It Was The Summer of 17′

Tuolumne Meadows, Like the Back of My Hand


Not much of a sleeper, so I snuck out of the truck to stretch my legs before the sun came up. The back seat of the truck was taking a bit more toll on my lower extremities than I had expected. Listen to me, I sound like an old old-timer. I walked down hill a ways and after marking my tree and looked out at the hazy landscape. Granite, granite everywhere littered with western white and lodgepole pines and mountain hemlocks in between. The greenery worked hard to find weaknesses in the granite in which they could anchor their roots. A battle raging for millennia, but the granite still prevails.

We pulled into the visitors center to stock up on water and take care of personal hygiene and our stomachs hurried us along to find a spot to heat up some breakfast. Lembert Dome picnic area looked like it would do the trick so we pulled in just before the parking lot began to fill up. We gathered our breakfast supplies and as we heated our food Jen and I ran through the descriptions and topo maps for the approach to Mt. Conness West Ridge. One ear was listening to Jens inquiries and suggestions and the other to two peculiars on at the picnic table next to ours.


One of the two looked a bit more dirt-baggy and I overheard him complaining about getting kicked off street corners for playing his guitar for donations. His loosely fitted flannel shirt and baggy sweats complimented his shaggy hair and unruly beard. His picnic table mate was a bit more organized. His little Subaru had his supplies neatly stacked and organized. Everything looked like it was meticulously placed. His fully white mustache would rest perfectly at the edge of his mug as he sipped his tea. I couldn’t resist and wanted to pick his brain on what we were about to embark on. He seemed to belong to the landscape, like the trees that found a way to spread their roots amongst the granite.



“Excuse me Sir? Can I pick you brain for a minute or two?” I explained what our plan was for the day and both peculiars had a puzzled look on their faces when I mention that I was expecting it to take 3/4 of the day. “Oh no no, most people hike in and spend the night at the base, summit, and come back the next day. It’s a two day affair.” Jen and I looked at each other realizing that we quickly needed to start from scratch, looking for routes that could be done that day. By this time Jen jumped in on the conversation and was throwing route names at the older gentleman. He would answer any question we had knowledgeably and I felt rude for failing to introduce myself amidst all the beta he was sharing. “George” he answered to my introduction. “George Ridgley” I though nothing of it at the moment. Few more routes were tossed George’s way, “Oh yeah Greg and I set the one.”… “That one too” Jen took a closer look at the the route descriptions, particularly where it says who set the route. ‘George Ridgley, Greg Barnes’ the descriptions would read time and time again. “Wait…. you’re George Ridgley?” Jen finally exclaimed. “Yeah, Greg and I have been coming up here and we set a few routes.” Yup that sealed the deal, I was going to try to talk him into joining us to climb today. I first bribed him with some tea, Jen ran off to the truck and gathered up a robust selection and he picked out the Earl Grey. “George, you have got to come climb with us!” He agreed after letting us know that one of his climbing partners, who had pulled up earlier showing off his injuries, was out of commission and the other has yet to arrive in the park.



On the way to our first climbing area on Pywiack Dome, George pointed out various rock formations, explained their significances, and routes that traced their features. We landed ourselves a personal tour guide that had spent the last 40 years climbing, backpacking, and setting routes in Tuolumne Meadows. He guided us in to our parking spot and a quick approach put us at the base of our route in minutes. We had a 15 minute wait that we utilized picking his brain further about this or that park related. His answers to all of the questions were close to the surface and did not require much digging. Our failure to do Mt. Conness had quickly turned into a blessing.



Jen led both pitches of Zee Tree 5.7 that was the perfect introduction to face climbing. Small features allowed for some hands and feet, while the rest was accomplished through smearing. George followed and I pulled up the rear. A Italian couple followed closely behind. I could hear them bickering in Italian at the anchors below me as I started up the 2nd pitch. As we set up our rap, clouds began to move in and we decided to head down to Tenaya Lake and fill our stomachs while we waiting to see what the weather would do.



We parked next to the lake and I B-lined it to the the shore and jumped in for a quick swim. The cool temperature of the water was voided by an ambitious swim pace. George and Jen took their place among the bouldery shore as I turned and started my way back. I paused to tread water and soak in my surroundings. I could not believe how different things looked from the last time I had visited Yosemite in my early teen years. I was not looking at the landscape with the same appreciation as I did now. I was not looking through the eyes of a climber as I did now. It was enlightening, I did not want to leave, but treading water wasn’t keeping me warm enough so I decided to close the gap to the the shore.


Photo above compliments of Jenny Aragon


By the time we finished our late lunch the weather rolled in and we began to feel the precursing drops off a heavier rain. We decided to head back to the Post office and call it a day. We pulled up to the post office to find soaked roads and people hiding beneath its roof line. Looked like a heavy cloud just made its way through. The general store had cold beers for Jen and George and the Cafe had a warm coffee for me, which i ended up no t having the patience for waiting out the long line. George introduced us to more peculiars that looked like they lived in the park and each had something valuable to share. We got our instructions and beta for the next stop, a hot spring, and hesitantly parted ways with our new friends who have come to know this landscape like the backs of their hands. We did not climb nearly as much as we would have liked but drove off utterly satisfied. Thank you George, Cliff, and Stew.


