I needed some food to adequately prepare for my half marathon and also counteract the incredibly high amount of caffeine rushing through my veins. In-N-Out Burger it was!
Around 12:30 am, Rem and I arrived in Oakhurst, right outside of Bass Lake. With nowhere reasonable to camp and my alarm to get up going off in under 4 hours, we needed a place to park. Since the shuttle to the marathon was located at the elementary school, that’s where we drove. I was a little nervous to car camp there, but I REALLY needed the sleep. We found the darkest corner of the parking lot and attempted sleep. As I lay in my sleeping bag, half sleeping, half dreaming about the marathon, I watched a pair of headlights start making a sweep of the parking lot. It was around 2:00 am, and it was a cop. Panicky, I hid under my sleeping bag and watched the window as it lit up with lights.  The lights stayed focused on my car and the car parked next to us and I knew it was a waiting game.  That cop was waiting for me to get too curious and poke my little head up to see what the commotion was. I held strong and also held my breath so as not to make any noise. I know holding my breath probably didn’t make a difference, but after a three minute showdown, the cop drove away, satisfied that the cars in the parking lot were empty. I had done it! On that adrenaline rush, I went back to a fitful sleep for two hours.
4 am rolled around and my alarm went off. I had to load the shuttle at 4:30 am in order to get my bib and other materials for the marathon, and I was PUMPED! I pulled on my shoes and jacket, threw on my Camelbak to run with, and set off towards the shuttle. My headphone jack in my phone is dead after the whole Dropping My Phone In A Full Cup Of Coffee bonanza, so I borrowed Remington’s phone and set mine with an alarm to go off every 5 minutes starting at 7:30 am. After all, Rem did promise to wait at the finish line with a beer and I am fast! 😉  As I walked towards the shuttle, I realized that I am the only person in America who is cheery at 4 am. I said good morning and smiled and laughed as I trotted towards the shuttle, bringing looks of surprise and anger as the fellow runners lamented about the early hours of the morning, asking themselves why they were putting themselves through this. I hopped on the shuttle, got the last available seat, and beamed as I was bound towards the start line.
Upon arrival, I gained my bib and shirt for the race, and realized I had a full hour and a half until the start of the race. It was also a chilling 30-something degrees outside! However, there were two big campfires going for warmth. I charmed and joked my way to the front until I was next to that fire and surrounded by new friends from all over the country. Now, all of these city people were NOT familiar with fire etiquette. As an enormous log burned, it was sticking out of the pit about 3 feet. A woman leaned against this flaming log of glory and you will never believe what happened.  As we watched, horrified, the log tipped upward out of the fire pit and in a flaming ball, flipped downward on to the ground. As it fell, it swiped a young boy of about 9, who was just as shocked as the rest of us about the fact that a woman thought it was okay to lean against a FIRE!  After ensuring that the little boy was okay, I picked out the flaming log and put it back in the fire to the cheers of those around me. Everyone else was scared and panicked, and I came through and saved the day. As I put the log on, I asked the crowd to please not lean on the fire logs and they all laughed quite a bit. I was named keeper of the fire and I got to keep the sweet warm spot for the remainder of my time there. It was a jolly environment and we all got pumped for the race. I made a morning person out of everyone there!
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The race started at promptly 7 am and I was off. Because of my sprained ankle issues over the last month, I have not trained at all. By mile 8, I was hurting. My hips felt like I was 90! Other than that, however, my knee was great, my breathing was steady, and my legs strong. I finished the half marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes for a successful race. At the finish line, Rem was waiting for my with a nice cold beer. Wowie! Let me tell you, the delightful taste of that beer rivaled the Coors I had chuckar hunting after my dad denied me water for the last mile of our hunt. Things are better when earned, and those two instances of beer are prime examples!  A man walked up to the 2 of us, also just having completed the half marathon and “Said, oh boy, do you have any more of those? I will give you $20 for a beer, right now!”  Unfortunately, we did not come equipped with multiple beers, so our chances at 500% profit on resale died away with that poor man’s hope for a beer.
After the marathon, I realized that I had forgotten to eat breakfast! I was starving and exhausted off of 3 hours of sleep, and the only thing in my car was cheese and Redbull. I scarfed it down, then we grabbed a real breakfast on the lakeside at the only restaurant we could find. The lake was crystal clear and still, reflecting the hills around it.  Beautiful was an understatement.  We made our way through the valley in to Yosemite and settled in near El Cap for some crack climbing to warm up for the following day. It was slippery and difficult, but a very fun climb. I was more sore than ever that evening as we set up camp in Yosemite Valley.
