Showing posts with label Katie Lambert Yosemite. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Katie Lambert Yosemite. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Winter Recap

Spring is here and with it we should be feeling some sort of relief from the heavy snow laden winter but really it has us wondering the winter ever went. The Sierra much like the rest of the Western Hemisphere experienced the warmest and driest winter on record. Being a climber this made for amazing climbing days but being a nature lover it has me concerned for our environment - it's meadows, rivers, lakes and the central valley with it's orchards, farms and the hundreds of thousands merging into millions of people who rely on that food. But, I try and not dwell too long on the harsh reality that stares us all in the face and look more to what good things I can do with the time that I have - primarily what a great climbing season the winter was and what a good one the spring looks like it will be.

We spent a great deal of time in Bishop - where there were almost too many splitter days - so much so that we had to force ourselves to take rest days. Bouldering occupied the first of the winter months. I returned to the Buttermilks and the Tablelands with some very specific (some even leftover from years prior) projects in mind and to my surprise and delight most all came to pass quickly.

Yayoi Left – V8; Morning Dove White – V7; Working Class - V8; Pope's Roof – V7; Wills Arete – V5; Grotesque Old Woman – V7

Acid Wash Right SDS – V9; Strength in Numbness SDS - V9

And while these problem are by no means groundbreaking ascents they did mean a lot to me and kept me pretty inspired to keep trying things and seeking out lines that suit me. Soon enough though this had me with a whole list of new projects – most of which had me feeling like I was beating my head against the wall. It was time for a change before I got too burnt out.

Luckily or unluckily, depending on your take, Tioga Pass was open late into January and I took the opportunity to try my hand at Midnight Lightning – making amazing progress and getting some un winter crack climbing in as well. Ben and I then took another trip to S.Utah for some more Limestone fun. I had about two weeks of time there and didn't fixate on any one thing but mostly developed a program of getting in as many pitches and pump as possible in a day. I climbed some really great routes there – Baleen – 5.12a, Purple Haze – 5.12d, The Infadels – 5.13a. I tried Indulgence and the Cross and I gave a go at Coach at the VRG and found all to be of quality and fun movement - all things to go back for! Sadly my two weeks went by far too quickly but I left for Yosemite to help our non-profit Sacred Rok with some youth trips and do some climbing. I went out crack cragging at the Finger Licken clif and did some routes I had never climbed before as well as some recently put up lines. With Sacred Rok we took the kids out scrambling around on rocks and trails and playing in the snow. Their excitement and wonder of the natural world inspired me in ways that felt refreshing and new. These trips with the youth inspire dreaming and stories and show me what it means to find yourself and your path. I was excited about all the potential I was seeing in the freedom of being outside and everything that a life lived following a dream has to offer.

Once again I returned to Bishop in the later half of the winter and I primarily focused on route climbing. I made a new girl friend climbing partner – something I've been longing for in my climbing for years – and together we descended on the Owen's River Gorge for 12 pitch days and routes that seemed improbable. I was given permission to start climbing on an old discarded project from 12 plus years ago and after a few guy friends made some ascents of it I successfully made the first female ascent of it – Holey Wars 13c. I tried my luck on the steep roof crack Looney Tunes (5.13b) and was excited to be clipping the anchors on my 3rd go. I went for another steep and reachy (manufactured) classic 13a called Aurora. I had it so wired that I incorporated it into my mega pitch training days down there. And just when the season was getting too hot and the rattlesnakes were making their appearances I made an ascent of a line called Fight Club (5.13b). This is a line that seemed so unlikely for someone of my frame but I tried it anyway for the fun of seeing what I could do – and at the last possible moment on the last possible day I had before once again returning to Yosemite I successfully redpointed.

And so here I am back in the land of the giants starting another spring and summer climbing season. And where Sacred Rok will be hosting a series of youth trips into Yosemite for day trips, trail work days, camping trips and hopefully continuing to inspire in the youth that sense of wonder and purpose. I kicked it off the season by climbing Separate Reality and Tales of Power – two classic lines that epitomize Valley free climbing. From this view it looks like it will be a long and dry season and hopefully a season of long routes and adventures. There is one adventure that we have been planning for a while and will take place in June – Ben Ditto and I are getting hitched - this may just be the biggest adventure yet!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Where does it come from? For me it comes in many forms such as the beauty of a place, the serene ambiance of a location, the waterfall that lies to one’s back, the birds chirping in the trees, the aesthetics of the rock and the movements of a route, the history of a climb, the people we climb with and the energy they bring; all of these things bring me inspiration, all of these things drive me to want to climb and appreciate the simplicity of doing it. Seeing new places and learning new routes, these too add to my inspiration. For some months Ben and I had plans to travel to Utah to shoot a wedding for some friends; we planned on making a climbing trip out of it. I had yet the opportunity to check out the limestone of southern Utah and so a new place with new routes was on the horizon – new inspiration. However, forming a routine also really inspires me and this can lead to be reluctant to leave a place (especially Yosemite), especially when the weather is good . But I realize that sometimes getting settled into what is comfortable can leave me lacking. Regardless, when it finally came time for Ben and I to make good on our plan to head east to Utah for the majority of November I did so with a little hesitation.

