Climbing trips often teach excellent life lessons. Whether you learn how to physically survive outdoors, read a rock formation, interact with different types of people, or always stay positive, you can always take something away from a trip. Good or bad, trips are important because they draw us out of our comfort zones into the land of change. It is here in the current of life that we can really look inside ourselves and evaluate who we are, what we’ve become, and what we’d like to change. I have found that the “uncomfortable” experiences are often the greatest catalysts for significant life changes.
One such trip occurred in the middle of June when my boyfriend and I planned to climb in Yosemite. He had very little exposure to trad climbing, so he was pretty excited to experience everything that Yosemite had to offer. I had some trad climbing experience, but never climbed in Yosemite, so we were both looking forward to a new adventure. We planned to meet up and climb with an acquaintance for the entirety of the trip. This proved to be a rather unfortunate decision and a mistake that we won’t soon make again. The trip was incredibly frustrating to say the least, but I did learn a few things. As I walked along the 11,000-ft summit of Matthes Crest, carrying 100 feet of slack in my hands and hoping to God that a huge gust of wind wouldn’t send me trundling down the mountain, I realized these very important facts of life:
First and foremost, ALWAYS trust your gut.
2. Never be at the mercy of someone you don’t know and trust.
3. Age is not an indicator of maturity; assume nothing.
4. If you must have an emergency, don’t have it on a Sunday. Everything will be closed.
5. Not all climbers are laid-back, reasonable people.
6. Not all people will act like civilized human beings.
7. Be gracious and love them anyway.
The following story is an account of our trip from my point of view. The wrongs have since been forgiven and forgotten. Any animosity in the story is merely attempted humor.
Leaving the runway in Austin, Texas, I thought I was embarking on a casual climbing trip to Yosemite with my boyfriend, Derek. I never pictured myself being abandoned by a climbing guide on the side of a mountain and free soloing down 200 feet of talus to safety, but as it turns out, nothing in life really unfolds the way you expect it to. The plan was to fly to San Diego, meet up with an acquaintance (let’s call him Joe), and carpool to Yosemite. We flew to California on a Tuesday and planned to stay until Monday. The tentative plan went as follows:
Tuesday night – Arrive in San Diego. Stay with Joe for the night.
Wednesday morning – Drive to Bishop. Pick up a 4th person (Nick). Drive to Yosemite.
Thursday – Climb a few short multi-pitch/sport routes in Tuolumne Meadows. .
Friday – Climb Matthes Crest or Cathedral Peak, both of which take about 13 hours.
Saturday – Climb an easy route on Half Dome, another all day affair.
Sunday – Climb a half-day. Start the drive back to San Diego.
Monday – Arrive in San Diego. Fly home to Austin.
Casual, right? What could go wrong, you might ask. Answer: just about everything.
The actual trip went something like this:
Tuesday – Arrive in San Diego. Stay at Joe’s place while he’s at work.
Wednesday – Wake up to text from Joe saying that he has to work an extra shift and that his car has broken down. Wander beach. Eat delicious food. Get a couple’s Thai massage. Fall in love with the west coast. Receive text that we’ll get picked up in the morning and head to Bishop on Thursday.
Thursday – Receive text that Joe (also the alleged climbing guide for the trip) has secured a rental car for the trip. Workout on beach. Yoga on beach. Breakfast. Joe arrives in beat-up 4Runner that looks more borrowed than rented. Joe worries that traffic will be horrible and decides that we should surf while we wait for traffic to die down. Joe takes Derek surfing for about 30 minutes. After surfing, Joe wants to continue waiting for traffic to subside. We grab lunch. I begin wondering if the climbing guide ever wants to climb. Joe offers a quick stop in Idyllwild to climb in Tahquitz and Suicide Rock to brush up on multi-pitch climbing. We take the bait. We attempt a 5.9 crack with 3 people and minimal sunlight. Realizing we’ll never finish before sunset, I bail on the climb to speed things up. We descend the mountain in the darkness with Joe mumbling about being stalked by mountain lions. Arriving back at the car at 10 pm, we prepare to make a 5-hour drive to Bishop through the night, stopping to pick up our 4th member, Nick, along the way. Joe announces in a timely manner that he falls asleep behind the wheel easily and eagerly excuses himself from the driving rotation. We drive an hour to pick up Nick and then decide to crash at a cheap motel in Adelante in order to salvage energy for Friday’s climbing plans.
