Tuolumne Meadows

Clibming Tuolumne Meadows with Karl Baba ” The Bear”

Tuolumne Meadows

A few weeks ago my friend, John, and I went climbing with Karl Baba “The Bear”. I have always wanted to climb some of the classics in the Meadows but have never had the nerve and general skill to get myself up those run-outs without crying for mom. I had been lurking the web when I noticed that Karl could be talked into climbing some of the classics. Being as I was in terrible shape due to my work schedule and home remodeling effort I contacted Karl and asked if he wouldn’t mind climbing with a PNW Gumby.

He promptly responded yes, so I thought, what the hell, two Gumby’s are just as good as one and invited my friend too. I told Karl that my idea of a great climbing trip was that of climbing fun routes which where aesthetic and somewhat long with my best buds sharing the views and good times. In general, the routes would have to be classics whatever grade or effort required. I would rather climb a so-so route with a good friend then a great route with an person who was hard to get along with. I figured that after my latest flame feast on rec.climbing that I would have to be on my best behavior if I was to ever get anyone to ever show me the ropes in the Valley. So I behaved myself and I believe that I have left a few new friends in the Meadows.

After arriving very late into the night we were to meet Karl somewhere in the Meadows. We were very pleased to find that Karl, in his kindness, had left us a note that informed us where to meet him and that he had reserved a car drive-in campground spot near Tioga Pass. This was to save us some painful hours looking for the hopeless cause of camping at the midnight hour. After driving for what seemed to be forever, after 8 hours of missed airplane flights and 2 hours of lost luggage and 5 hours in the car we arrived at the campground and prepared to haul all of the stuff out of the trunk when Karl pops out from behind his van with a big smile and another surprise. To our delight he led us toa tent which he had pre-staged with sleeping pads and all. WOW!

Normally most trips which you return from are typically centered around the highlights of the climb, or least this is the case for myself when I tend to repeatedly climb with my typical partners. But there is something special added when you finally get to hook up with your long lost partner and some new friends to be (John and Karl).

John and I had hoped to escape the rain and clouds from Seattle as there had only been a couple of dry weeks the entire summer, but after awaking late the next morning Karl informed us that we might get rained on again depending on the luck of the draw. It seems that rain follows us Seattle guys wherever. Last summer we went to the Meadows and it rained off and on for 4 days so we went to the Valley where it never rains, guess what happened. To make it worse Seattle had the best weather ever. The weather once again tried to get us but after Karl joined us the rain went away. The weather was to be great wherever we went, bu ton the two days we left Karl behind it was bad weather and even snowed in a good sized thunder storm. What luck.

The climbing which we were to do the next couple of days was great and really fun, although fairly easy by Valley standards. But it was still to prove a challenge on occasion, since this was our first real climbing effort of the last 11 months. Very lame, I know, but sometimes life takes over. Karl had suggested that he bring us up to speed slowly so as not to totally spank us the first day. He also turned us onto the concept of kneepads and their advantages.

After a very late start, we climbed the West Crack on Daff Dome (5.9). This was a good easy climb to let us get acquainted and for Karl to see where to go the next day. Getting to the top was a cruise but getting off was another story. Karl suggested that since we were alpine climbers that the descent of the Daff would best be done via the road side walk off. He warned us that it was friction and a little exposed. This general idea was okay for John and I, but you must remember that this was the first climb we have done in a LONG time. You should have seen the look in our eyes as we peeked over the hold-less slope below, what seemed to go on forever. Karl, asked what we thought or should I say how we felt, .. gulp. We gave him the two thumbs up and over we went. Needless to say that about the halfway point though the difficulties John and I were a little stressed. Down we went, for what seemed forever, Karl would led us through the maze of friction and offered us kind remarks on how it was nearly done. Once at the bottom we promptly informed him that the Daff descent was our TOPLIMIT for frictional downclimbing.

Karl had earlier suggested that the Crescent Arch would be a great climb too but after the descent we would require another option off before we would tread on its summit again. Calling it a day, Karl was to weave his seductive ways of leisurely rockclimbing upon us unsuspecting alpine climbers. He suggested that we take a dip in the lake next to Stately Pleasure Dome to wash off and get anew. The lake was a great choice and surely left the sleeping bags a great deal fresher. After the swim, Karl began to rave about the Mobile gas station down the road. We didn’t know about this gas station food concept and opted for some real food at Tioga Pass Resort, TPR. The TPR food was okay but after he talked us into eating dinner at the GAS STATION we were hooked. The food is GREAT! Seriously gourmet and good prices too.

Later that night we were to meet his two good friends, John and Steve. Friends from their early Yosemite years when they all worked as Valley types. John was an Apple Computer guy from way back and Steve was a Medic/Fireman who once made some money long ago when Karl bet him he couldn’t climb 5.11+ even though he climbed much lower. They still continue to get together to enjoy the outdoors. These guys were great and were always in good spirits The evenings around the camp fires telling bad jokes and of hearing of the nightly hunt for mice in Karl’s van had us all laughing. Let’s just say that Karl has mice or should I say a herd of mice in his van.

He was up to at least 6 or seven KIA from various search and destroy missions. Every morning the group eagerly awaited the mornings death report. All Karl would say was he needed to get some more traps at the Mobile station, I think he only wanted the food and beer though. They were to tell us of some stories of Karl the proverbial Yosemite climbing bum, even from his youth. Such as how he hated to do any approaches, he would only do an approach if there was a climb at the end of it. John would say that he was the most single minded individual he ever knew when it came to climbing. Climbing was his life to the core.