We had been enjoying quite a wonderful Fall in the Valley. We both made an ascent of the ultra-classic and technically challenging Kurt Smith testament to the ground up standard “Keeper of the Flame” – a beautiful, thin line that goes for about 130 feet clocking in at 5.13. I believe this to be another first female ascent for me. We had also been spending some time climbing on the South Face of Half Dome and inspiration was high. The location, the remoteness (although cell reception is better no place else than back there), the rock quality, the difficulty – it was all giving us so much. Ron and I had also been enjoying some climbs of the day on old, obscure, classics such as Pat and Jack’s “Cat Squirrel” and the Owl’s “Mirage”. But our time was drawing to a close and although snow had been falling conditions were due to only get better. Yosemite is perhaps the place that inspires me the most and with that comes a huge list of routes to do and boulders to scramble and my feelings were mixed about leaving. I had to remind myself that the rocks and the routes would be there when I return, so no need to fret over wanting to do it all in a hurry. Besides, we would be heading to some of the best limestone in the west, it couldn’t be so bad.
Keeper of the Flame - Ron Kauk photo

Ron Kauk photo
Our first day climbing we went to the Virgin River Gorge. As we pulled into the parking off of I-15 my eyes widened with excitement. The wall was steep, featured and draws seemed to hang from almost every route. I was excited to finally see the famed VRG. I had heard plenty about the freeway but I was still shocked at the crag’s proximity to the road. A quick ten minute approach in which one has to cross under the freeway to get to the cliff- walking amongst dirty diapers, discarded condoms, dismissed beer cans and other signs of the seedy underbelly of humanity had me marveling at the juxtaposition. It was like passing through hell to get to heaven. At the base of the wall Ben rattled off a slew of names and grades neither of which I heard very clearly over the buzz of the cars below. It all looked good and I was at a complete loss for what to tackle first. Thankfully I was defeated in our match of Roshambo and I could let him give me a tour. Watching him on the warm-ups I realized very quickly how steep the wall really was. I climbed a few pitches and was feeling pretty good about it all before I was thwarted by a pumpy and powerful 12c. I was surprised, confused and started to find it harder and harder to concentrate. The constant clamor of I-15 was taking over my mind. I was losing psyche and growing more frustrated by the minute. My inspiration was disappearing as I became mesmerized by the freeway. It was like looking at something too hideous to look at but for some reason not being able to turn away. If only I could look away, tune it out, concentrate; I struggled with myself. I belayed Ben on a few more pitches and much to my relief the sun set and we were able to leave this place with it’s bittersweet position.

Thankfully the next day we went to the Cathedral – a beautiful limestone cliff with a 30 minute approach out in the Utah hills. There were no cars, no rumble of the road and no problem hearing your partner. The rock was just as amazing as the VRG. Inspiration was back up! I was psyched. Coming from Yosemite my fitness level was pretty high but my mental preparedness for overhanging routes wasn’t as high. It took some getting used to for me to come out of my comfort zone and to climb spread out. It took some getting used to in general. I had to try hard, I had to take the big whips, I had to let go of the fear of falling and know that the falls were clean – there were no ledges to hit or pieces to pull. I had to get out of my trad mind and get into my go for it mind. It took a lot of work and by the days end I was tired.  After a day’s rest we were back at the Cathedral and after a few days of climbing there I had found my groove. I made an ascent of a 13 called Holbytla that proved to be quite a little battle and a great learning experience. Around the 7th bolt there is about 15 to 20 feet of a boulder problem on steep, sloping pockets.  Nothing felt positive, nothing felt solid. Skipping the crux clip I took fall after fall. The cold was causing my hands to numb out up there and I realized that I wasn’t really pumping off but more just letting go. I needed to just hold on and keep moving, not let go. I wanted the holds to be better but they weren’t. I needed to accept the route for what it was and adjust myself to it. I needed to just go for it to keep moving upwards with no doubt or hesitation. After realizing this I was clipping the anchors and feeling like I had learned a valuable lesson in rock climbing.  Using my new-found spread out, hang on and go for it approach I made an ascent of a really stellar 13b called Resurrection a couple of days later. I think I could have stayed out there indefinitely but once again the temps were dipping and it was time for us to head out.