Friday – Wake up. Eat enormous, slow breakfast at a nearby diner. Begin 5-hour drive to Yosemite by 11 am. Stop at a rest stop for a bathroom break, so Joe can disappear for 45 minutes while we wait in the car. Continue the drive at our snail pace. Stop at just about every small town along the way at the demands of Joe. Stop in Bishop to eat, visit every gear shop in town, and purchase groceries. Joe is suddenly mad at Nick for some unknown reason and implements the silent treatment. He mentions the unlikelihood of finding a campsite in Yosemite and tries to coerce us into stopping at another random climbing destination along the way. We pass on the tempting offer and drive into Yosemite. Joe makes a scene about NEEDING an SD card for his GoPro and we back track to the store on Tioga Pass. Joe decides that the SD cards are much too expensive and that he will just use mine instead, because I didn’t go through the trouble of bringing my own camera and SD card with the intention of actually using it. We manage to share a campsite with some strangers after Nick works his magic on some unsuspecting females. To show our appreciation, we set out to find some beer for the kind strangers. The quest for beer quickly turns into aimless driving with Joe at the wheel, wasting daylight with his indecision and Dementor-like nature. Once the sun sets and the day is officially wasted, Joe decides it is best to drive all the way out of the park and up north to Lee Vining to purchase beer while others set up camp for the night. Oh, and since Derek and I are staying to set up our own tent, Joe suggests that we go ahead and set his up for him while we cook dinner for everyone. Nick and Joe leave for about an hour in search of beer. I don’t bother setting up Joe’s tent, and Derek can’t get Joe’s stove to work for dinner. I grow tired of awaiting their return and proceed to fall asleep. Eventually they return, and everyone has dinner while I’m asleep. The plan is to get an alpine start in the morning for Matthes Crest, a particularly hilarious thought considering the slothful nature of our “guide”.
Saturday – Wake up at 7 am, not particularly stoked on the day. Moderately annoyed with Joe’s passive aggressive, selfish behavior. Joe awakes at 9 am, a frequent alpine climber no doubt. Pack up camp. Stop at store for Joe to get a Yerba Mate because he insists that coffee and everything else in life gives you cancer. Once again, wait for about 45 minutes for Joe to reappear with the car keys and get started on our expected 13-hour day. Begin approach at 10 am, putting us at an expected finish time of 11 pm. Make bets with Nick and Derek on how long we think it’ll actually take us, given Joe’s recent inability to accurately estimate time. Begin eternal hike in the 8th circle of hell. Stop halfway while Joe, the alleged guide, tries to determine the appropriate direction after guiding us off the path. Derek points out what the map and guidebook say. Joe wanders aimlessly, mumbling to himself, telling us to hurry, and periodically stopping to bathe himself in various creeks. At Bud Lake, Joe takes us down the wrong path. We eventually find the base of the climb 4.5 hours after leaving the car. Upon seeing another group close behind us, Joe insists that we sprint up the 60-degree incline to ensure our position in line. The yelling continues until he finally climbs out of earshot. Headaches dissipate with the sound of his voice, and we begin the slowest climb on earth. We climb the first two pitches safely with anchors and belay devices, but have 3 people simul-climbing on one 70m rope. It becomes evident that Nick is uncomfortable with the situation, as he begins slowing down and asking for more direction from Joe. Born without patience, Joe begins yelling at Nick, telling him to hurry up and stop asking questions. I quickly lose all desire to finish the climb and begin combatting thoughts of shoving Joe off the summit. After lots of frustration, time, and essentially free soloing, we tell Joe that we’re ready to bail. Pissed and whiney, Joe threatens to withhold our climbing plans for Half Dome the next day, because we obviously still wanted to be around him. Unfazed by his empty threats, we continue asking Joe to let us rappel off the climb before sunset. Joe finally agrees while Derek and I formulate plans to rent a car the next morning and escape from our hostage situation. We begin rapping down before sunset. Joe sets up bail anchors with our gear, saving his to eventually donate to charity, I’m sure. After a few rappels, he insists that we simul-rap to speed up our descent. We happen upon 2 more bail anchors on the way down, but eventually have to resort to down climbing. I of course get stuck simul-rapping with the Grinch in the darkness. As we lower off the ends of my rope on the last rappel, we begin scrambling through sketchy, loose talus by the light of our headlamps. When I ask if we should communicate what’s happening to Nick and Derek, he says no, insisting that it’s more important for us to move out from underneath them. At this time, everything falls apart.
