California Diary Blog

Posted by George Ullrich
Wednesday 24th September 2008
  Here is a bit of a diary of my trip the California, May 15th to end of July, sorry it's a bit late.

After surviving 12 hours pressed against the window by a rather large woman, then getting scrutinised by the US customs and missing my connection flight, I finally arrived in San Francisco.
I was greeted by my climbing partner, Andy Owen, who had already been in the valley for a week. We drove the 4 hours to Yosemite National Park the following day and we wasted no time.
We promptly booked ourselves onto camp 4 and got stuck into some classics, such as Bishop's Terrace, Royal Arches, Nut Cracker, Serenity Crack and Sons of Yesterday. I soon realised I was not a natural crack climber, sugar if these are 5.9/10 what the hell is 5.11/12 gonna feel like?!

Sons Of Yesterday

Andy seconding the final pitch of Sons of Yesterday.


After 4 days of cragging, both Andy and I where keen to get stuck into the nose.

We planned to haul the bag up to Sickle Ledge a day before, so we would have a head start. The next morning we packed the bags and started hauling up to sickle. Two pitches up and we where overtaken by two Austrian day trippers, planning on climbing into the night. I was rather envious of them not having to haul a fuck off pig up behind them. Anyhow, we made it to Sickle soon enough where we fixed lines hoping to return the next day. However, rain had been forecasted for the next few days, just our luck! Our spirits where dampened as the heavens continued to pour for the next 7 days. After a short excursion to San Francisco, the clouds finally parted and we could get on our merry way.

The next day we jugged the lines to Sickle Ledge where we rose above the early morning mist to see the sun poking round the corner. It was here when I realised I had brought a reversino instead of a reverso, (schoolboy) oops! This of course did not fit our rope. Luckily, a kind chap who had been sleeping on Sickle Ledge offered me his. Anyway, I won't bore you with our 4 day slog up the nose. Basically it was bloody amazing and an absolute hoot, but looking back I don't think I could be tempted to climb any big walls again in that style, as I found out later in the trip it is much more enjoyable climbing light and free. 

Andy Owen just about to clean the great roof             

my cracked finger ‘nice'

It was soon time for Andy to head back to England, so I had to find a new climbing partner.  I bumped into Peter Rhodes in camp 4 who introduced me to Mason Earl, an enthusiastic, young American talent who has been living next to Indian Creek for the past two years, naturally crushing every crack in sight! Mason who still had his employee card from working in the valley last year invited at least 15 of us from camp 4 for a 50% off buffet in curry village.  Here I met a friendly Canadian called Simon who was up with the idea of going to do Astroman the next day, although I was keen I was feeling a bit drained after coming off the nose the previous day, so we settled with Astroboy, the first 5 pitches of Astroman. So much fun! (I vowed to come back and complete the whole route). After an ice cream, we went to check out ‘hang dog flyer' a really cool overhanging hand to finger crack below the royal arches. It was so strenuous because for allot of the way, to enable your feet to stick, you had to put them above your head on tiny edges. I returned a few days later with Simon, Mason and a German called Nico to finish it off. We all sent one after the other! Yeah!   

Hang Dog Flyer

Mason on ‘Hang Dog Flyer' 5.12c.

I had heard about a huge rope swing somewhere at the top of El Capitan and was asking around trying to get someone else mad enough to do it with me. I mentioned it to Mason; he was like "Dude, the porch swing! Lets go rig it tomorrow!" so that was that. We were up early to avoid the big slog in the mid day heat. We jugged the fixed lines onto east ledges and scrambled up onto the slabs above, we were almost at the visor (this is the launching pad for most base jumpers and where the anchor point is for the porch swing) when a grisly red faced man with rather short faded pink shorts on, steps out from behind a bush.
Mason informs me he is known as ‘pitons Pete.' He is a well known face in the valley usually spending all of his summers on the wall.
We ask him what he's been up to, and he says he just toped out after spending over two weeks guiding someone on a route called ‘Pacific ocean wall'. And I thought 3 and a half days was enough! 15 days hanging on a portaledge? No thanks! (Ha, he must have been averaging 1.5 pitches a day)
So, he asks us if we want to earn a bit of cash..."er... yes!"
"$20 each should do it, to move these two haul bags and ledges 200m down those slabs." We thought ‘yeah whatever, cant be that bad'... Looking back it is probably one of the stupidest things I have ever done. We were screwed!

