A brilliant trip report from David Coley about climbing The Prow in Yosemite Valley. It includes a description of the route and what to expect, along with a suggested rack. Obviously you’ll need to try and source your own Zack to do the heavy lifting.
Zach seems confused. I clearly have no intention of going anywhere soon as I return to the counter for another cup of coffee, yawn, stretch my legs and relax.
We had met for the first time an hour ago at Camp 4, when Zach, hungry for a partner, pulled me from my bed with his enthusiasm. He was obviously stronger than me, twice as tall and half my age. Clearly the only way to play it is the wise-old-sage-routine. So I throw in the names of a few obscure knots and techniques. Unfortunately, he clearly knows what I am talking about, so the sage thing isn’t going to work. Time for Plan B:
How big is your haul bag?
Big. Really Big!
Excellent. You take that, and I’ll take my small one.
Back in camp we pack over lunch. Me going slow; Zach wondering just how late we might start. I have such a big sleeping bag that it takes up half my small haul bag, leaving little room for anything heavy.
I get my money back for the camping from Pinky and we have a long conversation about when she had been in England on holiday. Time pouring like sand through my fingers.
We finally drive out to the Ahwahnee Hotel, but can’t find anywhere to park. In the end Zach has to drive out to El Cap Bridge and get the bus back. I sleep in the shade “guarding” the bags from dragons or something.
We finally set off trudging through the woods at mid afternoon. It is hot, so we go real slow. Once at the base of the route (The Prow) evening is on its way, so we will not be going far. We decide to fix a few pitches, and rap back to sleep on the ground. (If you look closely you will find a perfect, flat bivvy spot in the grass). I set off up a beautiful hand crack, which seems a shame to aid, but freeing it would be way too fast. As Zach cleans and hauls his heavy bag of water and food (to keep it safe from the bears), I avoid any physical work by short-fixing (i.e. belaying myself using a grigri) through the next pitch. We rap as the first stars show.
Back on the ground I clearly smell too dirty to attract the mosquitoes, leaving Zach to take the full force of their attack.
The morning gives a perfect blue sky with the snow on the tops reflecting the rising sun. We jug yesterday’s pitches and I take the next pitch, which the topo says is the crux. This pitch is given C2+, but is safe if you have good trad skills and some small nuts, some offset nuts and possibly even offset cams, but the latter are not necessary. Using cam hooks once you are safe from cratering onto the belay ledge will make it more fun.
Zach then takes his block of pitches. He is new to this big wall game and doesn’t know how to short fix, so I make the decision not to tell him. This means he will also have to haul the bags on his pitches. After he has led all the reachy bolt ladders, it is my block up to where we plan to spend the night. Much of this part of the route is good fun C2, and why the route is a classic (just really test any worrying looking placements). Zach is enthusiastic for more, so does one final pitch. As I jug up cleaning what he fails to tell me is that he has placed a hook for protection at the start of a short traverse. I’ve never jugged with the rope hanging from a hook.
We set up my small one-person ledge, flop onto it and gorge ourselves on cans of peaches.
In the morning we are up at first light, eat the remaining porridge, pack, climb the final section of the route and start rapping down, picking our bags up when we reach them. Many pitches link on the way down with 60m ropes, making this quicker than walking, and we are back at the Ahwahnee by noon. Where we make maximum use of their rather nice washroom, and then take coffee on the terrace amongst the rich, clean, not smelly people. When Zach isn’t listening, I tell the family on the next table that he is is Alex Honnold, and I’m Tommy Caldwell.
Thanks Zach for making such a great partner and I hope you made it up The Nose!
Using a casual approach to Yosemite walls makes a lot of sense. On a multiday route in a safe environment there is less reason to rush than you might think. Your speed will be as much dictated by your head as anything else, and you will run into various frustrating things—like other parties, or a bolt you can’t reach—so being chilled is part of the game. Also you came to spend some nights vertical camping, so go with the flow. It doesn’t much matter if you start late, even in the dark. You just need to start in the right frame of mind. The worst that is likely to happen if the forecast is good, is that you get to spend another night on the wall—which is why you spent all that money on that portaledge.
The Prow, Yosemite (C2F 5.6) – the F means “fixed” i.e. it has a lot of fixed pieces, in this case heads. The route is 12 pitches, though many rap at the top of pitch 10 after the good climbing ends. It might be worth splitting the first pitch at the intermediate bolted belay to avoid drag. The walk-in takes 1.5 hours at a slow pace and is uphill but easy. It is hard to pass another party in the middle of the climb if you are hauling due to the stances being hanging, or near-hanging, ones.
The descent is either on foot down the North Gully, a right pain with a haul bag and dangerous if it is dark and you haven’t done it before, or by rapping. If rapping, do not take the bags higher than you need to. Rap with the bags as though there were a casualty using a Y-hang (see http://people.bath.ac.uk/dac33/high/10GettingBackDown.htm#simultaneousabseiling). The route overhangs, so the first person needs to descend without the bag (give them the rack) so they can easily swing into the belay (clip the rap lines into one of the bolts mid-pitch if you are losing contact with the rock). Dock the bags properly with a releasable docking cord and a backup at each stance.
It is possible that some of the heads are missing, so the conservative will take a few heads and a hammer, and learn how to use them before hand. However it is very likely that everything will be in place, or that you will be able to work around any missing heads, and hence not bother with the hammer.
1 medium pecker – optional (to place on top of a head as a hook if the cable has rusted through)
1 set of offset cams (including small ones) – optional, but very useful; if you don’t have any take some small cams
2 sets of cams, 0.3-4 inch plus one 4.5 or 5 inch
Assuming you are going slowly, a portaledge will be useful and fun. There is however a sit down bivvy at the top of pitch 3 and at the top of pitch 8, and as two ropes will reach to the ground from the top of pitch 3 and hence one can fix to there on day one, you can get away without a portaledge by simply suffering on the large but sloping ledge at the top of pitch 8. The route also makes an excellent in-a-day wall for those wanting to test their speed as it can be rapped from any point.