Conditions wouldn’t be so harsh at the VRG Ben informed me. My heart sank a little but I knew it was inevitable that we would be going back there. I readied myself for the traumatic experience. I told myself that the freeway actually sounded like waves breaking on shore. I hoped this would inspire me. I tried hard, I pulled hard, I crimped hard. I used the power I had found at the Cathedral to fuel me. It worked for a while. But after 6 pitches and considering going back up on the epic Fall of Man I just couldn’t muster an ounce more of psyche. I was over it and lapsed into unmotivation and started to beat myself up about it all over again.
I really wanted to like this place, I wanted to try hard in the face of failure, I wanted to push myself to new levels of inspiration but I was struggling. The road noise, the shade, the cold rock, the overhanging wall with its huge reaches and slimy holds were all overwhelming me. I was losing my power. Once again the sun set and we could leave. I walked back to the car, crossing under the bridge to hell with my head hung low. I felt like I had failed in some way. I felt like I had let myself down by not pulling through and maintaining a positive outlook. Back in the hotel I turned on the TV and tried to push aside all thoughts of climbing. The channels were filled with things like Real Housewives of Atlanta, Lady Hoggers, Millionaire Matchmaker and terrible news programs. I searched the channels for inspiration and I wondered what the hell was wrong with us people? What is it that we are doing with ourselves, to ourselves and to the world? I came to the understanding that I should be inspired by the simple fact that I have the opportunity to go rock climbing, that I have the choice to be free in myself and enjoy the act of moving over stone.

Back at the VRG the wind whipped against the rock, the cars rumbled below. My body felt stiff and my mind tired. In the warmth of the hotel room finding inspiration seemed easy, out here I was going to have to dig deep, to think about being thankful for the day, thankful for climbing. I would let the rock inspire me. I tried hard. The warm ups felt hard, I felt less than good. It would be a practice day – I would use it as an opportunity to do moves, hold onto holds and enjoy the process of doing that. I tried Fall of Man a couple of times with no expectations, just practice. I did better than I thought I might do. I made it to  a new high point past the crux before faltering and just missing a crimp with the left. I fell and I lowered. Looking back on that I know that I stood in the way of myself. I had stopped myself from doing the move, from grabbing that hold. I realize that still in me after all the red-points and onsights that I still carry a fair amount of doubt.  After the lesson I thought I had learned at the Cathedral I still hesitated. While reaching up for that hold I didn’t believe enough that I could do it, that it was ok to grab it.

We left the VRG in the cold of the late evening and headed back to Bishop. I was bummed to leave with unfinished business. After all the dis-ease and dislike I had I found myself almost begging Ben to let us stay just one more day in the hopes of getting to climb Fall of Man one more time, but the temps were too frigid to climb anymore and it was clear that we should head home. On the drive back I thought about Jerry Moffat, I had just finished reading his autobiography and the take home message I got is that if you want something then you go for it 100%, with no doubt, no hesitation, with only positivity and inspiration. Back here in the warmth of our house in Bishop I’m using my new inspiration. We will return to the VRG in the next months I’m sure and I will let myself do Fall of Man then but in the mean time I’m climbing with more purpose than ever – I’m going to go for it 100% with no hesitation and no doubt, with positivity and inspiration.

Friday, July 22, 2011


This year the heavy winter weather gave way to a long and wet spring laden with some of the most spectacular wildflowers. I spent most of that time in Bishop - bouldering and face climbing - gearing up for a summer spent in Yosemite. Early morning approaches and all day exertions are the tell tale signs of Valley climbing. In the last couple of months here I've had my fill of both.

At the end of March I attended the Red Rock Rendezvous as one of the instructor athletes for La Sportiva. Ben Ditto and I did a bit of our own climbing there, making an ascent of the ultra-classic Levitation 29, in our spare time. This had me hungry for long routes after a winter spent mostly on the boulders. We returned to California in early April. Yosemite was still wet and snowy. Bishop was still perfect. There was some bouldering still to do and it was prime time for Owen's River Gorge.

We spent our days getting in pitch after pitch of crimps and high steps, ticking off a few 13s and testing the bolts on others. We were feeling strong and primed for a summer season in Yosemite. As the spring rains died down in the Valley and my work season starting I made the trek over to the West (aka. the wet) Side of the Sierra. The waterfalls raged and granite walls loomed above. I felt incredibly small and lost among the tourist and rv's. I wanted to get off the ground. I wanted to be on the granite walls, the ground sweeping away hundreds of feet below.

