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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

US Highline Tour: Yosemite Valley

Once I arrived back home in lovely Austin, Texas, I had quite a job set in front of me: to obtain a vehicle for our group of highliners for the trip. I had been communicating with a woman about a van to rent for three months, however this fell through (anyways it would have been super expensive) and so I was left checking craigslist five times a day looking for something we could buy cheap, that would drive us all over the west. As time ticked by and the guys were waiting up in the Bay area, I eventually just decided to take the car that was in my name; ze petit 94' Honda civic. This was the car I had driven before departing to Europe. It had about 200k miles on it, and my mother had been driving it for the 9 months I was away. I guiltily decided to swipe my car out from under her (thank you mom!) and fix a few things so it was in order to drive. I named the car Jenny so I could pep talk it the whole way.

I found a nice photographer for a rideshare part of the way. As usual I finally left Austin when it was already dark, then drove the 8 or 9 hours to get out of Texas. It was the first time I had been in West Texas, unfortunately it was dark and I could see hardly anything, though I doubt I was missing too much. After this we switched driving for a while, and eventually made it to Palm Springs, CA. This is where I dropped my rideshare. I was in the California Desert, it was hot as heck and windy, despite it being mid November.

After 33 hours in the car straight through I finally arrived in Berkley, CA. sometime after 10 pm. It was then I realized I had no address for the climbing gym where all the guys were staying. The only address I had was for Damian Cookseys home. After half an hour of walking up and down the street I finally found it, and saw that the lights were all out. Bad times. I knocked several times, waited, knocked some more, then gave up. I felt awfully bad about possibly waking his family up, however I did not know what to do! As I headed back toward my car I stopped by a Police man staking out the neighborhood and asked him where the climbing gym was. He looked it up and gave me directions. Whoo! I was on my way. I drove to the place he told me feeling relieved. When I arrived I headed to the big doors and began banging on them, yelling inside the crack " It's Faith!" however the only sound coming from within was the loud buzz of an industrial vacuum. Soon, I realized this was not the climbing gym where my friends were staying. At this point I was starting to freak out a bit, it had been a long drive, and the night was cold and my car had no heater. I had no way to find them. At about midnight, Janek called my phone. Jesus Christ finally! So, after obtaining directions I finally made it to Bridges Rock Gym, in El Cerrito in fact, not Berkley. I was tired as balls and ready to pass out, but of course with this group that is impossible. We proceeded to boulder around the gym, then slackline, then all get in our sleeping bags and lay on the slacklines, then we went to the sauna, and finally...finally...sleep on the crashpads.

The next day bright and early we awoke and prepared for the drive to Yosemite Valley. I could have used a rest day after the drive, but we were on a schedule! Damian, Kornie and the new addition to the group Brian drove together, while Janek, Jordan and myself took my heaterless car. We met Jordan's parents just before the Valley at a place called Cub Inn; a beautiful wooden house that a couple lived in who also rented out the extra rooms. Jordan's parents treated us to pizza and beer very generously. We slept on the back deck, however the night was cold and wet so Janek and I crept inside and slept on the floor at some point. The next day we finished the drive to Yosemite Valley.

After renting bear boxes, mapping our trail and repacking, we headed up the trail for Yosemite Falls.
This hike was possibly the closest I have ever felt to dying. We started as a group, but spanned out. Janek of course took most of the gear, but still made it second to the top. I had too much weight in my pack for my ability, and it grew more painful at each turn. Food, gear, the giant old tent Jordan's parents gave us, my clothes and sleeping bag...yeah, it was heavy. I arrived an hour later than most of the group at the top, it was grueling, however I just remind myself how great a workout it was. Yeah right! Anyways, it was dark by then and I set up my tent among the snow and natural mulch. Once campfire, a supper and some polish alcohol later we were settling down for the night. I laugh to think that our original plan was to sleep outside. The nights on top of the Falls were below freezing.

