"I can't believe we are going to be climbing in Yosemite!!!"
It's 4am and we are on our way to the infamous Camp4 in Yosemite Valley. Camp4 is registered as a historical site. The camp was the original place where Royal Robins, Warren Harding and the rest of the first group of climbers in Yosemite used to sleep, hang out and plan routes up El Cap. It's pretty amazing that we are going to be staying there! The story goes that the National park service were going to destroy Camp 4 and build a new high paying campsite there. So some sneaky climbers went off and got the site protected so now it cannot be changed, which is of course amazing.
I've got the same tired feeling as the one you get when you have to be at the airport early to catch a flight. I have the same excited feeling in my stomach too, like Christmas Eve as a kid. I can't believe we are going to be climbing in Yosemite!!!
We get in line at 5.15am. There are already people queuing. They are all fast asleep in their sleeping bags, lined up like little sausage rolls. This is not a queue for the iPhone or Rolling Stones, this is the queue for a campsite! We sit in our chairs, read and drink tea. The ranger isn't due until 8am so we have a bit of time to kill. The sign says there are 16 places available today and it looks like we might be in luck. Although there are a few empty chairs in front of us so I think a few people might cut in line. The ranger arrives at 8.15am, we are like three little cubes of ice, hopefully the sun will come and thaw us out soon. The ranger hands out the camping tickets, "14, 15, 16" she says. We all look at each other, gutted. We've got to do this all over again tonight! Then we notice she still has some tickets as she heads towards us. "18, 19, 20", we made it!!!! Woo hoo!! This is a campsite we just got in to not Rolling Stones tickets. The ranger shouts to the 30 odd people behind us and tells them the site is full. While we are in line we see Adam Ondra, he is one of the worlds strongest climbers. I can't believe we've seen him already. He's here climbing the Dawn Wall. I'm keeping everything crossed for seeing Alex Honnold! We've done pretty well so far at seeing famous climbers and legends. We saw Brette Harrington free soloing at Eagle Lake Cliff in Tahoe, Peter Croft at Owens River Gorge and now Ondra!
We set up camp, all of us are so jaded. We drove 9 hours the day before from Bishop due to the Tioga Pass being closed following a storm. After making dinner and setting up camp we'd all got about 4 hours sleep max.
We are all pretty psyched to be here in Camp4. There are around 30 sites in Camp4, we are staying in number 29. Steve who is one of the many characters of Camp4 tells us we are staying in THE original site! So cool! We are positioned right next to the huge boulder with the famous Midnight Lightning route on it, with the modern day petroglyph drawn by the Stone Masters.
On our first day we hit the base of El Capitan, the daddy, the chief, the boss! This incredible piece of rock is the height of the Empire State Building times 3! We met so many people climbing The Nose! This is a 30 pitch climb all the way to the top. People have to haul up their food and water depending on how many days they think it will take them. This can be between 2 hours 30 minutes to a week! The average is usually 4-5 days. Lynn Hill was not only the first woman to free climb The Nose but she was infact the first person to free climb it, go Lynn! We are totally new to this type of climbing so we won't be heading up there. We climbed some single pitch routes at the bottom that day to get a feel for the rock and cracks!
The size and scale of The Chief is hard to describe but from the meadow opposite you watch tiny little ant like climbers scaling this amazing piece of rock! This very act of sitting in the meadow with binoculars watching climbers is called the El Cap layback and has a whole social scene attached to it. It's is of course amazing to most tourist that these crazy climbers are up there climbing El Capitan.
As we sit watching we all notice a double decker bus size block of rock falling high from the wall! "Oh no!". Knowing how dangerous this can be we hope we have not just witnessed something terrible. Seconds later the loud crash of the rock shakes the ground followed by the calls of the climbers "Rock!". Climbing is not for the faint hearted that's for sure. Thankfully nobody was hurt!
There is something special about this place for sure. It's like the holy grail for climbers and saying that it's almost become a living cartoon show. The campsites are under constant attack by crafty animals from bears, raccoons and ravens. The park rangers are constantly playing cat and mouse with the climbers that have been dirt bagging there too long. Then there's all your climbing heroes camping and hanging out just like normal folks. Also in the mix are the characters of Camp4, hippies with tales to tell or vagabonds that have been living in the woods for years. All this with idiotic tourist thrown in leads to a crazy experience and like I say a real life cartoon that you get to live in for a while.
We end up bumping into so many great people from our previous travels making our stay even more enjoyable. The climbing is hard but amazing.
After embarking on our first Yosemite multi pitch named The Grack we bump into Kevin an ex U.S. marine ball of enthusiasm. He is also on his first trip to Yosemite and is totally buzzing with the community feel of the place. He keeps us entertained for hours around the campfire with tales from his army days. We hear some campers moaning that they have some weirdos staying in their site and I'm not sure they get it. That's all part of it, if you're lucky you'll have some eccentric old traveller in your site and with that you've hit the jackpot.
We also bumped into Paul a friend that we met at the crag in Gandía, Spain. He is by far one of the most humblest people we know, he's a total legend in my eyes. Paul was here filming his friend Andy Kirkpatrick for a new movie which sounded cool. Make sure you look out for it, it's called Psychovertical.
John Sherman the inventor of the V grade for bouldering was also there. He was trying to resend Midnight Lightening now at the age of 50 after sending it 25 years ago, this was also for a documentary. So when you scratch the surface of this place there are so many cool projects going on all around you.
There are pro climbers all over the place, just getting on with everyday things. We were totally smitten with this place and spent each day taking full advantage of where we were.
Rest days from climbing and evenings can be spent either at Curry Village where you can get food, use internet and shower. You can also head over to the cafeteria or The Lodge to use the internet and relax. Here you are often amongst the famous climbers. Adam Ondra was in there everyday. They often play movies on an evening too, so keep an eye out for them. Some are free and some are around $10. We watched a really old school one of Royal Robins when we were there, it was really old and cheesy! There are some beautiful hikes and amazing photo opportunities. The visitor centre and museum is also worth a visit.
We were so lucky when we were there because Yosemite Falls was in full flow. Apparently this is really unusual for this time of year. I'm not going to deny when I first saw it I was not so impressed. For some reason I expected so much more. We had however just arrived from Iceland which has the most incredible waterfalls I've ever seen. I was also very tired as we'd not slept the night before. After a couple of days I totally fell in love with the beauty of the Falls and took every opportunity I could to see it, photograph it and remember it.