Los Alpinistas annual Soft Body Classic

1-9 Sep 2001 - by Richard j Hughes

The Los Alpinistas annual "Soft Body Classic", a climbing road trip for the rest of us, has become the event of the year to look forward to. Hardly anyone ever goes on this road trip and most of those who say they're going to go either fail to show up or depart peremptorily mid-trip, but those who tough it out have a splendid time. We try to find classic, easy climbs with short approaches. This year, however, we screwed up and included Mt. Starr King. The climb was easy enough, but the approach was heinous.

The full story, with photos, was once here: alpinistas.org/archives/2001/softbody/softbody.html

Plans were hatched over Wednesday evening beers to undertake the 2001 Soft Body Classic (01'SBC) again in Yosemite. The goal this year was to climb Cathedral Peak via its SE Buttress (III 5.6) and then climb Mt. Starr King by its SE Buttress (II 5.4). The actual date being the subject of some debate, Patsy and I decided to cover both likely weekends by spending the entire week between Sep. 1 and 9 in or around Yosemite.

We left San Diego early Friday afternoon, missing the bulk of the holiday weekend traffic. After an uneventful drive we met up with Alice Tseng in the Bishop ranger station and drove up the Buttermilk Road to spend the night. The next morning we drove up to the Horton Lake trailhead (8,000') to climb Mt. Tom (13,652') via its third class south ridge. This was an especially arduous hike given that we were all at sea level the day before. Mercifully, none of us got a bad headache. We descended via the west scree slope straight down to Tungsten Mine and completed the round trip hike in 13 hours. The south ridge is a fun third class scramble and the mountain has an undeserved reputation for being a slag heap. Besides, it's geologically interesting and it's massive when viewed from most any angle, but especially from Highway 395 as you drive north of Bishop.

We were getting ready to jockey the cars back downhill when Carl van Herreweghe called us on a Motorola FRS handie talkie. Carl had driven up to Mammoth the day before and was now heading up Buttermilk Road to join us. We rendezvoused and camped besides Buttermilk Road.

We had planned to climb Basin Mountain on Sunday, but now no way. We were still recovering from the hike up Mt. Tom. We called Patsy's mom on the cell phone. She told us that the power had gone out for about 6 hours the night before. The power outage had outlasted the UPS powering the web server (and the Padres game on TV). We must have spent well over an hour coaxing her on how to restart the server. Finally she said there's a whole bunch of writing on the screen. "What does it say?" "Logis" Login: Phew! It seems like every time I go away for a week or longer the server shuts down the day after I leave. When I got back I plugged the TV back into a regular outlet. Damn those Padres!

We started driving back up the road only to encounter an abandoned Ford Mustang blocking the road. The owners were nowhere to be seen, but there was a digital camera on the driver's seat. While Carl went looking for the occupants I used the digital camera to snap off a bunch of artfully composed pictures of the car blocking the road. A burly guy came hurrying back with his tatooed girlfriend and was really pissed off that I had been inside the car. I explained that I was trying to determine whether I could back it down the hill without the key, which I of course couldn't. He and Carl were yelling at each other. Carl pointed a finger at him, "I'll remember you". Not in the Kui Lee sense. It came close to a fist fight, but he drove off all the while noting how he was a native of Bishop and intimating he could act any way he pleased around us foreigners. What an asshole. I imagine he went ape shit when he saw those pictures I had taken on his camera.

We drove on to the McGee Lake Trailhead and hiked a ways up towards Humphreys, except for Alice who slept in her car. It's tough when you pass 30. Actually I can't remember. Maybe it was. Carl says it's tougher when you pass 70 though. We drove down to Bishop, to Eric and Lori Beck's house, who took us to look around Galen Rowell's Mountain Light gallery. Very impressive! Alice perked up since she's enrolled at Brooks Institute of Photography later thus year. And then we went to dinner at the Mexican restaurant just in back of the gallery. This was very good! Back at Eric and Lori's house we enjoyed showers and soft beds.

