Yosemite Part 1: The Faces of Yosemite

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We arrived in Yosemite National Park, car cleaned and ready for the bear boxes. We entered with mixed emotions: excitement, nervousness and a bit of worry of where we'd be able to stay given the continually maxed-out campgrounds. But we were definitely excited to get on the granite! Because we are spending so much time in Yosemite, we have split this blog entry into two.

The Beautiful Side
No matter what people might say about the hordes of people, abundant regulations, and camping craziness of Yosemite National Park, the absolute stunning beauty of the rock walls, granite domes, immense waterfalls, verdant valleys and pretty damn good weather make this National Park truly a paradise on Earth. Of course, we were drawn to Yosemite for its climbing; it's the place – the climber’s mecca, and it is where modern climbing was defined. Climbing aside, the natural wonders of Yosemite are truly otherworldly. There’s a damn good reason that this place is as popular as it is!   

Half Dome, Yosemite's most famous landmark, looms over 4000 feet above the valley floor!
Yosemite defines world-class climbing!
Granite walls and spires around every corner. (From L ot R: Lower Cathedral Spire, Higher Cathedral Spire, Higher Cathedral Rock, Middle Cathedral Rock)

The Disneyland Side
Unlike any National Park that we’ve been to yet, Yosemite (particularly the Yosemite Valley) redefines visitor density, overpriced amenities, and tourist crowds.  There is a two-lane, one-way road that rings the valley – a two-lane road!  People stop in the middle of the road at any moment to gawk at wildlife, waterfalls or climbers on the walls, often not taking notice of the long stretches of turnouts.  There are two food markets in the Valley alone, a hospital, a drunk tank, several eateries, a mountain shop, a gallery, two lodges and hundreds of ugly white tents scattered around the valley for house folks who can’t get into a campsite (at a whopping $90/night!).
These "Camp Full" signs can be found throughout the Valley from May through September, and they never come down during this season!

The two to three-hour line to get a campspot at Camp 4 The popular trails get so backed up that groups queue up to pass slower groups.

The bears are so accustomed to human presence that they will cruise within feet of hikers, tents (with people in them) and navigate the crowded campsites with more ease than the rangers who manage the campgrounds! Already there have been over 120 bear incidents (bear box and car break-ins, etc)! There are new laws in Yosemite for climbers that long, potentially overnight climbs under 5.9 difficulty require people to climb with their bear canisters as bears have evidently been climbing up as high as 50 feet of technical rock to get to climbers' haul bags! 5.9?! A little inplausible, but I guess they have to draw the line somewhere.

A bear cruising by a climbing crag

But don’t let all these negative comments scare you for Yosemite. On the contrary, do some homework, come prepared and you’ll enjoy your visit even more! In fact, so many people come to Yosemite not doing their homework that you can easily find beautiful ways to enjoy the park with a little serenity.

After a few discussions with friends and other climbers, we figured out how to get a spot in Camp 4, the historic climber’s campground.  (Wikipedia has a great article on this intriguing corner of Yosemite Valley.) In Camp 4, we quickly made friends with two Swiss Germans that shared Campsite 16, Andy and Lieni (pronounced Lenny for us English-speaking folks that can’t say his real name).  

Andy and Lieni

Both were new to traditional climbing (basically necessary for climbing in Yosemite), but had solid climbing experience skills, great attitudes and adventurous spirits.  We climbing with them on a fabulous route (Central Pillar of Frenzy on Middle Cathedral Rock) and Lindsey quickly spotted Lieni’s prodigious butt.  Lieni is one callipygous boy (callipygous definition: having well-shaped buttocks). 

Andy giving the fist pump on the awesome pitch 2 of Central Pillar of Frenzy

At first, Lindsey kept it to herself, but after a few beers that evening, all discussion led to Leini’s well-formed rump.  From that point on, Lieni became known as (and became quite proud to be known as), THE Ass! Sadly, the two Swiss boys have headed off to continue their adventures in Utah, but we thoroughly enjoyed their company. (Sorry, ladies, no photos of THE Ass's arse.)