Mason Earle Checking Out The Visor From A Distance

Mason Earle, checking out the Visor from a distance.

Anyway $20 richer, we crawled up to the diving board (just to the right of where the nose tops out) and assessed the situation.

The swing consisted of two strands of 100feet static rope, anchored to two bolts on the diving board. 100feet to the right there was a short bit of rope hanging a couple of meters off the edge of the cliff. A pretty simple set up so it didn't take long to rig. The idea is that you tie into the ends of the two long ropes attached to the diving board, walk 100feet to the right where the short bit of rope is hanging, here your ropes should be tight. And just abseil off the end of the short bit of rope!

Topo Of Porch Swing

Topo of porch swing

Mason Earle Padding Out The Porch Swing

Mason Earl padding out the ropes for the porch swing - link to a shot youtube video of the porch swing.

I was up first, wahoooo! It is so amazing flying through the air, 3000feet above the valley floor! Now I can see why it is wise to use the short bit of rope so you fall exactly parallel to the rockface, because for the whole swing you are only a couple of meters away from the rock. If you were to jump out you would be running the risk of hitting the face! We both hurled our selves of 3 or 4 more times usually screaming and hooting on the way down! What a blast!

Mason Earle In Mid-Swing On The Porch

Mason Earl in mid swing

It was time to head back down.

Next day we had a look at something on the other side of the valley, ‘Cosmic Debris'.  A splitter 5.13 finger crack, yellow alien size most of the way.  I found it desperate with my minimal crack skills fat fingers, I was slipping and sliding all over the spot taking whippers left right and centre!  Finally taking a chunk out of my finger I gave up.  Mason on the other hand styled up it managing to get it with one hang in the middle (He returned a few days later to send). I think we were a good team, Mason being a master with cracks and me, being more skilled with face climbing, both of us taking advantage of each others skills.

It wasn't long before we where getting withdrawal symptoms from the porch swing! We wanted to make it a bit more exciting - a rope jump! So with a couple of useful tips from Leo Houlding and some dynamic ropes, instead of static, we headed back up East Ledges to the visor. We rigged it a similar way to the porch swing, except there was no swing just a 25m vertical drop onto a single strand of climbing rope (backed up of course). For some reason I ended up going first again, I think I lost the coin flip. I was hanging on the end of the dead rope for about ten minutes before I plucked up the courage to pull the leaver on the Grigri to send me flying off the end of the rope. (Probably one of the most terrifying and spine-chilling things I have ever done) I let out a desperate scream as I hurtled downwards. Crack! The rope caught me. I was stunned! I couldn't believe what just happened! After seeing me have a successful jump Mason didn't hesitate. We switched the ends of the rope so, so he would be jumping on the un-stretched end. Whoosh he was off... falling, falling, falling, Crack! F**K S**T phew, he almost totally inverted, but managed to catch himself. Whoop. "I think that'll do us for today don't you?..."

I had organised to meet up with Dave Gill and his brother Neil in Bishop in a few days time. So I needed to make my way over the Tioga pass. This road passes through Tuolumne Meadows with the infamous "Bachar Yerian" route. This is the route that everyone had been talking about, I was told by Dave Birket that it is one of the finest routes he has ever done. It's on Medlicott Dome, on a perfect sheet of golden granite, in one of the most beautiful alpine areas in the world. I just had to do it! Mason was keen to head up there for a day or so having only been there once before.

The route was amazing; I led the 3 main pitches onsight with mason following. The climbing is characterized by pulling on a sea of chicken-heads or knobs, often the size of peanuts that stick out from the rock. It was very intimidating, because sometime you wouldn't be able to see the next bolt above you, until you had climbed maybe 4/5meters above your last piece of protection. With it being fairly early on in the season it didn't look as though anyone had climbed it this year as we couldn't see any chalk. Everything looked the same, finding a way up the wall was probably more of a mental challenge than physical, as it was almost impossible to tell which holds where good or if they where going to snap.

