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Bifecta Attempts (i.e. Two long routes in a day)


 

by Karl "Baba" Bralich

December 29, 2001

I had informally, just mentally really, formulated a goal for myself: to climb two solid Yosemite grade 4s in a day by myself. In 1995 I had managed, by the end of the Summer, to solo the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral, the East Buttress of El Cap, and the N.E. Buttress of Higher Cathedral. After each climb, I managed to climb up and then downclimb the Royal Arches later in the afternoon. It was the perfect embracing of Yosemite, encompassing over 45 pitches of mostly easy climbing without even having to wake up early or climb into the dark. In 1996, I wanted to link up two of the harder routes instead of the Arches.

Now I didn't free-solo those routes. I roped up for most every pitch 5.9 or harder. If there were tricky moves here and there, I would protect those moves with pieces attached to a daisy-chain/screamer set-up. (I haven't worked out the physics of how well the screamer would lessen the shock of a short fall on non-dynamic webbing. You should regard this technique as little more than moral support until proven otherwise) There were, in fact, sections of each of those routes that I cheated like a bastard on. My motto is: I'm not getting laid or paid for climbing . I am just going to joyously sink my hands and feet into the rocky orifices of Ma Nature in a way that feels good and keeps my ass in this world.

Although I am preaching a non-competitive attitude, I admit that adventure often consists of biting off more than you have ever chewed. It takes wisdom to know yourself and know if the motives for any given goal are in the spirit of adventure, or just stupid ego. There is bound to be a little of both. We are creatures who think about ourselves constantly, and seek to validate our lives by proving, to ourselves and others, that we are special. It is one thing to slave away getting a Ph.D., babe wife, prestigious job, or what have you, in order to feel like you are a success in this world. It is quite another thing to make a nasty mess at the base of some climb trying to prove to yourself that you are a hardman. The first way wastes your life in a slow and tedious manner, and the second way wastes it in one quick Ker-splat!

Anyway, being really single for the first Summer in a number of years gave me the time to weekend-warrior myself into reasonable shape. I figured I could probably tick off my two grade 4s without serious meltdown. The first attempts were a little half-hearted; mostly unsuccessful attempts to talk myself out of bed in time to make it happen. I would wind up heading up to the East Butt of Middle around noon and take my time moving up the route deliberately, trying to be "One with the Moves". I would chat with the parties I would meet up with, and everyone was cool about letting me pass. I sometimes rope-soloed the fifty crowded variation (10a) to pass parties that always seemed to be backed up at the 10c bolt ladder pitch. Finally, I learned to cheat my way up the bolt ladder and was able to do the route without a rope; a major time-saver.

I don't know if this happens to anyone else in Yosemite, but when I get in some hairy, sketchy spot, there always seems to be some siren going off or some helicopter flying by. Twice that happened on the 5.7 face climbing pitch above the crux, and later in the pitch I was almost extinguished by either rockfall or dropped gear. Once, a water bottle with a 'biner clipped to it hit the rock six inches in front of me and bounced over my head. When I caught up with the party who dropped it, it turned out to be some folks I knew, and there were no ill feelings. After all, if I am going to solo some popular route late in the day, what do I expect? Nobody tries to throw off their 'biners and nalgene bottles.

It was getting later in the Summer and I set off on the East Buttress of El Cap. By the end of the season, some of those face pitches get remarkably greasy. The first time I solo a route like that, I take it real seriously and fight to the summit. Somehow, I always expect it to be a piece of cake the second time, but I'm always surprised when it's almost as hard as the first time. If fact, I usually cheat more the second time because I don't feel like I'm proving anything. Many of you who have done that second (10b+++) pitch on El Cap East Butt know that sometimes you have to cheat.

It wasn't the earliest start, but I got down to Manure Pile Buttress on the descent in just enough time to head to the other East Buttress if I was so inclined. There were a couple of guides there teaching two of THE most attractive women to climb. This subtle distraction was all it took to get me thinking, "I spent most the day by myself, work, work, working all alone on the stone, why do I want to hike up another dusty trail and climb another dozen pitches?" Another successful failure caused by my mind on a foolish project concocted by my mind. I just wasn't being uptight enough with myself to accomplish my fruitless missions.

Well, days were getting shorter and I was taking one last shot at bifecting some routes. I reckoned that if I soloed the NE Buttress of Higher Cathedral, then the East Buttress of Middle would be right there on the descent. That eliminated a major lazy obstacle in my mind: the pain of two separate approaches. I was supposed to meet the legendary and notorious Inez, Brutus, Slime, and Coomer in the campground later. I probably thought I might as well have some swaggering story to tell.

For once, I was hiking up the approach while it was still dark. (maybe it was just staying dark longer) Anyway, I had already humped up the steep approach for an hour when it started to get light. The gradually increasing light revealed the reason for the nagging lack of stars that night: good grief, it was cloudy!! Now, if it was that cloudy and I was at the road, there is no way I would head up the trail, but because I had already humped for an hour, I seduced myself into thinking it probably wouldn't rain, not rain soon anyway. I might as well finish the approach, and see how the weather looked then.

At the base of the climb I told myself I could easily back off the first five pitches of the route. I should just start up and maybe the clouds would just burn off. The Northeast Buttress is burly and steep; the main point for me was conserving energy so I would be able to crank the second route. I used my legs as pawns, protecting my vulnerable arms. The weather was just good enough to keep me going past the point of no return. After turning back with one rope seemed too epic, the weather was free to get more and more threatening until about three or four pitches below the top, I felt a drop or two. That hurried me up, and I topped out at about 1:20. At about 1:30 the rain started enough to get the rock wet. I was grateful to be on top. I enjoyed the rain-wrought freshness on the descent. Maybe I was relieved to have an excuse not to start another long route that afternoon, but at the same time, I had already done two-thirds of the work! I reminded myself again how I was making the rules for myself, climbing for my own edification and fun. "Idiot! You're not getting laid or paid for this. Why not enjoy the moment in its fullness as dictated by present circumstances?"

I hiked down amidst pleasant sprinkles until I reach my van. Shortly after, it was pouring rain like crazy. Minor epics seem to have this in common for me: I suffer as much adventure as I think I need and deserve.

I found Inez and Krew in the campground later and had an evening complete with good company, good food, and drink to boot. So much good climbing adventure, natural beauty and life, and good people in one day! If I find myself in great shape next Spring, and haven't had enough climbing after one route, maybe I'll keep going. Otherwise, whatever the day brings is just fine with me.

Afternote: Later, I managed to solo up Royal Arches in 52 minutes after waking up so late, and farting around so bad, that I still didn't have time to continue to North Dome. That was much faster than I had done it before, so I timed myself downclimbing: 58 minutes jungle to base. Then I started thinking; 45 minutes might be possible, maybe 35 or 40 if I ran on the fourth class and rushed at irresponsible speed the whole time. What if I ran across the slabs near and at the top?........ The point being: we are our own worst enemies and we make all kinds of trouble and trauma in our lives just because, deep down, we thrive on it.



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