The Climbing Ratings
Yosemite is generally known for tougher climbing ratings than many other places (i.e. a 5.8 in Yosemite, might be 5,9 or possibly even a 5.10 elsewhere).  We had prepped mentally for this, but after climbing several routes, we found that the ratings really vary quite a bit climb to climb (like anywhere I suppose where so many ascents were done by different groups of climbers). Our theory, which we are actively evangelizing, is that ratings are quite dependent on when they were put up.  For example, ascents put up in the 60s and early 70s tend to be more old school ratings (harder/sandbagged) than newer routes. Moreover, the ratings vary based on who were the first ascentionists. Royal Robbins’ routes, and same for Kor and a few others, are often sandbagged while other climber’s routes are softer and more on par with the rest of the crags in the US.  But either way, if you’re coming to the Valley and have climbed plenty of cracks, slabs, and offwidths (a la Squamish, Index, Indian Creek, etc.), you’ll feel comfortable on the rating and the routes. If you come with a primarily face climbing background, it’s a good to ease yourself into the grades here.  

A classic “5.9” slab on Glacier Point Apron - Ben leading off the anchor on a 5.9 70-foot runout.

The famous mantle move on the Nutcracker

Tuolumne and The Valley: The Duality
Another famous area of Yosemite National Park is Tuolumne Meadows (~8500 feet) which is considerably higher in elevation than Yosemite Valley (~4000 ft).  Tuolumne is an alpine paradise of granite domes and peaks, open meadows and crystal clear tarns and lakes.  

The fabulous Fairview Dome!

Nevada Falls

We hooked up with our good friends, Ben Glenn and Eric Zamore.  We know these two rascals from Seattle, who have since moved to the Bay area; they drove out to Yosemite after work on Friday and the four of us headed out on a hike from Tuolmne Meadows to Half Dome and out Yosemite Valley.  

The dynamic duo: Ben, Director of Design at Linden Labs (Second Life) and Eric, Developer Extraordinaire at Facebook

The first day we had frankly miserable weather (cold cloudy weather which turned to snow in the late afternoon), but we arose to great weather on Sunday, which was perfect for Ben and Eric’s ascent up Half Dome.  The two of us passed on the ascent to save Lindsey’s knee the 4000+ foot steep descent; we are hoping to get to the top of Half Dome yet via one of the climbing routes that ascend the granite monolith.  

Cathedral Peak and Eichorn's Pinnacle

A raging fire and the bottle of wine we smuggled in a Gatorade bottle were the only things that kept us from diving into our beds at 5pm to hide from the snow and cold

Ben and Lindsey loving the view over Little Yosemite Valley – what’d you know, more rock to climb!

Ben Glenn and Eric on the summit of Half Dome

Looking down the face of Half Dome to the valley floor

Through Tuolumne Meadows and the high elevations of the John Muir trail, we had seen nobody. As soon as we joined up with the Half Dome trail, you couldn’t walk 3 minutes without having to side step around someone.  When trails get this congested, you see some pretty bizarre and scary stuff:

If I’m not mistaken, waterfall fatalities account for more deaths than any other cause in Yosemite National Park.  This photo helps explain why (note the fence and the folks who hop over this to get right besides the 300+ foot drop).

The ant trail up Half Dome. In the summer (as long as it’s not raining) there are hordes of folks pulling themselves up the cables of Half Dome.  With only a single-jfile line available, the congestion can sometimes lead to "trail rage" and downright dangerous situations. There are a few fatalities every year on this ascent and descent of Half Dome (there has been one already while we’ve been here).

Some of our favourite photos from Yosemite thus far

Lindsey loving the climbing life!

El Capitan has captivated Lindsey Saunders

Becoming one with the rock

Working the chimney high on Glacier Point

Lindsey and Liberty Cap in the background

Vernal Falls and the famous Mist Trail

Many more photos on Flickr:
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Where I stayed
Camp 4
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benglenn on

Great trip report!
Thanks for posting all the fantastic photos, guys! Love the shot of Lindsey in front of El Cap!!

It was a blast hanging out with you guys last weekend. I did a little research after being seriously sketched on Half Dome and in turns out there are surprisingly few fatalities on the cable route. In fact there's only been 3-4 deaths in summer season (when the cables are up) since the cable route was erected in the '20s! How that's possible given what a total gong show it is up there I'm not sure. Definitely recommend checking it out though!

benandlindsey on

Re: Great trip report!
We were surprised when we heard this statistic as well! However, last Saturday there was at least one more death on the cables (maybe two) during the crazy rain and hail storm we were all caught in (it was a hazardous day for us personally as well!). Certainly adds to the statistic!

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