Next morning we took off to Clark Canyon, a volcanic climbing area just north of Mammoth on the slopes of Bald Mountain. This is a fun Sport Climbing area, featuring steep, well-pocketed volcanic tuff. Eric and I each led a couple of climbs. It hailed in the Sierras and seemed to rain all around us, but it only sprinkled on us on the hike out. We camped that night at nearby Big Springs campground. Eric and Lori drove back home, promising to rejoin us in Tuolumne on Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday we headed up to Tuolumne, paid the $20 entrance fee to our National Park, stopping to climb Golfer's Route, 2 pitch 5.7, me leading Carl and Alice and Patsy switching leads. This is a fun little climb. Patsy and Alice wanted to stay and TR Darth Vader, but Carl and I decided it would be better to drink beer by Tenaya Lake and gather intelligence on the climbs there. We all rendezvoused, at dark, at Porcupine Flat campground. This was $8 per night vs. $18 at Tuolumne, half of that with a Golden Age Pass. You do have one of these don't you?

We had initially planned to climb something on Stately Pleasure Dome, the dome above Tenaya Lake that Carl and I had been admiring over beers the day before, but suddenly we had a change of heart and decided to do Hobbit Book instead. This is a 4 pitch 5.7 climb up a huge dihedral high on the Mariuolumne Dome. The approach was long and high third class. By the time we arrived at the base of the climb it was early afternoon, cold and windy. We vacillated a lot ... too much. Carl said, "I've got a bad feeling about this climb". Alice said, "I've got a bad feeling about this climb". It did look intimidating, but hey it's only 5.7. "I'm cold", I whined. Patsy said, "What's wrong with you all?". Alice, despite her bad feelings about the climb, preferred the look of the climb above to the return below so she led off, choosing the wrong crack. Too high she realized that she couldn't easily make the traverse and came back down, recriminating us for not advising her of the correct route. We had, but she'd ignored our advice, or maybe she just couldn't understand what I was mumbling, teeth chattering and all. I led up half a pitch to the step around before deciding that it was too cold and too late. So I came back down too and we all slunk off, tails between our legs. After some trouble locating the packs that we had stashed we met two guys headed up. Turned out that they were just setting off to climb Hobbit Book. That really made us feel like a bunch of dunces. Not only that, but the sun was now shining into the dihedral. Oh well, there's always next time.

Eric and Lori joined us at Porky Flat that night round around the same time that Alice announced that she was going to drive to the Bay area the next day. Awaking early Thursday morning, but not quite early enough since Carl's alarm clock was screwy, we bolted down a perfunctory breakfast and drove to the store at Tuolumne to meet the Alpinistas who were supposed to join us for the climb up Cathedral Peak. Late as we were, we weren't the last ones there. We were the first ones there. So we waited, and we waited. Around 7.25 am John called to tell us that he and Pinsker weren't going to join us after all, "The dummy blew his load". Err, okay. Physicists, especially nuclear physicists, speak a completely different language from the rest of us. It's all about gyrotrons, gluons, leptons, bosons and other weird shit. If William Burroughs is right and language is a virus from outer space, where did these physicists come from? John said that Tuck and Bob should be there. Oh yeah? But at 7.30 am we got a call from Tuck who was at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead and the end of his batteries. No wonder they call us "Lost Alpinistas". We drove over and met up with Tuck and Bob.

