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