Photos above compliments of Jenny Aragon



It Was The Summer of 17′

The Humbling

“Is there a lot of smoke in the valley? Do you think it will be alright to climb?” “Yes if you like to climb in the smoke.” was the answer we got as we pulled into the Yosemite east entrance. That answer was not one we wanted to hear but we had several hours before sunset and wanted to get a few routes in the valley. We chose to pass up Tuolumne Valley Routes as we were going to spend the entire next day climbing the Alpine route of West Ridge Mt Conness.



The view of the valley lifted our spirits and the smoke looked like it was manageable but we were racing the clock. The entire drive Jen was doing a far better job at navigating and planning out the stops than I ever would have and we had already zeroed in on a few beginner routes. As soon as we came off the ridge and looped east El Cap and Half Dome came into view.



We parked and frantically got our gear together and started our approach to the base of El Cap. It was easy to spot, even through the dense forest, as the sun had already started its descent to the horizon painting the granite gold. Its presence was that of towering nobility, and my mind began to grasp the sense of accomplishment of climbers who have traced it’s features to the the top. One day, I will spend a night or two somewhere along the 30 some pitches that take you to the top, but for now we settle on a single 5.9 pitch.



Gear rack slung over my shoulder chest out, chin high, looked straight up to the heavens, high fived Jen and was off. That was short lived, oh so short lived. La Cosita Right starts right off the bat with “strenuous liebacking guaranteed to generate a pump” according to Super Topo. I got pumped alright, I was working so hard that I passed gas, just above face level of my climbing partner. I could tell Jen was trying so hard not to laugh out of concern for me loosing my grip. I would not have minded, I would have laughed my ass off right with her. After several tries and only three cams in we called it. It was going to be far too much work for the amount of daylight remaining.

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Meek and lowly I coiled the rope and we made our way to La Cosita Left 5.7. My approach to the wall wall was far more humble this time around. I placed my hands on the granite with reverence and a subconscious prayer for safe passage to the the anchors above. This route too required lots of work, but it was not a lieback. I chimnied my way up the first section and had to follow a large crack that led to a bulging rock. My technique skillset is very small when it comes to climbing and often times my strength will get me out of jams. Granite was also something new to me. Even though they often times don’t stay put, Pacific Northwest Chauc offers holds with many features that is easy to climb. My limited climbing to my region was a dose of reality. Halfway up the route I was convinced that upon returning home I would devote time to practicing different climbing disciplines and techniques for different environments. Several moves were aided and by the time I reached the anchors the sun was well below the horizon. There was just enough light to clean 3/4 of the gear, for the rest I asked Jen for a headlamp.

I was upset with myself. I was upset that it took so long and that Jen did not get her try at El Cap. I wanted to make it up to her so I decided to let her lead the remaining climbing that was to happen throughout the trip. It was her move back after all and her epic farewell to the PNW.



Tired and hungry we made it to the cafeteria of the Yosemite Valley Lodge and scarfed down our food as the chairs were being stacked and carpets vacuumed. We needed to make it back to Tuolumne Meadows but exhaustion warranted otherwise. Finding a small pulloff 10 miles shy of the meadows we committed to much needed rest.


It was the Summer of 17′


Ready Set Go

When my friend Jenny mentioned having to move back to Denver my ears perked up a bit. “Road Trip” I thought to myself. The countless destination possibilities kept my mind wandering in the months prior to hitting the road. After a few informal planning session we put together our itinerary on the back of a IKEA Cabinet instruction manual, it was the only somewhat blank piece of paper in my disorganized laptop bag. But it was enough, the blueprint to the cabinet served as a blueprint to our adventure toward Colorado.


From Portland we headed to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had a late start and left 12 hours later than expected which put us into the park just after 10 pm. I am sure sleepy people were cursing at us from within their tents as we made several loops at multiple campgrounds. After zombieing our way out of the campgrounds we drove to Lassen Peak Trailhead parking lot and made due with the truck cab. We had a long day ahead of and wanted to start the day with a hike to the summit of Lassen Peak. A 5:00 am start would have put us near the top of the southern most active volcano of the Cascades.



From the the 8500′ parking lot the well maintained trail is 5 miles roundtrip and gets you to the top of one of the largest lava domes on earth. Lassen peak is also one of only 2 volcanoes that have erupted in the contiguous United States in the 20th Century, Mt St. Helens being the other. The sun started to pull off the horizon as we made it to the the summit ridge.


After a short scramble you will find yourself enjoying a 360 degree view of California from 10,457′. If I am ever in this area during the winter a skimo run will be a necessity. We stayed just long enough to snap a few pictures and jogged down to keep up with our aggressive schedule.



On our way up, and down, we could see Lake Helen tucked behind Lassen’s massive shadow. It looked unimpressive until the sun was high enough to peak over Lassen’s shoulder and paint the lake a beautiful torquise. We found a rock ledge overlooking the lake and busted out the Mountain House.



After brunch we strolled around what was left of the ice patches at the lake’s shore. I disregarded the sign warning of the thin ice and proved it’s necessary existence when the top layer of ice I was walking on broke through and I nearly went for a swim. At least Jen found it amusing with her “I told you so” look all over her face.



We buzzed through the rest of the park that had several other prominent peaks and steam vents scattered throughout the landscape. Lassen was a pleasant surprise and we were glad we went off the interstate to drive through it. It is an amazing place that I had no idea existed until we started to plan out our route. Next stop: Yosemite.