The next morning we were going to wake up at 5:30 and get an early start. HA HA. At 7:30 we started to stir and eventually made it over to the spire. This was it; the long awaited Lost Arrow Spire line. The highline that is the most classic and historical of all. The line that every highliner wants to send. No pressure, right? Damian and Janek began the rigging, climbing the spire and setting the bolted anchor. The other anchor was on a flake, created with natural protection. We rigged with Free Feet tubular threaded webbing, with a backup rope taped underneath. During the time they were rigging the winds picked up quite a bit and it grew colder. I befriended two crows, one which flew away with my apple core. I sat on the same outcropping of rock for quite a while trying to hide from the wind, as I walked each person walk the spire line. Kornie went first, sending it full man . Brian full manned next, then Jordan, then Damian. It was my turn. I had built up a lot of pressure on myself to on sight this line, and that day, the more I thought about it the less I cared. I only wanted to walk across that line, it did not matter which try, I just knew I wanted to send it. I belayed down to the flake and prepared. I thought I had more time to sit and watch, but it was my turn right that second! In that moment all I could see was the thin red webbing stretched from my feet 16 meters in front of me. Behind it the whole valley lay exposed, bathed in some strange light from the sun breaking through gray patched of clouds.

I stood up from a chongo, feeling good. The leash came untucked from the side of my harness and caught in my toes, No! That would not be how I went down, because of a leash! I continued walking, and walking and before I had time to even think about anything more I was on the spire. Cheers from my friends trailed over to me caught on the wind, what a relief. Ah, but then comes the return! I walked it back confidently, fighting on the very last step for unknown reasons, and stepped back onto the flake. What a lovely feeling it is to be on solid rock again.

Janek walked the line in a swami beautifully next, and I think the next time we are there he will probably be free soloing that line.

That day we all left the spire with everyone putting a full man under their belt, in my case full tits as I like to say. Janek and Damian stayed behind to rig down in the night (a bit worrying) and we all headed back to camp. There was a chance of rain (snow on top) that night, so we had to pack everything and hike back down to Camp 4. It seemed unreal, considering the sky was crystal clear, all the stars twinkling above and no clouds on the way. But, to be safe we did the hike down. Janek took almost all the gear this time, and was actually in pain on the descent, never have I seen him have trouble with a hike before. Finally reaching the bottom was a huge relief. We set up shop, ate some food and slept. Brian left in the morning to pick up Emily, another female highliner. The morning was clear and blue, and we could see that the descent was avoidable and not needed. Oh well, ti's life.

We went to collect my car the next morning as well as the food we left in some Bear boxes at a parking lot not too far away. When we approached the car I saw some huge muddy paw prints on the windows, as well as some panelling ripped off from around the windows. A bear had attacked my car. Seriously? I had scoped that car out top to bottom to make sure there was no food inside. Later, I would find the four or five tiny dog biscuits my mother had stashed in unlikely places all over the vehicle; in the ashtray, between the seats, in the console... Thanks mom. At least it was funny. There was a note on the windshield, something official that had fallen to pieces in the wet that described the situation: Your vehicle has been damaged by a Bear. I am thankful someone saw the attack and chased off the bear, because as we found out later seeing other peoples cars, it could have been much worse.

That evening we decided to hike back up to the falls to complete the Long Lost Arrow Spire line. Jordan, Janek and I began first, the others would join later. My time going up was an hour and a half shorter this round, so at least I know I had made progress! When we reached the top we were so relieved, and quickly got a fire going and drank some Franzia from an empty milk carton, with vitamin D! Damian and Kornie arrived hours later, chatting about their first experience with the wonderful American beverage; bottomless cups of coffee. We eventually passed out in the giant old tent, after finishing off the wine and having some deep conversations.

