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A Wet West Face, 5/30/09

By Jim Herson

A picture is worth a thousand words although this particular picture elicited considerably more from the verbally gifted Erika Monahan:

The full promise of the internet was finally realized this weekend when we definitively proved you can indeed find anything on the web. With a surprisingly large number of focused clicks, we unearthed the one weather forecast that didn't sternly warn "Only desperate bozos would rack up this weekend." Sure the National Weather Service forecasts were spot on all week with their tediously repetitive dire warnings of afternoon thunderstorms. But that was no reason not to go with the out of date Estonian blog that roughly translated to "Yosemite has weather nice."

But what took true talent was ignoring the far more perilous warning of running into Alex Honnold and Sean Leary aborting one of their mind numbing El Cap feats due to weather. Alex is a tremendously gifted climber with an astonishingly underdeveloped sense of mortality. He's pulled off hairball ropeless rock feats that few have matched with piano wire tight belays. In short, the kid's a nut. A talented nut for sure but whacked nonetheless. So when the 24 year old psycho schools the 48 year old, Volvo station wagon driving, private bubble school hovering, geek dad in discretion being the better part of valor you know there is only one rational explanation: Erika's blind optimism.

Erika's refreshing irrational exuberance wasn't about to let a little forecast lightning derail her brief annual Valley trip. Earlier in the week she and her friend Chris valiantly attempted to be, while perhaps not the most prepared, certainly the most enthusiastic team to ever climb the Nose. Unfortunately with her attitude she'll never make a big waller as she graciously and generously shouldered more than her share of blame for the heartbreak bail with nothing but praise for her partner. It took work but by the end of the weekend I had her throwing down total smack, spewing to strangers how she was basically "Crushing at the summit lip with nothing but a manky RP between me and my lame ass partner when the needy little ingrate forced us to bail."

We thought about the Salathe but the views of the fierce black thunderheads barreling down the Valley distracts from the magic that is the Salathe. So we ducked around the corner to the West Face in order to blissfully enjoy views of the peacefully sunny blue western skies.

The hike to the base suddenly became eerily quiet when Erika started pawing through the smooth granite dust and freshly cut fixed lines from last week's major rock fall in the West Face gully. But she's no lightweight and quickly regained her verbal footing and speed chatted, to make up for lost chatting on the cut lines, all the way until the ear popping crack of the first lightning bolt. And then the skies let loose. Chalk another one up for the NWS. For the second time that morning, and perhaps her life, Erika was quiet.

Fortunately we had just arrived at the one large sheltered roof on the route when California's long drought finally broke. Turns out granite doesn't absorb water all that well; the nearby Lurking Fear quickly became a magnificent if terrifying raging waterfall, an amazing sight which we enjoyed from our thankfully dry and warm perch.

Now if history professors didn't exist they surely would have had to have been invented for Erika. With an area of expertise that spans a few thousand years and -- thanks to her ruthless attendance policy -- a room full of droopy undergraduates with which to hold forth on the most obscure of historical tidbits, Erika is enjoying her new profession a bit too much. As is the case in waiting out most El Cap storms, the conversation quickly turned to Martin Luther nailing his 95 gripes in 1517, the exploitation of relics in late medieval Christianity, and the little appreciated role of Germen princes in the Calvinist/Lutheran split. While profoundly ignorant of all things religious I found it all rather interesting. Although when she prefixed the next part with "By way of background let's begin with the Hebrews in 1800BC" it seemed time to check out the soaked, tenuous 10b traverse.

It hadn't quite stopped raining and took a while to get up the next normally trivial but today streaming and totally gripping pitch. Erika's speed jugging is an ambitious work in progress so for both our sanities I tend to discreetly hold onto the jummars and keep them safely out of Erika's reach. But this pitch was in no condition to be climbed and so I reluctantly left them for her. Good thing too as the skies let loose for the second time just as she got to the jugs. I couldn't see her in the drenching downpour but based on the sundial I had plenty of time to construct she was having a time of it jugging through the storm. Scuba equipment would have been much more appropriate. As she approached the anchor I saw a sight I never imagined possible -- a forlorn Erika. The storm broke Erika's indomitable spirit. She clipped in and with crushed exacerbation exclaimed "Oh dear me. I'll have to work on my Reformation lecture if it made you want to climb through that."

The normally stellar West Face was anything but today. We crawled and scrapped our way through this mungy, grimy, soaked mess of a climb. There's no question that, had I owned one, I certainly might have packed a raincoat. Erika, back to her usual cheerful self having quickly worked out a revised syllabus, followed most of the soaked mess, jugging just the last two pitches. Last year I gently suggested to Erika that perhaps a few less backup knots wouldn't slow down her jugging. So she arrived at the belay beaming "Look, only one knot!" And a stellar knot at that! Perhaps I shouldn't have nitpicked in mentioning that a foot from the tie-in was a somewhat non-optimal placement for a lone backup knot...

A miserable climb but Erika was happy as her relentless pursuit of a headlamp sponsorship looks even more promising when we once again wobbled our way back down to the van at 2am. The climb has been done in 2hrs. We left some wiggle room for next time.


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