We’re still about 200 feet from the ground and our last rappel leaves us atop a wet slab. Derek and Nick arrive at the end of their ropes, pissed about the chronic lack of communication. Joe attempts to guide them to safety with his condescending and impatient tone. For some reason, it doesn’t work. Joe decides to continue repeating the same instructions that aren’t helping, louder and louder. Joe contradicts himself multiple times and Derek finally snaps. The two begin yelling at each other in the dark, both so frustrated but accomplishing nothing. I sit safely on a secure stone near the trees, enraged that Joe is abandoning my boyfriend on the side of a mountain in the darkness with a dying headlamp. I attempt to guide Nick and Derek to safety by myself while paying attention to Joe’s path down the mountain. Cue more dramatic interchanges and Joe begins running down the mountain alone. Super psyched on life, I wait for my boyfriend to reach flatter ground. We make it through the choss and discover Joe sitting quietly on the ground waiting for us in silence, back turned to us like an angry child in timeout. Nick greets Joe with kindness and asks about the upcoming descent. Joe meets his questions with more silence. Nick then asks if we’re done talking for the night. Joe responds that he is “over it.” Impressed by the level of maturity demonstrated by this 35-year-old gem, I continue the descent without him. Nick, Derek, and I encounter a couple of backcountry campers, who stop us and make sure we’re okay, undoubtedly the most hospitality we’d seen all day. Sure that my toenails would fall out and my knees would blow, I begin the 2-hour descent back to the car. Now, removing Joe from the situation, the hike back to the car is beautiful. It’s a crisp 28-degree stroll along winding creeks, random glistening snow piles, and fields of flowers swaying in the wind, the path lit by the full moon. So, ignoring the pain that left me nauseated, the descent is amazing. Joe scampers off ahead in the moonlight, always leaving us guessing which way he goes. Halfway down, the pain in my knees is so sharp and unrelenting that I just want to cry. I want to be snuggled up and toasty inside my sleeping bag, stationary, in another city far, far away from Joe. After many inner battles, I make it to the car. We pack up the car, ready to drive through the night to get out of the park, but Joe decides that he wants to set up camp and leave in the morning. We go to sleep for our last night as hostages.
Sunday – Awake at 8 am. Pack up gear. Wait for Joe to sloth out of bed and pack his gear. Joe awakes at 9 am and announces his plan to solo something instead of leaving. We wait eagerly for him to leave. We drive to the store for breakfast and proceed to sit in the car for 2 hours while Joe decides what to climb and tries to acquire climbing partners. Eventually, he decides to climb something in the Valley. We drive 30 minutes into the Valley for him to wander off at every stop. By 1 pm, Joe decides not to climb anything due to possible inclement weather. Success. We finally begin the drive back to San Diego. We realize that rental companies are closed on Sundays and quickly form a new escape plan. A friend of mine happens to live in Huntington Beach for the summer, coincidentally the same town where Nick lives. If we can make it the 4 remaining hours in a silent car ride to where Nick left his car, we’ll be home free. We cram all our gear in Nick’s manly Mini Cooper and set off to Huntington Beach with our newfound good moods. Stay the night with my friend and dive into some much-needed REM cycles.
Monday – Wake up. Eat breakfast. Hitch a ride with Nick down to San Diego. Grab some sushi for lunch. Gelato for dessert. Head to the airport. Fly home. Remove Joe from Facebook friends. Vow to never speak to him again. Try to regain faith in humanity.
Originally posted on FiveTen