Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lost Arrow Spire, Yosemite, 1994

There are climbing routes in Yosemite that are unique, their like not to be found anywhere else. From the massive monoliths of El Capitan and Half Dome to the desperate overhangs of the Rostrum and Astroman, climbing in Yosemite is adventurous, scary, and big. By 1994 I had done a number of routes in Yos, but there was one climb that I had always wanted, Lost Arrow Spire. The Lost Arrow isn't technically that difficult or long, it's the novelty of it that got to me.

Lost Arrow Spire is a pinacle of rock that stands alone, detached by 70 feet from the Yosemite Falls headwall, it's pointed summit looking down almost 2,000 vertical feet to the valley floor. Standing on it's summit is as airy a place as any in the U.S., but that's only the halfway point, you still have to get back to the headwall and terra firma. Enter the Tyrolian Traverse. Named for the pinnacles of rock in Italy where alpinists first devised it, this is an ingenious technique for getting from one hard place to another. The Tyrolian involves lots of rope and is only possible when another peak of equal or greater elevation is in relatively close proximity.

For the Lost Arrow, the climbers must rappel over 200 feet from a tree on the Yosemite Falls headwall down to a notch that connects the headwall to the Lost Arrow Spire. From there, the climbers have to ascend the Spire while dragging the rope still attached to the tree. Once on the summit, the rope from the tree is pulled tight and fixed to the summit of the Spire, connecting the headwall to the summit. Then the less intelligent of the climbers traverses that rope across almost 2,000 feet of air to the headwall while draging a second length of rope, which is then tied to the first, creating a loop, which can then be pulled from the headwall to retrieve all the rope. The second climber to cross the Tyrolian invariably feels a bit more secure because he is attached to two ropes instead of just one, though the difference is mostly psychological. It is advisable to do the Traverse in sunny and mild conditions, which is, of course, not the way we chose to do it.

The day we climbed Lost Arrow, we got a late start and didn't rapell to the notch until late afternoon, and the climb to the summit took us longer that the guidbook implied it would. The wind got worse through the evening. The sun set and the temperature plunged. We were in shorts, and I was the only one with a headlamp. We were hungry and cold, and the wind was so loud that we could barely hear each other. Naturally, we didn't reach the summit until the night was pitch black.

One of the guys I was with suggested we rapell back the way we had come and ascennd the ropes back up to the tree. Between the cold and the wind I had gotten pretty frustrated, and that just pissed me off. All I knew was that my last cigarette was in my pack at the base of that damn tree just 70 feet away, and I tied into the rope, left the only headlamp with those two, and stepped into space. By the time my weight had really settled onto the rope I was bouncing around in the wind, working my ass off to get across in a hurry. No sir, I was was pissed off, cold and scared. I felt like I was tied to the mast of a little boat being bounced around in a sea of blackness. My only points of reference were the lights of Curry Village in the valley below and the headlamp on the summit behind me. I felt really alone and struggled to overcome my fear and keep going across. Sometimes I closed my eyes, and when I did I imagined sitting under that nice old tree happily smoking my last coffin-nail. And before too long that's exactly where I was.

The other two guys had left a whole rack of gear on top of the Spire and in the morning somebody had to go across to the summit, get the gear, and come back. Those two guys displayed a distinct lack of interest so it fell to me, again. I thought, "Hell if I'm going to go through what I did last night without pictures to prove I was there!". I handed the other guys the camera. The Tyrolian was actually fun in daylight. I kind of enjoyed myself.

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