The next couple of days we were to climb the North Face of Fairview Dome (5.9) and the Crescent Arch of Daff Dome (5.9) after getting Karl to promise we would look for an optional way off the dirty bugger. The Crescent Arch was to be one of the finest pure rock climbs I have ever done in my life. Was it ever cool. We were smiling ear to ear after finishing the route. The smile went away though as soon as the thought of the road side descent came back. To John’s and I pleasure though we found a rappel bolt of the back side of the dome and were able to scramble around the left side of the dome to regain our packs. A much safer way and requires no effort. (If it is wet though, the right hand descent after the rappel would probably be best as the left side is somewhat friction too.) I also met Ben Craft at the start of the route but I don’t know if he clued who I was.

Some more dips into the lake and some more trips to the Mobile station found us taking a leisurely day at Pywiack (SP) Dome where we did The Dike (5.9?) and Needle and Spoon (5.10a). Karl’s charms where beginnings to work. We were beginning to be pulled from our alpine routes to the no approach concept of rock climbing. The knee pads, lake dips and Mobile station food were not helping either.

For those of you who don’t know Karl, he is a man of very deep thought. He is not one to be easily out done in critical discourse. Sporting an advanced degree in the humanities and tempered with several years of corporate experience, Karl is sharp as a whip and will add much thought into those generalized statements one might tend to throw out there(Inez, I know, I know). Even John (my friend), who has several advanced degrees with the latest coming from one of the finest business schools in the nation and who is now a financial analysts at a leading firm in San Fran was impressed. As John stated, “Karl is not your typical climbing guy, he’s as smart as hell and has been around the world.” I would just say that from my perspective he is well rounded as an individual, both in thought and experience.

We were to also learn of his “animal names”. Karl has his own system of naming his friends and acquaintances. For instance the Bear, the Marmot, the Dog. I could never do his system justice and they are best left described by the master himself. I would just say that Baba The Bear is “a little bit lazy, wanders around, laid back, slow to anger but you don’t want to get him mad”. The final trip Karl would take us on was the Inverted Staircase on Fairview Dome (5.10b/c?). He thought we would like this as it had an alpine feel to it.

It did remind us of home at least the beginning of it, very solid rock, hand jams, finger jams, liebacks, face climbing, a little dirty, a little blocky, a little loose (for the Meadows) and long enough to be a challenge. The further we went up the harder it got with the climax being a exposed traverse and hard face climbing. The hard part, but not technical crux, being the route finding exit a 5.8traverse for a long rope length. With the hardest no-hands 5.8 (?)traverse every alpinist dreams about (nightmare).

The next day we opted for a alpine assent of the West Ridge of Conness via the Sierra Classics guide and the park’s handout map. Being rusty ol’ alpine climbers we decided that we didn’t need any better maps or beta for Sierra type climbs and headed down the trail for a one day climb of the West Ridge. There’s a PNW adage that goes like “piss poor planning immediately precedes piss poor performance”. Needless to say we went over the wrong ridge (well it looked high enough to be the summit)by turning too early to the left instead of going right up the obvious gentle slopes to the summit plateau. After a great deal of cussing for blowing our time schedule we finally reached the summit plateau by the long route and promptly declared that the park map sucked and the idea of carrying full packs on a sunny California meadows day climb sucked too. After walking over to the summit block to scope the route we got our first view of the route proper.

It was beautiful but at the same time it was becoming obvious that the route’s perceived difficulty and our very late arrival would put us late on the ridge and in time for the weather. We called it at that time, due to piss poor planning and walked up to the summit where we sat for two hours and greeted numerous elated parties finishing the West and North Ridge routes. We very depressed especially after viewing the West Ridge from the other side of the summit block where it became clear that the route was much easier than our initial vantage point. We had doubly lost the chance to summit it, the time had been there but it was lost again.

After licking our wounds we headed down into the oncoming tempest approaching. Now that Karl was gone, our weather curse had found us again and it was going to get ugly. By the time we reached the trail’s end a full fledged ice storm with snow and rain and lots lightening and thunder had escorted us back to the car. Off to the Mobile station we went. A few hours later we pulled back into camp were we found Karl nearly jumping out of his shoes to find us alive and well, and not stuck on the West Ridge covered in verglass and soaked to the bone. Big hugs for us and a great amount of relief in his face as he went over to his van’s window to pull off the paper message that stated he was heading up the Conness approach trail to find us or what was left of us. I think he just didn’t want to do the approach though. He instead promptly headed for the Mobile station.

The next morning we shook hands although he insisted to part with his ever kind bear hug and said goodbye to all. John and I stopped by for one last dip in the lake before the plane was to leave when we decided that our final goodbye should be via the West Country of Stately Pleasure Dome (5.7). Would you believe me if I told you that the weather turned bad again. With the descent once again unknown and rain threatening and the plane leaving in 4.5 hours we had once again brought our climbing vacation to it’s proper end. I should add that to meet and climb with Karl was truly a pleasure. He is a very safe and conscientious climber who is always wearing the proper hat and has the safety of his climbing partners first and foremost in his mind. John and I look forward to climbing with him again.

Thank you Karl.

Tom Rogers

Tom Rogers

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