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The next morning, we prepared for the 15 pitch, 1700 foot climb up Royal Arches.  It is across the valley from Half Dome with sweeping views of Yosemite Valley. This was where the real fun began.  The first pitch of the climb is about 120 feet up in a chimney crack. Basically, it’s a crack inside of a chimney section, where we squeeze between the two rock faces to get to the crack. Because it’s such a popular route, the granite is as smooth as a counter top and rather challenging to climb. Pitches 2-5 were where we simul-climbed. We attached the rope to ourselves 30 feet a part and climbed at the same time. These pitches were fairly easy and gave us a rest as we prepared for the more difficult climbing. At pitch 5, we stopped and waited, as there were two rangers climbing in front of us and an even slower party of 3 in front of them.  Remington and I climb pretty quickly, so the waits on the climbers in front of us were kind of a bummer.  Looking back, we could have finished this climb before nightfall without the parties in front of us to cause the wait time.
The 6th and 7th pitches were finger cracks. I had simply the ends of my fingers wedged in as I shimmied up the wall. By the end of the 7th pitch, we were almost 900 feet up the wall!
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This continued with various types of crack climbing with each pitch until the 10th pitch. On that one, there is a rope tied permanently in to the wall as a pendulum. This was the scariest part of the climb to be a following climber on. I tied the rope in to my harness, walked back a few steps, and then ran to the edge of the shelf I was standing on, swinging about 10 feet across (like a monkey) to the next shelf. At this point, I had to take one hand off the rope and grab the shelf with my fingers! I barely made it far enough and pulled myself up until I could grab it with my other hand. The shelf is about 3 inches out off of the wall, so I had to stand while hugging the wall to keep my balance. Once fairly stable, I untied the pendulum rope from my harness and continued on. This 3 inch shelf continued about 120 feet until I was back on easier rock.  Even though Rem had placed pieces and I wouldn’t fall more than  7-10 feet if I tripped and fell, looking down the sheer face of the rock as I tightrope walked the shelf brought pure adrenaline pumping! It was an incredible view and an incredible feeling to overcome that feat! It’s the closest I have come to getting actually scared while climbing. Almost! 😉
The start of the 11th pitch was when we both ran out of water. We had each packed 2 liters up, as there is a stream at the top that you can refill water bottles in and drink from safely, so there is no need to carry more.  The fellow climbers and rangers had told us it would be easily accessible after our climb.  Little did we know, this was not the case. Pitches 12 and 13 were a breeze with perfect jug holds off of the cracks the entire way up. They were actually my favorite pitches of the climb because that’s when the views were the best and the sunset had begun, The colors were vibrant and the sight of the sunset over Yosemite Valley was perhaps one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.
The last 2 pitches were a bit more stressful. I was thirsty, but that wasn’t too bad. We got out on a slab that was the wrong direction and ended up having to leave a trad cam in the wall because there was no safe way to get across without leaving it. That was a sad moment, as those pieces run about $60 apiece. However, it was a great reminder to us that safety is always more important than gear, and Rem didn’t even hesitate to leave the piece rather than have me try to rescue it.  The final pitch was short and easy, but with a disappointing end.  There was no stream of water at the top, it had dried up. The closest stream was 2 pitches away and it was dark out.  There was not a chance we were going to that stream, as it would leave us stranded up top overnight.
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As we set up the rappel station, the rangers we had been climbing being were also preparing to rappel down in front of us. The anchors on the rappel down zigzag, so it’s easy to get lost. We were rappelling on a double rope, so we went twice as far as the rangers each time we rapped, cutting the number we had to do in half. This seemed helpful, but really just made for a heavier rope and more work rapping down. Rem missed the first anchor on the way down, so we had to hop on the rangers rope to get to the third anchor and rap again. The rangers led, leaving us glow sticks along the way. It took 4.5 hours to rappel off the rock and we certainly would have been in for an interesting night without those rangers climbing. I got pretty sick on the rappel down, and was leaning over the opposite side of our rope throwing up. I think a half marathon and a 1700 foot climb in the same weekend might have been pushing it a little far. On the second to last rappel, there was a skunk in the tree we needed as am anchor. The rangers had mostly scared it away, but it scrambled up to another tree right by our rope. As I rappelled down, I could smell it getting closer and closer. When I made it past without getting sprayed, it was perhaps the biggest sigh of relief on the entire climb! Eventually, we made it down to the ground around 12:30 am. Throughout the rappel, I threw up, learned how to pee off a rock wall while in a harness, and navigated some down scrambling in the dark. It was a new and crazy experience, and I was pushed towards my limits like I’ve never been. Climbing is a relationship that really depends on trust between partners, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t do that climb with anyone else in this world. Wowie.
We focused on safety and triple checked our gear the entire climb and that was key to the success climbing and rappelling. However, having those rangers there was truly a gift from the Lord as without them, I don’t know how we could have successfully rappelled down in the dark.
That was the most fun, longest, hardest, and best climb of my life! Doing it directly after running a half marathon? Maybe that’s something I’ll change next time 😉
Please make sure my mother never reads this story.
From somewhere new,
Jess
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