Mason Earle Seconding 'Bachar-Yerian'

Mason seconding the first pitch of ‘Bachar-Yerian'

After climbing it, we couldn't stop thinking about how hairy it must have been for John Bachar, who did the first ascent of this route ground up placing bolts on lead. This then got me thinking, would it be possible to climb it without using the bolts at all and just using small bits of chord to sling around the chicken heads. Knowing that I would be returning to Tuolumne, I was getting excited at the idea.

Mason headed back to the valley with a school friend of his who was around for a week. And I got a lift from Tuolumne to Bishop with Holly, who we had met in the valley.

I met up with Dave and Neil and was soon joined by Jamie Nicholson. We spent a week camping under a huge boulder.
Here is a selection of images from the week's escapades.

Image- Jamie Nicholson

(photo © Jamie Nicholson)

A view of the boulder field from the track, to the right of the picture you can make out Dave and Neil on top of the main Peabody boulder. Gives you a bit of scale huh.


(Neil Gill ©2008) check out for some stunning photography!

This is the huge cave we camped in, (in between two massive boulders) Dave on the left, me on the right.

(Neil Gill ©2008) check out for some stunning photography!

Warming down at the end of a pleasant afternoon session.

(Neil Gill ©2008) check out for some stunning photography!

This face caught my eye straight away, I was told by some of the locals that it hadn't been climbed before, at least it hadn't been lead/soloed. After working it on a rope and snapping a hold at the bottom of the route which made it impossible for me at the time, I decided to solo it but missing the bottom moves out with a ladder. Although I new that it wouldn't really 'count' as an ascent, I wasn't bothered. The climbing on the rest of the route was bloody awesome so I wanted to do it anyway. I guess the full ascent is still there to be taken, and I'd definitely like to go back to it one day. The route, the way I did it has a V7/8 section at about 8m and a V6 section at the very top, id say the route is about 16m high. I guess it would be about E8 the way I did it.

(photo © Jamie Nicholson)

The second ascent of footprints (or is it footsteps?) ground up. A really cool route with a steep V8/9 boulder problem at the start going into a technical highball slab about 18m high with the crux of the slab at about 16m.     

(photo © Jamie Nicholson)

David Gill crushing the well known ‘Iron Man Traverse'. This was in the mid heat of the sun, one of the only problems you could climb at midday, unbearable!

(photo © Jamie Nicholson)


At the end of the week we where joined by Mason Earle who was passing through to pick me up and continue on to spend some time in the needles. On our last day there we rigged a bitch of a highline in-between the two Peabody boulders. Photo above of mason half way across.

Me and Mason left the others to spend 10 days in the needles, 4/5 hours drive down south of bishop. We where impressed by the free camping and lack of tourists. From the campsite it's an hour's walk to the needles. What people tend to do is take all their climbing gear with them on the first day and leave it at the crag overnight. So all you need to carry out is your empty water bottle and garbage. We where gob smacked at the quality of the routes here, I don't think we climbed a route which didn't deserve five stars the whole time we where there! We spent most of our time ticking off the classics. Airy interlude, thin ice, Atlantis, Romantic Warrior, Sea of Tranquillity etc.

Mason Earle on Atlantis 5.11b

Mason making a very committing move on ‘Atlantis 5.11b', ha.

Mason Earle seconding Sea of Tranquility 5.12b

Mason seconding the main pitch of ‘Sea of tranquillity 5.12b'.