El Cap was packed. Team after team stretched themselves across the expanse of the granite sea. It looked wet, too. I told myself I wouldn't be going up there this season, I would wait for the secret, quiet season. When the chances of getting hit by paper bags filled with poo or some aid climbers dropped rack of nuts are way less. No, this summer my sights were set on Leaning Tower.

At the end of April my good friend Eric Ruderman and I made our maiden voyage on the free climbing of the West Face of the Tower. It was a rough intro to the route, for we were stuck behind an aid party. After two hours of sitting in my harness I finally reached the anchor at the end of the 200 foot bolt ladder. Eric jumared up to meet me. We would not be reaching the summit on this day and so instead took our time in getting to know the two crux pitches of the route. He and I made a couple of more trips up there towards the beginning of May and again in June. Ben Ditto joined us and there was talk of making a team of three ascent. But, it was getting hot and timing was going to be everything. And our separate lives were pulling us in different directions.

Eric returned to the coolness of the Santa Cruz ocean and Ben and I continued to sweat it out in Yosemite. We found ourselves seeking out the shady cliffs and making early morning treks up to obscure classics like Arrowhead Arete. We either woke before sunrise and hit the climbing before the sun cast it's paralyzing spell or slept in and went out in the cooling off late afternoon. A lot of cragging filled our days in the month June and the heat had us scared for what lay ahead.

But, this July in the Sierra has been one of unusually cool temps and soon enough Ben and I were making plans to go back to Leaning Tower. With the alarm set for 4am on July 10th we readied ourselves for what would be our last trip up there. We drove off towards the Valley in the dark, jittery with the buzz of coffee and pop-tart. We approached with the rising sun and racked up as the birds made their first calls of the day. Pitch one, my lead, I felt tight in my hips- the wild stemming seemed hard - this felt like a cruel and unusual wake up warm up. I anchored in and belayed Ben. Pitch two, his lead, he smoothly climbed through the awkward start to the pumpy crack to the sequency mantel before he disappeared over the bulge of the slab above.

The birds were in full aerobatics mode. Flying and diving into the cracks that surrounded us. A lizard scampered by. I marveled at the grace and certainty in which these animals moved. I wondered what Ben was up to up there; had he reached the knee bar yet? Then a tug on the rope, I almost couldn't feed rope out fast enough. I knew he had reached Guano Ledge, he had sent the pitch. He belayed me up and soon I found myself standing on the smears under the knee bar. This spot had been hit or miss for me before. I wasn't going to give in to miss this time. I reached up, grabbed the right hand pinch, shuffled my feet, got the knee bar, matched hands, pushed with my left foot and reached the right hand side pull. Soon I was pressing over and onto the ledge with Ben. I felt pumped but calm. I needed a sandwich, I needed some water. I needed to get focused for my next lead.

After a brief rest I stood on the ledge looking out to river below. A hummingbird flew up and hovered at eye level for what seemed like a timeless expanse. It reminded me to be light and free. I grabbed the rack and set off onto pitch three. Pitch three starts with some of that only found in Yosemite slab down climbing before leaving you to make a huge expanse over to where the real holds are. It had taken me great effort to figure this out previously. I needed all my power and technique. I placed a high piece and climbed down to the iron cross. I laid back on the left hand and stemmed my feet, my five foot frame barely reached the right hand edge. I matched hands, but I hadn't reached far enough. There was little to grab with the left hand. I went for it anyway, my legs swinging over to the right. I held it for half of half a second before falling and butt scumming across the slab below. There would be a bruise there for sure.

I righted myself, pulled back onto the rock and started over. I knew that if I could make this move then we would make a successful ascent of this route. I was once again down climbing into the crack(s). This time I managed a no-hands rest before positioning myself for the reach. I thought about Wolfgang Gullich and about his ideas of pushing the mind. He had felt that the body has always been capable but that it is our mind that really needs the training, that there is a gap between the two that we need to bridge in order to reach our full potential. I stretched out my left hand, I looked at my sinewy arm. I had the muscle to do the moves, I just needed to focus the brain - clear the mind and focus. I laid back on the left hand, stemmed my feet and reached out right. This time I reached a little further, I matched hands, swung my feet over and was moving over good edges to the mantle. I had made the move, I had bridged the gap. I stood at the last rest before the slopping, juggy, slippery, traverse. I shook out and took off and soon enough I was belaying Ben up.

