EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Alex Baker, TRON (5.13), Yosemite National Park
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's employee favorite comes from Quality Assurance Engineer Alex Baker.
I arrived in Yosemite Valley in the summer of 2010 without any specific goals in mind. Luckily, my good friend Eric Bissell was living and working there at the time. I showed up at his house (and stayed for waaay too long) looking for some inspiration. Eric had a very old Yosemite guidebook that was spiral bound and gave rack beta in terms of angles and KB's. We decided to use this tattered guidebook to start the process of finding something intriguing to climb.
The old guidebook led us to a climb called The High Arc, a route established by Peter Mayfield and Augie Klein. The route follows a thin corner on the right side of a feature called Negative Pinnacle at the base of El Cap. Many people have rappelled Negative Pinnacle without knowing what the feature is called—the last rap to the ground if someone is bailing off of the Nose from the Stovelegs goes right down the middle of it.
We fell off of the route. We dodged self ejecting pins. We swapped high points at first, but eventually, we both sent The High Arc. On the descent, we noticed an immaculate swath granite off to our left. Penjiing across the wall, we toproped the bottom 30 feet. I thought it felt impossible, but Eric thought it could go.
We returned to the slab with a 100m rope to rig a monstrous diagonal toprope. Using tensioned lines, pulley systems, rubber band man tactics, and the fixed lines from the Nose, we rigged a crossbred combination of a via-ferrata and a toprope. Though we failed to do all the moves, we played on the top of the route and found just enough holds to think that the seemingly blank upper section would go.
We considered rap bolting the route, however, other routes in the area (General Dynamics, Duty Now For the Future, Party Mix - Kurt Smith et. al.), were all drilled on lead. The prospect of climbing in the same style daunted us. The bottom moves felt so hard, but after days of deliberating and hesitating, we decided to give it a shot from the ground.
The first 2 bolts sunk into the granite easily. A good stance, not too far off the ground provided a solid spot for the first bolt. We placed the second bolt-ladder style to protect the leader from hitting the ground on the difficult moves down low. Things became interesting at the third bolt. I had seen a crimp and decent feet on our reconnaissance mission but there was no stances to drill from. I brought some hooks to compensate. A difficult hand foot match mantle guarded the crimp, and I fought towards the little edge, hoping it would hold a decent hook. I promptly fell off and hit a small tree at the base of the climb, dusting its leaves in chalk. After a few more run-ins with the tree, I managed to stick the difficult sequence and frantically hook the little edge. The hook moved with every swing of the hammer. For 45 minutes, I was terrified that it would pop, but I finally sunk the bolt. In the dark, we pulled the rope and went home excited for more.
The next day, Eric pushed our highpoint further. I sat in the shade of the tree listening to Outkast and belaying. Eric fought all evening through a series of thin sidepulls on marbled granite to reach the next stance. My mind numbed during the long belay, but eventually Eric got another bolt in.
The next section of climbing appeared moderate. Starting from the ground, I climbed to our high point and ventured upwards. I passed Eric's last bolt. I was a few feet below what looked like a ledge and several feet above the last bolt. I made a shaky dry fire to the stance. And then another, and another. The climbing was difficult. Finally, I executed a skittering, poorly coordinated, but successful mantle. The ledge was certainly adequate to drill from, but my calves ached as I swung the hammer.
"Am I gonna hit the ground if I fall?" I asked Eric.
"Probably not," Eric measured the length between bolts, the amount of rope out, and the angle of the terrain. "If I pull in slack quick enough and run....Probably not."
I drilled faster. For an hour, I stood on the ledge pounding the rock. The sun setting and the hole complete, I sighed and readied to sink metal into it. That's when I dropped the bolt. After 5 minutes of dancing on the ledge, shaking my pumped calves and being terrified, I moved. I shoved the drill into the hole, girth hitched a sling to the bit for some 'protection', and lowered the lead line to Eric. He attached a new bolt and I gently raised it to my perch. I tapped the bolt into its home, and we drove back to Eric's cabin, more psyched than ever.
We each climbed that section many more times to reach the upper portion of the climb. The climbing was heady, though not particularly dangerous. Foreshortening and swinging a hammer on lead has a way of deceiving distances. The rest of the climb went about the same. I blew 3 hooks drilling, and took multiple falls working out another mantle. Eric equalized cam hooks and other sketchy metal to provide some balance on dubious stances to drill from.
On my last day in Yosemite, Eric was drilling the second to last bolt, at the 140-foot mark. The time crunch and summit fever convinced us to gun it for the anchors. Eric went for it, creating a pretty hefty runout over 5.10 terrain. We were psyched to have gotten the first ascent. As I toproped through the last run out, it became apparent that this didn't fit with the character of the rest of climb. This long stretch of unprotected climbing was legitimately dangerous. We wanted our route to have character but we also wanted it to be repeated. We retro-bolted our own route minutes after the FA. We used a different hanger to hint to later parties of what might have happened. The route still had plenty of character, but distinctly lacked 60-foot whip potential going to the anchors.
I left Yosemite that day without redpointing the route. Eric sent it a few months later. Neither of us had done anything like it but we suspect it to be 5.13. No one has done it since, and this is very unfortunate to us. TRON climbs 165' of flawless orange, white, and swirling gray granite below the arching upper Southeast face of El Cap, 10 minutes from the road. There are even a few 2 finger pockets.
There is so much potential for new routes like this in Yosemite. However, with so many old classics, I think the newer stuff gets overlooked. The same is happening in Tuolumne. Next time you're there, check out some of the new lines, starting with TRON.