The five of us started hiking toward Budd Lake. No, we were't lost this time, this is the approach to the SE Buttress of Cathedral Peak. Along the way we ran into another disoriented hiker, a potential recruit named Pat who lives in Santa Barbara, who was thinking of soloing the climb. Chi ching! Great, we thought, Pat and Carl can team up. They seemed to have climbed many of the same peaks and were talking story the whole way up. By the time we reached the base of Cathedral, however, Carl decided that he was going to bail. "I'll just hold you guys back". It's hard to see how one party of three could be slower than two parties of two each, but that's the way it goes on these Soft Body Classics. Tuck generously offered to rope-gun and simul-belay Bob and Pat, while Patsy and I went ahead and swung leads. Tuck was following my lead up the third pitch, just below the famous chimney pitch (this is the key to the whole climb according to Eric) when a crystal he was standing on blew and he started to fall. This just happened to be at the top of the most run-out section of the entire climb. I watched in horror as his feet collapsed under him and his chest hit the wall. With what looked like a flying rugby tackle, however, Tuck grasped an edge with both hands and lay prone for a couple of seconds. The crowd cheered. Sheesh, that was too close! Patsy led up the chimney, which turned out to be quite benign, and soon we were on the summit. In the distance we could hear Tuck chatting up all four women who were following us up the climb, but it was getting late. "Let's go, Tuck", Bob yelled. After descending the third class ledges on the NW face we reached the cars half an hour after dark and repaired to our various campgrounds. A most adventuresome day, as they say in other people's movies.

Sleeping in, and waiting for the sun to warm our campsite, Patsy, Carl and I were only partially alert when Tuck and Bob drove in. We finished packing and headed down to the Valley where we ate a wine and cheese lunch before procuring a backpacking permit for the Mono Meadows trailhead the next day. After all our dilly dallying, Carl decided that it was too late to start backpacking in to Mt. Starr King and announced, "I'll see you guys on Wednesday, okay?". First Alice and now Carl, not to mention that other pair of dummy loads.

And then there were four.

We drove to the Glacier Point road and realized, in a moment of Zen-like enlightenment, that Bridalveil Creek campground was just a few miles from the Mono Meadows trailhead. We decided then and there to spend the night in the relative luxury of the campground and climb Mt. Starr King in a day. Alas, Tuck's back was acting up so he didn't think he'd be able to join us. We drove to Glacier Point to watch the sunset, but the area was teeming with tourists so we went back to Washburn Point where we met Ollie Rodker, an Englishman from Manchester. Ollie, it turned out, liked to climb trees. "I like something I can put my arms around". Pretty romantic for an Englishman! He'd been traveling the western coast, both Canada and the USA, for the past few months in search of one adventure after another. He hadn't had much experience with rocks and was clearly a good soft body candidate so we invited him to join us.

Thus it transpired that Patsy, Bob, Ollie and I set off the next morning, descending into the smokey haze. The trails had all been closed just past where we wanted to travel, but it was still very smokey, so much so that we almost turned back. Around 11 am, however, a stiff wind from the west blew all the smoke away from us. We labored up the slope towards the southern saddle on Mt. Starr King. Once attained it was easy to traverse the middle summit to the final saddle and the roping-up point. I led Ollie and Bob led Patsy up the 2 pitch climb, which was relatively benign. A good thing, given the paucity of protection. From the summit we could see a crowd of people working their way up and down the cables on Half Dome, but we were alone. Ollie was stoked. I think he might even expand the realm of his climbing beyond trees in the future. To the east we could see two dozen fires burning. It really would have been a mistake to backpack in the night before. We could have been asphyxiated.

We left Ollie at the first stream crossing with his backpack. "I think I'll make myself a little salad", he said, cutting up avocado, beets, tomatoes, you name it. It looked good too! Once again we reached the car about half an hour after dark. There's loads of wood lying around the Glacier Point road and we gleefully availed ourselves of this. Tuck had spent the day photographing bugs and collecting his own pile of wood. Despite a good, collegiate style effort, we were unable to burn all the wood and had to leave a big pile for next year's campers since Bridalveil Campground closed for the season at noon.

By noon we were already gone, heading back home towards San Diego. Nine days just wasn't long enough for these soft bodies!

Booker C. Bense adds:

Hobbit Book is pretty stiff for 5.7 and has a pretty long runout on the 3rd pitch. The biggest runout, hardest climbing and most exposure all happen together. It's at least 30ft above a single bolt ( new ) depending on your skill in looping knobs and plates. 50ft to the first nut placement after the bolt. There are decent rests between moves so the effort is not sustained, but I would consider one of the more committing 5.7's I've ever climbed. It is a classic line though, you don't need a hard body, but a hard head is very useful.

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