Aside from the logistical conundrum of pitch four the rest of the route went quite well. There were no falls (although I came close on the last pitch due to some foot slippage), no beat downs from the sun and no shortage of exposure or good climbing. The crack pitches went by giving way to the roof bringing us to the last dihedral before reaching the summit. Sitting there on top of that narrow spine of rock the Valley fell below us. El Cap stood tall and proud in the afternoon sun and the falcons swooped by in shows of great aerodynamics. We had made a team free ascent of Leaning Tower, sticking to our goal and coming out on top. It felt amazing to have helped one another get there.

As we rapped to the ground I thought about the limits of climbing and the limits of the body. I thought about the birds zipping by in their light and fast way - seemingly with no limits. I thought about the incredibly overhanging wall on the left with it's project free climb and I thought about the amazing free climbing movement in Europe. I thought about that hummingbird's reminder to be light in the heart and the head and I thought about the harmony of mind and body. Without this harmony we are as Morihei Ueshiba says - stifled, but
with this harmony we can achieve greatness, we can attain our goals, we are limitless.

all pics courtesy ben ditto:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Separate Reality

Thursday - February 4th

Sitting on my sunlit, cedar porch in El Portal. The flow of the Merced River echoes off the canyon walls. There are signs of the upcoming spring all around - birds chirping in the newly green treetops and little buds littering the limbs of the Buckeyes. Needless to say it is amazing to be here.

I've been climbing with Ron (Kauk) all week; going to our old favorites like Catchy Corner, Outer Limits, Cookie Monster and The Phantom. This time of year while the sun still hangs low in the sky but is on its uprise the south-facing cliffs are basked in the golden sunlight most of the day - making for ideal climbing conditions in the cold of winter. We also went to something new, well at least for me. Separate Reality.

I had been pestering Ron all week to go on the Nose with me and for a little while he seemed to be at least thinking about it. But, in the end he proposed a different option of going to another Yosemite classic.

Ron: "Hey bird, have you done Separate Reality yet?"

Me: With ears perking up, "No, actually, I've never tried it."

Ron: "You wanna go?"

And so we came to the compromise of going there instead of the Nose. I was stoked either way.

We rapped yesterday afternoon to the ledge below the roof and upon our arrival we saw that the corner into the roof was dripping wet. The ledge was completely in the shade as the sun had already passed. It was cold, and while the roof was dry it definitely would be cold and wet getting into up into it. I stated that I would rather be there in the sun, since I would be getting a little wet I would rather at least be warm. So, we jugged back out with the agreement of coming back next morning to catch the sun. Around 10am today we rapped back in. It was an amazing experience stepping down onto the sunlit ledge. I was psyched to be about to meet this climb.

As I racked up Ron walked over to the top of Tales of Power and noticed how bad the bolts for the anchor are. Looking around he saw this horn and told me the story of when he topped out Tales for the first time (making the FA). All he had left was a sling and #8 hex - he slung the horn and slotted the hex behind it. As he looked up at the roof and saw what was to become Separate Reality he was amazed at what he had discovered; here was a little something more. He belayed his partner up and they made their way to the base of the corner. Ron went up to right under the roof, looked out at it and lowered down. They exited out the big ledge and to the right around the corner up some other crack. They returned some days later and began to probe their way out the roof placing hexes. That was 1976.

About a year or so later a photo of Ray Jardine on the roof crack showed up on the cover of a climbing mag in Europe. Wolfgang Gullich had seen a copy and at first couldn't decipher which way he was supposed to look at the image. When he realized the climber was going out a horizontal roof it changed his perception on what was possible in climbing. Some years later Wolfgang went on to make the first solo ascent of Separate Reality.

As I sqauted in the perch at the top of the corner I looked out the roof to the jug at the end. The river rushed below. And I pulled into the crack, inspired to be part of the lineage of climbers who had set sail before me. I slipped out a little more than halfway out the roof. My palms pumped out from the jamming. I didn't onsight it but I was completely blown away by the aesthetics of this climb. I lowered down and Ron pulled the rope as I unlaced my shoes. I took a drink of water as I looked up the canyon at the ice-covered walls. I felt honored to be there, in the ampitheater-like setting getting an upclose view of the canyon below. A few more sips and I relaced my shoes, tied back in and topped out the climb. Ron gave a cheer up to me and I gave out a big Thanks! Another Yosemite Classic had been introduced to me.

Tomorrow I will return to the Eastern Sierra - to the boulders of the Buttermilks and petroglyphs of the Tablelands. It's a wonderful life to be able to climb these rocks - I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do so.