Then we spotted a line on the west face of the witch, It didn't seem to be in the guide book. It would link up the well known ‘Airy Interlude' with ‘Ankles Away'. We wrapped down it, and what looked like a crack from a distance, seemed to be a gutter type feature with a fine seem in the back. It was filled with mud and dirt, so gave it a good scrub. On first impressions it looked as though it really wouldn't go, it was completely blank! But we both had a go on toprope and after a lot of puzzling and working out we decided it would go. The gear was fairly marginal, tiny wires and a couple small TCU's in the seam. The route climbs the first corner of ‘Airy interlude' and breaks up and left onto the smooth slab, where if follows the gutter type feature for about ten/fifteen meters until it runs out. You then have to make a very precarious step left using a very smooth tiny crystal which connects you with ‘Ankles Away', follow it to the top. I tried it a few times on lead but every time I just seemed to be pealing off, it being such a balancy route relying fully on the friction of your rubber, I couldn't help blaming my shoes, by which point had two huge holes in the toes. On one occasion I fell 80feet down the slab stopping 10feet above the ground. We decided we would return later on in the trip to complete the route with some hole-less shoes and better gear, possibly some offset nuts.


Mason on the left and holly on the right who joined us for a few days.

After this trip to the needles, if was given a choice between The Valley and The Needles I'll hands down take The Needles. Beautiful green lichened rock in a more solitary environment. No tourists here! The rock is solid granite offering everything from hard crack to hard face, and no pin scars!

Back to Tuolumne, via the gear shop in the valley for some new shoes and shiny new offsets nuts. Here we met up with my sister, Eva who had come out for July, Jamie and the Gill Brothers again.

Mason Earle soloing 'Great White Book'

mason leading the solo ascent of the ‘Great White Book'

First stop an afternoon solo of the open corner of ‘Great White Book' (5.6) Stately Pleasure Dome. A pleasant but slightly spooky experience, or at least I found it spooky, mason didn't appear to be spooked in the slightest.

Next day we all headed up to Deimos Cliff to climb ‘Blues Riff', one of the best crack climbs in Tuolumne.

But for me the real Beef was on the Medlicott dome, I wanted to climb the ‘bachar-Yarian' without clipping the bolts and using purely natural protection. But before I wanted to attempt this I needed to refresh my mind of the route with the security of the bolts. So me and Mason set off again up the Bachar-Yarian but were stopped at the top of the second pitch by the ominous rain clouds approaching. By now I was confident that I could climb this, without using the bots, but compromised and decided we would use the belay anchors.

I bought some 4/5mm chord and made lots of little slings which I would use for slinging the knobs. I made some little sliders using duck tape and finger tape, so when I put the slings over the knobs I could synch them up tight, this seemed to work very well.

Anyway, next day I decided to do it. Getting past the crux on the first pitch felt a little shaky, but I soon got into the swing of things. I cant really remember much from the accent, as I was concentrating so hard, but one thing I do remember, half way up the second pitch, I looked across to the right of me to see Dave who as filming, almost passed out with his camera on his knee shaking a little. (‘hmm... maybe I should speed up a little', Dave had been hanging in his harness in the same place for at least two hours) Anyway I completed that pitch, which was most enjoyable if not a little scary. By now I was more mentally exhausted than physically. I continued up the last pitch, half way up, i realised I didn't actually have any decent protection to hold a fall and had only climbed the top section once before, after fiddling in a crap wire into a hole I was sketching and thought it sensible to clip the bolt a few meters up. A wise decision as I did not feel comfortable on the top few moves.

Crux Move on Bachar-Yerian

(Neil gill ©2008) check out for some stunning photography!

looking up at the crux moves on the first pitch of the Bachar-Yerian.

Second Pitch of Bachar Yerian

(Neil Gill ©2008) check out for some stunning photography!

Half way up the second pitch of the ‘Bachar-Yerian'.

We where all exhausted the next day so went and chilled by the river in the meadows.   

George Ullrich

hmm... relaxing

A really fun zipline which ended up dropping into the river, you had to time it right as its not that deep in some places... as we found out.

We spent a few more days' cragging and relaxing in the meadows, and headed back down to the valley where we had high hopes for the nose in a day.