The next morning we awoke to the cold, ate something, realized we probably did not have enough food for the next four days, then headed to the Spire. Damian and Janek began rigging while the rest of us hid from the brutal winds. The line is bolted on both sides, one must climb the spire and set that anchor, and the other can repel down the face of the rock to set the other side up. This rig was white magic with a backup rope. It is about 33 meters in length, and in my opinion even more exposed then the shorter Spire line. Janek on sighted it full man of course, which was inspiring to watch. For myself, however, it was such a battle to walk it. Towards the spire I walked on the second try, and boy was I glad to sit on that phallic rock and rest. The winds were cold, and I had to return to the giant wall of rock in front of me. My start felt solid, then all of a sudden, down I was, catching the painful white magic in my hands. I fell 6 or 7 times I think, and each time was a painful gash or bruise somewhere. The last fall was an unplanned vaginal catch, which left me with a not-so-nice feeling in my nether region. That was all I could take, the line was fighting and winning. My philosophy with highlines usually go something like "when you are totally beaten and want more then anything to give up, and feel that it is useless and futile to fight anymore, try one more time." In shorter words, "It hurts so good." So, I gave it one last go, deciding if it did not happen that time I would crawl back across. It was then that I walked it, completing the line full man. Even if there was enough time to get on that line again that day, sometimes you feel that once sent, you should just walk away and leave the line for another day in your life. That was this line. I was happy to get the f off it. Damian on sighted one way, and full manned it, Jordan fought hard and walked halfway, and Kornie also gave it a good shot. We decided to leave the line and rig it down the next day, so then Jordan and Kornie could get more time on it.

The next day the winds were even stronger. They whipped around you and threatened to tear you right off of the top of those rocks! Not exactly ideal highlining weather. Kornie was the only one willing to get on the line. He gave it a couple tries, but was so cold he decided to come off it. Everyone else was really hiding in every crevice this time. We all returned to camp to eat and get warm, and discuss a plan of action. It came to Damian, Jordan and Janek staying behind to rig down the line, poor guys. We would then all hike down that night, sleep at camp 4 and then rig Taft point the next day. Little did we know the road was closed and Taft point line would be a no-go.

So, since Taft point was a lost cause, and we still had time, we headed to the Sequoia forest to find a place for a midline. We searched for a while eventually finding a place to rig a 45 Meter mid line. It was beautiful. We did one line with white magic, no backup. Janek on sighted it, eventually free soloing it as well. Brian and Emily had returned at this point, so they got to walk on it as well. Brian one way and Emily full babe. Kornie had returned to the car to be warm, so he did not get on the line. Jordan fought a bit on it as well. I walked it on sight and full man, very happily.
I was even more happy to get my socks back on afterwards. Damian had a fight in a swami, but decided against it. The fog had rolled into the forest in the meantime making for some beautiful scenery. We followed our usual trend of rigging down in the nighttime, then drove back to the Valley to eat some tourist's leftovers in the Cafeteria. This is a whole other story! Quickly, before the cleaners would pick up the trays, someone from our table would dart over and grab it. We ate so well for two days, dining on leftover french fries, salads, pasta, meat dishes and more. It was awesome. Sometimes we had minor scares when we picked up a tray before a tourist left, on accident of course. But, the longer we hunted the leftovers the quicker and better we got at it. Ah, dirtbagging. We also altered one of the signs a bit to represent the real truth about Yosemite wildlife, with my artwork and Jordan's photography skills :)

So, after this we headed for Southern Utah to go for Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah 2, and great highlining gathering in the desert, but that my dears is another long post soon to come!

PS. Thank you to Jordan Tybon for most of the beautiful photos in this post!

Friday, January 22, 2010


I have many posts to catch up on! Here are the post to come:


1. Yosemite Valley, California
2. Moab, Utah
3. Vegas, Nevada and LA, California
4. Joshua Tree, California

I have tons of photos and information to add, will get on it as soon as the trip is over and I am home again.
It has been epic! New personal records for almost everyone in the group!