As I had no experience with speed climbing, especially on this kind of rock, we decided we would have a test run and just climb to dolt tower (about a third of the route) and see where we where at. This way we could get a good idea of how fast and efficient we could climb and it gave us the opportunity to stash a bit of water at Dolt Tower so we would have less to carry on the day we did it. We used a method called short fixing which mason taught me, this sped up the process. We would lead in blocks, I would lead the first 20 pitches and mason would then lead the last 10 pitches which are much steeper. The leader climbs to a belay, pulls up the slack on the 60-meter lead line, fixes the rope to the belay, and then continues leading, on the section of slack rope (the danger here is that the leader has the potential of a very high factor fall onto the belay bolts). Meanwhile, the second jumars the pitch and, upon reaching the belay, puts the leader back on belay. This eliminates belay transitions and down time.

From our experience climbing to Dolt, we estimated taking about 12hours on the route, so set off at roughly 4.30am in the morning climbing the first 4/5 pitches by head torch. Climbing the famous stoveledge cracks in first light. My experience with this section was so much more pleasant than the last time I climbed it, 6 or 7 weeks previous, it felt like I could actually crack climb, I was running up it! it wasn't long before we where on the king swing, weeeee. We reached our changeover point just below the great roof in about 5/6 hours I think. Here we had a ten minute breather and stocked up on the sugar levels. Mason to lead, I could finally relax a bit, or so I thought. Jugging on this steeper ground was very tiring. Mason styled the great roof, pancake flake and changing corners, we where almost there. The bolt ladder, yippee! One last final push for the top, it felt like I was in slow-motion, that last pitch was so exhausting. We made it in 8hours 35mins. What the... we surprised ourselves, we had time to wonder down to the valley for lunch and an afternoon nap. "Or we could go and do half dome", yeah, nice idea... think id rather go for a nap.

We spent a few days chilling, slack lining over the river and rafting etc, before we thought it was time to go and deal with unfinished business at the Needles.

Mason Earle on 'Pulp Friction' 5.12+R

Mason on the first ascent of pulp friction 5.12+ R

check out for some stunning photography!

George Ullrich - Second Ascent of 'Pulp Friction' 5.12+R

Me on the second ascent of Pulp Friction 5.12+ R

check out for some stunning photography!

We both sent our project one after the other and named it ‘Pulp Friction', fantastic stuff. Finally my trip was coming to an end with only a week left, mason needed to head back to Colorado to catch a flight out to the alps, for a family holiday. Me, Eva, Neil and Dave opted to spend our last week in bishop.


Me and Dave checking out the possible new line.

I had been told by a local Kevin that there was one last unclimbed super highball project to be done. Perfect, this would be a great end to my trip. I found it, it was the most amazing smooth face, completely blank except from the odd tiny little edge dotted around the place. It must have been at least 18m high, with a nasty looking bouldery landing. I was a bit optimistic of whether it would be possible. But I think you get the most pleasure out of something when you think it's impossible and you finally do it. So I spent a few days with a rope on it, and finally managed to link it together, id say it was at least F8a+ with the crux being at about 14meters. The crux was such a crazy move, you had to lean to the right off a tiny edge, and almost get your body completely horizontal to reach the next hold. The hard bit was transferring your body weight onto this hold without swinging off. At the very top there where a few moves where the hand holds where so small you could hardly pull on them and you where just using them for balance pushing up with your feet, quite an intimidating position to be in with such a nasty fall potential.

We spent a lot of time in the coffee shop hiding from the midday head, where Neil was designing a website for Dave's film ‘call it what you want'.

I left it till the last day before I was going to try my project, so I could be as fresh as possible, but unfortunately on our drive up to the boulders Neil's car broke down and we where unable to make it up there! Oh well, perhaps it was fate.

We where rescued by man who was very generous. It was quite a funny actually (I wont go into the details). Basically he gave us his car for the evening so we could go and collect all our camping stuff which we had left near the boulders, tried to get us to stay at his house then gave us a lift to a hotel. (Who in the right mind would just handover their truck to a complete stranger!) We appreciated his great generosity.

Me and Eva headed back to San Francisco stopping off in mammoth with Dave and Neil to interview John Bachar. Anyway hope you didn't find it too boring reading this.

Back in England, and have since been on a DWS trip to Mallorca. And am just about to head down to Bangor, North Wales, to study design (sorry what was that? To study climbing)



Read more blog entries by George Ullrich

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